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Best small cooler

Which small cooler is best?

If you need to keep a day's worth of snacks or drinks cold, a small cooler saves space and is easy to carry. With coolers that offer hard-sided storage to high-tech performance, these can be a way to make sure your food stays safe to eat as well. For a small cooler that insulates well and is easy to open, the Igloo Playmate 16-Quart Hardsided Lunch Cooler is the best.

What to know before you buy a small cooler


Coolers can be as small as 4 or 6 quarts. These are good for a few drinks or snacks, although if you're packing for more than one person or are planning to use it for more than a few hours, you may want something larger. Coolers between 8 and 12 quarts are still easy to carry and fit a bit more, such as a full lunch or snacks for a small group.

Coolers that hold 14 to 16 quarts are on the upper end of small, portable chests. They can hold a lot but get heavy when they are loaded down with beverages and ice.


Coolers can have hard or soft sides that provide insulation to keep your food and drinks cold. You must add ice packs or loose ice to maintain the coolest temperatures. Some brands have ice packs designed to fit in the cooler to maximize space. Others use double-walled insulation or special cells to keep the temperature cool.


The top benefit of a small cooler is that it's easy to carry. It has a handle either built in or attached securely on both sides. These handles are designed to be carried with one hand. Some small coolers have soft or padded shoulder straps for another carrying method.

What to look for in a quality small cooler


Look for a cooler that won't leak, crack or break. Not only does this keep the rest of your space from getting wet, it also makes sure that the food and drinks inside stay as cold as possible. Hard molded plastic works for most daily use. If you plan to be in more extreme conditions, look for a cooler with waterproof zippers and a rip-proof covering.


Eventually, you'll need to drain the melted ice from your cooler. Look for one you can tip over easily to drain. Some have built-in plugs, although this isn't always necessary for a small cooler. Look for one with a lid that stays open when you turn it over to let water out, and make sure that it dries entirely before closing.


Consider the capacity you need when selecting a small cooler.  Four-quart coolers can fit up to six drinks, while larger 16-quart coolers are good for an entire day of drinks and snacks. If you want extra storage, look for a cooler with outside pockets. These can be useful to store utensils or napkins. Some coolers have divided storage compartments to separate items inside, although they will all be kept at the same temperature.

How much you can expect to spend on a small cooler

Small coolers cost $15-$200. Extra-durable coverings, superior insulation and additional exterior storage all add to the cost.

Small cooler FAQ

What's the easiest small cooler to carry?

A. Small coolers start at 4 quarts, ideal to store snacks and drinks for one day. They are also the most portable and have convenient carrying handles. If you want something smaller, consider a lunchbox. 

Are small coolers insulated?

A. Yes, they're insulated to regulate the temperature inside. If you put items that are already cold inside, the insulation will keep them cool longer than if they were sitting out. For better cooling, add an ice pack or loose ice. This helps maintain the temperature for up to 12 hours, depending on the cooler.

What’s the best small cooler to buy?

Top small cooler

Igloo Playmate 16-Quart Hardsided Lunch Cooler

What you need to know: This is the ideal size for a day's adventure, portable enough to take anywhere.

What you’ll love: This hard-sided cooler protects your snacks inside from getting crushed while also providing great insulation. The slide top ensures that all cooler space is usable and easy to access without spilling. There is a button on the side to allow one-handed opening. The handle is molded into the lid and extra sturdy.

What you should consider: It can get heavy when it is full of drinks and ice.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top small cooler for the money

Coleman FlipLid Personal Cooler

What you need to know: This is a great value for a 5-quart cooler.

What you’ll love: It comes in classic blue or red with a white lid. The flip-top lid can be used as a tray table for your snacks or drinks. This cooler fits six cans as well as ice packs that keep it cool for more than 12 hours.

What you should consider: The hard sides and short handle can make it awkward to carry for long distances.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Yeti Hopper Flip 8 Cooler

What you need to know: ColdCell insulation keeps your drinks and snacks cold for longer than any other cooler.

What you’ll love: The exterior is waterproof so you never have to worry about leaking ice. It is also puncture-proof and made for extremely rugged conditions. It comes with a detachable padded shoulder strap and multiple exterior attachment points.

What you should consider: It's expensive, more than 12 times as much as budget-friendly options in the same size.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

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Katie Begley writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.


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