Updated June 2022
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Buying guide for Best insulated food bags

Taking food on the go to eat at work, to share at a potluck, or to have on hand in a car ride is a given for most of our busy lives but keeping said food at a consistent temperature is a challenge. A quality insulated food bag can help maintain food at the temperature it was when you put it inside the bag — whether that's hot or cold. This makes them ideal for all kinds of alfresco eating, in addition to times when you need to keep food cool for long periods, such as camping or road trips or inside a locker or backpack at school.

It's important to find the best insulated food bag for the job, so you'll need to pick between recreational options, commercial options, and insulated lunch bags. Think about what size insulated food bag you require and whether a shoulder strap or backpack-style option would be better for you. We've collected all the relevant information about insulated food bags and written this guide to help you with your purchasing decision. Then, you can also see our top five insulated food bags when you’re ready to buy one.

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Check whether your chosen insulated food bag is leak-proof. Not only will this contain spills, but it will also contain any melted ice or condensation if you use it as a cooler.

Key considerations

Types of insulated food bags

You'll need to choose the correct type of insulated food bag to meet your needs. The three main varieties are recreational insulated food bags, commercial insulated food bags, and insulated lunch bags.

  • Recreational insulated food bags: These are designed for home use, taking on picnics, transporting food to potlucks, and so on. While insulation levels vary, they tend to be fairly well-insulated and some have enough insulation to hold ice for more than a day. The majority are available in a number of colors or prints.
  • Commercial insulated food bags: Commercial models are made to fit the needs of caterers, delivery drivers, and other food service professionals. They tend to be large in size to fit large orders of food, rugged to stand up to heavy duty use, and are often plain in appearance.
  • Insulated lunch bags: These compact insulated food bags are made to fit a single person's lunch, for taking to work or school. They're ideal for anyone who doesn't have access to a fridge at their workplace or who go eat offsite. They only have moderate insulation, since food generally only needs to stay cool for four to seven hours (usually between packing it in the morning and lunch time).

Straps or handles

Perhaps the most common option is for an insulated food bag to have two short handles, one on either side, to allow you to carry it in your hand. This isn't always comfortable or practical, however, especially if you need to tote your insulated food bag a long way. Some models feature shoulder straps, often in addition to the aforementioned handles, so you have the option of two carrying methods, but sometimes alone. Less common are backpack-style straps, letting you wear your insulated food bag on your back. These are usually only practical for those bringing a lot of food, numerous meals, or who need it for hiking or camping and need to keep their hands free.


How much will you need to fit inside your insulated food bag? You'll need to choose a model with a sufficient capacity. The capacity may be listed in liters, but listings often state how many cans you can fit inside an insulated food bag. Even if you don't intend to put cans in your food bag, this can give you a more solid idea of how much will fit inside. If in doubt, you can also check the dimensions of your chosen insulated food bag.



Not all insulated food bags have equal insulation. Some can keep your food at temperature for more than 24 hours, whereas others only manage a couple of hours. Insulated food bags are generally better at keeping cold food chilled than keeping hot food warm, but a quality model should keep food warm for a two to six hours, depending on the type of food, its temperature when placed in the bag, and the ambient temperature.


Some insulated food bags have a number of compartments. They may contain multiple insulated compartments for keeping foods separate, or they may have just one insulated compartment with a couple of pockets for holding personal items. Compartments become important when you want to bring both hot and cold foods along.

Color or print

You can find insulated food bags in a range of colors and prints. Although this shouldn't be your first priority, if you can find a quality insulated food bag in a color you love, all the better.

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Be careful when putting extremely hot dishes inside an insulated food bag. In some cases, a too-hot item could melt the liner.


Basic models can cost as little as $5 to $15 a piece. These tend to either be fairly compact (lunch-sized, for instance) or have minimal insulation. Mid-range insulated food bags cost roughly $15 to $40. These are well insulated options suitable for semi-regular use. High-end insulated food bags are priced between $40 and $100. These have the best insulation abilities, may be extra large, and are rugged enough for regular use.


  • Consider how you'll use your insulated food bag. Will you mainly use it for hot food or cold food? Or perhaps for drinks rather than food? Are you buying it for your daily lunches or for large family events? How you'll use your insulated food bag will make a big difference to the model you choose. For example, if you’ll use it for liquids, a leak-proof, well-insulated design is important.
  • Think about how often you'll need an insulated food bag. A bag that you dig out once or twice a year for a trip to the beach will need to be far less sturdy than one that's in use five days a week at a worksite.
  • Decide whether you need a waterproof model. If you're an all-weather adventurer, consider buying an insulated food bag with a waterproof exterior.
  • Check how easy it is to clean your chosen insulated food bag. Insulated food bags usually aren't machine washable, but they should have smooth, non-permeable interiors that can be thoroughly wiped clean without awkward, unreachable corners where crumbs can hide away and grow mold.
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The vast majority of insulated food bags fold down flat when not in use, so they don't take up much storage space.


Q. What can I use my insulated food bag for?

A. If you've read this far, you'll already know that insulated food bags can keep hot food warm, in addition to keeping cold food chilled. They're perfect for all kinds of occasions where you might need to transport food without losing its original temperature. They can be used in commercial applications, such as by delivery drivers or event caterers, but they're more often bought for recreational use. You can use your insulated food bag for your lunch, bringing home takeout, picnics, or events where you want to bring your own food, potlucks, camping trips, or for bringing frozen foods home without them thawing. Of course, you can also use an insulated food bag for drinks, so they're great for keeping beer or soft drinks ice cold.

Q. Can I keep hot and cold food in one insulated bag at the same time?

A. If you put both hot and cold food in the same compartment of an insulated food bag, the hot food would warm up the cold food and the cold food would cool down the hot food, so it's not advisable. Stick to one bag for hot food and one bag for cold food, unless you have an insulated food bag with separate, individually insulated compartments.

Q. Can I bring an insulated food bag to an organized event?

A. This depends on the event. You should always check whether you're allowed to bring outside food, so that your time and money don't go to waste preparing a picnic that you're not allowed to bring to the event you're attending.

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