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5 Jul 2021

Cooler bags vs cool boxes: which should you buy?

Both cooler bags and cool boxes will keep your food chilled, but our testing showed us there are some key differences that set them apart

If you're thinking of investing in a cooler bag or cool box this summer, there are some key considerations you need to know about before you choose.

We put 19 cooler bags and cool boxes through their paces, ranging in price from £10 all the way up to £300.

Our testing showed us key differences in terms of how much they can store, how chilled they keep your food and how easy they are to carry.

Find out how cool boxes and cooler bags compare in terms of ease of use, handy features, portability and capacity.

Go to the best cooler bags and the best cool boxes to see how products from Yeti and DeWalt fared against budget buys from Asda and Argos.

1) Build

Cooler in the trunk of a car

By their nature, cooler bags are easier to store away. They're made from soft, foldable material which makes them easy to fit into the smallest of spaces when not in use. However, for this reason they're less likely to protect the contents.

We found that when they weren't full to the brim, cooler bags had the tendency to collapse in on themselves, knocking over the bottles inside.

The rigidity of cool boxes means that, while they take up more space, you're less likely to find that half-open bottle of olive oil or salad dressing knocked onto its side.

2) Features

Both products offer different features.

It's common for cool boxes to have a nozzle for draining water out of them, and some even have taps attached for drink decanting which could be ideal for larger events.

Cooler bags generally don't have these handy extras, but they do have the added benefit of side compartments and mesh pockets.

3) Portability

A cooler backpack

While cool boxes might seem more cumbersome, there are a number that come with wheels and extendable handles which makes carrying heavy loads far easier.

However, this is dependent on the ground on which you'll be wheeling your box. The wheels won't take well to sand, for instance.

Most cooler bags are slung over the shoulder, but you can get backpack style bags that can be more comfortable and ideal to take on a long walk.

4) Size

Are you buying a cooler for a romantic weekend away or are you entertaining a group of friends at the park?

Also consider whether you'll be packing lots of heavy drinks bottles or a packed lunch.

Generally you can find a larger litre capacity with cooler boxes. Cooler bags can get you to 50 litres at a push, but any more and you should consider a box instead.

Our verdict

So, cooler bag or cooler box - which should you choose?

If you're planning on holidaying with a large group or even heading to the park, then the bigger the better. In this case, a cool box would likely suit your needs. However, you should consider if you have ample space to store a large cooler in your home.

If you're into trekking with your partner or a friend, or perhaps you just want your lunch to be cool for work, then a cooler bag is the way to go.

You can opt for a shoulder strap or a backpack, which will be much more comfortable to carry around.

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