Investing in the right cool box could make or break your next camping or beach trip. To find out which is easiest to lug around and will keep your food and drink coolest, we put cool boxes from Coleman, Igloo and DeWalt through their paces.
In June 2021 we tested eight cooler boxes ranging from £10 to £132, on everything from insulation to durability and portability.
We also compared the passive coolers to an electric cooler to see whether any of them came close to matching its insulation ability and, to our surprise, one wasn't too far off.
Prices and availability last checked as of 4 October 2021.
Outer dimensions: 39cm x 42cm x 25cm (H x W x D)
Inner dimensions: 33.5cm x 39cm x 25.5cm (H x W x D)
Stated capacity: 28 litres Can capacity: 49
Key features: Two-year warranty, also available in 56 litres, two cup holders on top of the lid
Coleman is a well-known outdoors brand, selling camping equipment ranging from camping stoves to sleeping bags. We've tested their camping equipment before but how has its cool box fared?
Outer dimensions: 40cm x 38cm x 22cm (H x W x D)
Inner dimensions: 32cm x 34cm x 20cm (H x W x D)
Stated capacity: 24 litres Can capacity: 35
At only £10, this cool box is the cheapest we tested and one which you shouldn't expect many extras from. It's a simple design with a single moveable handle that locks the lid into place.
Outer dimensions: 40.5cm x 54cm x 35cm (H x W x D)
Inner dimensions: 27cm x 41cm x 23cm (H x W x D)
Stated capacity: 25.5 litres Can capacity: 38
Key features: One-year guarantee, two cup holders on top of the lid
DeWalt is famous for its power tools and is a brand typically associated with building sites.
This cooler is far more expensive than the other coolers in our line-up and we wanted to find out whether it was worth paying that bit more for a cool box.
Outer dimensions: 40cm x 43.5cm x 33cm (H x W x D)
Inner dimensions: 34.5cm x 38.5cm x 22.5cm (H x W x D)
Stated capacity: 26 litres Can capacity: 42
Key features: Also available in 49 litres, four cup holders on the lid and a set of wheels
This cool box has an extendable handle and wheels that make carrying heavy loads that bit easier.
It's also got four integrated cup holders but, extras aside, how did it do in the insulation test?
Outer dimensions: 41cm x 41cm x 26.5cm (H x W x D)
Inner dimensions: 32cm x 38cm x 24.5cm (H x W x D)
Stated capacity: 24 litres Can capacity: 43
Key features: Two-year warranty, also available in 32 litres, four cup holders on the underside of the lid and a removable insert
This is a mid-range cool box with a number of cup holders and a removable insert that allows you to separate your contents.
Want to know how it did in the insulation and durability tests?
Outer dimensions: 40cm x 42cm x 27cm (H x W x D)
Inner dimensions: 34.5cm x 37.5cm x 23.5cm (H x W x D)
Stated capacity: 28 litres Can capacity: 45
Key features: 12-month warranty, also available in 32 litres
Thermos is famous for its insulated products. We've tested a number of them already, including a vacuum flask and a cooler bag, and had mixed results.
Outer dimensions: 40cm x 45cm x 28cm (H x W x D)
Inner dimensions: 31.5cm x 44cm x 25cm (H x W x D)
Stated capacity: 30 litres Can capacity: 49
Key features: Two-year warranty, also available in 32, 45 and 57 litres, four cup holders on top of the lid and a set of wheels
This cool box is one of two which has a set of wheels and an extendable handle.
We found one of the wheeled cool boxes to have particularly loud wheels, but which was it?
Unsurprisingly, the electric cooler outdid the other passive coolers in the insulation test, with only a small temperature increase across the day. However, one of the passive coolers wasn't far off.
With this particular cooler, the Outwell ECOcool Lite 24L (12V/230V), there's little guidance on how long you should have it cooling down for before use.
We pre-cooled ours for 15 minutes but we'd recommend doing it for longer because, as you can tell from the graph below, the temperature only stabilised by midday where it stayed between 14.9 and 15.3°C for five hours.
Although they stay cold, the issue with electric cooler boxes is that they aren't very portable.
The most widely available tend to only be compatible with car cigarette lighters, and those that can be powered by both your mains and your car still have to be plugged in at all times.
We measured the temperature of chilled bottles of water in each box on the hour, every hour, across the day.
Watch our video below to find out how you can make clear ice, which tastes nicer and melts slower for impressive cocktails and drinks using your cool box.
We put a chilled bottle of water and two ice packs into each box. The ice packs were kept in the freezer overnight and then left in the boxes for 30 minutes before testing began. We attached thermocouples (a sensor for measuring temperature) into each bottle and left them for the day, taking temperature readings on the hour, every hour.
To replicate typical use we opened and closed the boxes four hours in – and then every 30 minutes.
Sturdy design is important for a cool box. If it can't take a small impact from a short height then it's unlikely to have a long life span. We dropped each box from waist height five times from different angles, giving boxes with cosmetic damage a better score than those with damage affecting usability.
Being able to comfortably lug around your food and drinks can make any camping trip that bit better. To help find you the most portable cool boxes we looked for features that improved portability such as wheels and extendable handles and penalised those that didn't have them.
We filled the boxes with 500ml of water and left them sitting on top of a bed of paper towels for an hour. After the hour we checked for any leakage onto the towels and poured the water back into the measuring jug to check we hadn't missed any leakage.