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19 July 2021

Best cool boxes

Find out how cooler boxes from brands including Coleman, DeWalt and Igloo did for insulation, durability and portability
OW
Olivia Woodhouse
People getting drinks out of a cooler.

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 19 July 2021.

The best cool boxes

Only logged-in Which? members can view the cooler box test results below. If you're not yet a member, you'll see an alphabetically ordered list of the cooler boxes we tested. 

Join Which? now to get instant access to our test scores and Best Buy recommendations below.

Coleman cool box

Coleman 30QT Performance Cooler

Cheapest price: £39.99 available at Winfields Outdoors, also available at Amazon, Argos, Decathlon, Go Outdoors

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)

Weight: 2.95kg

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? 

Log in or join Which? to find out. You can also read our review of the Coleman FastPitch Galiano 4 tent in the best pop-up tents.

Connabride cool box

Connabride Passive Coolbox

£10 Only available at Go Outdoors

Outer dimensions: 40cm x 38cm x 22cm (H x W x D)

Inner dimensions: 32cm x 34cm x 20cm (H x W x D)

Weight: 1.7kg

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.

To find out whether the simple design impacted its insulation log in or join Which?.

DeWalt Tought System cool box

DeWalt TOUGHSYSTEM DS404 COOLER

Cheapest price: £110.40, available at Tool Store, also available at Amazon, ITS, Screwfix

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) 

Weight: 8.1kg

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.

To unlock our results log in or join Which? today.

Igloo Maxcold cool box

Igloo Maxcold Quantum 28 Wheeled Ice Cool Box

£69.85 Only available at Igloo

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)

Weight: 3.95kg

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? 

Log in or join Which? to find out. 

Quechua cool box

Quechua Rigid Camping or Hiking Cooler Box

£29.99 Only available for click and collect at Decathlon

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)

Weight: 3.8kg

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? 

Log in or join Which? to find out. 

Thermos picnic cool box

Thermos Cool Box

Cheapest price: £18.99, available at In Excess, also available at Amazon, Camping World, QD Stores Robert Dyas

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)

Weight: 2.4kg

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. 

Read our results in best cooler bags and best vacuum flasks.

To find out how the cooler box compared log in or join Which?.

Vango Pinnacle cool box

Vango Pinnacle Wheelie Cooler Box

Cheapest price: £49.95 at Attwoolls Outdoors, also available at Amazon, John Lewis, World of Camping

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)

Weight: 4.4kg

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?

Log in or join Which? to find out.

How does an electric cool box compare?

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.

Outwell ECOcool Lite 24L (12V/230V)
Outwell ECOcool Lite 24L (12V/230V)

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. 

To find out the temperature change of the electric cooler and which cool box came close to the Outwell, log in or join Which? today.

Insulation test

We measured the temperature of chilled bottles of water in each box on the hour, every hour, across the day. 

Four things we learned testing cool boxes

  1. If you're looking for a cooler that's easy to store away you're better off investing in a cooler bag. Cool boxes have a rigid construction so you need more space to store them. However, they'll protect your food and drink better than a bag because they don't collapse on themselves.
  2. If your priority is portability then wheels and an extendable handle are great features to look for. A heavy load can be more evenly distributed with the help of a set of wheels, but bear in mind they won't be too useful on sand or pebbles. 
  3. An electric cooler will produce a more consistent temperature once it’s stabilised compared to a passive cooler, but aside from that their design isn’t very different. 
  4. Having a secure lid is just as important than having a durable main body. An unsecured lid means your food and drinks will be strewn across the floor in the event of an accident.

Which type of cool box is best for me?

  • Passive: The standard non-electric cool box and the type that we've tested. All they need is ice or ice packs to keep them cool and, because of this, they are far cheaper than thermoelectric coolers. 
  • Thermoelectric: These don’t require ice but they do require power. You either plug the box into your car (12V) or into your mains (230V) depending on what its required voltage is. They require constant power and the majority of them are only compatible with 12V. You can get battery-powered boxes, but they’re less common and far more expensive.
  • Compressor: These top of the range coolers are usually on the larger side, starting at 40 litres, and they resemble a mini-fridge. They can be powered through your car, mains or through built-in solar panels. Often they're high tech – you can even get apps to control them.
  • Absorption: Similar in size and design to the compressor cool box, but you can also power these through gas.

How we tested cool boxes

Insulation 

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.

Durability

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.  

Portability

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.

Leak proofing 

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.