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Best Ice Chest Camping Coolers for Family Camping

Ice - Lots of ice needed for the best ice chest family camping coolers

In this post we are taking a look at the best ice chest camping coolers for family camping. Coolers are an essential part of camping. They keep our drinks cold and our food safe to eat.

There are more cooler options available than ever before with hard body, soft pack, 12V camping coolers and portable camping refrigerators all available. In the end, most of us are going to opt for a traditional, ice chest style cooler.

Cooler full of beer
Cooler full of beer

Focusing on family camping is important. The size of the cooler is vitally important – particularly if it has to cater for drinks and food. Your needs for family camping are going to be very different from those of backpackers for instance.

All of the coolers in this review are at least 50 Quarts capacity. That’s the minimum we think will work for a family of 4 on a 3-4 night vacation. Of course, your own personal requirements can change this enormously.

As a guide to visualizing cooler capacity, Cabela’s suggests that you can fit 0.75 cans into each quart of capacity. So a 50 Quart cooler will take about 40 cans once the ice is added. In our experience, you can pack enough food in with the cans to provide drinks and foods for 4 days.

Our Choice for Family Camping Cooler 2020

If you don’t have time to read this review – our choice of Family Camping Cooler for 2020 is:

RovR Wheeled Camping Cooler 60Qt

You might also consider the best 12V Camping Coolers of 2020. If you are looking to update all of your food and cooking experience, take a look at the top family camping stoves too.

What to Look For When Choosing an Ice Chest Cooler for Family Camping

A cooler now doesn’t just keep your food cold, it could double up as a camping wagon, provide a food preparation tray, be tough enough to use as a camping stool, and it will almost certainly provide cup holders.

Here are a few of the features to look for in your next Ice Chest cooler for family camping:

  • Large volume to store all your food and drink along with enough ice to keep it cold – we recommend a minimum of 50Qt for family camping trips
  • Stays cold for several days – most of the sample coolers we highlight below claim to keep ice for 8-10 days 
  • Is tough enough to take a few knocks as you get to and from your campsite
  • Preferably has wheels to help you move it to where you need to be (a fully loaded 50Qt cooler is going to weight upwards of 100pounds) – see the fully loaded estimates for ice chest freezers below
  • Drain plug that allow melt water to be drained without opening the cooler
  • Guarantee/Warranty. Pelican has a unique lifetime guarantee – you break it, we’ll replace it.

Choosing the best insulated cooler that holds ice for the longest possible time is not so important if you are always going to be camping at a National or State campground. You are always likely to be able to easily get more ice. Adding ice is a quick and effective way of keeping your cooler cold. If this is you, you can save yourself a couple of hundred bucks and buy a cheaper cooler. The extra ice you buy might cost you more over time.

Just make sure you get a cooler with a drain plug – you don’t want the water from the thawed ice to build up and ruin your food.

Make sure you get the most out of whatever camping cooler you select with our guide cunningly titled, “How to Get the Most from you cooler while family camping“.

Note: All top-end coolers are made using a process called rotational molding. Manufacturers make a lot of their ‘rotomolded’ products. It is not all hype. Rotational molding means the cooler bodies are made from one piece of plastic. There are no joins. Items made in this way are stronger and have fewer weak points.

Top Ice Chest Coolers for Family Camping Trips

As we have mentioned, there is a huge range of coolers available. Here’s just a few examples of the sort of coolers you will need for a dispersed family camping vacation.

Pelican Elite 70 Qt

This Pelican Cooler is a beast.  Measuring in at 36 x 20.3 x 21 inches and weighing 33 pounds empty, this is a serious cooler.  When you have this filled up with food and/or drink it is going to weigh well over 100pounds.  This is a cooler designed for an SUV or truck.  You are going to struggle to include it in your camping packing in your family car.

There is a robust rubber gasket around the lid to help keep the contents cold.  The handles are very robust to cope with the fully loaded weight

FeaturePelican Elite 70 QTComments
Capacity Quarts70 
Dimensions (inches)36 x 20 x21 
Empty weight (pounds)33 
Wheels (Y/N)NWe estimate a loaded weight of 140 pounds. Wheels would help
Drain plugsOne 
Additional features4 self-draining cup holdersNot the most exciting additional feature
Fully Loaded Weight Estimate (pounds)141See table below for assumptions
Pelican Elite 70 Quart – Top Features

Pelican Elite 70 Qt – We Like

  • Well known for its long ice life – it is popular among campers for keeping their contents cold for a long time, approximately ten days.
  • 3-inch locking latches with lockable hasp
  • Made in the USA.  Guaranteed for life

Pelican Elite 70 Qt – We Don’t Like

  • Reports of drainage tap leaking
  • Doesn’t keep cold as long as advertised
  • That guarantee/warranty has too many exceptions

RovR Wheeled Camping Cooler 60Qt

The RovR is considerably smaller than the Pelican reviewed above.  It is a 60Qt rather than 70 Qt but the change in dimensions is noticeable at 27 x 22 x 21 inches.  We think the insulation on the RovR is much more dense.  The empty weight is 45 pounds.  That is a hefty 12 pounds more than the Pelican.

Where the RovR scores is on mobility. As the name suggests, it’s a rolling cooler made to survive rugged backcountry environments.  It has 2 9-inch rubber wheels which add to it’s ability to go just about anywhere.

The RovR has lots of neat features including:

  • ‘Pull-beside’ dual handle
  • Deep freeze storage bin
  • Wagon bin – helps move more of your heavier gear to you camp pitch.
  • Range of colors
  • Optional features include:
  • Dual cup holders
  • Preparation board
  • Bike attachment – you can tow the cooler behind you bike.

It is no surprise to see that the RovR got the “Mens Journal, Gear of the Year Award” for 2018 for the most feature packed cooler.

FeatureRovR 60 QuartComments
Capacity Quarts60 
Dimensions (inches)27 x 22 x 21 
Empty weight (pounds)45 
Wheels (Y/N)YBig, heavy-duty wheels
Drain plugsOne 
Additional features4 self-draining cup holdersNot the most exciting additional feature
Fully Loaded Weight Estimate (pounds)137See table below for assumptions

Rovr Wheeled 60 Qt – We Like

  • Wheels and handle.  You can easily pull this cooler to where you need it
  • Wagon bin option
  • Tough and rugged

Rovr Wheeled 60 Qt – We Don’t Like

  • Heavy – even empty
  • Doesn’t retain ice anywhere near as long as advertised
  • Needs to be secured in your truck.  It will move around on those wheels unless wedged in tight

Engel ENG6 65 Qt

The Engel Eng6 is another large cooler claiming it can keep ice for up to 10 days.  As with every other cooler we have reviewed in this class – there is a significant minority of users that claim the ice only lasts a few hours.

The Engel Eng6 is big at 29.5 x 17 x 16.5 inches though this is much smaller than the Pelican.  It is also much lighter than either the Pelican or the RovR at 26pounds empty.  Usable volume is 58 Qt which Engel helpfully point out is 90 cans with 3 medium packs of ice.

FeatureEngel 65 QtComments
Capacity Quarts65 
Dimensions (inches)29.5 x 17 x 16.5 
Empty weight (pounds)26 
Wheels (Y/N)NBig, heavy-duty wheels
Drain plugsOne 
Additional featuresCertified Bear ProofInteragency Grizzly Bear Committee
Fully Loaded Weight Estimate121See table below for assumptions
Engel 65 Quart – Top Features

Engel 65 Qt – We Like

  • Good size and lightweight empty
  • Tough, rugged and certified bear proof (Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) certified)*
  • Relatively light empty weight keeps the fully loaded weight that little bit lighter
  • Silicone lid gasket – should seal better than comparable rubber seals

* In some national parks (e.g. Yellowstone, Yosemite) it is mandatory to use the provided bear lockers. Your cooler must be kept in the locker too so your bear proof catches may not be much of an advantage.

Engel 65 Qt – We Don’t Like

  • Reports of broken latches
  • Handles make for difficult handling when full
  • No wheels.  Moving this size cooler is a challenge when full

Yeti Tundra 65 Qt

The Yeti Tundra range of coolers is huge with models from 20Qt on up to 350Qt.  For some consistency in review, we are considering the 65 Qt model.  While this is pretty low-down in the hierarchy of Yeti coolers, it still measures 30.5 x 17 x16 inches with an empty weight of 29 pounds.  It is going to take a significant percentage of your packing space.

FeatureYeti Tundra 65 QtComments
Capacity Quarts65 
Dimensions (inches)30.5 x 17 x16 
Empty weight (pounds)29 
Wheels (Y/N)NBig, heavy-duty wheels
Drain plugsOne 
Additional featuresCertified Bear Proof 
Fully loaded weight estimate124See table below for assumptions
Yeti Tundra 65 Quart – Top Features

Yeti Tundra 65 Qt – We Like

  • Most users report the Yeti Tundra range really do keep contents colder for longer
  • Rotomolded body is very strong and rugged
  • Bear proof certified

Yeti Tundra 65 Qt – We Don’t Like

YETI Tundra Haul

Amazingly, the Yeti Tundra Haul is the only wheeled cooler in Yeti’s extensive range.  We include it here as a direct comparison for the RovR wheeled cooler.

The Tundra Haul 28.2 x 18.6 x 19.5 inches with an empty weight of 32 pounds.  It is smaller and lighter than the RovR with an internal volume of 55Qt.

FeatureYETI Tundra HaulComments
Capacity Quarts55 
Dimensions (inches)28.2 x 18.6 x 19.5 
Empty weight (pounds)32 
Wheels (Y/N)NBig, heavy-duty wheels
Drain plugsOne 
Additional featuresCertified Bear Proof 
Estimated fully loaded weight121See table below for assumptions
Yeti Tundra Haul 55 Quart – Top Features

Yeti Tundra Haul– We Like

  • The wheels.  When one of these coolers is going to weigh well over 110 pounds when loaded, we can’t see why you wouldn’t put wheels on it.  Wheels only help you move it on the ground.  It still takes 2 people to lift it to your truck.
  • Like all Yeti coolers – it is built to last.

Yeti Tundra 65 Qt – We Don’t Like

  • More expensive than some competitors

Fully Loaded Estimates of Weights for Coolers in This Round Up

Throughout this review we have provided our estimates of the fully loaded weights of these coolers in this review. Here are our underlying assumptions and the basis of the figures we have provided above.

Assumptions

Assumptions for fully loaded weight estimates for Best Ice Chest Camping Coolers for Family Camping
Fully Loaded Weight Assumptions – click on the image for the volume of the bag of ice video. Click here to see Cabela’s estimate of Number of Cans per Quart Capacity

We have used the number of cans a cooler can carry as an estimate for all the drink in the cooler. You would sacrifice about 4 cans for about 2 quarts of milk for instance.

Table with Fully Loaded weight estimates for the Best Ice Chest Camping Coolers for Family Camping
Estimated fully loaded weights of ice chest coolers

We have to emphasize, these are estimates. They might even be wild ass guesses (WAGs). But, as we have used the same assumptions for each, it provides a way of comparing the weights of coolers.

The major takeaway – these coolers are heavy.

Testing of Coolers

America’s Test Kitchen

CampingSage is a camping site. We don’t have the time, money or inclination to test coolers. There are plenty of sites out there that do carry out real-world (sort of) testing. For a slightly zany (think female mythbusters) lab test on top end coolers, take a look at the video below.

There are only 7 coolers in that video. The conclusion is that the Yeti45 keeps food and drinks cold the longest.

You just have to love the approach to testing the strength of coolers. Take a look at the video from 4:28

Coolers on Sale – High-End Cooler Review

Check out the video below from coolersonsale.com for a comprehensive review on the cold retention capabilities of eleven high-end coolers.

We have some reservations over their methodology of filling the cooler to the brim with ice, adding 2 bottles of water and then checking the temperature 3 times a day until all the ice was gone. In all practical applications we need to fill the majority of the cooler with drink and food. it wouldn’t have been too difficult to devise a test with a sample camping packup – meat, milk, butter, cheese, soda, beer, water… Fill the rest of the cooler with ice and monitor the temperature inside a little more accurately.

Despite our misgivings, these guys have conducted a robust test of many ice chest freezers. The results show a tie between the Kong 50Qt and the Otterbox 45Qt for ice retention. Both kept ice for 9.5 days.

We found the video a bit tedious. Click here to go right to their results page.

CoolersonSale.com – top pick for ice retention – Kong 70Qt

It shouldn’t be a surprise that all of the best performing coolers for ice retention are made in the USA. I don’t think there is a country in the World that has embraced the concept of coolers (and tailgate parties) in the same way as the US.

Camping Sage Pick for the Best Ice Chest Cooler for Family Camping

There is no secret here. Our current favorite family camping cooler is:

RovR Wheeled Camping Cooler 60Qt

It’s not cheap but with the rotomolded plastic, large wheels and super strong latches, this cooler will last you a lifetime.

We don’t understand why there are not more coolers with wheels in this category.