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The 9 Best Small Coolers

We tested nine of the most popular small coolers and can recommend three as the best cooler for keeping beverages and food cold all day. The best hard-sided cooler is unquestionably the Igloo – Playmate. Its unique tent-top design lets you pack beverages standing up, and its gasket-sealed lid keeps everything inside icy cold. If you’re looking for a collapsible cooler, the TOURIT cooler bag is roomy enough to accommodate an entire meal and many bottles or cans, even when packed with ice. If you’re a hiking enthusiast, the FORICH backpack cooler has well-padded straps and two insulated compartments for beverages and food items.

Our Top Choices

Best Hardsided Cooler


Playmate 30 Can

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Best Cooler Bag


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Best Backpack Cooler


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We tested nine of the most popular small coolers and can recommend three as the best cooler for keeping beverages and food cold all day. The best hard-sided cooler is unquestionably the Igloo – Playmate. Its unique tent-top design lets you pack beverages standing up, and its gasket-sealed lid keeps everything inside icy cold. If you’re looking for a collapsible cooler, the TOURIT cooler bag is roomy enough to accommodate an entire meal and many bottles or cans, even when packed with ice. If you’re a hiking enthusiast, the FORICH backpack cooler has well-padded straps and two insulated compartments for beverages and food items.

The 9 small coolers we tested

ProductList PriceTypeAdvertised Capacity (cans)InsulationUsability
Igloo - Playmate$38.52Hard10/1010/10
TOURIT - Cooler Bag$34.99Soft bag4810/109/10
Maelstrom$34.99Soft bag488/108/10
TOURIT - Backpack$34.99Backpack255/106/10
Lifewit$26.99Soft bag307/105/10
Stanley - Adventure$50Hard7/105/10
Coleman - Cooler Bag$26.99Soft bag163/106/10
Coleman - Cooler Chiller$22.99Hard114/105/10

How we selected

We’ve tested large coolers, and plug in thermoelectric coolers, but we wanted to find something smaller with this post. We began our search by considering how and why we would use a small cooler. For example, if we were hiking, we wanted a backpack cooler that could hold enough drinks and food for two-to-four people and wouldn’t burden us down by being too heavy. For a beach day, we wanted a small cooler — soft, collapsible or hard-side — that had room for drinks, food, and dry goods that would last us eight hours and could keep everything cold and fresh under a hot sun.

We looked for coolers that had exterior pockets for carrying other items like wine bottles, cutlery, napkins, plates, etc., pretty much anything you might want for the beach or picnicking. We also wanted the coolers we tested to be made of strong, waterproof materials, sturdy, and comfortable to tote, whether by the handle or a shoulder strap.

Small coolers are available in a range of capacity. Hard-side coolers are measured in quarts, while soft coolers and backpacks are measured in how many cans it can hold. We chose a selection of hard-side, soft collapsible, and backpack coolers that had approximately the same capacity.

How we tested

We packed each cooler with ice and canned and bottled beverages, sealed them, and put them off into a closed room, approximately 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit in temperature. We checked each cooler at two hour intervals and recorded the percentage of ice that had melted. We also checked to see if the coolers had leaked. We resealed each cooler and checked at four hours and again at eight hours to determine if there had been any significant change.

Mostly, the coolers kept the beverages cold, but except for three, the ice had completely melted, and the cans were submerged in a puddle of cold water. Almost all the coolers with zippered enclosures did not prevent the ice from melting, and if the coolers were tipped on their side, water streamed through the zippers.

Important features to consider

During testing, several features stood out that you should look for when buying a small cooler. Small coolers have many advantages over large coolers. First and foremost is portability; a small cooler can literally be taken anywhere and are a favorite for outdoor enthusiasts. A small cooler is also space-saving since it can easily fit in a car trunk with camping or beach equipment. A collapsible soft cooler is also incredibly convenient, because it can be stored under a car seat, under the bed, or in a closet. Finally, a small cooler is versatile since it can be used picnics, beach days, or camping.


Generally there are three types of small coolers: hard-side, soft collapsible, and backpack. They each address a different need.

Hard-side coolers are smaller versions of a large hard-side cooler, like, for example, the ubiquitous Coleman cooler. The small hard-sides are often called “personal” coolers because it allows you to carry several canned or bottled beverages along with sandwiches and fruit. These are most often used as lunchboxes.

Soft, collapsible coolers can also be used as lunchboxes, and they have the additional benefit of folding completely flat for storage and transport. The soft coolers come in various sizes, and most of the ones we tested could hold 20 or 30 cans and also have room for food and dry goods, like paper plates.

Backpack coolers are ideal for beach days or hiking. Backpack coolers often have several exterior pockets, and because of their design, they can expand as your loading it up with beverages and food. Of course, the more you pack the backpack, the heavier it will be and isn’t conducive to long hikes.


Most of the small coolers we tested are marketed with photographs of their overflowing with a mountain of ice and an abundance of cans, bottles, and food. Nothing could be further from the truth. The coolers we tested had a capacity of anywhere between nine and 30 cans. It was possible to cram the cooler with cans, but overall the coolers did not meet the stated capacity. If you consider that you would need to add ice or ice packs, the capacity decreases. A few of the coolers do have larger sizes, but in our opinion, they’re no longer as portable and are only practical for tail-gating.

But if you’re looking for toting along a cooler for a beach day or hike, smaller is definitely better since when packed they’ll be easier to carry by yourself. Look for a small cooler that can accommodate both drinks and food, like the uniquely shaped Igloo Playmate, the collapsible TOURIT cooler bag, or the FORICH backpack, both of which have pockets specifically designed for dry goods, including plates, plastic forks/knives, and napkins.

Tight seal

The last thing you want is your food and beverages sloshing around in melted ice. Finding a small cooler with a tight seal can be tricky. Of the hard-side coolers, only the Igloo Playmate prevented ice from melting. Most of the backpack coolers we tested had good insulation, but because they all were zipper-closed, they could not be tightly sealed, resulting in a puddle of water in the bottom of the backpack.

Another caution to be aware of is that backpack coolers must stay upright at all times, because the melted ice streams through the zippers when the backpack is tilted on its side. The soft collapsible coolers were also sealed with zippers, but these had very thick insulation that kept ice from melting and seeping through the zippers.

Padded shoulder straps

If you’re looking for a collapsible soft cooler or a backpack cooler, definitely check out the padding on the shoulder straps. Collapsible coolers can be carried by its handle, but all come with an adjustable shoulder strap. Many soft cooler bags we tested had thin padding, which puts severe strain on the shoulder when you’re carrying a full cooler for any distance. The Coleman soft cooler bag had the best padding of the soft coolers we tested, and the FORICH backpack cooler also had excellent padding with added bonus of a breathable mesh material on the straps and back of the backpack.


Best hardsided: Igloo - Playmate

Igloo - Playmate hard cooler

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The sturdy Igloo Playmate definitely proved to be the best hard-sided cooler we tested for several reasons. First and foremost, the ice didn’t melt for hours, and by the eighth hour, it had only melted by half. The Playmate’s unique design seals the cooler so the inner temperature remains the same. Reminding us of an old-fashioned breadbox, the triangle-shaped tent top smoothly slides back, which allows you to pack the cooler with bottles and tall cans standing up instead of laying down on their side.

Formerly, the Igloo Playmate had a side button for opening the top, but it’s been recently redesigned so that the button is built into the ergonomically designed handle and is exceptionally easy to open and close.  The Igloo Playmate comes in five colors and almost all are 16 quarts, which allows for 30 tightly packed cans. We also found the Igloo Playmate easy to tote around because of the molded handle that’s centered at the top and evenly distributes the cooler’s weight when full. Reasonably priced and built to last, the Igloo Playmate is an ideal small cooler for any outdoor excursion.


Best cooler bag: TOURIT - 48 Can

TOURIT large cooler bag

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The TOURIT collapsible cooler bag is another excellent option for people on the go. Like the Igloo Playmate, ice was melted less than half after eight hours, and everything inside kept icy cold. The interior is made of an extra-thick waterproofed insulation that expands as you fill the bag with up to 48 cans. The interior of the top of the cooler bag has a zippered mesh pocket for storing dry goods, such as snacks, paper plates, or plastic utensils.

The TOURIT can be carried two ways, either by the Velcroed handle or by the adjustable shoulder strap, which we found to be somewhat uncomfortable because the strap’s padding is rather thin. A feature that we really liked is that when the bag is empty, it collapses completely flat and can be stored anywhere. As with all the cooler bags and back packs we tested, the TOURIT has a bottle opener sewn into the handle. If you’re a person who loves the beach, the TOURIT cooler bag will keep everything cold all day long.


Best backpack cooler: FORICH - 24 Can

Forich - cooler backpack

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Designed with thought-out features for those who enjoy hiking and camping, the FORICH backpack cooler was the best of the bunch we tested. The bag is divided into two insulated sections: the top half for dry goods, and the larger bottom half (about two-thirds the size of the entire bag) for cold items. During our tests, the FORICH did equally as well as our other two top choices with the ice half-melted after eight hours. The backpack is made of a thick waterproof fabric and has two large zippered pockets for dry goods.

On each side of the backpack is a deep mesh pocket that can safely and securely transport wine bottles or water bottles. The backpack’s straps are well-padded, and the back and underside of the straps are lined with a breathable mesh fabric. Our only complaint about the FORICH backpack cooler is that the main zipper could be stronger. The manufacturer claims that the backpack holds 30 cans, but that’s not really accurate since you need to account for ice or ice packs. Otherwise the FORICH is a terrific choice for outdoor hiking enthusiasts.


Maelstrom - 30 Can Cooler Bag

Maeolstrom - soft cooler bag

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The collapsible Maelstrom cooler bag has a few great features that we loved, but the ice did completely melt after eight hours, so it’s not one of our top picks. However, on the plus side, although the ice had melted, the beverages were still cold. The Maelstrom has a roomy interior that can hold up to 30 cans, and one of its outstanding features is the bento-box-like top section that’s lined with aluminum for keeping food items warm. The bag’s inner lid also has four elastic strips for storing plates or other flat items.

The large zippered front pocket has a bungee-cord system for securing fabrics, like napkins or towels. Another zippered pocked on the side is for storing a cell phone, and on the opposite side is a mesh bag for holding a wine or water bottle. The Maelstrom can be carried by the Velcroed handle or by the adjustable shoulder strap, but the padding is pretty thin so when full, the bag would be uncomfortable when carrying a long distance.  The Maelstrom comes in various sizes and colors and is well-priced for such a good product.


TOURIT - 25 Can Backpack Cooler

Tourit - cooler backpack

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The TOURIT backpack cooler’s capacity is marketed as 25 cans, but in reality it fits 20 cans. It’s lightweight when not loaded, but full, this backpack would get pretty uncomfortable if you’re hiking a long distance. Its insulation wasn’t especially effective, and ice began melting after only two hours. Although the interior is waterproof, you need to keep the backpack always standing upright, or water streams through the zipper.

The front of the backpack has a large pocket for food items that don’t need to stay cold and a second smaller zippered pocket for paper plates, plastic utensils, and napkins. The TOURIT backpack also has a mesh pocket on either side for water bottles or snacks. As with the TOURIT collapsible cooler, the backpack’s main zipper could be larger and heavier. The TOURIT backpack cooler isn’t a bad product, but it’s not exceptional.


Lifewit - 30 Can Cooler Bag

Lifewit - cooler bag

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The Lifewit cooler bag is a more stylish version of the other cooler bags we tested. The bag’s exterior waterproof material comes in two colors, black and heather gray, which is the most attractive. Despite its nice looks, the Lifewit has several flaws. It did keep our beverages cold even though all the ice had melted after eight hours. The Lifewit bag has a front pocket that isn’t zippered, so whatever you pack into the pocket could easily slip out. It has a mesh pocket on either side, but both are not deep enough to hold any type of bottle.

Design-wise, the biggest problem is that when the bag is full, there isn’t enough material to actually close the bag. There’s a Velcro strap that can be used to secure the bag when collapsed, but it serves no other purpose and gets in the way of zipping the bag closed. The adjustable shoulder strap is flimsy and uncomfortable to use. Overall, the Lifewit bag looks great, but it’s cheaply made, and you should pass this one by.


Stanley - 7qt Adventure hard cooler

Stanley - Adventure hard cooler

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The Stanley Adventure hard-sided 7-quart cooler is the most expensive item on our list, but we were less impressed by its performance. It certainly seems well-made of high-density polyethylene (super-hard plastic) outer shell and its double-wall insulated interior. Stanley claims that the cooler is so tough, it can be used as a seat when camping. Well, maybe you can sit on the larger sizes, because the Stanley Adventure is more like a large lunchbox (which many reviewers use it for).

It has an extra-wide handle that facilitates easy carrying, and the lid has two strong hinges that keep the cooler firmly closed. One feature that Stanley brags about is that the cooler has an interior silicone gasket, which is supposed to seal the lid and keep beverages cold for 27 hours. Stanley’s claim didn’t pan out; after eight hours, the ice was completely melted. Fortunately, the silicone gasket does prevent leakage, so when we tipped the cooler over, water stayed sealed inside. The Stanley Adventure is too pricey for a cooler that simply doesn’t do the job.


Coleman - 9 Can Cooler Bag

Coleman - small soft cooler bag

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The Coleman soft cooler bag is a sturdy, well-made cooler, but it simply didn’t live up to Coleman’s promise that the cooler keeps beverages cold for 24 hours. In fact, after eight hours, the ice had all melted, and the beverages weren’t as cold as they should have been. We tested the nine-can model, and overall it seemed that this cooler bag would work better as a lunch box, because, with ice or an ice pack, how much you can pack in is very limited. The Coleman cooler bag does come in 16-quart and 32-quart sizes if you want something larger for an outdoor excursion.

The Coleman cooler bag has a nicely padded shoulder strap, and a mesh pocket on the inner side of the lid, and a small non-zippered outer pocket, which seemed too small for anything other than a paperback novel. On the plus side, although the ice had melted into a puddle of water in the bottom of the cooler, no leakage occurred.


Coleman - 9qt Chiller

Coleman - 16qt chiller

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The Coleman Chiller 9-quart hard-sided cooler is very popular as a “personal” cooler, which means consumers are buying this to tote around enough beer and food just for themselves. So, in effect, it’s a slightly overgrown lunch box. It has a Coleman cooler’s trademark features: well-made, lightweight, and an ergonomic handle for ease of carrying. However, after two hours, the ice had begun to already melt, and after four hours, the ice was almost all melted.

The Coleman did keep beverages cold, albeit in a puddle of water. However, it was completely leak-proof, so it will be better to use ice packs instead of loose ice. If you’re looking for a cooler that can hold more than a few cans and a couple of sandwiches, check out our other, larger coolers we’ve highlighted. Since the Coleman Chiller didn’t do its basic function, we can’t recommend it.

Gene Gerrard, Writer

Gene has written about a wide variety of topics for too many years to count. He's been a professional chef, cooking-appliance demonstrator, playwright, director, editor of accountancy and bank-rating books, Houdini expert and dog lover (still is). When he's not writing for Your Best Digs, he's performing as a magician at the Magic Castle in Hollywood.

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