A cooler is essential for any outdoor activity where you want to serve perishable food or cold drinks.
Not every trip is going to need a giant container for food and drinks. If it is only a single person that is traveling and they are not going far, then a normal cooler is impractical to carry.
Smaller, personal coolers exist that provide all the benefits of their larger counterparts. They have the added bonus of being far more portable than a normal cooler.
The myth that small coolers cannot keep your favorite beverages cool and your food fresh for more than just a few hours have been busted. Today, with the latest innovations, new materials, and technologies, there are some compact coolers that have the ice retention capabilities of the heavy duty large and ultra large ones.
Small ice chests or personal coolers offer the perfect solution for people who want to pack their own lunch when they go to work. These units are large enough to accommodate your lunch but small enough to carry comfortably, making them perfect for commuters.
Small ice chests are versatile, and they can be used with good results by anyone who wants to pack enough food to last for a day. Whether you’re going to a sporting event, hiking, or hitting the beach, these coolers will keep your food and drinks cool.
Advantages of Small Coolers
The main asset of small ice chests is their dimension. Their small size makes them easy to carry and transport, and that’s what makes them more versatile than other models. Thanks to the fact that these coolers are easy to carry, you can take them with you wherever you go, whether it’s to work or to a sporting event.
1) They are Smaller – A small or personal cooler is one that a single person can carry around with them. This makes them perfect for travel that will less than a day, such as a trip to the park or even packing a lunch. A typical small cooler will also be a bit bigger than a normal lunchbox, so they offer more space than they do.
2) They are Usually Softer – This is not always the case, but smaller coolers are usually made from a soft and flexible material. While this does sacrifice some of the durability, the tradeoff is a cooler that, when empty, will not take up much space. There are also personal, plastic coolers available for people to use, though.
3) Ice Not Required – Many people will use personal coolers for day trips to pack their lunches, so they will not need to use actual ice. Ice packs are often used to keep the food and drinks cold without the risk of melting ice. In fact, some of the cheaper small coolers may not be able to handle water from ice. A few are watertight, but they tend to be more expensive.
4) All the Insulation without the Size – No matter if a cooler is big or small, as long as it does its job of keeping its contents cold and comfortable, then it works. Personal coolers are as capable of keeping food and drinks insulated and preserved. They will do a better job than a simple paper bag will, and are reusable.
5) Low Maintenance – Small ice chests have are low-maintenance units. They are easy to clean, whether they’re hard or soft-sided coolers. Since their insulated compartment is small, you will be able to clean it in a matter of moments. As for their outside shell, the molded models can be cleaned using a sponge and water, while the soft-sided ones can be cleaned using a small brush.
6) Durable – Despite their small and compact design, small ice chests are really durable. In fact, some of them are just as durable as the metal coolers. However, you should also respect their size, and avoid sitting on them unless the manufacturer states it’s safe to do so.
7) Easy to Transport – Small ice chests are really easy to transport. Sure, they might be slightly more inconvenient than carrying a backpack cooler because you will most likely have to carry them in your hands, but they’re still highly portable.
8) Cheap – Unlike the rotomolded coolers that can come at exorbitant prices, small ice chests are usually cheap. In fact, some of them might cost less than the lunch you’re planning to store in them.
9) Good Cooling Capacity – Because of their size and their limited storage capacity, you won’t be able to store a lot of ice in small ice chests, so their cooling capacity is also limited. However, these units will keep your food and drinks cold for several hours, more than most people wait until they eat their lunch.
10) Easy to Drain – Like all coolers, small ice chests are leak-proof. However, unlike larger models that need a drain to empty their water content, you can simply tip these models and drain the water inside with ease.
11) Suitable for Children – These small ice chests provide the perfect solution for your children’s field trips or lunch boxes. They’re well-insulated, so they will keep the food you pack fresh and the drinks you add cool. Moreover, they’re small enough to either fit comfortably in your kid’s backpack or to be carried by them in their small hands. And thanks to their small dimensions, you can be sure the coolers won’t be too heavy for your children to carry.
12) Can be Used to Make Clear Ice – Small ice chests are ideal if you plan on making your own clear ice. There are a lot of video tutorials available online to do that, and these coolers fit right in.
Disadvantages Of Small Coolers
Everything has its own set of disadvantages and so do these small coolers. We have mentioned some of them here for your reference.
1) Very Limited Storage Capacity – All the products we included on our list are really small. Make sure you’re comfortable with their reduced dimensions before making a purchase. Some of them are so small, they will only fit 5 cans and some ice.
2) Limited Cooling Capacity – Because these coolers are small, you won’t be able to pack a lot of ice or freeze packs next to your lunch or drinks, so their cooling capacity is also limited. Most of the models on our list can keep your food and drinks cold for up to 8 – 12 hours.
Best Small Coolers Comparison Table
Last update on 2019-06-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
How can Small Ice Chests be Helpful?
Thanks to their small size and versatility, small ice chests can be helpful in a lot of different scenarios. Let’s take a quick look at some situations when using a small cooler might make a difference.
1) Hunting or Fishing Trips – You don’t need to carry a lot of food when you go on a hunting or a fishing trip, especially if you’re only gone for the day. These small ice chests will hold enough food for a healthy lunch without taking up too much space in your luggage.
2) Everyday Use – Packing your own lunch can be a good solution if you want to make sure you stay away from fast-food and eat healthy meals. Moreover, packing your lunch might even save you money in the long run.
3) Suitable for Travelling Parents – Traveling is a great way to discover new and exciting places, and it’s a fun way to spend your holidays. Using a small ice chest is a great way to make sure you keep fresh breastmilk for your baby close at hand.
4) Going to the Beach – You don’t need to pack a lot of food and drinks when you go to the beach, especially if you’re going with only a few people. Using a small ice chest will be enough to store food and drinks to last you a few hours, more than enough to experience all the benefits of going to the beach.
How to Choose the Best Small Cooler – Buyer’s Guide
Still not sure what you should be looking for in a small cooler? We have broken the small coolers down into the main criteria to pay attention to.
1) Carrying Capacity and Size – The perfect mini cooler for your needs is one that manages to carry as many cans as you think you will need for the upcoming trip while being not that big itself. Obviously, the greater the capacity the bigger the size, but pay attention to these parameters and you’ll notice that some options are better than others.
Also, some of you may be looking for a small cooler with wheels for an easier carry. Our advice is to stick to the ones who are more durable since wheels tend to break pretty fast. Don’t worry, the swing handles on most models on our list above means they’re easy to carry without wheels, too.
2) Ice Time – For how long will the best small ice cooler you’ve chosen keep your drinks and snacks cold? Usually, a long time advertised also means that you’ll need to wait an equally long time before using it, in order to prepare the ice packs. Think about this trade-off and find the ideal time window for you, so you get both high performance but also a bit of flexibility.
3) Waterproof – You don’t need your small cooler to be waterproof, but you do need it to be leak-proof in order to prevent the melted ice or drinks inside from spilling out. On the other hand, if your small personal cooler is also waterproof, then all for the better.
4) Ease of Cleaning and Maintenance – Don’t buy a cooler if it doesn’t specify that it’s treated with anti-microbial substances. Only those are easy to clean and don’t pose future health risks. This is even more important if you’re using them for storing food as well, not just drinks.
5) Material – This is where you need to make a choice, usually based on your gut, on whether you prefer soft coolers or hard-shelled coolers. Both types come with their own unique sets of pros and cons. A soft cooler is obviously easier to carry on your person, like with a shoulder strap, while a hard one is more durable, can protect the contents better and can double down as a chair or small table.
Regardless of which of the two types of cooler you prefer, you can rest assured that the items which made it to our list are top of the line.
6) Insulation – The product description of the small cooler you’re considering should clearly state for how many hours they promise to keep the contents of the cooler ice-cold. On average, look for at least 6-8 hours for lunchbox type of coolers, and around 24 hours for coolers used for city breaks and camping trips.
7) Durability – Durability is important not just for how long you have until you need to replace it, but also as a question of how bad is your cooler going to look after a couple of trips, even if still functional. The truth is that here, it depends on the purpose of the cooler.
Lunch coolers are obviously going to be the softest of them all, but you don’t really need them to withstand bear attacks if you just take them to work and back, right? The same goes for beach coolers, they’re great for their intended job but can prove flimsy on an expedition to the highest mountain peak. On the other hand, fishing coolers or kayak coolers are going to be reinforced with industrial strength durability. So it all comes down to the type of trip you’re planning. Just choose a cooler appropriate for it and the durability will not disappoint.
Best Small/Personal Coolers
After considerable research, we have chosen some of the best Small/Personal Coolers out of all the available products we have as of now.
1. Yeti Hopper Flip Portable Cooler
The Hopper was built for those adventures where you want to grab your gear and go. It’s the original 100% leakproof, ice-for-days portable cooler. And because we used materials found in things like HazMat suits and whitewater rafts, it’s also tough as nails. Yeti small coolers are made in sizes to fit any adventure, whether that’s on a wild river in a kayak or a floatplane trip to remote salmon streams.
- Dryhide Shell – The Hopper’s high-density fabric is waterproof and resistant to mildew, punctures, and UV rays. The liner is made from an FDA-approved food-grade material.
- Coldcell Insulation – Closed-cell rubber foam offers far superior cold-holding to ordinary soft coolers.
- Hydro lock Zipper – The toughest, highest-performing waterproof and leakproof cooler zipper in the world.
- Hitchpoint Grid – Easily attach pretty much anything, including the MOLLE Zinger, MOLLE Bottle Opener and SideKick.
- Yeti Sidekick Dry – The SideKick Dry is designed to keep the important things accessible, secure, and 100% dry. This waterproof gear case is the best way to carry your keys, wallet, fishing license, and phone in the wild.
- Yeti ice – YETI ICE is filled to the brim with science, dialed into the most effective temperature to maximize the ice retention of any cooler, with a durable design that is break-resistant. It’s custom shape reduces freezing time and comes in multiple size options.
- Molle Bottle Opener – The MOLLE Bottle Opener attaches directly to your Hopper, meaning you’ll never again be without a way to crack into those frosty brews.
- Molle Zinger Bottle Opener – Keep your multitools or bottle openers within arm’s reach with the MOLLE Zinger. The MOLLE Zinger easily attaches to your YETI Hopper HitchPoint Grid. Its retractable cord is made from the braided bomber cord for maximum strength and durability.
- Product Dimensions – 15.8 x 10.2 x 12.6 inches.
- Item Weight – 7.4 pounds.
- Average Customer Review – 4.2 out of 5 stars (279 customer reviews).
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank – #8 in Camping Coolers.
2. Coleman FlipLid Personal Cooler
Take a cooler and a mini table with you to your next event when you bring along a Coleman 5 Quart FlipLid Cooler. Large enough to hold 6 cans, you’ll have plenty of space to pack a full meal. Whether you’re bringing lunch to work or heading out for an afternoon picnic, the bail handle makes getting to your destination easy. Once you arrive, the FlipLid hinged lid flips over for use as a tray with molded beverage holders. When the fun is done, the EZ-Clean top wipes clean, so you’re ready for your next fun adventure.
- EZ- Clean Lid – With its smoother texture, the EZ-Clean lid wipes clean easily, making cleanup a breeze. You’ll be ready for your next outdoor gathering in no time.
- Bail Handle – Ergonomically designed for comfortable carrying when the cooler is full and the parking lot seems to be far away.
- Product Dimensions – 8.1 x 7.2 x 10.7 inches.
- Item Weight – 1.83 pounds.
- Average Customer Review – 4.4 out of 5 stars (693 customer reviews).
- Amazon Best Seller Rank – #6 in Camping Coolers.
3. Stanley Adventure Cooler
Stanley adventure 16-quart navy cooler brings the legendary performance and durability into portable solutions that meet today’s toughest demands. Leak resistant gasket lock in the cold. Sturdy latches and hinges add durability. This cooler has a foamed lid and body. It will hold 21 cans. Keeps cans cold for 36 hours.
This beefy boy holds all the goodies – and keeps them cold for 27 hours, nearly 40% longer than your typical cooler. That means longer tailgates, longer hikes and campouts, hell, longer backyard BBQs and festival festivities. Cooler, harder, faster, stronger.
- Foam insulated lid + body
- Adjustable tie-down
- Leak-resistant gasket
- Rugged latches and handles
- Product Dimensions – 18 x 14 x 20 inches ; 9.4 pounds
- Shipping Weight – 4.5 pounds
- Average Customer Review – 4.4 out of 5 stars (608 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank – #114 in Camping Coolers
4. Yitour Insulated Small Soft Cooler Bag
Best partner for travel,picnic,camping,outside party,road trip,etc.
Extra large capacity: Spacious enough for 7-8 family members stuff.
Insulated function:7-layers insulated material keeps the cooler bag temperature at least 9-12 hours.
- Keep fresh long time – Yitour soft cooler bag padded with 15mm EPE foam and the food-grade aluminum film keeps stuff much fresher and cold for at least 15 hours.
- Premium material – Combine with scratch-resistance oxford cloth,15 MM PE Foam, and Aluminium film and super-durable two-way stainless steel zipper.
- Multiple pockets – The soft cooler bag can be carried by hand or sh Multiple pockets:1 top mesh pocket,2 side mesh pocket, and 1 front pocket are able to store necessities, such as napkins, cell phones, keys, wallets, cutlery, etc. oulder strap.
- Extra large capacity – Large enough for drinking,fruit,food,etc.
- Product Dimensions – 20.1 x 15 x 14.6 inches.
- Item Weight – 6.05 pounds.
- Customer Reviews – 4.2 out of 5 stars (9 customer reviews).
- Best Sellers Rank – #429 in Camping Coolers.
5. Mojecto Cooler Bag
Hard Liner soft cooler bag.
Insulated cooler made from strong, durable polyester fabric.
Warranty against any manufacturing defects with no question asked.
- For the office, schools, sports, camping, hiking, long trips, beaches.
- Long-lasting cooling because of thick insulation & heat sealing.
- Durable construction with heavy duty materials.
- Easy to clean in case of accidental spillage.
- Lightweight and portable for everyday use.
- Durable polyester fabric.
- strong durable hard liner bucket.
- High density thick insulation for long-lasting cooling.
- Dual fully Insulated compartments.
- Top insulated compartment for dry storage.
- Bottom compartment insulated from all sides with high density foam and Peva liner.
- Two Large pockets on sides for storage.
- Large front zippered pocket.
- Large Durable zippers.
- Padded adjustable shoulder straps.
- Product Dimensions – 8 x 6.3 x 10 inches.
- Item Weight – 1.66 pounds.
- Customer Reviews – 3.7 out of 5 stars (13 customer reviews).
- Best Sellers Rank – #482 in Camping Coolers.