The 12 Best Small Coolers of 2023 | by Travel + Leisure

Courtesy of Amazon

A small cooler is one that’s easy for a single person to carry but still has the capacity to fit up to 24 quarts. Do you need one that’s hard or soft? Zip or flip-lid? Backpack or tote? It’s all about preference and finding a cooler that fits your lifestyle. While a backpack cooler makes sense for hikers, a handheld personal ice-chest might be a better match for a day-long road trip. 

For an overall solid portable cooler that’s suited for almost any excursion, our favorite is the Yeti Hopper Flip 12 Soft Cooler. It’s durable, leakproof, and comes in 13 sleek colors to suit a variety of tastes. You’d be hard-pressed to find a cooler that keeps your provisions cold (or hot) for longer. But since each adventure requires an array of different features within our personal ice chests, we’ve rounded up more of the best small coolers on the market that are tailored to specific needs.

Our Top PicksBest Overall:YETI Portable Soft Cooler at AmazonJump to ReviewBest Budget:Mountainsmith The Sixer Cooler Bag at AmazonJump to ReviewBest Backpack:IceMule Jaunt 15L Soft-sided Cooler at AmazonJump to ReviewBest Tote:Hydro Flask 20L Insulated Tote at AmazonJump to ReviewBest Hard:Stanley Adventure Easy Carry 16-Quart Cooler at AmazonJump to ReviewBest Soft:Orca Walker Tote at AmazonJump to ReviewMost Packable:Igloo Packable Puffer Cooler at REIJump to ReviewBest Waterproof:IceMule Classic Soft Cooler at AmazonJump to ReviewBest Lunch Cooler:Yeti Lunch Bag at AmazonJump to ReviewBest for Road Trips:YETI Roadie 24 Cooler at AmazonJump to Review

Best Overall

YETI Hopper Flip 12 Portable Soft Cooler


View On AmazonView On WalmartView On REI Why We Love It

It’s designed for rough and tumble use but isn’t too bulky.

What to Consider

It comes in three sizes, so you’ll need to pick the one that’s fitting for your ventures.

The definition of a “cool companion,” the Yeti Hopper Flip 12 Soft Cooler ticks all the boxes we crave in a small ice chest, and does it quite well. We love the sturdy, 100-percent leakproof design and light weight for portability. The heavy-duty zipper keeps everything tucked in nicely, while the insulation technology keeps your items exceptionally cold using closed-cell rubber foam. The DryHide™ shell repels UV rays, and the whole cooler is treated to resist mildew, so you’ll have the Yeti Hopper for the long-haul. 

Featuring the coveted attributes and durability of a hard cooler while still being a flexible soft cooler, the Yeti Hopper is the best of both worlds. Although it comes in three sizes (8-liter, 12-liter, and 18-liter), we like the 12-liter for its capacity of up to 13 cans — or perhaps lunch and 6 cans — including ice. This is a small cooler that can pack in a decent amount while managing to also be totable for your endeavors. The wide mouth opening and quick, grabbable top handle make the Hopper very user-friendly as well. Bring it along on a beach day, road trip, or boat cruise — this cooler is up for almost any adventure. 

Price at time of publish: $250

The Details: 3.1 pounds | 15.8 liters | 14 x 14 x 11 inches

Best Budget

Mountainsmith The Sixer Cooler Bag


View On AmazonView On Backcountry.comView On Mountainsmith.comWhy We Love It

It’s the perfect size for a six-pack of bottles or 12 cans.

What to Consider

If using the full 12-can capacity, there’s little room left for an additional ice pack.

Stylish, affordable, and compact, the Sixer 12L is an easy choice when shopping for a soft cooler. Tall enough to transport bottles as well as cans, this personal-sized ice chest is as portable and comfortable as it gets thanks to an easy-to-grab top handle and a removable shoulder strap. But this small cooler isn’t all about looks; the PE foam insulation and waterproof seams keep that six-pack cold for when you’re ready to refresh. 

Whether you’re going on an impromptu picnic of wine and cheese or need to keep your lunch cool on the job, this handy soft cooler has your back. Keep smaller items organized with the interior mesh pocket and exterior pockets, which are perfect for holding a corkscrew, napkins, keys, or anything else that you don’t want to lose. To give you even more peace of mind, Mountainsmith backs this budget cooler with a lifetime warranty.

Price at time of publish: $35

The Details: 1.1 pounds | 12 liters | 16 x 11 x 5 inches

Best Backpack

IceMule Jaunt 15L Soft-sided Cooler


View On AmazonView On REIView On Backcountrygear.comWhy We Love It

The double-padded straps of this cooler-backpack combo make it comfortable to carry.

What to Consider

The closure of the bag is a roll-top design with a buckle instead of a zipper.

With the ability to keep food and drink cool in a comfortable-to-carry pack that’s perfect for hiking and other outdoor endeavors, the IceMule Jaunt lives up to its name. A backpack cooler is an ideal blend in the cooler world that allows you to enjoy a hands-free adventure. The front dry pocket is great for safekeeping your keys or phone, and, as a major bonus, the IceMule backpack floats in the water. Whether you’re hiking, canoeing, or paddleboarding, this small, soft-sided cooler keeps your refreshments secure and your focus on the activity at hand. 

The built-in AirValve allows the bag to be compressed down to a packable size, making your return trip a little less bulky. The Jaunt is 100-percent water and leakproof and promises to keep your items cold for up to 24-hours — that’s a lot of adventure time for a small cooler. 

Price at time of publish: $90 for small

The Details: 1.6 pounds or 2 pounds | 9 liters or 15 liters | 7 x 7.5 x 17 inches or 9 x 8.5 x 17 inches

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Best Tote

Hydro Flask 20L Insulated Tote



View On AmazonView On REIView On Campsaver.comWhy We Love It

The lined interior is easy to clean in case of spills. 

What to Consider:

The bag’s insulation is considered lightweight, making the longevity for keeping items cool only around four hours.

We love that the practical Hydro Flask 20L Insulated Tote can be quickly slung over your shoulder to transport food and drink wherever needed. Whether you have to keep things like milk or ice cream cold after getting groceries or need refreshments for your kid’s soccer games, the Hydro Flask is up for the challenge. 

Although it’s not designed for longer day or camping trips, this soft tote is ideal for an afternoon at the beach, transporting dishes to a pot-luck event, or shorter scenic drives. Any dirt or spillage is easily wiped off the coated, waterproof fabric. The durable design means it won’t leak either — a huge perk for the backseat of your car. The Hydro Flask is also collapsable, so when it’s not in use, you can just fold it up and tuck it away in storage. 

Price at time of publish: $65

The Details: 1.32 pounds | 20 liters | 17 x 14 x 7.3 inches

Best Hard

Stanley Adventure Easy Carry 16-Quart Cooler


View On AmazonView On Backcountry.comView On Campsaver.comWhy We Love It

The price point is extremely fair given the capabilities of this small cooler.

What to Consider

The hard, boxy design makes it more equipped for casual camping or fishing trips than hiking exploits.

We love the classic, rugged design of the Stanley Adventure Easy Carry 16-quart Cooler. The 21-can capacity and latched closure put this cooler at the top of its class. Although hard coolers have a reputation of being bulkier and heavier, they often surpass soft coolers in their temperature-maintaining longevity as well as their durability. This Stanley is the perfect example of that heavy-duty power. And since it has a lifetime warranty, you don’t have to worry about this little adventure companion failing you. The Stanley’s double wall foam insulation keeps your food and drinks crisp and cold all day, and you can throw other supplies on top of the cooler and secure them with the lid tie-downs. The comfortable handle makes for happy hands, too.

Constructed to withstand the elements inside and out, the Stanley Adventure Easy Carry Outdoor Cooler is a can’t-go-wrong pick. Draining melted ice is a breeze thanks to the leak-resistant gasket built into this model, and since adventure coolers are bound to get dirty, we appreciate that it can be cleaned right in the dishwasher. 

Price at time of publish: $80

The Details: 6.6 pounds | 15 liters | 16.7 x 12.8 x 11.2 inches

Best Soft

Orca Walker Tote


View On AmazonView On WalmartView On Basspro.comWhy We Love It

The cooler’s height allows for holding multiple bottles of wine upright.

What to Consider

The price point for this cooler makes it a bit of a splurge purchase.

Perfect for a boat day on the lake, river tubing expeditions, or catching waves at the beach, the Orca is our favorite tote for its versatility and so much more. Pack in up to 50 pounds of goodies in the soft but durable bag. We love its tough construction, roomy height, and impressive ability to keep ice from fully melting for more than 24 hours. The large exterior pocket is ready to hold your phone, keys, and other important items and keep them dry to boot. 

Load up to 18 cans or a combination of your favorite bottles and snacks through the easy-to-open magnetic handles and feel confident that whatever is left will still be cold the next morning. You can also carry it using the padded shoulder strap for optimal comfort. The strong zipper closure will keep leaks out and everything secure, no matter what your adventure is for the day. Despite its rugged design, the Orca Walker Tote is surprisingly stylish, too.

Price at time of publish: $180

The Details: 3.6 pounds | 20 liters | 17.25 x 15.25 x 12.25 inches

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Most Packable

Igloo Packable Puffer Cooler

Igloo Coolers

View On REIView On Igloocoolers.comWhy We Love It

So packable that it can fit in your pocket, this small cooler was made with recycled materials.

What to Consider

Since it’s so compact, the insulation doesn’t have as much longevity as other coolers.

The Igloo Packable Puffer Cooler is the definition of compact; it can scrunch up so tiny that it fits in most pockets. Perfect for travel or hike-in camping trips, this tear-resistant cooler fits up to 20 cans and comes with a storage pouch. Made from Repreve polyester and PrimaLoft using recycled materials such as plastic water bottles and post consumer fibers, this is a cooler that Mother Nature can put her stamp of approval on. 

The leakproof liner keeps liquids in the cooler, and if something spills on the interior, it’s easy to clean. A front zip pocket is great for storing additional items like keys and change. Although the melt-time for ice isn’t as long as other coolers, it’s effective for transporting foods that need to be kept cold for quick trips. 

Price at time of publish: $30

The Details: 8.8 ounces | 14.4 liters | 12 x 9 x 5.5 inches

Best Waterproof

IceMule Classic Insulated Backpack Cooler Bag


View On AmazonView On WalmartView On Academy.comWhy We Love It

This cooler is perfect for water-based activities.

What to Consider

Designed more like a water bag, the carry straps aren’t the most comfortable.

You can hit the water with icy cold beverages when the IceMule Classic Collapsible Backpack Cooler tags along. Built for activities like stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, canoeing, and river-tubing, this waterproof cooler is a top pick for outdoor enthusiasts. No need to fret if it ends up in the water either; this cooler will float, even when it’s filled to the brim. 

The classic TriFold DriTop roll-top design is great for keeping the water out and ice in. The IceMule will keep up to 12 cans cold for 24 hours with its PolarLayer insulation, which is known to be thicker than the insulation in most soft-sided coolers. When your adventure is done and the cooler is dry, the handy air valve allows the bag to be compressed and stored with ease until your next adventure. 

Price at time of publish: $85

The Details: 2.5 pounds | 15 liters | 14 x 7 x 7.5 inches

Best Lunch Cooler

Yeti Daytrip Packable Lunch Bag


View On AmazonView On WalmartView On WalmartWhy We Love It

It folds down to a compact size when not filled.

What to Consider

There aren’t any extra pockets or pouches on the exterior.

Bagged lunches are back. The Yeti Daytrip Lunch Bag is a soft cooler perfect for keeping a meal or two at an optimal temperature, whether you’re on the job or enjoying a paddle picnic from your canoe. A nifty magnetic closure helps to keep your hot food hot and your cold food cold. The lightweight design makes this personal cooler bag portable and packable, and once you’ve indulged in the contents, it folds up even smaller for storing. The adjustable grid style allows you to change the inside size of the bag by simply altering the hook closure. Choose from a wide array of fun, vibrant colors so your personal cooler matches your lunchtime mood. 

Price at time of publish: $80

The Details: 1.37 pounds | 3.1 liters | 8.75 x 5.75 x 8.75 inches

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Best for Road Trips

YETI Roadie 24 Cooler


View On AmazonView On REIView On Backcountry.comWhy We Love It

The super-thick walls of insulation keep things at their ideal temperature for hours and hours.

What to Consider

here’s no drain plug to empty out melted ice.

We love the upgrades to the already amazing original Yeti Roadie design: the insulating and holding power have received a big boost, and somehow the latest model is also lighter than its predecessor. Built specifically for the needs that a road trip demands, this hard cooler is rugged and roomy, with a height to accommodate most wine or soda bottles. It fits nicely behind the seat, and the quick latch release opening allows you to access your snacks fast — before hanger sets in. No room in the backseat? No problem: the Anchorpoint™ tie down slots can attach this little cooler to a truck bed, trailer, or boat in no time. 

The comfortable handle makes carrying the Roadie cooler an easy feat. Constructed to be tough as nails, it’s designed to withstand the elements and keep up with you and your outdoor endeavors. Whether you’re transporting warm burritos or sandwiches and brews, your items will be kept as close to their original temperature as possible in the Yeti Roadie.

Price at time of publish: $250

The Details: 12.8 pounds | 24 liter | 17 x 16 x 14 inches

Best Fanny Pack

Igloo Fanny Pack Cooler


View On AmazonView On WalmartView On Igloocoolers.comWhy We Love It

It features a fun, retro style while keeping items cool.

What to Consider:

It only holds up to three cans.

The ’90s are back with this super fun and functional fanny pack. Take Igloo cooler quality and add it to this bright technicolor design, and you’re bound to have a great day whether you’re heading to the beach or your local park. This fanny pack has an adjustable waist strap and can carry up to three cans for easy access to your favorite beverage. It also has a front zipper for storing money, keys, or other small items. While this may not be the most insulated bag on our list, it does have room for an added ice pack or loose ice to keep items cool for a few hours of fun.

Price at time of publish: $28

The Details: 0.28 pounds | 1 liter | 12.6 x 6.2 x 4.8 inches

Most Lightweight

TOURIT 30 Cans Cooler Backpack



View On AmazonWhy We Love It:

This cooler looks like an every day backpack but will keep your items cold for hours.

What to Consider

It may leak if you put ice directly into the bag.

When you want to travel with cold drinks or snacks without a bulky, plastic cooler, this stylish backpack is a perfect option. Made of durable waterproof fabric on the outside and foam insulation on the inside, this cooler will be your new favorite picnic companion. The backpack features one large compartment than can fit up to 30 cans, plus two mesh water bottle pockets, a zipped pocket on the lid, and a mesh zip pocket on the inside of the bag so you can keep all of your items organized and cold. It also has a bottle opener attached to one of the arm straps for your convenience. There aren’t sternum or hip belts, so you may not want to stuff this bag completely full if you’re walking long distances, however, the straps are comfortably padded and totally adjustable.

Price at time of publish: $37

The Details: 1.1 pounds | 10.6 liters | 16.6 x 12.4 x 3.9 inches

Tips For Buying a Small Cooler

Think carefully about shape and weight

We love a small cooler for easily toting around food and drink, but you don’t want to go too small when choosing a cooler. The shape and weight of a cooler will determine how much you can carry, so it’s important to find a cooler that balances portability with durability and effectiveness. With lighter bags or even backpacks, you may also sacrifice quality insulation.

When selecting a cooler, consider the capacity and what contents you will be keeping at temperature most of the time. Are you looking for something to transport a few groceries for longer distances, or are you interested in keeping a slew of drinks cold while spending an entire day at the beach? Typically, the capacity of a cooler is measured in liters or cans (with a 2-1 ice-to-can ratio), and you should be looking for one that can fit between 5 and 20 liters or approximately 6-20 cans with ice.

It’s better to pay more for quality insulation

Don’t skimp too much on price either. Your cooler will have a much longer ice-retention rating and overall lifespan if you pay more for quality insulation. Look for a cooler that uses closed-cell

foam for inner and outer insulation. A good soft-sided cooler will use polyethylene (PE) foam, while a hard cooler will likely have polyurethane foam, which makes it heftier but stronger in the ice-retention arena. Try to steer clear of coolers with styrofoam insulation, as that’s an indication that they’re designed for short-term use.

If a small cooler is something you use frequently, it makes sense to spend a little more for one that will go the distance and can hack the adventure life you live. The higher-end models usually have handy features like leakproof seams, rugged zippers, and even the ability to float, too. 

Look at the water resistance

Surprisingly enough, not all coolers are completely waterproof. Many coolers, especially those made of nylon or other fabrics, are water-resistant, which means they can be susceptible to water damage and leakage. If you’re opting for a water-resistant cooler, we recommend using reusable ice packs instead of actual ice to cut down on potential drips as the ice melts.

Frequently Asked QuestionsShould I get a hard or a soft cooler?

When purchasing a small cooler, it’s key to assess what situations you will be using it in most of the time. First, you need to prioritize portability. Since a hard cooler is less portable than a soft cooler, narrowing that aspect down is a good jumping-off point. If you plan on putting your cooler through the gauntlet on outdoor exploits and need something tough to handle the unpredictable environment, then a hard cooler might be the better option. That being said, there are soft coolers that are constructed to handle more rigorous ventures with watertight fabric, heavy-duty zippers, extra tough bottom layers, and supreme insulation.

Some soft coolers are built in the backpack style, making them hands-free and durable, which is perfect for hiking. Because they’re more portable and packable, they also make sense for a day on the golf course or traveling. Boaters might gravitate towards a hard cooler since they tend to be grippy and rugged enough to withstand water and anything else that’s thrown at it on the open seas (or lakes, rivers, etc.).

Both hard and soft coolers have their purpose and place, depending on the situation and use. It’s up to you to choose what fits your lifestyle best.

How much ice should I put in my cooler?

When packing a cooler, the ideal rule to follow is having a 2:1 ice to content ratio. You’ll need twice as much ice for your food and beverages, but to maximize the space of a small cooler, you can add frozen foods to aid in keeping things cold. When filling your cooler, try to steer clear of air gaps and do your best to layer the ice between items. Ice packs are great for keeping things cold while avoiding pesky water melt, though it’s still best to use a combination of the two methods for optimal cooling.

Can you bring a cooler to Disney World?

Yes, you can bring a cooler to Disney World, provided it fits within the measurement limitations and does not contain alcoholic beverages or glass containers. Snacks, sodas, water, and more can be plucked out of a cooler that isn’t bigger than 24 inches long, 15 inches wide, and 18 inches tall. A small soft-sided cooler is your best option for exploring the park while staying hydrated and keeping snacks at hand. It’s also best to pack it with prepped food, as nothing is allowed to be refrigerated or heated up while visiting the park. With a small cooler in tow, you won’t have to worry about meltdowns — both in your group, and your cooler — while waiting in line for your favorite rides.

How do I clean my cooler?

If your cooler is fitted with insulation or ice packs, remove them before deep cleaning. Rinse away any debris, and then use boiling or hot water with a bit of dish washing soap to soak away any set stains and bacteria. You can scrub any additional grime with a sponge or brush if necessary. Drain the water and rinse if there’s any soap residue. Thoroughly dry before replacing cool packs or insulation.

To clean removable cool packs or insulation, follow all manufacturer instructions on dish-washer safety. If your products are not dish-washer safe, hand wash them with dish washing soap and air dry completely before putting back in the cooler.

Why Trust Travel + Leisure

An outdoor and road-trip enthusiast, Lauren Breedlove used her personal experience with finding the right portable adventure cooler to curate this list. Taylor Fox is a Travel + Leisure writer who used her product expertise and vast travels to help find the best small coolers for everyone. She also scoured the internet, researching and selecting the best small coolers for any situation, whether it be a day on the trail, a scenic road trip, or a grocery run for ice cream. 

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