Ice chests and coolers are truly life-savers! In this article we share the best beach cooler and other considerations like “wheels for the beach”.
Beach coolers don’t require electricity and allow us to keep food and drinks cold for hours, sometimes days on end.
They can be found in almost all homes across the U.S. for use at backyard BBQs, soccer games, while camping, trips to the beach, and when the power goes out. They’ve come a long way since they were invented and cooler technology keeps getting better.
I’ve used a cooler or ice chest since I was young. I remember gathering around the cooler in 100-degree summer soccer games to drink cold Gatorade and orange slices. I also remember my family’s vintage aluminum Coca-Cola ice chest in the backyard during get-togethers.
In college our ice cooler with wheels was an essential beach item that stored our sodas, beers, and sandwiches. Even sunscreen was kept inside to keep it from being runny. For the occasional beach bbq and bonfire the ice chest was also there.
When Were Ice Chests Invented
Ice chests were invented in the early 1950’s when a patent was submitted to the U.S. by Mr. Richard Laramy. The Coleman Company, which is now famous for it’s outdoor equipment, developed it further with a galvanized ice chest, then followed it up by making a liner out of plastic for containers that stored ice and beverages.
These days, coolers are made primarily out of plastic with hard styrofoam in between. They are seen filled with water at sporting events and filled with ice-cold beer cans at leisure activities.
Related: Beach Items You Need
How Do Coolers Keep Things Cold
Learning how ice chest keep things cold in interesting. Typical modern ice chests keep things cold using insulation.
But how does insulation keep things cold?…it helps block heat transfer from the outside temperature to the inside. Thick insulation is needed to keep things cold in a cooler and that’s why you normally see coolers with thick walls.
Styrofoam, in particular, works as a great insulator because it contains 1000’s of tiny gas bubbles. The gasses reduce heat conduction because the molecules are farther apart.
Simply put, styrofoam is a great insulator because it slows heat transfer due to the gasses inside its material.
The Different Types of Ice Chests: Which Cooler is Best for the Beach
There are all kinds of ice chests available for beach-goers. Many are hard shell plastic, the same type you’d probably think of when you hear it mentioned.
There are also soft shell coolers that are lightweight, good for traveling and/or smaller spaces. The cheapest coolers are made only out of styrofoam. They are good for emergencies but won’t hold up over time.
Ice chests can have cupholders, wheels, shoulder straps, zippers and locks. We can narrow it down for the beach:
- You don’t want something too big or heavy unless you’re having a beach bbq so consider a medium or small ice chest.
- You’ll need to transport it from your house, to the beach parking, then finally to the sand so think about moving it. Can it be carried? Are wheels a good choice? Does the size of the wheels matter for sand?
- You need to consider how long you need the ice to cool its contents. 1-2 days for a weekend at the beach or maybe a week-long camping trip at the beach in high heat.
- Consider durability and how will tough you need the ice chest to be for the beach. Hardshell ice chest will last for decades but be more challenging to get to and from the beach while soft shell will be more convenient but definitely less durable.
Related: Beach Must-Haves for Women
The Best Brands for Ice Chests and Coolers
Coleman is one of America’s greatest companies and I say that sincerely. They’ve been around since 1900 and are currently based in Wichita, Kansas where they make all kinds of outdoor equipment including chairs, propane tanks, tents, and ice chests. If you buy a product from Coleman you can count on it.
Igloo is also a long-standing American company that was founded in 1947 and evolved into an ice chest and cooler making giant. The company claims that their coolers are in 3 out of every 4 households in America. If true that is amazing! Consumers can also rely on this company’s products.
So many iconic American companies – Rubbermaid is another great one. It was founded in 1920 and makes way more than just coolers. If you want to buy American, this is another solid company to go with that will last for years or decades
Is a newer American company founded in 2006 and based in Austin, Texas. They’re relatively young but don’t overlook them because they may be a giant in the future. They’ve already taken over a large portion of the cooler market share in the U.S.
If you go to any hardware or outdoor store you’ve likely seen their product on display. These are high-end and high-quality coolers that will keep ice for days, sometimes a week depending on the situation.
Related: Planning a Beach BBQ (checklist)
A family-owned company out of Carlsbad, California, CleverMade makes cargo bins and insulated bags for outdoors. Their insulated coolers are fun, stylish, and most fold down for easy storage. They are still growing their business but have made tremendous strides to attract happy customers on amazon.com (just read some reviews!).
Section 1: Best Coolers for the Beach Under $50
No. 1 Coleman 16-Can Soft Cooler With Hard Liner
You know you’re getting quality with Coleman. This cooler comes in multiple colors including blue, grey, green, camo, and red. It has a soft exterior for carrying on a shoulder (with shoulder strap) and and hard shell inside that can be removed if flexibility is needed.
- Holds 16 cans
- Removable plastic liner, soft fabric exterior with zipper
- Use with ice or ice substitutes
- Adjustable shoulder strap
- Side pockets
- Multiple colors
- Easy to clean PEVA liner (bacteria resistant and food safety)
- No leakage
This cooler is perfect for a day-long family adventure. Because it can carry 16 cans, it could easily carry 6 drinks, sandwiches, fruit and veggies for a beach excursion. The bag is considered the best quality at the best price for reviewers.
The dimensions are 11.02 x 11.81 x 7.87 inches. In addition to the extra side pockets, there are small bungees on top of the cooler where small items can be carried on top of the bag. I like the look of this bag, the solid reviews, and the brand. A good buy for couples and small families for day trips to the beach.
No. 2 Coleman 30-Can Soft Cooler With Hard Liner
If you prefer the Coleman brand but require something slightly larger, the 30 can bag might be a better choice. It has all the same characteristics of the above Coleman bag with larger dimensions: 12.2 x 9.65 x 13.78 inches.
- Non-removable liner
- 30-can capacity
- Exterior pockets and interior mesh pockets
- PEVA antimicrobial liner
In addition to the side pockets, there are added mesh pockets inside the bag for extra storage. It comes with the same interior liner, but unlike the smaller version this liner in not removable.
The Coleman 30-can is also well-reviewed with almost 1000 positive reviews on amazon. The color selection is less than Coleman’s smaller cooler, but still looks nice.
No. 3 CleverMade Snap Basket 50-can
CleverMade is a company based out of Carlsbad, California and makes crates and baskets for outdoor and storage occasions. This bag is perfect for a day trip to the beach.
It does not have a hard lining so it is great for folding away and storing. Due to its collapsible body, the cooler won’t be as good for cold storage as the Coleman’s products above, but don’t get me wrong this bag has great storage capacity (50-cans) and will keep food/products cool all day.
- 18.25 x 12.25 x 12 iches
- Carries up to 50 lbs
- Folds flat to 3 inches for storage
- Rip-stop fabric for durability and water resistance
- Carrying handle (duffle style) w/ bottle opener on strap
The reviews for this bag are phenomenal. They comment on its effectiveness to keep ice from melting (reasonable amount of time) and people liked the large size for big water bottles and the fact that it folds flat.
It has a useful bottle opener on the handle too….well thought out. I really like the stylish color options and the fact it’s another U.S. company.
Related: Best Beach Chairs Under $50
Section 2: Best Ice Chests with Wheels for the Beach Under $50
For larger groups or longer days at the beach, wheeled coolers or ice chest might be your best bet to keep things cold, especially if you have sandwiches, meat, or bbq items. Hard-shelled coolers will keep things cooler than the above-mentioned bags in the previous section simply because they have more insulation.
No. 1 Coleman 16-Quart Personal Wheeled Cooler
The Coleman 16-quart cooler is great for long beach days with food and drink. The cooler has a pull-out handle and small wheels to reduce the need for carrying.
This 16-quart has a 22 can capacity so it’s not huge (if you want bigger see the next two choices). It works well for the beach, backyards, even camping and comes in 2 colors, red and blue.
- Made in USA
- Medium size 22-cans
- Coleman quality product
- Measures 10.79 x 14.88 x 15.39 inches
Customers mentioned they like the convenient wheels the Coleman cooler has and the fact you can use it as a seat as well. Other commenters said it would keep their beers cold for 36 hours or up to 2 days!
The other thing I like about this cooler is the price. It’s more than affordable so you won’t be disappointed.
No. 2 Igloo Island Breeze 28 Qt. Roller Cooler
This Igloo is much bigger than the Coleman 16-quart (above) and although it appears very similar it has a few differences. First, the cooler is much wider and holds 37 cans, or twelve 20 oz. sports drinks, or six 2 liter bottles.
Igloo Island Breeze would be a good choice for a larger family or a family of 4 and multiple meals of food and drink. The cooler includes a pull-out handle, sturdy wheels for outdoors, and side handles for lifting.
- Measures 17 x 14 x 19 inches
- 4.72 lbs
- 1 color (blue)
- 28 quart or 37 cans
- Includes 1 year manufacturers warranty
I wish this product had a drain plug, it doesn’t. Its just big enough to make it tricky for a carry-on (most likely not). Reviewers like the insulation, commenting that the ice lasts all weekend (1/2 melted). It is perfect for weekend trips and works great as a mid-size cooler.
No. 3 Coleman 40-Quart Wheeled Cooler
This Coleman has a much larger capacity than the other 2 in this section. It’s a 40 quart, still has wheels, yet a different style of handle. As seen in the picture (right) the handle folds down on the side of the cooler. Notice this beach cooler has big wheels that will help it move over the sand.
In my opinion, this is a more functional mid-size cooler because of the handle, cup holders on top and the fact it still has wheels.
- 40 quart
- 23 x 14.5 x 17.5 (tall) inches
- 50-can capacity
- Larger wheels and side handles for carrying and lifting
- Hinged lid with cup holders on top
- Drain spout
Again, I don’t mean to repeat myself but Coleman is a solid American brand and this big cooler comes at an affordable price point. I like the larger size for family beach trips and I believe the side handle is more durable for the long term than the extending handles seen above.
There are plenty of solid reviews for this cooler. Over 200 people give it great reivews and comments range from the handle works fine for people 5’10” to the lid automatically closes (can’t keep it open).
Section 3: Best Big Coolers or Ice Chest for the Beach
No. 1 Igloo Trailmate Journey Cooler – 70 Quart
In you want to visit visit beach in style and turn heads, the Igloo Trailmate is sure to impress everyone. Its size, insulation, durability make it the perfect cooler for people spending long summer days at the beach – especially groups and active athletes (volleyball, swimming, surfing, and soccer).
It has a big, 70 quart capacity and plenty of extras to make the cooler durable and functional. The color is a flashy neon green, white, and grey. This is Igloo’s top-of-the-line cooler.
- 70 quarts or 112 can capacity for large families or groups
- Great insulation to keep things cold multiple days
- 4 day ice retention
- Side trays to rest drinks on
- Bottle openers on both sides
- Loops on side to tie down other beach gear (chairs and towels)
- All-terrain wheels and high clearance
The large wheels and high ground clearance make it easy to pull on pavement or sand. It measures 23.6 x 19.7 34.59 inches so measure the back of your car before you buy. It weighs 34.7 pounds.
Although we don’t recommend it, many reviews say they sit and stand on this cooler – I’m sure it’s tough enough to do-so. This is our best beach cooler with big wheels.
It might not work as a “carry on” and you might have trouble getting it under a truck bed cover, but in the back of SUVs and open bed trucks shouldn’t be a problem. I might have to put this on my Christmas list!
No. 2 Igloo Glide PRO Cooler – 110 quart
This is one of our best recommended coolers from Igloo, and it’s huge. At 110 quarts it can keep enough food for a family reunion (ok maybe not). You might be curious about the white color option – the white reflects sun, so it should keep food and drinks cooler longer.
- 110 quarts
- Can keep ice for 5 days at 90 degrees
- White color reflects sun
- Holds five 20 lbs bags of ice
- Big enough to hold food and drinks for 10+ people or little league team
- Drain plug in the middle of cooler
I really like this cooler for the size and the price. It has wheels and a handle lock on the sides of the cooler which adds stability. Some commenters said the handle hinges on the side can be replaced for metal hinges over time, but even those commenters were please with the cooler itself.
People said it was perfect for the beach, but also for emergencies and family gatherings. Versatile large cooler!
No. 3 Yeti Tundra 64 Cooler (52 quarts)
Even though this is a very high end cooler, we had to include Yeti because they’ve revolutionized the cooler industry and helped the older brands step up their offerings. After Yeti disrupted the cooler industry, we’ve seen a vast improvement in technology to keep things cold longer. Yeti might not be best suited for the beach – their products don’t come with wheels, although you can order them separately. This ice chest might be best for people whol leave the cooler in the car and drive onto the beach, or who are going to a bonfire where the car is close by.
- Measures 30.5 x 17.5 x 16 inches
- 29 pounds
- Thick walls 3 inches
- Handles made with polyester rope
- Good drainage spouts for water to escape
- Wheels can be ordered separately
What I like about this cooler is it can be used on the beach and at the campground because it’s bear proof. Its trademarked “Fatwall” is bear proof (and shark proof) and “rotomold” construction give the cooler armor from animals and the sun.
A lot of users swear by Yeti and the company has a loyal customer base. They have great reviews. Customers, including myself are impressed with what the company has done is such a short amount of time.
Tips for packing and using a cooler or ice chest
- Understand that you want to fill up the space in the cooler with items or with ice/ice packs. The more air in the pack the quicker the ice will melt
- Pack items according to when they will be used – earlier use should be at top of the cooler
- Use secure zip locks or containers to separate foods, especially if you have raw meat
- Keep items that need to be coldest in the middle of the cooler, products that are ok warmer can go around the edges of the cooler
- Keep the cooler closed as often as possible and don’t leave the cooler open for long periods of time
- White coolers will reflect sunlight
- Dark colored coolers will absorb sunlight
- At the beach keep cooler under a towel or under an umbrella
- Dig a pit and keep cooler partially buried
In this article we covered the best coolers and ice chests for the beach. We reviewed smaller coolers that can be carried to the beach. Next, we reviewed mid-sized coolers that have wheels, perfect for the beach. Lastly, we looked at the best huge coolers for the beach with big wheels.
The purpose of this article was to give you a better understanding of how coolers or ice chests work and to give you information to pick the right cooler for you and your family. Here at Beach Life Expert, we provide tips, info, and reviews for everything at the beach. Thanks for stopping by.