- 1 Small Cooler Reviews
- 2 Ice Packs or Regular Ice
- 3 Small Coolers Buying Guide
- 4 Advantages And Disadvantages Of Using A Small Ice Chest
- 5 How Can Small Ice Chests Be Helpful?
- 6 Best Small Coolers Comparison Chart
- 7 Wrap Up
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. But do these coolers offer any other advantages besides being small?
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.
While these models might not be as effective as the larger units, all the coolers we included on our list can keep your food and drinks cold for up to 12 hours, so they’re suitable for everyday use.
Let’s take a look at some of the best small ice chests available you can buy now.
Small Cooler Reviews
Stanley Adventure Cooler
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Barebones Living Pathfinder
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Rubbermaid Small Ice Chest
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Coleman Personal Cooler
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Igloo Playmate Cooler
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Everest Lunch Bag
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1. Stanley Adventure Cooler
The Stanley Adventure cooler is a small and compact model that’s perfect for people who enjoy spending time in nature. Whether you’re a fisher, a hunter, or a trekker, this model would be a good choice for you because it’s large enough to pack a lunch and a few drinks but small enough to carry comfortably.
We liked that the Adventure is strong and has a flat top, so you can sit on it when you want to take a break. The flat-top will also allow you to use the cooler as a temporary table when necessary.
As far as the cooler’s effectiveness is concerned, this model can keep your food and drinks cold for up to a day, depending how much ice you store in it and how warm it’s outside.
- Strong – The Stanley Adventure is capable of sustaining your weight, not an easy feat for a small cooler.
- Bad Handle – This cooler’s handle has a bad design, and the whole thing can tip over when you carry it, even if you weigh it down.
2. Barebones Living Pathfinder
The Barebones Living Pathfinder is probably the most aesthetically pleasing cooler we included on our list. Even though we usually choose our products based on their effectiveness rather than their aspect, this model made it on the list because it’s both good looking and effective.
This model is a great choice for people who enjoy exploring and who want to have a reliable solution to keeping their food and drinks cold when they go to work. The cooler’s design and features make it good for both an urban and a wild environment.
We really liked how easy it is to carry this cooler. Unlike other models, this unit comes with a comfortable shoulder strap, so it will allow you to use both of your hands while carrying it. This can be an advantage on your commute and when you’re spending time in nature, both.
As for the cooler’s insulation chamber, well you will be able to store a medium-sized lunch and some drinks along with the ice and freeze packs that will keep them cool. The insulation compartment will keep your lunch cold for up to 24 hours if you store enough ice inside it.
- Looks Great – This cooler looks great, making it suitable for people who pack their lunch and take it to work.
- Shoulder Strap Could Be Better – The shoulder strap’s padding is friable, and it could be improved.
3. Rubbermaid Small Ice Chest
The Rubbermaid 5-quart ice chest is a nice model that offers a good thermal retention. This unit is large enough to hold a small lunch and one or two drinks, and it’s very comfortable to carry.
One aspect we thoroughly enjoyed about this model is that it offers everything you would expect from a personal cooler. The insulation chamber is large enough to hold a lunch, but the cooler itself is small and compact, so you won’t have any problems taking it to and back from work.
As far as the unit’s cooling capacity is concerned, this model will keep your drinks and food cold for up to 12 hours, given you pack enough ice to keep them cold.
The cooler’s lid is flat, so you can use it to place a soda bottle or your lunch on top of it. However, given the unit’s dimensions, the cooler won’t support your weight, so it’s not recommended you sit on it.
- Compact – This cooler has a compact design, making it very easy to transport.
- Lid Is Not Great – The cooler’s lid is not great, and you will have to be careful to make sure it’s tight every time you close it.
4. Coleman Personal Cooler
The Coleman personal cooler is one of the most popular personal coolers available on the market. This model has a storage capacity of 5 quarts, which should be enough to pack a lunch and one or two drinks. This cooler can be used by people who pack their lunch to work and by trekkers with great results.
Given the cooler’s small size, this model is better suited to an urban environment. Thanks to its compact design, you will be able to pack a cold lunch and some drinks and take them to work with you. When you’re trekking, this model will keep your food and drinks cold for up to 12 hours.
We liked the unit’s portability. Thanks to its small dimensions, this is the perfect type of cooler you can take with you when you’re going to a sporting event or when you’re going to eat some sandwiches in the park. Just pack 4 – 5 beers, some ice, and you’re good to go.
- Good For Children – Thanks to its small size, this cooler is the perfect solution for children’s field trips. Pack some sandwiches and one or two drinks and they’ll carry the cooler without any problems.
- Small – People are often surprised at how small this cooler really is. Its maximum storing capacity is about 4 beers, so it’s really small.
5. Igloo Playmate Cooler
The Igloo Playmate is another popular personal cooler, and it offers good thermal insulation. This model is large enough to fit 5 cans of beer or soft drinks and the ice you need to store to keep them cool.
Even though this model is small, we really enjoyed how comfortable it is to carry it around. The unit’s design and the built-in handle have an ergonomic design, so you can grab it with both your left and your right hand. The lid secures firmly in place with the help of a side button, and you won’t have any problems carrying the cooler without tipping it sideways.
However, even if the lid’s tent-shaped design is great for carrying, it makes cleaning it more difficult. The part of the lid that ends up under the logo is hard to reach, and you might struggle to clean it properly.
As far as this model’s cooling capacity is concerned, the cooler will keep the food and drinks you store in it cold for as long as 12 hours if you also store enough ice in the insulation compartment.
- Ergonomic Design – The tent-shaped lid opens both to the left and to the right sides, and the handle is easy to grab with either hand.
- False Advertisement – This cooler is presented as having a 6-can storage capacity, but it will only hold 5 cans, tops.
6. Everest Lunch Bag
The Everest lunch bag is the second soft-sided cooler we included in our list and is also one of the cheapest products there. Unlike most of the previous models we reviewed so far, this unit is made out of polyester instead of a hard molded material, but that doesn’t mean it’s less effective.
In fact, this model offers some advantages over the others. First of all, carrying this model is comfortable, whether the cooler is empty or full. The shoulder strap it comes with is adjustable, so it will also double as a handle, and the front zippered pocket can double as a dry-storage compartment.
We liked that this model offers you the possibility to carry some non-refrigerated items alongside your food. Even though the front pocket is not very roomy, you can use it to store small valuables, eating utensils, napkins, and other items. This will allow you to have everything you need for a quick work lunch close at hand.
This soft-sided cooler is less effective than the previous models we presented, but it will still keep your food and drinks cold for up to 8 hours or so, which is more than most people wait until they serve lunch.
- Versatile – Being soft-sided, this cooler’s material will stretch slightly, allowing you to store items that would not otherwise fit a hard-sided cooler.
- Zipper Could Break – Even though the cooler can deform somewhat to fit something, that doesn’t mean you should force it to. If you do, the zipper might break.
Ice Packs or Regular Ice
There are two types of ice you can find to add inside your cooler: regular ice or ice packs. But if you’re not accustomed to small coolers, you may have no idea which one is the better option.
Regular ice is often crushed, and the good thing about it is that you can buy it in a higher volume, and it is much easier to pack. However, it’s pretty much the same thing as ice packs if you use it to fill your small cooler. Keep in mind that there’s a higher risk of them melting and flooding your cooler – in this case, you won’t be too happy to find your food floating in the water.
Meanwhile, ice packs have the advantage of staying in the frozen state for longer periods compared to regular crushed ice. So, they are much better in this regard, as they won’t soak your food and drink in water, but simply keep them cool.
With ice packs, another advantage is that you can also find reusable ones, which last for longer and are less costly in the long run. With regular, crushed ice, this will not work out the same way – you will have to replace the ice, thus requiring you to spend more money on a regular basis if you use the cooler a lot.
If you want, you can use a combination of ice packs and regular ice for better temperature maintenance, as it will give you the best of both worlds.
Small Coolers Buying Guide
If you’re not sure what features will guide you towards the best small cooler, don’t worry. The following paragraphs are packed with the information you need in this regard:
It’s never pleasant to carry a cooler around if it’s wet. If you need to take it on short trips and carry it like a normal bag, then it would be quite uncomfortable to feel the wet, cold surface. So, it’s essential to choose a waterproof cooler to ensure this won’t happen.
When you’re shopping for a small cooler, make sure that it is able to prevent melted ice from spilling out. The same goes for potential drinks that may spill inside the item. Your experience with it will be much better this way.
The material you settle for should be chosen according to your own preferences. For example, you may prefer hard-shelled coolers or soft ones. A hard-shelled one is a good choice simply because it’s more durable, so if you use it a lot, it will last for much longer.
Concurrently, a softer one makes a better option to carry around with a shoulder strap. Choose whichever you want depending on your needs and desires.
You always need to make sure you end up spending money on a durable product, no matter the case. Even when it comes to small coolers, some of them are more durable than others depending on the material.
There are multiple types of coolers, and the most durable ones are kayak ones and fishing ones, as they are always reinforced to last for longer. But if you get one for lunch or the beach, you should know that they may not withstand violent impacts or handling. Depending on how often you’re using it or where you’re taking the item, make sure you choose a type of small cooler that you are sure is going to last.
Size and Capacity
Even small coolers come in multiple sizes. Some are tinier and better to carry your lunch, while others can be bigger and able to carry more while being smaller than typical coolers.
When it comes to size and capacity, you have to choose one depending on how much food and beverage you need to store. If you need a smaller amount of food, then you can go for a cooler that’s very small in size. Conversely, you should choose one with a higher capacity if you need more storage space.
Ease of Maintenance
You most certainly don’t want something too difficult to clean and maintain. Given that this product is used to store food and drinks, it will require cleaning once in a while. Make sure you settle for one that mentions whether it’s treated with anti-microbial substances or not. If it isn’t, it’s better to refrain from buying it in the first place, as it has many health risks.
Ideally, the small cooler should allow you to clean it quickly and easily. Check what other customers had to say about this aspect and choose based on that.
Advantages And Disadvantages Of Using A Small Ice Chest
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. But do these models offer other benefits besides being small? Let’s take a look.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Can Be Used To Make Clear Ice – Small ice chest 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Suitable For Traveling 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
- Beach Going – 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.
Best Small Coolers Comparison Chart
|Stanley Adventure Cooler||$$$||Double wall foam||36 hours||21 Cans||15.5 x 11.5 x 11.5"||3.9 pounds|
|Barebones Living Pathfinder||$$$$||Poly-nylon||up to 24 hours||up to 16 Cans||8 x 12 x 9"||1 pounds|
|Rubbermaid Small Ice Chest||$$||Plastic||up to 12 hours||6 Cans||10.5 x 7.4 x 7.8"||7.9 pounds|
|Coleman Personal Cooler||$||Plastic||up to 12 hours||6 Cans||8.1 x 7.2 x 10.7"||9.6 ounces|
|Igloo Playmate Cooler||$$||Plastic||12 hours||6 Cans||9.8 x 6.7 x 9.8"||1.35 pounds|
|Everest Lunch Bag||$||600D Polyester||up to 8 hours||300 in3 / 4.9 L||8.7 x 6.3 x 7.5"||11.2 ounces|
Small ice chests are versatile, so you can use them with good results in multiple situations. While not even the best small ice chests won’t perform as well as larger models, that doesn’t mean they’re not effective. They’re just designed for different purposes.
Small coolers are designed for personal everyday use, and they excel at that. Most of them are large enough to fit a medium-sized lunch and one or two drinks, and they will keep your food and drinks at a cool temperature until you consume them.
If you believe that a small ice chest is not the right model for you, check out our other articles. There are plenty of models to choose from, and you can definitely find a cooler for your needs.