The Best Car Coolers for a Family Road Trip!

There are lots of different types of car coolers on the market, and picking the one that fits your family’s road trip needs is key! Here is a look at some of the best car coolers on the market…. we own them, we’ve used them- and we’ve narrowed down our decision as to which one to take on our big adventure this summer!

Traditional Car Cooler

Traditional Car Coolers

This tried-and-true Igloo is a basic/traditional car cooler that fits in the inside of your car. We prefer to have car coolers that we can access while on the road and that don’t have to take up space in the trunk/luggage area of the car. If you fill this cooler with ice, it will keep food cold for 1 to 2 days. Make sure that your cooler has a drain plug so that you can easily drain the water that results from the melting ice. This cooler is ideal for camping trips and places when you don’t have access to electricity. And you can buy ultra-deluxe versions of this cooler- that will keep food cold for -7 days. Just keep in t=mind that as the insulation gets thicker to keep food colder longer, the storage space shrinks!

Electric Car Cooler

Electric Car Coolers

This plug-in car cooler this cooler is great because it actually plugs into your car’s outlet and it uses the electricity generated by your car’s battery to keep your food cold. The other nice thing about this cooler is that if you are staying in a hotel that does not have a mini fridge, you can carry the cooler into your hotel room, and using the adapter plug it into a regular wall outlet, you have a hotel room mini fridge! The negative about this type of cooler is that if you’re going to be spending long days with your car parked in the hot sun in the parking lot, you’re not gonna want to be draining your car’s battery to try to keep the food cold. Nor will this cooler do a good job of keeping foo cold when faced with a 90° plus temperature inside of a hot car.

Polar Bear Express Car Coolers

Soft-Sided Car Coolers

For our big road trip this summer we have decided to take this Polar Bear Express soft sided cooler. It will keep food cold for 1 to 2 days and it has enough room inside for a breakfast on the road or a picnic lunch.

Sot Sided Car Coolers

Instead of filling it with ice which will melt and turn into puddles of water, we are instead freezing water bottles (we drain the first inch or two of water out of the water bottle and then freeze it) to use as giant ice cubes. We also purchased these flexible ice cube style cooler trays- they are very lightweight and and they wrap around bottles and other things we are trying to keep cold, so we can fit them in between items in the cooler and we keep everything nice and cold. At night I can take in cooler into our hotel, refreeze the water bottles and the ice cube trays and use them over and over again- keeping the cooler clean and dry.

Want to See Road Trip Organization in Action?

I created this YouTube video that shares these car coolers that can be used on a family road trip…. check it out:

If you’re planning your own Great American Road Trip the summer you might want to check out these other posts that offer tips and advice for planning road trips:

How to Organize a Family Road Trip

Are We There Yet? Mapping the Trip

How to Pack for a Family Road Trip

Please be sure to stop by here on Tuesdays and Fridays to check out our Road Trip Diaries and follow our road trip adventures this summer!


  1. says

    Very informative and nicely written article! I wouldn’t forget about some of the best coolers out there such as the Extreme Cold Series Coolers, Canyon Coolers, NRS Coolers, Moeller Coolers, Grizzly, IceKool, and the plethora of other top name rotomolded coolers.

    The coolers mentioned in the article are really entry level coolers that are made of regular plastics, whereas the rotomolded coolers mentioned above are a very tough and indestructible poly based material which is the same material that kayaks are made of. The amount of insulation and external shell is what determines the amount of time your going to get as far as ice retention. The insulation is also a poly based product which is the key to keeping ice longer.

    The premium coolers are certainly an investment and not too cheap…but they are well worth it considering you’ll recoup the cost in ice savings alone within a years time. Not to mention the gas money you’d spend going to get the ice…and that’s even if it’s available.

    This is just my opinion based on experience and having purchased dozens of cheaper coolers before realizing you really do get what you pay for! : )

    The best place to buy a good cooler in the US is:

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