Catching that perfect wave often means long hours spent on the beach, and that’s just fine, as long as you stay hydrated and nourished. And you definitely don’t want to leave your snacks in the car to get all hot, especially if you’re heading to the beach with friends. So get yourself a cooler for that next paddle boarding trip to the beach.
Choosing the perfect ice chest might be one of the more important gear decisions you make. A good cooler will last several years, keep your drinks cool in spite of the blazing sun and drain easily, to be used again next weekend. Or Tuesday, when less tourists crowd the beaches.
Top 10 Best Beach Coolers for Summer 2017our ratings are based on value, quality, durability, and how long each model can keep ice frozen
Types of Beach Coolers
When most people think of beach coolers, they picture boxy insulated crates that are filled with ice and beverages. Depending on your needs, there are soft-sided coolers that can be carried as a backpack or a tote. Those won’t work if you’re supplying chilled beverages for a crowd, but they’re fine for keeping a few items separate and cool. Wheeled coolers are great for hauling through the parking lot, but won’t help much on the sand.
Popular cooler brands like Igloo and Coleman make a huge variety of coolers that are suitable for a day on the beach, but you get what you pay for. Higher end brands, like Icey-Tek, Yeti and Orca have a great reputation for withstanding extreme temperatures and maintaining constant temperatures in all weather conditions. If you’re enamored with the idea of a soft-sided cooler, Thermos makes a large one that folds flat, but keep in mind that soft-sided coolers are rarely as insulated as rigid-sided coolers, so they won’t keep your drinks cool for more than a few hours in the hot sun.
What Size Cooler Do I Need?
Clearly, the size you’re looking for is one that will fit enough food and drinks for your crowd, plus a little extra in case you make new friends. Standard cooler sizes are measured in quarts, and a good rule-of-thumb for day use (but not camping) is that each person in the group should be represented by 3-4 quarts of cooler space. A 9 quart cooler has enough room for a 12 pack of cans and a few handfuls of ice, and is recommended for 2-3 people. The more people you have, the bigger your cooler will need to be. Be mindful of how much room you’ll need for ice and to accommodate any inner trays or optional add-on storage spaces that you’re using. Reusable ice packs often take up more space than cubed ice, but don’t require draining, so keep that in mind.
Features To Look For
Technology has improved everything, even coolers. Modern seals and insulating materials have improved the function of beach coolers, but if you’re looking for something special, you’ll find coolers with built-in Bluetooth speakers, or a radio. Some coolers have lids that double as cup holders or tables, and still others are designed to mount onto your roof-rack with built-in straps or sturdy holes to thread your straps through.
Many coolers come with reusable ice packs, these may be soft-sided or rigid. The rigid ones tend to last longer and make it easier to keep your drink selection organized. If you like the idea of using reusable ice packs, make sure that they’re distributed thoroughly, especially on the outer edges of the cooler, as well as on the top and bottom. Reusable ice packs are always recommended for soft-sided coolers, because they don’t leak.
Most modern coolers boast about their ability to handle extremely hot exterior temperatures or prolonged usage. If you’re in a warmer climate or prone to staying at the beach from dawn ’til dusk, you’ll want to watch those claims carefully and choose a cooler that will last at least as long as you do.
Here’s a quick list of extra features that may come in handy when you’re shopping for the perfect cooler:
- Inset drainage spout to protect it from damage
- Bluetooth speakers built-in
- Removable or reconfigurable storage trays to keep sandwiches, fruit or other non-beverages dry and separated.
- Sturdy carrying handles
- Beach-safe wheels
- Extra-sturdy hinges
- Locks in case you have a buddy that always snakes your last beer
- The ability to also keep hot foods hot
- Easy-clean surfaces, including seals, that won’t be damaged by sand.
- Add-on lid cushions to turn your cooler into a seat
- Extra lid panels that can be opened without exposing everything in the cooler to the heat of the sun
- Reusable ice packs so you don’t have to stop for ice each time you use it
Food Safety and Coolers
If you’re packing sandwiches made with meat, cheese, or mayo, it’s important to make sure that everything that goes into your cooler is already chilled. Alternatively, you can load up your ice and drinks, let the ice cool the drinks and then add the sandwiches in an hour or so when the interior temperature has reached a safe storage level for risky foods. Most canned and bottled beverages survive repeated chilling and warming just fine but no one wants to ruin a day on the beach with a bad turkey sandwich. Lunch meat should be kept at 40 degrees or cooler.
Some coolers come with a thermometer built in, or a temperature-sensitive indicator patch, but you can also pick one up at a camping or kitchen supply store. If your beverages are already chilled when the cooler is loaded, it’s more likely to reach and sustain a safe temperature. As a general rule, it’s always best to put pre-chilled drinks into a cooler to increase the lifespan of your ice.
Should You Get A Wheeled Cooler?
Wheeled coolers that are made specifically for the beach often feature bigger wheels that can be maneuvered easily on the sand and over rocks. If you just want the wheels to help you get through the parking lot, then don’t worry about their size but you might regret trying to roll a wheeled cooler on the beach if it isn’t specifically designed for that. Not only will the cooler be difficult to move, but the sand can get caught up in the wheel and render it unusable even on other surfaces. A lot of wheeled coolers have a retractable wheel base to protect the mechanism from beach sand, so be sure to retract it before you set the cooler down.
Caring For Your Cooler
An extra few minutes at the end of the day cleaning up your gear can prolong the life of your cooler. Any remaining beverages, foods and ice should be removed from the cooler. Most coolers have a drain valve for this purpose. An open box of baking soda in your cooler can cut down on mildew while it’s stored and a wipe-down with a clean, damp cloth will keep it from getting sticky or stained in between uses. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions before using any cleaning chemicals on your cooler, bleach and ammonia-based cleaners can sometimes damage the seals and severely limit the lifespan of your investment.
The Number One Rule to Follow With Your Cooler
Each time you go to get a drink from the cooler, give a shout out to everyone in your crew, “I’m grabbing a drink, does anyone want anything from the cooler?” Not only will you be everyone’s best bud but you’ll limit the amount of times the cooler is opened and keep everything inside cooler, longer.
And the number two rule for happy cooler usage is to drain it before you carry it to the car. Melted ice can get heavy and you’ve just spent a day fighting nature like a boss. Dig a little drainage pit in the sand and open up the drain valve to let the water out, there’s no reason to bring it home with you.
top image licensed at DepositPhotos