If you're planning any type of extended outing, you're going to need a cooler or ice chest to keep drinks cold and preserve food. If you're an avid camper, you should look for a quality cooler that's durable and efficient. There are several types to choose from that are convenient for different camping activities and sports.
Chest coolers come in a variety of materials, plastic being the most popular. These coolers are fun because they come in many colors, making it simple to identify your own in a group outing. Igloo and Coleman are leading brands offering both hinged and loose lids. Hinged lids are easier to open when you've got your hands full and you don't have to worry about high winds blowing the lid away. Many lids that are not attached to the coolers are also designed to be drink holders if you flip them over, a very useful feature.
Another material that chest coolers are made out of is stainless steel or metal. These coolers are more expensive and are heavier to carry. On the plus side, they're much more efficient because the insulation is better and perhaps the silver color reflects away heat and sunlight. These coolers are ideal for storing perishable foods and you won't need to refill with ice near as often as the plastic ones. If you buy a large cooler, look for a bottom drain for draining away the water without having to tip it over.
Thermoelectric coolers act as a mini fridge, designed specifically for travel. There's no need to buy ice as you just plug them into your cigarette lighter or adapter. Depending on the size, some offer just one compartment, others are divided into two or even three sections. When shopping for an iceless cooler, look for special sales and discounts online. Some stores stock only sporting goods and camping-related items and can offer you a good deal.
Also known as a picnic cooler, a soft pack cooler is handy for hiking and backpacking. Made of washable, nylon material, they're much easier to carry than their plastic counterparts. The inside lining can also be of soft material or a firmer, thin plastic, which helps maintain the temperature. A backpack coolers look just what it sounds like, a backpack. It has straps and compartments for carrying perishables.
Lightweight, Styrofoam coolers are great for picnics. Most of them are the chest-type with flimsy, cheap handles for carrying, something to keep in mind if you have the tendency to overload. Some people consider these types disposable and throw them away when their trip is over. Not all of them are inexpensive though, and if you invest in a sturdier one, it can be feasible for short camping trips.
Non-breakable, plastic drink coolers are insulated to keep your water and beverages cool for hours. The most common sizes are two and three gallon, but the larger ten gallon size works great for families and parties. Rubbermaid also sells a truck mount for easy hauling. Look for sturdy construction and handles for years of use.
Ultimately, you'll need to decide which type of cooler will fit your needs and how much money you want to spend. Consider the size, materials and weight of the cooler. Look for a tight seal, good insulation and added features such as removable inserts for storage. Some large coolers have a long handle on one side and wheels on the other, so you can pull them around, suitcase style. Whatever you choose, make sure you clean and dry them thoroughly before storing to avoid mold, mildew and nasty odors.