Best Affordable Food Coolers for Adventuring & Road Trips

This summer, I have been rediscovering (and in some cases, discovering) my beautiful state of Washington. I have shown off a few pics here and there of the kinds of things I’ve been seeing, but what I really want to do is retitle the blog,, Broke & Here Are My Road Trip Pictures but I am worried that it would be capricious… and maybe since the photos are of beautiful things, we could just work it right into the brand…?

Skamokawa, Wahkiakum County, Washington

This is a real place! I am still blown away. A tiny river town between Washington & Oregon called Skomakawa.

(Don’t worry, I’m not turning B&B into a scrapbook of Things You Weren’t There For.)

But I will turn B&B into a resource for other people who want to take advantage of their days off by road-tripping around their state.really recommend it – particularly if you live in the Pacific Northwest, because I’m heavily biased, but this entire country is full of beautiful stuff, and you can see it for free by driving near it. It’s pretty easy!

Instead of having to pick up fast food or some other such nonsense when we’re on the road, we’ve been trying to really hard to pack good food that we can access quickly. This usually means sandwiches on some hippie bread, cheese, some kind of trail mix, and maybe homemade granola bars or energy bars. We eat like old people (or trendy people, I guess), so there’s a lot of unexciting food that we have to make sound exciting (ahem, black bean brownies anyone?), otherwise that Taco Time is going to start looking more and more appealing…

Skamokawa, WA by Lindsay Ginn

A major player in our ability to avoid spending money and precious living years on fast food: a proper cooler. On our first road trip, all we had to work with was a lightly insulated bag from Trader Joe’s. This got the job done with a lot of makeshift, drippy, quickly warming ice packs. At the end, the cleanup sucked and our food was kinda wet. Sorry, bananas, we are ultimate road trip n00bs.

The next time, we brought it again with better ice packs. Still sucked. The third time, we brought a big, hard, plastic cooler and kept it up on the back seat. It had too much space for us and felt difficult to get to from the front seats, where we live for hours at a time. I need a cooler that can be portable enough to pick up and hike with, but that will also hold enough for 400 miles of driving (we clocked 380 in a day last weekend…). Size is important, too… Did you know sometimes coolers are measured in “cans” – as in, how many cans they can hold? Weird. But effective. So I need enough space to hold like six cans and then two very hungry people’s share of food.

 The solution: soft, portable coolers.

We need something bigger than the TJ’s shopping bag we used, but mo’ betta’ than a big, traditional cooler. They fit all the things I need, and are collapsable for easy storage and also offer some give if we really have to stuff it. Soft coolers often come with shoulder straps, so throwing them on and hiking out to the beach is easy. When everything inside is gone, you can crumple them up and pack them away – one less back to wear on your hike out.

I found everything from utterly adorable, grossly-cute picnic-ware to utilitarian, last-you-10-years rugged coolers. I wouldn’t be comfortable paying more than about $50 for one, so these are all less than $50!

We’ll go from cute to hardcore.

The Best Affordable (& Adorable!) Coolers for Picnics & Adventures

Goddess-Print Insulated Double Decker Tote with Blanket, $24.99 at World Market
It may become apparent that the only reason I wanted to start with “cute” was so that I could gush about how f$#king adorable this cooler tote is. Not only is the print awesome, but it comes with a very sleek blanket, one side of which is waterproof, making for a perfect setting! Plus, the two levels keep dry stuff separate from the icy stuff. It’s a little small for our extended trips, but it’s awesome for a quick road trip!

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The Best Affordable (& Adorable!) Coolers for Picnics & Adventures

Picnic Time Toluca Picnic Tote, $44 at Zappos
This is a great cooler for people who are fans of picnics. I, for one, do not like picnics. They make me uncomfortable. Something about the intention of going to a nature-place specifically to eat bothers me. I’d rather go to a place, and also bring food that we can eat while we’re there. Do you know what I mean? Anyway, this bag comes with a front pocket loaded with eating supplies like silverware, plates, and a cute set of wine glasses. On top of that, the bag itself comes in this pretty green, or a really slick black with white piping.

The Best Affordable (& Adorable!) Coolers for Picnics & AdventureseBags Crew Cooler II, $49.99 at Amazon
Okay, this one isn’t particularly cute or adorable, but the fact that it comes in eight different colors made me place it on the cute end of the utilitarian block. There is a deceptively spacious dry goods area on top of a structured, insulated cooler section which would fit enough for two people, definitely. The side pocket pops out into a water bottle holder, so this becomes not only easy to hike with, but also helps you hike! Thanks, bag!

The Best Affordable (& Adorable!) Coolers for Picnics & Adventures

Coleman Company 30 Can Soft Cooler with Liner, $34.85 at Amazon
Not too bad looking for the first straight-up utility cooler, is it? Coleman is at the forefront of the Outdoor + Food market (whatever that’s called – Outdoor Food? Outfood?), so you know that this cooler is going to be made with the best materials for the job. Odor, mold, and mildew resistant linings prevent gross stuff from ruining your trip cleanup, and there is a removable hard liner inside that you can lift out and clean to make things easy! The bungies on top help strap in extra dry goods like silverware or granola bars. If this 30 can size is more than you need, there is a cheaper, nearly-identical 16-can size, too!

The Best Affordable (& Adorable!) Coolers for Picnics & Adventures

Festival Mini Bar Convertible Cooler, was $50 now $34.99 at REI
Let me just let the genius of this cooler design sink in for a second. This means you could sling a cooler over your shoulder for a quick walk (or long walk) to the beach where you could plop down, open your cooler, and instantly start relaxing. A place to put your phone and sunglasses, up off the group, and two drink holders for your various beverages! The two colors above are the two colors offered, and the price has me kind of boggled, considering it’s “high end” REI!

The Best Affordable (& Adorable!) Coolers for Picnics & Adventures

Picnic Time Zuma Insulated Backpack Cooler, $29.95-$40.16 at Amazon
Casual eaters need not apply! I got pretty excited when I saw this backpack because I am the type of person who hates having to hold things. I like to be hands-free at all times! This is why I love crossbody bags, and why I love the idea of carrying your cooler on your back! The red one is the cheapest, if you’re looking for that right off the bat. Not sure why the blue and tan are so expensive! I can’t help but like the tan best. Isn’t it interesting how so many of these bags have sunglasses hanging off of them? This cooler isn’t perfect for the car, but next time I hike out to camp, I will definitely be thinking about this bag…

Whether we’re road-tripping or camping – food is still my favorite comfort, and I like to eat frequently. Soon, we’ll have a cooler that is just as perfect in the car as on the trails!