Outdoors Magazine

Best Lunch Coolers That’ll Keep Your Food Cold & Fresh

By Chris Noal

Best Lunch Cooler

Whether you are at work or on a camping trip, one of the most important things at the end of the day is food. In most of these scenarios, chances are that you won’t have a supermarket around that offers you the convenience of buying lunch, hence the need to think everything through. 

If for instance, you are planning on traveling and the trip is likely to last you several days, there is a need to have a hard cooler that can keep your food frozen until you reheat it. However, hard coolers are not only bulky but they are not the best solution when it comes to portability and practicality. 

Because of this reason, lunch coolers are more practical. They keep your food and drinks cool or warm and not to mention are very convenient. They are also more practical in transporting food than paper bags. 

Lunch coolers come in handy not just when you need to go camping, but for picnics and carrying packed lunch to work as well. When you think about it, a lunch cooler will end up saving you a lot since you don’t spend money on lunch and carrying packed lunch from home is healthy too. 

Buying one of the best coolers for camping allows you to better organize your food the way you like it minimizing messes in the process. 

With a lunch cooler, warm food will remain warm while the cold food and drinks remain just that thanks to the design which includes several insulation layers and a tight vacuum that prevents air from circulating.

The efficiency in maintaining the temperature of your food and drinks is dependent on the lunch cooler you get. On average, a lunch cooler is designed to keep food and drinks cold for several hours if you are not looking for the prolonged ice life that is offered by hard coolers. 

They come with different features and their functionality differs from one cooler to another. For instance, there are lunch coolers that have several compartments, additional pockets and have plastic containers included in the package.

What Is a Lunch Cooler

As lunch is simply a bag that is designed to keep food and drinks either cool or warm. Lunch coolers have insulation on the inside that maintain the temperature of your food and prevent air from moving around.

Lunch coolers are convenient and portable and they come in different sizes. They allow you to pack your food and drinks the way you like without creating a mess.

They come in dandy when you need to pack some food when you are going for a camping trip or want the convenience of carrying packed lunch from home. If you are going on fishing trips as well where you need to use a baitcasting reel, a lunch cooler will also be useful in keeping bait fresh. 

And just like a kayak for beginners is easy to operate, you could also use the lunch cooler to store food and drinks that you might need throughout the fishing trip rather than carrying a bulky hard cooler. 

Benefits of Lunch Coolers

Benefits of Lunch Coolers

If you are planning a camping trip or have resulted in healthy eating and don’t want to buy food anymore when you are at work, a lunch cooler will work perfectly for you. That said, here are a few benefits of lunch coolers.

Balanced Temperatures

This is the main benefit of a lunch cooler and probably the main reason why most people prefer them. They maintain the temperature of food and beverages ensuring that you enjoy your meals at the right temperature. 

Convenience

Lunch coolers are convenient in that you never have to worry about buying food again when you are at work. They also come in handy if you are planning a camping trip that will last you for days.

For catfish anglers, a lunch cooler can come in handy in keeping bait fresh as well as drinks that you may need on your camping trip.

Less Messy

A lunch cooler allows you to pack your food the way you want it and ensures that messes are minimized in the process.

Size Versatility

A lunch cooler is versatile in that you can adjust the size of the bag to fit food as well as beverages especially if you buy any of the premium coolers with wheels available in the market. 

Use Versatility

Lunch coolers come in different designs as well as shapes that make it easy to carry one in a bag or separately. They are also easy to fold and store when not in use, especially if you have limited storage space. They are also fashionable and make great corporate giveaways or courtesy gifts should you need one. 

Fresh and Tastier Food

Lunch coolers are perfect for beaches, camping trips, fishing trips, road trips, and other outdoor adventures. This is because you can store fresh and cooked food separately.  

If the lunch cooler is stored at the right temperature, your food will maintain the flavor and taste. Additionally, the food doesn’t harden or soften which means that you can enjoy it at any time. 

Protected Content

Lunch cooler models that come with a zipper are sturdy and offer maximum protection to the contents inside the bag. This means that even if the closing system of the container that contains your food fails, your food or beverages won’t spill outside. 

Pros and Cons of Lunch Coolers

Pros and Cons of Lunch Coolers

If you constantly go for camping or fishing trips and have been wondering how best to carry food and beverages, a lunch cooler will work perfectly for you. But just like with a foldable camping cot, here are the pros and cons of lunch coolers that you should be aware of before you make a purchase. 

Pros

  • Lunch coolers maintain the temperature of your food all day long such that food tastes fresh when you are eating it.
  • They are convenient since most of the time you don’t have access to a supermarket where you can buy food. 
  • They are easy to store since they can be folded to occupy as little space as possible. 
  • They are sealed in such a way that food or beverages don’t spill. 
  • Some come with plates or containers for packing lunches.

Cons

  • Some bags are not entirely leakproof.
  • Some lunch coolers are not built for rugged use.
  • Some lunch coolers don’t keep ice for a long time which is an issue for some people. 

Materials of Lunch Coolers

You can prolong food freshness by carrying it in a cooler and lunch coolers are made of different materials that affect the functionality as well as durability of the product. 

Nylon

This is the most common material used to make lunch coolers. Nylon is highly durable and you can be assured that your lunch cooler will last you for more than a couple of months. Nylon is also easy to clean and maintain.

Polyester

Just like nylon, polyester is also quite common and has similar qualities. It is easy to clean in case of any spills and is also highly durable. 

Cotton

Lunch coolers made of cotton are not as common but they exist. Cotton is highly absorbent in case you have spills. It is also easy to clean although stains quickly. Lunch coolers made of cotton may not be as durable as those made of nylon or polyester but they are worth every dim at the end of the day. 

How to Choose the Best Lunch Cooler

If you have decided to buy a lunch cooler, here are a few factors that you need to consider so that you get on that fits your needs. 

Size

The lunch cooler that you buy needs to be very handy and because of that size matters. It all depends on what you are intending on carrying in the lunch cooler. For instance, if you will only be carrying a sandwich and soda, some lunch coolers may prove too bulky. 

When it comes to size, you need to take into consideration, the cooler dimensions as well as the storage space. Most of the time when manufacturers specific storage volume of a lunch cooler, chances are that they are talking about insulated and non-insulated space. 

This is an important thing that you need to pay attention to otherwise the cooler may be too small for you. Depending on what you will be using the cooler for, some coolers tend to have more insulated space while others have more non-insulated compartments and pockets.

Additionally, it is also important to consider whether you will be storing fresh food in the cooler since ice packs take up quite a volume.

When you are buying a lunch cooler you need to realize that larger outside dimensions don’t always mean more space inside. Depending on the materials used for insulation, some coolers have thicker walls especially those that longer ice life. 

Capacity

Lunch Cooler Capacity

One of the important considerations that you need to make when you are buying a lunch cooler is its capacity. For one, you need to get a cooler that can comfortably hold everything you will be carrying to get value for your money. In such a case, get one that has enough capacity that your food maintains its temperature. However, ensure that you don’t buy one that is too big because it is just going to be bulky. 

Carrying Method

A lunch cooler is just as good as the carrying method it offers. A lunch cooler looks good and fashionable but that all changes if there is no carrying method. In such a case, carrying such a lunch cooler will be a problem which is why you need to pay attention to the carrying method. 

For instance, if you want a small cooler that keeps food insulated, then it needs to have shoulder straps, side handles or lid handles. For a large cooler, then you may consider wheels and handrails. 

Durability

The lunch cooler that you get should be able to withstand wearing and tearing for a long time. The last thing you want is to buy a cooler that will only serve you for a few months. 

Naturally, a lunch cooler will get dropped at some point, maybe spilled on and scratched which is why durability is important to consider and this is determined by the materials that are used in construction. 

High-quality materials don’t tear easily. Nylon and polyester are some of the quality materials that you should look for in a lunch cooler. Additionally, the stitching also needs to be of the highest quality if the lunch cooler is to last you for long. 

Correct stitching means that air and water cannot pass through which means that the cooler will not fall apart after some time. The zipper also plays a role in the durability of the lunch cooler. In such a case it not only needs to be of the highest quality but it should be made in such a way that air doesn’t leave the cooler at some point. 

This increases the efficiency of the cooler. In case the zipper breaks of jams, then the cooler becomes pretty much useless at that point on. 

The insulation layer that is inside the cooler also needs to be highly durable if the cooler is to work the way it’s supposed to. In such a case, since you will constantly be removing and putting content inside the cooler, it needs to be made of materials that will not tear. 

The straps though not directly related to the functionality of the cooler need to be durable as well. How long the straps will last depends on how often you use the cooler. At the end of the day, always go for the highest quality even if it means spending more because you are likely to spend more money down the road if you get a cooler that tears after few months of use. 

Outer Shell

When you are buying a lunch cooler, you can either get one that has a hard outer shell or a soft one. What this comes down to is personal preference and how you intend to use the cooler. In terms of portability, a lunch cooler with a soft outer shell is ideal.

If you are worried about the shape of the cooler, a majority of coolers with soft shells have a hardliner on the inside to maintain the shape and ensure that your contents don’t get smashed during transportation.  

Portability

Lunch Cooler Portability

One of the other important factors that you need to consider when you are buying a lunch cooler is the portability. It’s always a big plus if the lunch cooler is portable enough that you can take it anywhere with you and can be kept in a bag for sleeping when camping

For a durable soft cooler, portability is never an issue even though they come in a variety of sizes. With hard coolers, then the issue of portability comes in since they can be heavy sometimes requiring two people to carry them. 

Some lunch coolers have handles, others have shoulder straps while some have both. The handles are covered with rubber sometimes which makes it easy to carry them especially when you are carrying a heavy load. For shoulder straps, they need to be adjustable and have some sort of padding to sit comfortably on the shoulder.

Just like a hunting backpack with enough space, some lunch coolers are even designed to work as backpacks which make it easier to carry them around in which case backpack cooler has a lot of capacity. Additionally, the cooler needs to pack well with the other camping gear that you will take with you. 

Temperature

Insulation is very important if your food and beverages are to retain the right temperature. Keeping in mind that lunch coolers only retain the temperatures and don’t do the actual cooling, the outside temperature doesn’t affect the contents inside. 

To cool down your food or drinks, most people tend to add ice packs in the cooler but some products come with ice packs already included. As mentioned, every cooler maintains temperature after some time. The best lunch coolers will preserve food for about two days if you have added a few ice packs.

Given that most people just need a cooler that will work for several hours or a day, then this is one feature that you cannot afford to ignore. Most people will use regular ice rather than ice packs and while this is not as effective it works if you put the ice in Ziploc bags to avoid having a puddle in the cooler. 

Ice packs, on the other hand, don’t melt but just become warm, minimizing messes. When you are using a lunch cooler and need your food to remain cool, it is always advisable to put food that has come straight from the fridge. 

If you will be carrying warm food, having a bit of insulation between the compartments will help in retaining the temperatures. If your lunch cooler doesn’t have insulation and you want to bring with you a hot meal and a cold drink, you could always use two separate boxes. If you want to keep food warmer for longer, it’s always a good idea to wrap it in aluminum foil so that heat isn’t lost. 

Compartments

Some lunch coolers have one large compartment that has insulation whereby you put your meals and drinks in the same place. On the other hand, some lunch coolers have several compartments with some having insulation and others nothing. 

Insulation between sections is extremely important as it gives the lunch cooler versatility whereby you can carry everything that you may need in the same compartment. Compartments are also important in that they allow you to neatly pack your food whereby at the end of the day, you know where everything is.

Some lunch coolers also have additional pockets that are made of mesh that you can use to store your utensils and other things like napkins that you may need when you are eating. Outside pockets also come in handy if you want somewhere to keep your phone, keys, and wallet when you are traveling. 

Containers

When you buy a lunch cooler, you need containers as well that you can put your meals in. Chances are that you already have containers lying around in your home which is a plus.

If not, some manufacturers sell lunch coolers with containers that can fit perfectly in the lunch cooler which is very important when you are organizing your cooler. 

Other manufacturers don’t include containers but will sell them separately in which case you must check if they are available and whether they can fit in your lunch cooler. 

Additionally, you must pay attention to the design of the containers and the materials used. Most containers you will realize are made of plastic but these differ from one cooler to another. 

There are plastic materials that are toxic and hence not safe to carry food inside them. It is also important that you ensure that the container doesn’t absorb food smells. 

Finally, consider the lids of the containers you are about to buy, it is recommended that you go with those that have a rubber gasket since this one lays closely when the lid is put on preventing spills and messes inside the lunch cooler. Some containers also have snaps that ensure that the container doesn’t open by accident during transportation. 

Spills and Stains

Accidents are bound to happen even when you have carefully packed your food and have leak-proof containers especially when you want your food to go. Sometimes the container may open which causes the food to spill inside the cooler. This will not only create a mess inside but is a breeding ground for bacteria as well as mold. 

The lining inside the cooler should be easy to clean if spills occur. It’s always a good idea to wipe spills immediately they occur to avoid staining the cooler. If you have a cooler that is not waterproof, the spill can end up leaking through the cooler which could end up on your clothes or car seat. 

Looks

Lunch Cooler Looks

While how the lunch cooler looks is just a matter of personal preference, at the end of the day, you want a cooler that is aesthetically pleasing, especially if you will be carrying it to work every day. 

Functionality

In terms of functionality, there are a few things that you need to consider. For instance, do you need a cooler that you can open with one hand? Do you need one with a tight lid or do you need something that doubles up as an extra seat? Once you are sure what kind of functions you are looking for, then you can look for a cooler that matches those.

Versatility

When it comes to versatility, there is so much you can do with a cooler. For one, do you need a cooler that has extra pockets that you can use to store your keys, wallet and even phone?

Do you want a cooler that keeps things hot and others warm? If you have different needs then you need to get a lunch cooler that can fulfill all of them. It may require you to spend extra but at the end of the day, the kind of versatility you will get is worth every dime. 

Design

A majority of lunch coolers are designed as softboxes that have a zippered lid. At the end of the day, you want a lunch cooler that looks elegant and nice especially if you want one that you can use to carry lunch to work. 

As such the exterior design matters a lot especially with adult lunch coolers. The design reflects the functionality of the cooler since you need to be able to access the contents inside without much struggle. Space inside needs to also be big enough to accommodate everything you may need. 

Bonus Features

Some people assume that a lunch cooler is just that but this couldn’t be further from the truth. There are a lot of great features that come with lunch coolers and while some are not necessities, they double up as bonus features. For instance, there are lunch coolers that come with an insulated water bottle and some have containers included. 

Some coolers also come with ice packs which will come in handy if you want to keep your food cool for a few hours or days especially on fishing or camping trips. 

Top Compartment Area

This is one feature that is not found in a majority of lunch coolers in the market but will come in handy if you will be using any ice in the cooler. 

The top compartment is usually separated from the main compartment providing more room to store your sandwiches and anything else that you don’t want to be in the ice. At the end of the day, nobody wants wet sandwiches or bread which is why a top compartment matters when you are buying a lunch cooler. 

Price

When it comes to prices of lunch coolers, they differ based on the brand in which case you can spend as little or as much as you want. High-end lunch coolers like those made by Yeti are expensive but worth it since they can keep food fresh for several days. 

With a lunch cooler, you probably don’t need food lasting that long, therefore there is no need to spend that much money on a lunch cooler while there are plenty of other affordable options that can still meet your needs. However, avoid very cheap lunch coolers since they are made from low-quality materials that will wear and tear after some time. 

When you are looking for a lunch cooler rather than getting hung up on the price, consider factors like the functionality, materials, temperature, compartments, design, containers, versatility, portability, outer shell, capacity and durability since these give you value for your money. 

How to Use a Lunch Cooler

How you use your lunch cooler will depend on what you intend to carry from warm food to cold drinks. 

Step 1 – Decide on the food

Are you taking cold food directly from the fridge or a warm one? If you want to bring a cold drink with you, then you need to have ice packs in the cooler.

Step 2 – Put the food in a container

Ensure that the containers are of the right size to fit inside the lunch cooler. 

Step 3 – Arrange the container in the lunch cooler

If your lunch cooler has different compartments, arrange containers based on the temperature of the food and ensure that the lids are tight to minimize spills. 

If you have cold drinks or food that you need to keep cool, add some ice packs or regular ice in Ziploc bags. Once everything is arranged well, you can then zip up the cooler and be on your way. 

How to Clean A Lunch Cooler

Step 1 – Remove any loose dirt on the outside

Using a damp cloth or brush start by removing any loose dirt on the outside of the lunch cooler because the last thing you want is to get any debris mixed up when you are washing or rubbing any grease or dirt deeper into the fabric.

Step 2 – Trip any loose threads

Chances are that you may have any loose threads around the straps and zippers that can snug and are also prone to further damage. Trim those loose threads to ensure that the cooler doesn’t get damaged some more.

Step 3 – Empty the lunch cooler

Some lunch coolers have additional pockets so ensure that you empty all pockets.

Step 4 – Gather your cleaning materials

Depending on how dirty the lunch cooler is, you may be forced to get specific cleaning agents in case any stains need to be removed. For instance, you may need a grease remover of a toothbrush to clean the details of the cooler. 

Step 5 – Determine the size of the lunch cooler

Lunch coolers come in a variety of sizes and as such you need to determine if the one you have can be hand washed or can fit inside a washing machine. 

Step 6 – Remove stains

Whether you use a natural stain remover or a brand one, avoid cleaners that can bleach your lunch cooler. Depending on how severe the stain is, you may need to soak your cooler for a few hours before washing.

Step 7 – Follow the cleaning instructions

Once the stains have been removed, you can now follow the instructions of the manufacturer on how to wash it. 

Step 8 – Dry it naturally

Once you are done washing, set aside the lunch cooler to dry. Ensure that you keep it away from direct heat and hang it upside down to remove excess water from the pockets and creases. Avoid using a dryer as this can damage the fabrics in the process. 

Does More Spending Mean More Quality

When you are buying a lunch cooler, to some extent more spending does mean more quality. The last thing you want is to buy a lunch cooler that falls apart after a few uses. In such a case, check the materials used in construction. Some high-quality materials like polyester and nylon will serve you better since they don’t wear and tear easily.

More spending also means getting a lunch cooler that can keep your food fresh for several days although this may not be necessary for a lunch cooler that you only use to carry food to work. 

To get value for your money, regardless of how much you are going to spend, look out for factors such as functionality, materials, temperature, compartments, design, containers, versatility, portability, outer shell, capacity, and durability. With a lunch cooler, you can spend as much or as little as you like depending on how much money you have as long as the above factors are not overlooked. 

Do’s and Don’ts With Lunch Coolers

  • Do ensure that the containers you are using fit perfectly inside the lunch cooler to avoid wear and tear.
  • Do use the lunch cooler to carry food and drinks only if it is going to last you long.
  • Do clean spills immediately they occur to avoid staining the backpack.
  • Don’t get too hung up on the price when you are buying but consider the versatility and functionality of the cooler. 

FAQ About Lunch Coolers

FAQ About Lunch Coolers

Do lunch coolers sweat when left outside?

Sweating on the outside is inevitable but isn’t usually a problem especially with high-quality lunch coolers. Such coolers are waterproof; therefore no liquid from the outside can find its way inside the cooler. On the other hand, coolers sweat on the inside especially when you put something cold inside.

What is the difference between adult and child lunch cooler?

When it comes to functionality, the two lunch coolers are practically the same. They both are needed to preserve food and keep drinks cooler for longer. However adult lunch coolers have more features and larger storage space. The design of children coolers is also different with most of them featuring cartoons and comic book characters on the outside. 

What is the best size of the lunch cooler?

When it comes to size, there is no universal size that you can say is the best. The size of the lunch cooler you get will depend on your needs and personal preferences. If you just need one that you can put a few things in, then a smaller lunch cooler will work perfectly for you. However, if you like group camping and want to carry food and drinks for everyone, then a larger cooler makes more sense. 

Can perishable goods be stored in non-insulated lunch coolers?

The answer is yes. Perishable goods can be stored in non-insulated lunch coolers but within a limited time. If you will be using a non-insulated lunch cooler, then it’s probably best that you put food that has been in the fridge to ensure that it stays fresh for a couple of hours more. 

How do insulated adult lunch coolers work?

Adult lunch coolers are designed to maintain food temperature for a long period which works if no air is circulating inside. If you put food and drinks that have been in the fridge inside a cooler, this cools the air inside. The materials used to make lunch coolers especially PEVA are leak-proof and act as a barrier to keep the cold inside the cooler. Air itself also acts as a good insulator.

Conclusion

Lunch coolers have been there for years and continue to grow in popularity. Their design is meant to maintain the temperature of your food for a couple of hours. When you are buying a lunch cooler, rather than getting hung up on the price, consider factors like the capacity, compartments, containers, and durability to get the best value for your money. 

Photos from: belchonock / depositphotos.com, kosmos111 / depositphotos.com, gstockstudio / depositphotos.com, moisseyev / depositphotos.com, olesiabilkei / depositphotos.com, amyinlondon / depositphotos.com and Maridav / depositphotos.com.


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