When buying a cool bag, or cooler bag as they’re sometimes known, the first thing to consider is what you’ll be using it for.

Is it to keep wine cool for after-work picnics, or to keep sausages safe on day two of camping?

If it’s the latter, you need to buy a cooler bag with good quality insulation, food poisoning obviously being a far more serious concern than lukewarm wine.

Aside from how effective the cool bag is, you should also think about size.

If you just want something to keep your lunch warm or cool, small is fine but if you’re camping or heading to a festival, you’ll want a decent-sized cooler bag.

Also, will you be carrying it a long way? If so, is it comfortable to carry when full?

Finally, think about how often you’ll be using your cooler bag. If it’s only once a year, there’s no point spending too much cash.

For infrequent use it’s also worth looking for a cool bag that folds up compactly for easy storage.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent. 

Quechua fresh compact camping/walking ice box: £39.99 Decathlon

We were seriously impressed with this Quechua cooler bag. It arrives flat, but when you unpack it expands to a 36-litre capacity box, providing enough room for food and drink for at least four people. It says it’s self-inflating, though we did need to top up the air a little, but that was very easy to do. The shoulder strap was comfy even when the bag was full, and it kept our test beers cold overnight without an ice block. It has handy outside mesh pockets, and it deflated easily after use for compact storage. A quality product.

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Joules picnic cool bag printed and fully insulated: £29.95 Joules

The design of this Joules picnic cool bag shouts summer, but we also rated its function. It kept a bottle of beer chilled for two-three hours, but would work far longer with an ice block. We liked that it was roomy enough inside for a decent sized-picnic or night’s camping, but also folded up flat for easy storage when not in use. It was comfy enough to carry, and straight-forward to clean. It felt like a good quality product for the price. Available in other designs.

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Primus cooler backpack: £90, Primus

Most cool bags are a pain to carry if you’re walking longer distances, so we were big fans of this cooler backpack from Swedish outdoor adventure brand Primus, which most definitely was not. It kept a bottle of beer cold with an ice block overnight, and it’s well insulated so no moisture from your cold food or drink will seep through to your back. It isn’t cheap, but it felt like a durable product that would last for years and the 22-litre capacity was decent. The backpack gets extra points for having a buckle which doubles up as a bottle opener. A really good product for camping and festivals; we especially loved that the lining pulls out for easy cleaning when you get back home.

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Sophie Allport runner duck picnic cool bag: £32, Sophie Allport

We liked the design of this runner duck picnic cool bag from Lincolnshire-based brand Sophie Allport. But we were also impressed with its effectiveness, it kept the bottle of beer cold for a good few hours, without an ice block, and had a more than decent 25-litre capacity, enough for a picnic for four. The matt oilcloth fabric had a durable feel and the shoulder strap made it fairly easy to carry even when full. Available in other designs.

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Fjallraven Kanken mini cooler: £55, Fjallraven

From the hip but functional Swedish brand Fjallraven, comes the smallest product on test, the mini cooler. It’s made from the same durable, waxy fabric as their signature Kanken backpack, which it also fits neatly inside. We found it kept a bottle of beer chilled for a few hours but any longer would need an ice block. Given its size, it would make a good choice for keeping your lunch box cool or warm, or to keep a couple of drinks cold on a summer’s evening. Also available in black, grey, pink and ox red.

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Hydro Flask soft cooler tote: £250.95, Trekkinn

This is a serious product for proper outdoor adventure, as you might have deduced from the price. It felt incredibly lightweight for its function, it was comfy to carry even when full to its 24-litre capacity and overnight it kept the bottle of beer the coldest of all the products on test, alongside the Coleman. With an ice block it could do up to 48 hours, so this is the bag you’d want for eating safe sausages on the last day of a weekend camping trip. It was really easy to clean and had two useful dry side pockets to stash keys or other important stuff. It is expensive, and not something the occasional picnic person needs, but it would be a good investment for serious campers, especially as it comes with a five-year guarantee. It had a watertight seal to stop water getting in or out.

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Rex blue tit picnic bag: £2.95, Rex

This is the cheapest picnic bag on test but we liked the design, and found it passed the beer bottle test, keeping it cool with an ice pack for several hours. We liked that it’s made from recycled bottles and has enough room for a decent-sized picnic for two friends. The fabric was a slight pain to clean, but it folds up compactly, and overall this is a great value choice for occasional use.

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Coleman 50QT xtreme wheeled cooler: £115, Go Outdoors

Not strictly a cooler bag, but this wheelable cooler chest is a great option if you need to keep a lot of food and drink cold, but don’t want to carry a heavy cool bag. It is very roomy and can hold up to 84 330ml cans, or food for a family for three days’ camping. It kept our test bottle of beer super-cold overnight, and a friend who owns one told us it kept their ice packs cold for five days in hot summer heat, a really impressive feat, even at this price. We also rated its durability and ease of cleaning.

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John Lewis & Partners summer party spot print cooler tote bag: £20, John Lewis & Partners

We liked this tote-style bag, partly because it didn’t look like a regular boxy cooler, but also because it felt comfortable to carry over our shoulder. It kept a bottle of beer cool for five-six hours with an ice pack. It had one of the smaller capacities of the bags on test but would nonetheless be a good-value choice for day trips to the beach or evening picnics after work. Also available in other styles.

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Eurohike cooler bag: £7, Blacks

This no-frills cooler bag from camping brand Eurohike is a good value option that would suit occasional use. It kept the bottle of beer cold for a few hours with an ice block and was easy enough to clean. It had one of the lower capacities so would work better for smaller than larger picnics. It wasn’t the comfiest to carry.

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The verdict: Cooler bags

The Quechua fresh compact camping/walking ice box was our best buy, as it was a well-functioning product with a good capacity at a decent-value price. More serious campers should look at the Coleman 50QT xtreme wheeled cooler or Hydroflask soft cooler tote options, and if you’re hiking along with camping the Primus cooler backpack would be the way to go.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.