As the weather improves and we start dreaming about getting out and about post-lockdown, we’ll take this time to make sure all our picnic gear is in order.
First up: a cool bag to keep those all-important snacks and drinks nicely chilled.
Before committing to buy your cool bag, have a think about how you’ll be enjoying the great outdoors; are you planning to hit the beach with some beers, or is an epic camping trip on the cards?
Are you an elaborate picnicker, or are your outings usually dashes after work to soak up the last of the sun’s rays with an ice cold drink?
Cool bags come in many forms from the super organised to the pretty simple, so consider whether you’d be best suited to something easily transportable and compact, or if you’re looking for something more serious with longer term insulation.
From backpacks to beach bags, hampers to lunchboxes, these are our favourite ways of staying chilled this season.
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Hydro flask unbound series soft cooler pack 15 coolbox
This pack-up is next level stuff and is designed for adventurous types. The one we reviewed is the backpack design, but it is also available as a tote bag, and keeps food and drinks cool for up to two days thanks to the smart insulation – this technology also makes it the lightest cooler in its class and it is truly light, you’d have no problem strapping this on for a hike even with heavy liquids.
It’s got a watertight zip – that also won't rust – allowing you to transport ice leak-free should you wish. It looks sleek and smart and is surprisingly compact considering its 15l capacity – there are also multiple pockets to keep essentials to hand.
While this cooler is obviously ideal for camping, hiking and similar activities, it’s also a good investment for the fairer-weather fans of the great outdoors as it’s just so useful.
VonShef ash picnic backpack for 4
Far more convenient than a traditional picnic basket, this understated, practical backpack comprises an entire picnic set for four complete with plastic wine glasses, metal cutlery, bottle opener and more, a picnic rug and a large inner cool bag section – plus two extra bottle coolers on the side.
The rug can be rolled up and secured to the outside of the backpack using the straps, leaving ample space for a picnic feast. It’s sturdy, comfortable and will revolutionise our picnic packing. We’re sold.
Sainsbury's sahara slouchy cool bag
A sweet little rattan-look bag in neutral tones that would suit all manner of summery occasions, you’d never know this was a cool bag until you looked inside and saw the thermal lining.
It’s too small to fit a beach towel, but you can get enough refreshments in to suit a couple, making it a serviceable picnic option for days out, after work wine (fits two bottles) in the park, or just for taking your lunch to work on warm days.
It keeps food cool for a few hours in normal conditions, but on very hot days we suggest you pack an ice pack or two to help it along.
VonShef navy large cooler bag
We were impressed with the quality of this cooler, and even more so given the price. It’s sturdy, with hardwearing polyester fabric supported by the aluminium frame (and carry handle) plus there’s a reinforced base, so you can rest assured your bottles are securely stored.
It boasts a 22l capacity; enough for a couple of bottles of wine or a multipack of beers and leaving plenty of space for a loaf and the usual picnic accompaniments, it’s very lightweight and folds flat for storage. The insulated foil lining keeps foodstuffs cool for a number of hours, even in warm weather. A brilliant bargain option.
Fortnum & Masson eau de nil cool bag
A medium sized lightweight zip-up cool bag in the brand's signature turquoise with F&M badge and contrasting black carry straps, this is a handy and good-looking item to have in your outdoor arsenal.
At 41cm (W) x 28cm (D) x 32cm (H), the Fortnum’s bag is good for day trips out, small picnics or for a few bottles of the good stuff and will keep your wares cool for a number of hours before folding away easily for transportation and storage. Get the matching blanket and wine cooler to really look the part.
Joules small insulated picnic lunch bag
If it’s a cheerful lunch-sized cool bag you’re after then look no further than this colourful Joules offering. Perfect for popping in your handbag, this is a convenient practical way to keep your sandwiches cool all day thanks to the insulated foil lining.
We squeezed a medium sized Tupperware pot, 330ml can and some fruit in no problem so it’s perfect for one, or good for snacks and drinks for two-ish. There’s a carry handle, it collapses flat for easy storage and the pretty statement wild flower print is wipe clean; matching picnic rug and chair also available to encourage you outside.
Roxy on the next wave large beach tote bag
We can’t wait to hit the beach with this stylish – and roomy – tote. An on-trend woven straw and canvas fabric in summer neutrals, the top section of this bag is a standard beach bag which will accommodate a towel, book and suncream, while the bottom half unzips to reveal a clever cooler section that you can keep your beach picnic refreshingly cool in.
The whole bag is 25l, but the bottom insulated part will easily hold six cans and some snacks and keep them deliciously chilled for several hours of sun.
Regatta freska cool bag 15l
You can trust Regatta for straightforward good quality outdoor products at a good price and this 15l cooler is exactly what you’d expect from them. A no frills, insulated cool bag in a durable navy polyester, this size is ideal for a family day out and will hold large bottles should you need along with plenty of perfectly chilled drinks and snacks for a foursome.
It stands upright or folds down flat for smart storage, zips up and has strong grey carry handles or adjustable shoulder strap for transportation; we also noted that the strap is long enough to allow the bag to go over a pushchair handle.
Red Original waterproof cooler bag
This cooler is in a different league to your usual picnicware. Outdoor adventure brand Red has created a seriously functional cool bag which keeps ice cool for days without the use of an engine thanks to some hi-tech insulation work.
We tried the smaller of two, which holds 18l (enough for 28 cans to stay ice cold) and is still easily portable though you wouldn’t want to carry it for a hike or anything like that – more watery adventures are suited – there is a larger 30l version for bigger groups.
It floats, is 100 per cent waterproof with a special watertight zip that will not corrode in saltwater and the pack can be attached to paddle boards using the D-rings. It’s an amazing piece of kit just begging to be taken out and enjoyed.
Primus campfire cooler
The Swedes know a thing or two about outdoor living and this Swedish brand, Primus, has spent 125 years perfecting the art. It has a range of coolers and we plumped for this one, a 10l bag that makes a good all-round choice.
It’s soft and very collapsible, so allows you to stow it in your backpack, car, boat – or kayak as it suggests! – but at the same time is large enough and strong enough to cope with extended adventuring. It can be carried alone as the roll-top closure also serves as a handle, otherwise it has daisy chain webbing that allows you to fix the cool bag to the outside of your backpack.
It’s leak-proof, has high quality foam insulation that means you’re good for around 12 hours and has a waterproof lining for easy cleaning. The buckle is also a bottle opener: cheers.
Packit freezable classic lunch box in unicorn sky
We think these clever cool bags from US brand Packit are brilliant. They come in all sorts of variations – backpack, totes, wine versions etc – but we’ve stuck with the classic lunchbox which collapses flat-ish to be kept in the freezer. The walls of the bag are packed with gel that freezes, then take them out when you are ready to use.
They have a special patented technology that drops the temperature of liquids 25 degrees within the first hour, making room temperature items cold, though of course items that are already cold will keep cooler for longer. They make brilliant daily lunchboxes for kids and adults alike, are wipe-clean, with a strap for carrying, and keep food freshly chilled up to the afternoon in normal conditions.
Our youngest testers fell in love with the rainbow version of this and they have lots of other cute and quirky or more grown-up designs.
The verdict: Cool bags
There was a lot to love about all of these coolers, and it was hard to pick just one as an outright winner as the prices, uses and designs varied so widely. However, we really loved the HydroFlask cooler backpack, which covered almost every base you could wish for from a cool bag – the Red Originals was also remarkable, with USP after USP for serious sporting types. If your budget and demands do not stretch as far, we settled on the Regatta as a well-priced all-rounder, and we’ll be purchasing the Roxy beach bag for ourselves immediately.
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