We’ve evaluated the design and performance of the top lunch coolers and insulated lunch bags on the market and selected the ten best lunch box coolers that are thoughtfully designed to keep your meals organized, well insulated to keep your food cool and fresh all day, and built tough to endure the daily grind.
A lunch box is the best way to take lunch to work or school or carry food and drinks on a day trip on the road, the trails, or the water. For this, you need a well-insulated lunch bag that will keep your warm food warm and cold food cold until it’s time to eat.
Take a look at our top picks for the best lunch boxes. We’ve also included a buying guide with the features to look for to be sure you’re getting the best lunch cooler for your needs.
How To Choose A Lunch Cooler – Buying Guide
Most lunch coolers are designed as a soft lunch box with a zippered lid on top. Despite this being the case, not all lunch bags look the same. We all like cool lunch boxes that look elegant and nice. This is why exterior design is an important consideration when choosing lunch bags for adults.
Design determines functionality too. A lunch box cooler needs to be convenient. You should be able to pack the food and take it out quickly. Space inside needs to be functional, so you can use it in the best way possible when packing your food and drinks.
It goes without saying that the cooler you choose should be resistant to wear and tear. It’s an EDC carry the item you’ll be taking everywhere with you, so it will be put to some tests. It will get dropped on the ground, scratched, wet and many other things. Of course, durability depends on the materials used. You should certainly give thought to material quality when choosing a lunch box.
The exterior fabric shouldn’t tear easily. Polyester and nylon are among the best choices for lunch coolers. The stitching needs to be done properly to ensure the cooler won’t fall apart quickly. The zipper, insulation, liner, shoulder straps, and carry handles need to be high-quality and durable too. The lunch boxes we selected are all made from durable materials that you can rely on.
No matter which cooler you get, make sure it’s portable and you can take it with you wherever you go. If you’re going camping, it needs to pack nicely with your other camping gear too – in your car trunk, or in your camping tent. For most soft coolers, this is not an issue.
Some lunch coolers have handles which allow you to pick them up easily, some come with a shoulder strap, and some have both. The handles are sometimes coated with rubber, which makes them much more comfortable when carrying a heavy load.
Adjustable shoulder straps with padding sit better on your shoulder. Some lunch bags are even designed to work as a backpack cooler, which makes it easy to carry.
To retain food temperature, insulation is something every cooler must-have. You should always check whether a particular cooler satisfies your needs in this regard. The best lunch boxes will preserve your food for up to 2 days, with a few ice packs added inside. Some can keep food cool for 5 hours while others have a 24-hours ice life.
Keep in mind that lunch boxes only retain the temperature, they don’t do the cooling. It’s best if everything you put inside comes straight out of the fridge. This way the temperature will stay the same for a longer time. You can add ice packs inside to prolong the cooling effect. Ice packs are less likely to create a mess. Regular ice can also work well as long as you put the ice in a Ziploc bag.
If you’re bringing warm food too, having insulation between compartments will help you retain the temperature of both cold and warm content of your lunch box. To keep it warm for longer, it’s useful to wrap the food in aluminum foil so it doesn’t lose heat.
Since it’s used to store food and drinks, some spills, crumbs, and dirt will inevitably end up in your cooler. To make it last longer (and keep it odor-free), it needs to be cleaned from time to time. Some cooler boxes are cleaned more easily than others, depending on the materials used.
Some lunch coolers can be safely washed in a washing machine without damage to the structure. Others will allow only the lining to be removed and washed. You should always use mild detergent so as not to damage the cooler.
Odors do happen with lunch bags. While the material used for the lining isn’t very susceptible to odors, they can develop if something with a strong scent (onions for example) comes in direct contact, and you don’t clean it right away. This can help bacteria and mold develop too, which leads to the box being unsafe to use with food. It’s a good idea to check and wipe and clean it from time to time.
Your lunch box cooler needs to be handy to take with you, without even giving it much thought. Because of this, size plays a significant role. The ideal size to go for depends on how much content you want to put inside. If you’re only bringing a sandwich and a soda, some large lunch boxes may be too bulky and unnecessarily large for you.
When we’re talking about size, we must take into consideration both the cooler dimensions as well as the storage space inside (volume). When manufacturers specify storage volume, most often they will be presenting both insulated and non-insulated space. This is something you need to pay attention to, otherwise, the cooler may be too small for you.
Depending on what you’re going to use it for, some coolers will have more insulated space, while others will have non-insulated compartments and more pockets. Don’t forget to take ice into consideration if you’re going to add it to keep food fresh for longer – several ice packs can take up significant volume.
It’s certainly not a bad idea to go for a large lunch box, as long as you can carry the cooler comfortably. You may need additional space to pack a few extra snacks. When empty, most soft lunch coolers can be pressed down to make them compact and easier to store.
Some lunch boxes come with only one large central insulated compartment and you pack your meals, snacks, and drinks all in the same place. On the other hand, some have separately insulated compartments. In this case, some compartments will be without insulation which is a good place for storing fruit and snacks.
Having insulation between sections is very practical, as it gives the insulated lunch box versatility allowing you to put everything you need in the same cooler. Compartments allow you to organize your food neatly for easy access. You can avoid digging around the cooler and taking half of the stuff out to find that one thing you’re looking for.
In addition to this, it’s really great to have several pockets included. They can be located inside or outside. Inside pockets are usually meshed and can be used to store utensils, napkins, and other things. Outside pockets give you a place for your wallet, car keys, cellphone, and other things you need at hand. It’s not a good idea to put these things inside the cooler, so front and side pockets come very handy.
When you buy a new lunch box cooler, you will also need storage containers to put your meals in. It’s possible that you already have a few of them at home. If not, some manufacturers sell coolers with plastic containers that fit perfectly inside, so it’s very helpful in terms of organization.
Other brands don’t include containers with their coolers but offer them separately so it’s not a bad idea to check if those are available. If you choose to buy them from another supplier, be sure to measure the size so they can easily fit inside the cooler.
In addition, pay attention to container design and the materials used. Most lunch box are made from plastic, but some plastic materials can be toxic and not safe to use with food. It’s also great if containers don’t absorb smells from food stored inside. Sure, the smell will be there until you wash it, but some lower quality products will permanently have a weird smell and a change of color.
Finally, the lid is very important too. It’s best if the container has a rubber gasket, which lays closely when the lid is put on. This prevents spilling and mess in your cooler bag. Some containers have snaps on the sides for added security, so they won’t open by accident.
Spills and Stains
Even if you’re very careful when sorting and packing your food and have leak-proof containers, accidents can happen. This is a common problem when taking your food “to go”. Sometimes a container opens during transport and the content spills inside the cooler and you end up with a mess and an excellent breeding ground for bacteria and mold.
The lining inside your lunch box should be easy to clean, preferably by simply wiping down. It’s always a good idea to clean as soon as possible. In an even worse scenario, a spill can leak through the cooler. This happens when the cooler isn’t waterproof. It then ends up on your clothes, or on your car seat. If this happens, take a peek further down to learn how to properly clean your insulated lunch box cooler.
Q: What Are Lunch Boxes Made Of?
Lunch boxes are made of a rugged fabric as the outside layer and a special lining inside. The most common materials choices for the exterior are nylon and polyester. Besides being strong, tear-resistant, and durable, these materials are also very easy to clean. The higher the Denier (D) rating, the higher the quality of the fabric.
As for the liner, most cooler use PEVA because it’s a good insulator. This is an abbreviation for polyethylene vinyl acetate, a material similar to plastic. Unlike PVC, PEVA doesn’t contain chloride. For this reason, it’s considered less toxic and carcinogenic, and it was approved by the FDA as safe for lining lunch coolers. It’s also waterproof and very easy to clean.
Q: Do Lunch Boxes Sweat When Left Outside?
Sweating inside is inevitable if you put something very cold in your lunch box and leave it outside (especially in the sun). Your cold food, drinks or ice pack will cool the surrounding air and condensation will take place forming droplets.
This is one of the reasons to go for a cooler with separate compartments – it ensures the moisture which forms on the surface of your drink won’t make your sandwich soggy. Sweating on the outside shouldn’t be a problem, at least with better quality lunch boxes. They are waterproof, so no liquid from the inside will be able to break out to the surface.
Q: How Do You Clean A Lunch Box?
Soft coolers don’t need to be cleaned after every use (unless something spills of course). Wiping it down after several uses will usually do the trick. To wipe, you can use ordinary moist cloth.
First, remove all the debris inside, and then go over every surface. Afterward, leave it out in the air to dry completely so bad smells don’t form. If you have to remove some stains, you can use a mild detergent or baking soda solution. Rub the spot where the stain is, and when you’ve removed it wipe with a clean cloth.
Some coolers are safe to wash in the washing machine, while others are washed by hand. Do look at the label and follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to clean your lunch box so it won’t get damaged in the process.
Q: What Is The Difference Between Adult and Child Lunch Box?
Adult lunch coolers often have more features on them and larger storage space. This is because adults eat more diverse food and have larger portions.
They also differ in design. Coolers for children often feature some cartoon or comic book characters. This design is very appealing to young ones. Lunch bags for adults have a simple and professional look. Of course, children can use an adult lunch box too, and vice versa.
Q: What Is The Best Size For A Lunch Box?
If you’re only going to put in a few things, then a small cooler is better because you can take it with you anywhere without hassle. On the other hand, if you need to bring drinks and sandwiches for the whole family, you will probably need a large lunch box.
You also need to think about how long you want to keep the food in. If you’re going to use the food tomorrow, it’s not a bad idea to go with a large cooler so you can put more ice packs inside to keep everything nice and cool. To wrap up, only you can determine what the best size is depending on your needs.
Q: Can Perishable Goods Be Stored In Non-insulated Lunch Box?
Q: How Do Insulated Adult Lunch Boxes Work?
These kinds of lunch boxes are designed to maintain temperature for longer time periods. Materials used (particularly PEVA) are made to be leak-proof and act as a barrier and keep the cold inside. Some insulated adult lunch boxes will have a kind of foam insulation between the outside and inside layer, to make them more effective at cold retention and temperature control.
When you put your food and drinks inside, they are already cold (assuming they are coming out of the fridge). This cools the air inside the lunch box. If you add a few ice packs into the combination, the temperature is even lower.
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Buying the best lunch cooler will prove to be a very good investment. The reason is that they are so versatile – you can take them camping or to picnics, you can use them to bring your home-made healthy meal to work or your child can take some snacks to school.
Features are different when going from one insulated lunch box to another, but the most important thing is that they are reliable to store and protect your food. We’re certain you’ll be able to find the best lunch box for your needs, since you now have enough information to make a choice you’ll be happy with.
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Have you tried a cooler which made it onto our list? Which one? How long does it keep the content cold? Is it easy to use and maintain? Please share your experience with us in the comment section below.