Packing a lunch box is a solid way to save money and stay healthy at work. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already sick of spending $23 a day on take-out food that makes you feel bloated all afternoon and isn’t in any way helping you fight the battle of the bulge.
Happily, packing your own lunch is a great alternative. But it all starts with a good lunch box. What are the best lunch boxes for men? Check out this buying guide for our best-of rundown of insulated lunch boxes, metal lunch boxes, lunch boxes for meal planning, and more, including a couple that I personally put to the test.
Buckle up, and let’s get to work — without forgetting our lunch.
- Most Traditional: Stanley Classic Lunch Box
- Best Value: Lifewit Insulated Lunch Box
- Highest Capacity: Igloo Playmate Lunch Box
- Best All-Around: Columbia PFG Skiff Guide Zipperless Hardbody Lunch Box
- Most Innovative: PackIt Freezable Lunch Box
- Best for Meal Prep: ThinkFit Insulated Meal Prep Lunch Box
- Most Compact: Corkcircle Nona Roll-Top Lunchbox
- Most Durable: HSD Insulated Lunch Bag
- Best for Work: Husky 600-Denier Weather Resistant Insulated Cooler
- Trendiest: GRUB2GO Bento Box
The Best Lunch Box
The Stanley brand is as traditional as it gets for men’s lunch boxes. The Stanley Classic Lunch Box is an expression of that tradition. For years, it’s been America’s best lunch box for work. The box features single-wall steel construction with a tension latch closure and molded plastic handle. Its distinctive hammer tone finish comes in two colors — navy or classic Stanley green. A leaf spring mounts inside the rounded lid to hold bottles, big cans, or a Stanley mug or flask.
If the Stanley is loaded with a bottle in the lid, the 5.5-quart metal lunch box is big enough to handle a couple of small meal-prep containers, plus a piece of fruit and a bag of chips. It would also hold a big burrito and a piece of fruit; or a sandwich, a small container, and a piece of fruit. That’s all there is to it. The Stanley Classic Lunch Box is a simple tool built from an enduring American design that inspires nostalgia and implies practicality.
Its practicality is the question mark. Certainly, a steel lunch box offers utility for some — the Stanley Classic will resist denting and abrasive wear and tear (imagine a construction site). But my observations and testing showed that its detailed components might not hold up over the long haul.
Construction concerns begin with ⅛-inch gaps in the rear corners between the lid and the box, which look like a design flaw. The tension latch, though it shuts the box tightly, is very loosely built, and the metal links that attach the plastic handle dig into the plastic with surprising ease.
Born in 1913, the Stanley brand is an inspired, rootsy American tradition. But the brand has been manufactured in China since the early 2000s, and quality control problems now challenge its ongoing relevance. Read the in-depth review here.
2 sizes available: 5.5-qt. and 10-qt.
Single-wall steel construction
Tension latch closure
Leaf spring bottle storage in lid
- Weight2.59 pounds
The Lifewit Insulated Lunch Box is a worthwhile purchase. Its surprisingly effective insulation, solid features, and high capacity put it at the top of the heap of men’s lunch boxes. At first, I was skeptical of Lifewit. There are plenty of predators and pretenders in the Amazon jungle (not talking about the Rainforest). The Lifewit Insulated Lunch Box seemed suspicious online but looked solid right out of the box. Apart from a loose stitch on the brand emblem, the construction was solid. The stitching on the top zipper seemed especially stout, and both zippers operated with ease — no tricky corners or sticky spots.
A detachable shoulder strap and two carry handles that velcro together were attached sturdily, and the lining was sewn securely. The Lifewit really impressed me in insulation testing. The lunch bag kept ice for around 15 hours, which is amazing for a soft-sided cooler. It’s even more surprising that the bottom of the bag didn’t leak when the ice melted. This held true after repeated testing and abrasion. Put up to 17 cans (with room for ice) in the generously sized Lifewit Insulated Lunch Box, or pack a lunch worthy of an audacious bulking cycle. Read the in-depth review here.
High capacity (17 cans)
Quality zippers and handles
- Weight1.1 pounds
I’ll say it with the utmost sincerity: the Igloo Playmate is a lunch box that needs no introduction. I can’t believe I just typed that sentence, but I think it’s pretty accurate. The Playmate is a generational icon, defining the American personal cooler dream from the beach to the barbeque to the back of the pickup truck.
Igloo delivers a timeless design in a hardbody insulated cooler that lasts. Having used one of these for years (not tested for this article), I discovered that the Playmate was durable, as well as easy to use and clean. Frankly, the push-button closure is fun to use, and the rotating lid action is satisfying — or else I’m just really easily entertained (which is highly possible).
Hard plastic construction
“Tent-top” lid design
- Weight4 Pounds
Columbia PFG is a trusted name in fishing apparel and accessories. Its “Skiff Guide” insulated cooler constitutes a high-capacity, easy-cleaning outdoor lunch box option. The Skiff Guide Zipperless bag looks like a straightforward soft cooler, but several design innovations set it apart. It’s zipperless, features a hard plastic removable liner, and its exterior is highly stain-resistant.
The top-opening bag’s zipperless lid secures with one velcro attachment point, designed to be operated with one hand. When the bag is closed, a hard plastic liner inside the lid seats into the hard plastic interior shell — almost like a thermos lunch box. Though the liner won’t leak, I thought the closure system seemed dubious in terms of insulation and security. But customer reviews, by and large, report that the bag insulates sufficiently.
Hard plastic liner
“Slime-, gunk- and goo-” resistant exterior
- Weight2 pounds
PackIt’s Freezable Lunch Bag is a unique entry that eliminates the need for an ice pack (or ice) from your lunch kit. The tote-style bag’s walls contain a non-toxic gel that freezes overnight. Empty the bag, fold it down (it collapses to about the size of a clutch purse), velcro it tight, and stick it in the freezer. The gel will be frozen in the morning, and the bag will be ready to keep your lunch cold.
It’s a compact bag, big enough for several small bottles or a sandwich, plus some miscellaneous small containers or fruits — perfect for those who like to keep lunch light. The PackIt Freezable Lunch Bag is an innovative concept, but the brand exhibits developing execution. Some reviewers complain of popped stitching or eventual leakage (seemingly from spills inside the bag — not leaking gel). Pick up the PackIt Freezable Lunch Bag if you need a compact lunch bag, and you’re looking for an alternative to ice packs or cubes.
Concept eliminates need for ice packs
Folds flat for storage
- Weight1.28 pounds
The ThinkFit Insulated Meal Prep Lunch Box is all about bang for your buck. Around forty bucks gets you a robust insulated food bag, six BPA- and phthalate-free containers with snap-lock lids, a 23-ounce shaker cup with screw-on compartments for supplements, protein, and pre-workout, plus two ice packs and a push-button pill dispenser.
Wowzers! For beast-mode meal-preppers, this looks as good as it gets. At the price (granted, the ThinkFit MSRP is $60 at this writing) and quantity, I would be wary of quality. Some users corroborate my suspicion, but it’s a tiny fraction of a pretty big group — the vast majority of buyers are happy with ThinkFit’s quality.
Includes wide array of meal-prep accessories
Loads through front
Available in four colors (piping and logo)
- Weight5 pounds
The Corkcircle Nona Roll-Top Lunchbox is a unique entry in a saturated field. The Nona’s roll-top design is a nod to the classic brown paper bag aesthetic, updated for everyday reusability. Unrolled, it’s a foot tall, 9 inches wide, and 6 inches deep. Pack your lunch in the insulated bag, then roll the top down until snug, clip the buckle and cinch the strap. Carry it with a top handle.
The Nona is unique in its category for its size adjustability, which is a useful feature: the tighter you pack your lunch, the less it will be susceptible to squishing, spillage, etc. Corkcircle builds the Nona in three colors, including a vivid turquoise and a manly-man’s olive drab that gives the bag a utilitarian, army-surplus look. This unorthodox entry belongs anywhere you do and is a suitable choice for space-saving.
You may also be interested in these top-quality coolers for camping from our list. Check them out and pick your favorite.
Unique roll-top design
- ModelNona Roll-Top Lunchbox
Veteran-owned HSD is serious about quality and durability. Its Insulated Lunch Bag displays both on a military-style bag designed for the man’s man. Picture a soldier’s backpack reconstructed as a lunch box, and you’ve got it. In my experience, shoddy materials and construction often doom soft coolers to early deaths in the garbage. HSD (or HighSpeedDaddy) builds its lunch bags for the long haul with waterproof polyester, reinforced carrying handles, and heavy-duty YKK zippers.
The proudly veteran-owned and operated company adds utility to its lunch bags with PALS webbing for attaching extra items, a high-capacity front zipper pocket, and a detachable shoulder strap. A velcro panel for attaching pride patches drives home its manly aesthetic. 8mm polyethylene foam insulation (an upgrade from the typical 5mm) keeps your drinks and chow cold or hot. The medium size bag (featured here) holds up to eight cans. A larger size is available.
Extra durability features
Designed for everyday utility
- Weight15.2 ounces
It’s hard to imagine a more manly lunch box for work than one made by a brand known for making tool bags. Enter the Husky 600-Denier Weather Resistant Insulated Cooler. Husky’s bag is a tough take on the insulated lunch bag designed to withstand the job site’s rigors.
Husky’s insulated cooler is built with the same materials as its tool bags, making it highly abrasion-resistant. Its 600-Denier fabric resists water and weather, and reviews overwhelmingly reflect its durability. That quality transfers to the interior lining as well, which various reviewers report is resistant to punctures and doesn’t leak water if filled with ice.
- Weight1.95 pounds
Bento boxes are the hippest lunch trend since Capri Sun and Fruit Roll-Ups (especially now that ‘90s kids who grew up eating corn syrup at varying stages of viscosity have joined the working world). Satisfy your inner instinct for order and portray your compartmentalized yet elegant sensibilities with the GRUB2GO Bento Box.
The GRUB2GO kit contains two moderately-sized rectangular bowls, section dividers, a discreet utensil holder, and a velcro closure strap. Styled in black or “executive black” and a bamboo pattern, the box delivers the calming, orderly aesthetic of its eastern progenitors.
Two stacking, rectangular bowls
Dividers and utensils included
Velcro strap closure
- Weight13.6 ounces
Why Trust This Guide
I’ve worked at a lot of labor jobs, and I’m also a rock climber who loves to travel, so I’ve eaten a lot of meals on the road — and on the cheap. I’ve often sacrificed the luxury of eating lunch at restaurants. These days, I’m on a more careful diet, which limits my restaurant choices even further.
All that’s to say, I’ve used some lunch boxes. I’ve done my time stuffing bulging, juicy burritos into the same backpack pocket as my phone and headlamp; I’ll carry a lunch box if there’s any way I can do it. I like a lunch box that insulates well holds up over the long haul and carries easily.
Who This Guide Is For
Anyone who wants to curate their eating choices more carefully and save precious cash doing it (but doesn’t want to be that guy schlepping their lunch around in a plastic grocery bag). And anyone does mean anyone — our guide is styled as “best lunch boxes for men,” but my recommendations will work just as well if you’re ambivalent about the way your lunch box reflects on your gender!
How I Chose
The lunch boxes in this guide represent a wide range of lifestyle and aesthetic preferences. Cheap and pricey, traditional, and innovative, functional, and flashy. There are not as many lunch boxes here as there are people who need lunch boxes, but ideally, there’s something here for everybody.
How I Tested
Each lunch box is tested based on durability and insulative quality (if applicable) first. I tossed them into the backseat of my truck, dropped them, squished, shoved them into places, etc.
While using them, I also measured how long they could keep ice frozen — and whether they leaked when it melted.
The next tier of testing addressed each lunch box’s capacity and utility: what fits into it, and how easy is it to use the various features? How easy is it to carry? To whom is it useful and where (e.g., a meal prepper with an office job)?
Features to Look for in Lunch Boxes
Lunch boxes should always be durable: well-constructed from quality materials.
What does that look like? Especially in insulated lunch boxes, I always look for quality stitching and abrasion-resistant material. Components like zippers and handles should be attached with a single stitch of robust thread (while we’re here, it’s also a good idea to make sure zippers operate smoothly and have substantial teeth).
An outer material that resists abrasion is key. Your lunch box is going to go everywhere with you; it’s going to get thrown around and stuffed in places. Make sure its shell is sturdy enough to meet the demands of your lifestyle.
A word on leakproof lunchboxes: I have never bought an insulated lunch box (soft cooler style) that did not leak water if filled with melting ice. YETI and RTIC make leakproof and waterproof iterations in various sizes, but don’t assume a lunch box is leak/waterproof unless the manufacturer claims that it is.
Apart from that, think about cleaning it. How dirty is it going to get, and what will it be like to clean it? You can fill an Igloo classic to the brim with chili con queso if you want — hose it out and give it a scrub when you’re done. But your waxed canvas tote? Probably not going to clean up as easily.
Lunch Box FAQ
Q: How do insulated lunch boxes work?
A: Insulated lunch boxes create a vacuum between two layers of material: an exterior layer (usually a nylon or polyester) and an inner layer of plastic, vinyl, etc. Heat transfers minimally through the vacuum, helping keep whatever’s inside cold (or hot).
Q: How do you keep food warm in a lunch box?
A: Using a container of very hot water as a heat source is a solid standby for insulated lunch boxes. Fill a metal bottle or container with near-boiling water, seal it tightly, and put it in with your lunch.
You can also use hot water to preheat any container you put lunch items in. Fill the container, letting the water heat it, then pour it out and promptly put your food in and seal it. This should help the container, and your food, retain heat.
Q: Is a stainless-steel lunch box safe?
A: Stainless steel is one of the safest materials for storing and preparing food: that’s why virtually everything in any commercial kitchen is made out of it. It’s also easy to clean and sterilize, and durable. A stainless-steel lunch box is a great alternative to a plastic one.
Q: Is a plastic lunch box safe?
A: Generally, yes, as long as you follow two key rules: 1) don’t use any plastic that contains Bisphenol A (BPA) or phthalates, and 2) never heat or microwave your plastic containers or lunch box. Heating causes the plastic to off-gas and leach. Therefore, any food touching heated plastic will absorb plastic particles. BPA and phthalates are the most harmful known chemicals in plastics, but it’s a relatively long list. Harvard Health Publishing delivers a concise explanation of the health threats of plastics (link below).
Q: Can you put lunch boxes in a dishwasher?
A: I wouldn’t. Dishwashers use a lot of two things: hot water and agitation. This combination can easily ruin vacuum seals in insulated lunch boxes and heat plastics to the point of leaching. I don’t think I would hesitate to throw my single-wall, steel Stanley Classic in the dishwasher, but it’s just as easy to clean it with a sponge and some dish soap.
As a general rule, spot-clean your lunch box with warm water and soap.
Q: How long does a sandwich last in a lunch box?
A: According to the USDA, the danger zone for bacteria is between 40- and 140-degrees Fahrenheit. Meats are especially vulnerable to bacteria growth, so I wouldn’t mess around.
If I’m packing a hot sandwich, I’m going to try to keep it hot with some of the methods listed above and be prepared to reheat it wherever I’m going to eat it. If I’m packing a cold sandwich, I’m putting an ice pack in with it.
The actual number of hours and minutes your sandwich will be safe to eat when stored in your lunch box is completely unmeasurable: what kind of lunch box do you have? How is it packed? Is it hot or cold where you live? What kind of sandwich is it? What is your definition of “safe to eat?”
Bottom line: I wouldn’t try to set any records in this category.