Introduction: Big Wheel Beach Cooler

Picture of Big Wheel Beach Cooler

I needed bigger wheels on my cooler to be able to use it on the beach and carry some extra stuff on top of it for camping (Hammock's Beach, NC).  I considered making a beach cart, but this was a cheaper option for me and hopefully will take up less space in my car.  I hope someone can give me some ideas on how to make an even better version in the future. I already have some ideas...

The costs include a $30 Coleman cooler from Wally World (Walmart), two 10" pneumatic tires from Northern Tool at $10/each, $3 worth of 1" schedule 40 PVC, $3 for some bathroom caulking, $2 for two cotter pins, and $10 for a 3' piece of 5/8" zinc platted steel rod from Lowes.  I like the cooler for camping because it holds ice a long time, so I figured an up-fit would allow for me to use the big tires on the beach and the factory tires for my everyday activities. 

I thought about buying the big grey beach wheels, but they were $50 to $60 each. 

6/24/2013 - UPDATE - My version of this cooler doesn't fit through a lot of doors really easy, so if you fill it up at the fridge or indoors you may have to pick it up to get it out of the house.  I'm probably going to do a modification on a different cooler that will fit through doors for my family style vacations (see the version in the comments section - thanks to the commenter for sharing their version).  The one disadvantage I see to the longer cooler is that you will have to bear more of the weight of the cooler while dragging it.  If you are going to drag a cooler for a long distance, the version of the cooler that I show in these pictures may be somewhat easier to move.  I'll hopefully have the chance to verify this when I test out a modification to another cooler. 

Step 1: Cooler With Factory Wheels Removed and Drill Holes Marked

Picture of Cooler With Factory Wheels Removed and Drill Holes Marked

I popped off the factory wheels, and measured on the cooler where I wanted the wheels.  The wheel location had to allow the cooler to sit up straight normally while providing the maximum clearance when the cooler is being rolled.  The holes had to be drilled to only put a hole on either side of the cooler, without hitting the internal walls.   I wanted the PVC carrier pipe that I put in the holes to fit snug against the inside walls also. 

You can see my measurements on the cooler, and I used a 1" drill hole punch to put in the holes.  I pushed a piece of 1" schedule 40 PVC through the holes to create a carrier pipe for the rod that I used to mount the wheels to.  I caulked around each side of the holes that were punched through the cooler, even though it was a very snug fit. 

I cut the steel rod for the tires to a length that fit best for my use, and drilled a hole in each side to allow for placement of the cotter pin.

Step 2: Finished Cooler Photos

Picture of Finished Cooler Photos

As you can see, the PVC on the inside of the cooler fits snug against the inside of the cooler and the cooler sits up straight. 

I am considering adding to the cooler to allow for easier carrying of other items, but want to test it out a little first. 

Thanks for any suggestions in advance.

Step 3: At the Beach

Picture of At the Beach

I took the cooler out to the beach, and it worked great.  I had between 90 and 100 pounds total between my gear and water/ice.  My camp site was 0.5 miles from the drop off point across the island, and then 0.1 miles down the beach.  I didn't test it out in the really soft sand too much, but the wheels were spinning when going through the short segments of  very soft sand we went through.  I've done this trip before with the cooler only with factory wheels, and I'll just say that I drug the cooler most of that trip.  I also watched other people try to do the same thing, and they had the same issues I previously did. 

I got the "now that's a beach cooler" line a few times this trip with the new wheels.

Someone asked for photos, so I added a few. 

I thought of some fun modifications to try next after this trip, but I hope to hear some other ideas here.


rovrcooler (author)2017-10-24

Great post!

I am looking for best cooler tools for wheeled cooler. Thanks so much!

WhitneyC11 (author)2016-06-10

Hi! I just wanted to make sure that the wheels you are using are good on the sand?? I am in the process of doing this to mine and just wanted to make sure. Thanks!

AlanC131 (author)2016-06-07

Hello! Any chance you would want to make one of these to sell?

GregL15 made it! (author)2015-10-06

I have been trying to work through one problem and it is very well my inexperience with calking but I am struggling with keeping the area where the pvc pipe exists the side of the cooler from leaking. Everything I have tried continues to leak.

Any tricks or advice on sealing this well?

I am using beach sand tires so we will see how well those work.

Poppy19 (author)GregL152016-03-14


You might try sanding down, (roughing up) the plastic on the inside of the cooler a bit, and using the plastic epoxy used by Tjax77.

MAYBE, if that doesn't work, another thing to try is the two-step PVC glue that is used to glue PVC pipes together. First step is a purple cleaner, and the second is the glue.

SteveH20 (author)2015-06-19

How does the axle stay centered in the PCV pipe? I can't picture it in my brain.

GregL15 (author)SteveH202015-10-06

I put a bearing spacer between the end of the pvc pipe and the tire rim so there is no play sideways for the metal rod axle inside the pvc pipe. The axle rod is only long enough to go through the tire with a cotter pin or push cap on the end to hold everything in place. So it does not have any play inside the pvc pipe. The PVC pipe stays in place because it is epoxied to the cooler. I picked up a few rubber grommets that go over the pvc pipe, both on the inside and outside, to keep it from moving, as well.

Tjax77 (author)2015-04-27

Pics of my cooler. Note the PVC "foot"

Tjax77 (author)2015-04-27

Great instructions. I built one this weekend using my old Igloo cube. The major difference on mine was i added a pvc "foot" on the front to keep it level. Keeping the pvc tube axel casing snug against the cooler wall was my priority and doing so made the cooler lean forward. My other small tweak was to keep the axel shorter so the wheels are the widest element. Overall my biggest ah ha was to drill a pilot hole from the inside of the cooler out for the pvc pipe, then drill in with the 1" drill bit.

tjesse (author)2011-09-02

Sand just eats the stock wheels for breakfast. Its like dragging a brick! Good job!

Sman510 (author)tjesse2011-09-05

That is a spot on analogy.

It would be funny to see one of the companies that makes those furniture moving pads create a parody commercial where they re-purpose their product to help people drag their cooler on the beach when the wheels can't cut it.

I appreciate the feedback.

hilldomain (author)Sman5102015-04-22

you could use a snow sled or boogie board if your bringing one anyways.

tjesse (author)Sman5102011-09-05

Why did you not mount the pvc to the bottom with C clips.

Sman510 (author)tjesse2011-09-06

I did think about putting the wheels lower originally, but would have had to add some type of stand on the front under-side of the cooler to allow it to sit up when at rest. I had not thought of what I would use to mount it that way, but if they were mounted securely, I think C-clamps would have probably worked well. The weight of the wheels and the bumps that I took the cooler over probably would warrant more than just using screws to attach them, but C-clamps could have done the job.

The wheels could have also been attached to the back of the cooler, so that it could sit up straight at rest. That would have changed the center of gravity, but as long as you weren't carrying too much, the cooler would probably still be pretty easy to maneuver.

MechanicalMashup (author)2014-07-25

Finish this off with a light that turns off and on with the lid opening and closing...

Sman510 (author)MechanicalMashup2014-08-11

I saw some guys on Shark Tank that had lights in their cooler. I had thought that was a cool idea. I think I'll test your idea out, since it looks like a worthwhile eye-catching addition. Thanks for sharing. I'm heading to the beach next month, so the light along with adding some rod holders like umake suggested sounds like a great way to gain some new interest in the cooler.

MechanicalMashup (author)Sman5102014-08-11

Sweet! Share some pictures when you get yours done!

JesseG1 made it! (author)2014-08-11

Came across this in my quest for a better beach cooler (that could be had for under $250. Awesome stuff. I buils mine for $75 total, 35 over the price of the cooler. Thanks for the idea!

Sman510 (author)JesseG12014-08-11

Looks great. I'm glad that you found this post before investing in the expensive version off the shelf. My buddy won a large Yeti cooler at a big hunting charity event and I'm trying to convince him to let me put some nice tires on that thing (mainly so I can add some photos here and hear the conversations from his hunting club). That thing has some weight to it, so it would definitely benefit from some help. Have fun out there, and let me know if you come up with any fun modifications. I see you have a kid... attaching a child seat to the top to transport your kid, would be a ridiculous and eye-catching addition if you don't need to lug gear on the top.

umake (author)2013-10-04

Awesome write up. Set mine up last night. I drilled a 1in hole, but was only able to force a 3/4" pvc pipe through. It was a REALLY snug fit, but did the same and gooped around all the inside and outside with clear sealant.

Thanks again for the write up. So much more cost effective then a beach cart, and works really well! We're working on adding some rod holders to the cooler next for surf fishing.

spockllp (author)2013-07-17

What I ended up doing is hot glue a piece of wood to the front to level it out. It doesn't look the coolest but it's functional and the piece seems pretty sturdy. I'll be putting it to the test this weekend with a 1 mile hike over rocky terrain this weekend. I am going to strap stuff to the top so like you said I thought it might be better having something a little more level.

spockllp (author)2013-07-15

Here are the photos of mine. Not sure right now if I'm going to add something to the bottom to offset the height difference

Sman510 (author)spockllp2013-07-16

That does appear a bit higher on the back end, but you may end up preferring the way that it sits when you use it. It looks like it will still hold cups/cans in the holders, so you shouldn't lose any function by having a little extra tilt. If you are going to set stuff on top of it for lugging things around, then flattening it out like you noted should be pretty easy (if you find something light and easy to attach to the bottom).

spockllp (author)2013-07-15

Thanks for the idea and the write up. I did mine slightly different using the 5/16 rod and adding bushings to make up the difference.

brownrecluse (author)2013-05-29

Very nice! Here's my version I built today. Very similiar to yours. Heading to a hike in campsite this weekend, I'll report back on my first use.

Sman510 (author)brownrecluse2013-06-24

Nice! I literally was thinking about getting one of the coolers like the one you used for a second version (I have another cooler that doesn't have the long handle on the side like yours that I may try to modify, though I'll have to come up with a handle idea). I went on vacation and found out that my version does not fit down hallways very well. Once it is filled up with drinks and other stuff it can be hard to maneuver around inside. Keep me posted on how your trip went. Good work.

brownrecluse (author)Sman5102013-06-24

Camping went very well. Was a serious test for this cooler. The hike in was very steep on a wide, rocky trail. I loaded quite a bit of weight on top of it and it did great. On the way out it worked good, but I think turning this into a 3 or 4 wheel cooler would be ideal, mainly because going back out of the campsite the trail was quite steep and the cooler kept falling backwards. A third wheel would prevent that from happening.

But overall it was great!! Not show in the photo are some hooks I mounted on the side of the cooler to strap some bunji cords on it to hold down gear, and of course a bottle opener.

I ended up buying wheel barrow wheels from home depot, they were about 10 bucks each. It was nice because they came with a big selection of rubber washers, adapters, etc making it really easy to fit the wheels on.

cityhall (author)2013-01-01

This is a great idea. I have ordered the parts. One question. I noticed the measured markings as to where to dril the wheel holes. Can you please share those measurements? Thanks

Sman510 (author)cityhall2013-01-03

From the back of the cooler to the center of the hole, it is 4 inches.
From the bottom of the cooler to the center of the hole, it is 4.25 inches.
I have some 1/8 inch tick marks that don't show up well in one of the photos in between the longer lines which show the inch tick marks. I just wanted to point that out in case you needed a scale for any reason.
Let me know how things go, or if you come up with any modifications that you think should get posted to the instructable.

gvanhoy (author)2012-07-27

Nice Job. I just did a similar mod on a smaller cooler. The small wheels kept getting locked when rolling on gravel areas. I used the existing axle chaise and with a new 5/16" rod ($3.50) and found 1/2"OD-0.328"IDx1"long plastic bushings at Lowes. 6 washers and 2 axle caps. I also used a pair of Lowes 7" lawn mower wheels ($8.69) on it. And like you said, I added a 2x4 plate on the bottom to allow it to sit level.

tchiarito (author)2011-11-05

Thanks, I have been thinking of doing this with my cooler, same model as yours. One part confuses me a little: you said "The holes had to be drilled to only put a hole on either side of the cooler, without hitting the internal walls", but do I see the pix show the pvc going all the way through the cooler, or am I looking at it wrong? Thanks!

Sman510 (author)tchiarito2011-11-06

The "internal walls" that I was trying to protect, was really just the walls on the inside of the cooler other than where you drill the hole on either side. I was trying to drill the holes as close to the internal back wall (where it is rounded a bit near the tires and the drain plug) of the cooler as possible, so I was concerned that the drilled holes may cut into the adjacent internal walls of the cooler. The PVC that I pushed through after drilling the holes fits tight against the internal back wall of the cooler, though that really isn't too important other than just trying to minimize the amount of space it takes up inside the cooler. I hope this helps clarify that statement, but let me know if you want me to try to give you a little more info.

Have fun. I really like the new wheels on mine.

tchiarito (author)Sman5102011-11-06

Thanks, that clears it up completely. I plan to make the changes next weekend before my next camping outing, where. like you, I have to hike a mile along the beach before reaching the wilderness camping area.

9w2xyz (author)2011-10-23

Have you considered wheel barrow wheels? Dirt cheap.

mikeasaurus (author)2011-08-30

nice mod, and the steel axle all the way through will allow some heafty loads to be carried.
Have you taken it out to the beach/camping yet, how does it perform?

Sman510 (author)mikeasaurus2011-09-05

I just added some pictures from the trip I just got back from to the post. I was really happy with the results. I was actually planning to carry my pack, but realized when I got out to the beach, that I could put it on the cooler and have no problems carrying it. That made a huge difference.

I really just wanted the big wheels for this trip, since I had to hike a decent way in the heat. Now that I know that it can take some extra weight, it is going to be great for carrying extra beach chairs, umbrella, and the horseshoe set for future trips.

Thanks for checking it out.

zazenergy (author)2011-08-30

Very nice mod! Thanks for showing us how this works.

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