Table of Contents
Coolers, we all have them. Look around your home and you’re bound to find at least one. You may even have one that you use on a daily basis, though it may not be the best cooler, but hey that’s why you’re here, right?
Before you go and buy a new cooler, take a look on our best cooler comparison table, followed by reviews of our top picks. We know this stuff, we've been living and breathing coolers for the last 5 years. Thousands of people trust our reviews, why shouldn't you?
On this website, we'll help you find the best cooler for the money and will tell you what things you should look at when choosing. We've done the hard research work so you don't have to. Let's dive in!
Best Coolers For The Money – Per Category
|Picture||Name / Sizes||Best for...||Type|
The King of Coolers
20 - 420 QT
|Best Premium Cooler||Roto-molded Cooler|
Same League as YETI
20 - 140 QT
|Best High Performance Cooler||Roto-molded Cooler|
From Soft Cooler Experts
25 - 320 QT
|Best Soft/Backpack Cooler||Soft-Sided|
Great Performance Ice Chest
20 - 150 QT
|Best Wheeled Cooler||Roto-molded|
There's no better for RV
7 - 106 l
|Best ThermoElectric Cooler||Thermoelectric|
Cheap but high quality
20 - 110 QT
|Best Camping Cooler||Roto-molded|
For serious outdoorsman
15 - 400 QT
|Best Hunting/Marine Cooler||Roto-molded|
For keeping water ice cold
1/2 - 10 Gal
|Best Water Coolers||Water Jug|
There's no better for parties
|Best Party Cooler||Bucket / Bar Cooler|
Best Cooler in 2020 – A Word From Us, Cooler Geeks
If we’re going to make a trustworthy of best-rated coolers in 2020, then we simply have to stop trying to give you the one best cooler. This is something that many guides have been trying to do in the past.
However, the truth is that there isn’t one best cooler that is going to fit all the needs of everyone everywhere. That cooler is a unicorn that doesn’t exist and any guide not only purporting that it exists but also claiming to know which cooler it is is simply lying to you.
The fact is that there are lots of cooler brands around this day. There are more than there were just 5 years ago and more brands are coming into the market every day.
Moreover, there are different types of coolers coming onto the market. Soft ones, hard ones, specialty ice chests, water coolers….you get it. If you want to pick the best cooler from among these, you’re going to have to have a context.
The top picks we introduced fulfill different needs, depending on the market segment they were designed for, they are meant for different use cases, and categories and so should be picked according to those use cases. There is no ‘best-rated cooler’; instead, there is a ‘best cooler for x,’ and so on.
In the next chapter, we decided to pick up the best 5 hard coolers and top 5 best soft coolers based on our strict review criteria, to give you a bunch of AWESOME products to choose from. We'll also explain more precisely how we picked those best coolers to help you understand our methodology.
Last but not least, we'll link a lot to our individual cooler review articles so you'll be able to dig deep even further and learn more about each cooler brand. And we have plenty of them reviewed on our blog! Let's roll!
Best Ice Chest Reviews – Our Top Picks for 2020
A lot of work went into choosing the best coolers in the different categories and, in some cases, it was very difficult to pick a clear winner. We are, however, quite proud of the results and we strongly believe that these are the best coolers in their category. Hopefully, you get as excited about our ice chest reviews as we were while writing them.
|item-title||Yeti Tundra Series||Pelican Elite Series||Rtic Coolers||Grizzly Coolers||Vibe Coolers|
|to-top||Best Overal Cooler||Best Performance Cooler||Best Yeti Like Cooler||Best Hunting & Adventure Ice Chest||Best Value Cooler|
20, 35, 45, 65, Haul,
75, 105, 110, 125,
160, 210, 250, 350 QT
20, 30, 45W, 50, 55W,
70, 80W, 95, 150 QT
20, 45, 65, 110, 145 QT
15, 20, 40, 60, 75, 100,
165, 400 QT
20, 45, 70W, 75, 110 QT
YETI Tundra Coolers – The Best Cooler For So Many of You
With most users rating this at a five out of five stars, you can’t help but take a closer look at what one user called a “portable refrigerator when used PROPERLY.”
It’s also important to note that the YETI series comes in various sizes from 20 quarts to 350 quarts.
YETI’s PermaFrost Insulation will provide you with days of frozen ice. While some of that will melt, many users have reported frozen ice even after several days of use. Using good ice packs for coolers also did improve the overall effect even further.
YETI’s ColdLock Gasket will reduce and minimize the amount of unwanted air that will get in, which means heat stays out while cold stays in.
The ability to hold temperatures for long periods of time is what one user reported. Which bears mentioning – if you only plan on using a cooler for a few hours at a time, then perhaps you may want to look at others.
However, if you will be trekking for long periods of time (think days), then this will serve your purposes well.
Some users mentioned that the ice did not stay frozen for long periods of time, but one user mentioned that this was probably due to improper use. The user mentioned that the cooler should be packed and filled as much as possible, and should be pre-cooled before packing, which he accomplishes by simply placing a few frozen water bottles in the night before use.
The YETI is priced a bit higher, but one can agree that the price will be well worth it when you find your items still frozen after a few days out camping. That's what makes it one of the best, if not the best cooler available on the market right now. You'll find more information on this cooler in in-depth Yeti Tundra Review.
But don't just take our word, go here to check all customer reviews on the Amazon.
Pelican Elite Cooler (ProGear) – One Of The Best Coolers For Keeping Ice
Just as the sentence above states: the Pelican Cooler boasts a whopping seven to ten days of ice retention a.k.a. frozen ice. While that may sound a bit exaggerated, many users have sworn that it keeps ice for extended periods of time AND in extreme temperatures.
One user wanted to give it a test run BEFORE taking it out camping. After filling the cooler with just ice, without pre-cooling it, he left it in his garage. The results: Garage temperatures in triple digits and frozen ice after four days. The same user reported eight total days of ice in the cooler, which matches up to the manufacturer’s claims. Not too bad.
The Pelican ProGear / Elite Cooler comes in different sizes and offers much in the way of functionality with stainless steel hardware, tie-downs built-in and a locking area so you can keep heat AND thieves out.
Some users mentioned having a few problems with this cooler, though they did mention receiving great customer service upon calling in to the manufacturer. A few users also reported that the cooler leaked, but this seemed to be in the minority, rather than the majority throughout several hundred reviews at Amazon alone.
While this item is priced slightly less than the YETI, many mentioned that it is a great alternative to those looking for a durable cooler that is comparable to the YETI, yet are looking for some cost savings. If you are looking for the best cooler for keeping ice, then this may be an option you might want to consider.
Here is our post about Pelican Coolers and a comparison to Yeti.
Rtic Coolers – Best Yeti Like Cooler
The RTIC cooler is a very special cooler in one major respect: it gives the rest of us the chance to own a Yeti without paying the price for one, and maybe also without the logo. RTIC coolers are rotomolded and high-quality coolers with many of the features that you would expect on a Yeti. The only thing they certainly don’t have that a Yeti does is the price tag.
This particular cooler comes in 5 capacities, including the 20 quart, the 45 quart, the 65 quart, the 110 quart, and 145-quart coolers, meaning users get to enjoy diversity in size according to their needs.
The insulation is a polyurethane foam, which is what the best coolers on the market use and ensures the ice is retained for extra-long periods. In fact, according to the RTIC website, their coolers will easily retain ice for up to 10 days, which is quite respectable for such an affordable cooler.
Other features of the RTIC include the recognizable T-latches, which are perhaps what makes it look so much like a Yeti, the freezer grade gasket which keeps the cold in and the heat out, the super reliable handle over the top, the carrying handles on the side, the tie-down slot, and its compatibility with dry ice.
All in all, the RTIC is an excellent personal cooler that you use for camping, picnics, golfing, and other simple endeavors. It’s a great cooler for its price, and it will certainly serve you for many more years to come.
Grizzly Coolers – Best Hunting and Adventure Ice Chest
Grizzly Coolers are a be-all do-all kind of cooler. The name itself echoes the heavy-duty nature of this line of coolers and the brand itself certainly does not disappoint, successfully delivering what it claims to deliver.
There are 7 sizes available for the Grizzly line of hard coolers: the 15 quart, the 20 quart, the 40 quart, the 60 quart, the 75 quart, the 100 quart, the 165 quart, and the monster 400-quart cooler. The 400-quart cooler happens to be one of the largest coolers on the market and is capable of holding up to 60 pounds of ice. That’s the kind of cooler you only expect from a brand that is serious about producing heavy-duty coolers.
When it comes to ice retention, the different capacities have different ice retention times. The very least ice retention time is 4 days and 5 hours for the 16-qart G15 while the longest ice retention time is 19 days and 10 hours for the 400-quart G400.
The Grizzly line of coolers is certified bear resistant, as would be expected for a hunting cooler, and comes with a range of great features, including an oversized drain for easy cleaning, a great range of custom colors, with such options as sandstone and tan with graphics, a thick rubber gasket, and, our favorite, a lifetime warranty.
The fact that Grizzly are willing to offer a lifetime warranty on their products is a clear signal of their faith in the quality of their products. If you’re looking for a great cooler to go hunting with next time, then you should seriously consider Grizzly.
Vibe Coolers – Best Value Cooler
When we reviewed Vibe cooler, we pointed out how they were all about spreading cool vibes with their products. We still believe that that is exactly what they do.
This company started out making kayaks and only began manufacturing coolers in 2013. They have since proven themselves to be a fantastic brand that produces high-quality coolers that just about anyone can afford.
The walls on this cooler are 3 inches in thickness, which is much more than the 2-inch thickness you get with other cooler brands. They also come with UV protection so that the plastic doesn’t get ruined by the sun, which is going to be in plenty when you use the cooler on your next fishing or hunting trip.
The gasket on this cooler is pretty air-tight and, combines with the T-latches, ensures that the cold stays in the cooler and the heat stays out. A pressure release valve makes it easy to open the cooler on warm days when the pressure differential may otherwise make it difficult.
It also includes a fish ruler, bottle openers on opposing corners and a rapid flow drain spout; all important features for someone who goes fishing and needs a cooler with the right features to support their hobby.
The Vibe cooler comes in 5 sizes ranging from 20 quart up to the 110-quart cooler. It also comes with a limited lifetime warranty and ice retention of 7 days, which is pretty good given the price of this cooler.
If you want a great cooler for your next fishing trip at an affordable price, you should seriously consider getting a Vibe cooler.
Soft Cooler Reviews – Our Top 5 Best Rated Soft Sided Coolers for 2020
In this section, we consider soft sided cooler reviews that we have done on our website and try to set apart the best from the rest. Just like hard coolers, soft coolers also have their categories, and some are way better than others in these different categories.
We found the best soft cooler in each category and hope you’ll like them as much as we do.
|item-title||Yeti Hopper Series||Polar Bear Cooler||Orca Pod & Podster||RTIC Soft Pack||Engel HD30|
|to-top||Best Premium Soft Cooler||Best Versatility||Best Backpack Cooler||Best Value Soft Cooler||Best Performance Soft Cooler|
Flip 8, Flip 12, Flip 18,
Two 30, Backflip 24
6, 12, 24, 48 Pack,
14.25, 28.5 QT
8, 20, 30, 40 Cans
32 QT, Backpack
YETI Hopper – Best Premium Soft Cooler
Yeti have such a reputation in the cooler industry that they are considered legends. It’s not easy to be a legend in whatever industry you exist in, and certainly not while your company is still alive. Yeti is one of the few companies that have achieved legendary status in any industry. They are a legendary company because they make legendary products. One of these legendary products is the Yeti Hopper.
The Yeti Hopper isn’t a specific cooler, but rather a line of soft coolers. As usual, Yeti isn’t straightforward about the exact capacities of these soft coolers in terms of gallons, quarts, or liters. Instead, they specify the capacity in terms of the number of cans of beer that the cooler can carry.
The cooler itself certainly has a premium look, mixing white, black, and ice blue in a beautiful way to produce a truly beautiful soft cooler. The coolers all come with wide mouths so it’s easy to reach in and take whatever you need.
They also come with plenty of auxiliary space for stuff like your phone and also a wide array of handles for comfortable carrying, both in your hands and slung over your shoulders.
The ice retention on this cooler is about 3 or 4 days, depending on the capacity and the insulation foam used is BPA free, making it perfectly safe for human use and certainly safe for your food. It’s also super easy to clean.
Polar Bear Cooler – Most Versatile Soft Cooler
Polar Bear is a cooler manufacturer that focuses on making soft coolers that emulate the insular capabilities of the polar bear. The company certainly makes some great soft coolers with some of the best color options we’ve seen in this particular market.
The series of Polar Bear soft coolers include the Nylon, the Solar Bear, the Eclipse, the H20, and the Tracker, which is camouflaged. Each series has its own special features and is dedicated to a specific group of users. This means that pretty much everyone will find the right Polar Bear cooler for their needs.
As for features, there are many features that this line of coolers has to be proud of. The insulation is the high-density open cell foam for the Nylon and Solar Bear, which has a pending patent, last we checked. This insulation ensures ice retention times of over 24 hours. For the rest of the soft coolers, the closed cell foam is used, which ensures ice retention times of over 3 days.
Each cooler also comes with a fold-down design and large opening to make for easy access to your things without having to fumble inside the soft cooler for minutes on end. The zipper is the YKK #10 zipper; the liner is FDA approved double coated liner, and the soft cooler is overall waterproof and sweat proof.
It also has great customizability, allowing you to add your own logo, monogram, or text if you want. There is also a backpack option for those who would rather have the cooler on their backs than hanging from their hands. It’s a great cooler with lots of features, and for that we really respect it.
More details, and a bunch of useful information can be found in our Polar Bear Review.
Orca Pod and Podster – Best Backpack Cooler
Orca is a respected brand in the coolers industry, and they are well-known for making premium products, no matter what the category. What has stood out the most for us, however, has to be their Pod, their backpack soft cooler.
There are two coolers to be mentioned here: the Orca Pod and the Orca Podster, which are basically the same backpack cooler with different capacities. The Pod has a capacity of 28.5 quarts while the Podster has a capacity of 14.25 quarts.
ne of the things we like the most in Orca's backpack is its cylindrical shape, which certainly makes it look unique. This shape also improves the ergonomics – something you're going to appreciate during long trips.
We also like the nice range of colors these products come in. They include green and brown, coral and grey, Realtree Max, and seafoam and grey. Our favorite is the Realtree Max, by the way.
This cooler is waterproof and leakproof. The liner is FDA approved, antimicrobial, and BPA-free. The insulation is metapolymer closed cell foam, which makes for ice retention of more than 3 days.
The zipper is German TIZIP Master Seal and is strong and waterproof, ensuring you lose nothing in terms of insulation capabilities. The flip top is very wide and easy to open, making it easy to access the contents of the soft cooler.
The Orca Pod and Podster come with a 3-year warranty, which is pretty good for a soft cooler.
If you want more information, check out our Orca backpack cooler review.
RTIC Soft Pack – Best Value Soft Cooler
RTIC makes some of the best coolers on the market, and they certainly didn’t slouch when it came to the Soft Pack. Another quality of RTIC products is the great price, which RTIC delivered here as well.
The Soft Pack not only keeps your food and drinks cold for the duration of your adventure but also has enough capacity to hold everything you’re carrying on your trip.
The insulation on the RTIC Soft Pack is closed cell foam and slightly thicker than what you get on your average soft-sided cooler. That extra thickness is to ensure your soft cooler keeps your food and beverages cool for longer time.
On the outside, we have the heavy duty nylon shell, which is resistant to both tearing and puncturing. The zipper is waterproof, and the fabric on the outside of the cooler happens to be laminated, making this soft-sided cooler highly durable and reliable.
When it comes to ice retention, the RTIC SoftPack is a cut above the rest since it can retain ice for up to 5 days in room temperature and 3 days in hot weather. With good storing conditions and use, you can easily push it over 3 days of ice retention, even in hot weather.
There are 3 available sizes of the SoftPack: the 15-quart SoftPack 20, the 22-quart SoftPack 30, and the 35-quart SoftPack 40. With its great features, color options, and low price, the RTIC offers value for money like no other soft-sided cooler.
Engel HD30 – Best Performance Soft Cooler
The Engel HD30 is Engel’s premium soft-sided cooler, and it really does live up to its name. It comes from a company that has been around for quite a while and produced plenty of high-quality products.
We love the overall design of this soft-sided cooler, with vibrant colors and some pretty great features. Our favorite part of the design is the vacuum valve on the side of the soft cooler, which allows you to suck excess air from between the outer walls and the insulation using a vacuum hose.
This strengthens the already strong insulation of the cooler. Under normal circumstances, it will retain ice for up to 4 days. With the air sucked out, it will do even more than that.
The zipper is waterproof and leakproof while the liner is approved by the FDA and happens to be BPA free. The opening on top is fairly wide, allowing you to gain easy access to the contents without having to fumble around. It also comes with two handles on the sides and a sling handle so you can carry it across the shoulder if you want.
The Engel HD30 is also highly durable with thick carrying straps and a strong liner and exterior that is resistant to both tearing and puncturing.
This is a great overall soft cooler that you will want to take with you wherever you go. When it comes to performance, however, we think it does pretty well and is certainly worth the money.
Meet The Best Cooler Brands
With so many different coolers and ice chests to choose from, how do you decide? Here’s a quick look at seven best known cooler brands:
Recognized as the industry standard when it comes to top of the line coolers, many often have debated when it comes to choosing between the Yeti vs. Pelican. The Seiders brothers designed this cooler from a life spent hunting, fishing and spending much of their time outdoors. They built them for the serious outdoor enthusiast. While they may be a bit higher priced, you can get Yeti coolers on sale from some online retailers.
But YETI isn't about just ice chests anymore. Over time, the NYSE-listed company launched the whole soft coolers offering known as Yeti Hopper, introduced a bunch of drinkware products such as the popular Yeti Rambler, and most recently expanded into dry bags, buckets and more.
On the other side of the debate is the Pelican vs. Yeti discussion. The early beginnings of the Pelican brand saw a line of protective cases being built. After decades of producing such cases, they were able to build some of the industry’s most durable and functional hard coolers, with premium features such as locking latches and wide wheels for softer terrain. Want to learn more about these top shelf coolers? Then check out our Pelican coolers on sale post.
Since we first covered Pelican on our blog, the company expanded significantly, re-freshing their ice chests lineup, as well as introducing a whole new category: soft coolers. The latter are actually pretty awesome, check out our Pelican soft cooler review to find out why.
Chances are good that at some point in time, either you or someone you knew owned one of these coolers. It can be said that W.C. Coleman was a visionary, though he had very poor eyesight. Starting off with selling gas lamps in the early 1900’s, the company soon evolved and carried equipment that met outdoor adventures’ needs, and this included the necessities you’d need while camping or fishing. Enter the Coleman cooler.
With a variety of products to choose from, such as the popular Coleman Xtreme or the sleek-looking Esky coolers, you can easily find the best Coleman cooler for your needs, and bring back some of those early memories.
While the Coleman cooler is popular, much of the same can be said of Igloo. Starting and originating the cooler industry in 1947, Igloo has been at the forefront of many homes in the US. In fact, research has shown that three out of every four households in the US owns at least one Igloo cooler (like the evergreen Igloo Playmate, for example).
In the Igloo vs. Yeti discussion, you find the perfect battle of classic versus future when it comes to coolers. While the jury is still out on this discussion, you can still find the best Igloo cooler for your needs.
Most recently we've been observing Igloo's increased efforts to diversify their lineup across different categories of coolers. They added the modern-looking BMX hard coolers, or the feature-packed Trailmate cooler, just to name a few.
Have you ever wondered who would win in a fight between a Grizzly vs. Yeti? While this may sound like two large animals going at it, what we are talking about is the cooler variety kind. You have already briefly seen what Yeti has to offer, Grizzly not to be outdone, has 30 years of experience in rotationally molded plastics, and manufacture their coolers to last with a lifetime warranty to back their products. If you are more of a Grizzly person, then you can check out Grizzly coolers for sale.
What's new for 2020 from Grizzly? Soft coolers, ladies and gentleman! Grizzly introduced their soft coolers last year (finally!), and they're pretty awesome – read our Grizzly soft cooler review to find out why.
With tons of outdoor equipment to offer the avid outdoorsman, Engel offers up a good challenge when it comes to Engel vs. Yeti. If earlier testing of products mentioned earlier didn’t impress you then this should. Engel’s testing benchmarks include this – approval by getting past a hungry grizzly bear. We can’t make this stuff up. Want a bear approved cooler? Then check out the Engel coolers for sale.
The running theme for cooler manufacturers seems to be naming them after large animals. Once again Orca Coolers fits the bill. Cliff Walker wanted to build a cooler that not only withstood the outdoors, but also a product that he could use for a greater good – building them with American hands by putting American back in the work force. That, in and of itself, may have you pulling for the former in the Orca vs. Yeti battle, and if you are interested in seeing more, then see these Orca coolers for sale as well as Orca's latest soft coolers.
Other Cooler Brands We Have Reviewed
Cooler Trends in 2020 – What’s New, What we Expect, and What we Wish For
Summer of 2020 is ahead of us and, as we try to figure out which are the best coolers for 2020, we should realize that the industry is in a state of rapid changes. It has been growing rapidly over the past few years, with a trend showing a stunning 70% increase over the past few years, undeniably caused by the market boom for the rotomolded coolers and all that “I-Want-That-YETI-So-Badly” craze.
2020 year won't be different. Next summer is going to see a rush for coolers as consumers try to keep their food and drinks cold against the sweltering heat. Brands are going to be fighting each other to win over these customers.
We are here to keep track of it all and share the news or trends with you, our audience. We also have our own predictions and a wish list which we’d love to see turned into reality by manufacturers. Here it goes:
Every manufacturer wants to expand their core product offering over time, making their product lines more diverse and capable of fulfilling different needs. That’s why we see more and more products coming from cooler brands across the table.
From Yeti offering a wheeled cooler and a water cooler to more drinkware coming from brands like Orca and Grizzly (check this tumbler wars post), cooler brands are currently expanding and diversifying their product offerings, and we expect to see more of this going into 2020.
More Mid-Range Rotomolded Coolers
In the past, there seemed to be a clear line between premium coolers and those that were not so premium. That line was rotomolding technology. Any cooler that was rotomolded had to premium and was priced accordingly, with the price difference between rotomolded coolers and non-rotomolded ones being vast. There wasn’t any ‘mid-range’ line of cooler brands to speak of.
That has begun to change recently. More affordable mid-range rotomolded coolers are coming onto the market, like nIce ice chests, RTIC, Vibe, and others. We expect to see a continuation of this trend in 2020 with more affordable but high-quality options coming on the market for consumers.
More Color Options
This is a pet peeve for us. Many great cooler brands are being handicapped by the fact they don’t have a diverse color offering. Manufactures build great coolers that function well across a variety of purposes but come in a few colors at best or just one color at the worst.
That leaves the buyer feeling rather restricted, with their only choice for proper customization being cooler decals, wraps and skins. That means spending more money.
If only manufacturers made coolers with more color options than white or tan, we would be delighted, and we’re sure many of our readers would too. Some brands are certainly moving in the right direction in this respect, but others have plenty of catching up to do.
Brands will do anything they can to fight for and win over customers. Sometimes that means adding more equipment to their products, such as extra cutting boards, brand baskets, bottle openers, and anything else where one more can never hurt. Introducing new cooler accessories is a trend that has been going on for a while now, and we don’t expect it to fade as we go into 2020.
More Cool Innovations
We get it: a cooler is a cooler. It’s meant for the simple task of keeping your food and beverages cool. However, there is always space for more; always the opportunity to make this better. We have seen plenty of innovation in the past from brands like Lit Coolers with their LED lighting technology, Icy Breezy combining cooler with the air conditioner, round Kula, and others. We only wish that there will be more innovation in 2020.
More Sizes for the Yeti Haul
Yeti made a huge move when they introduced their wheeled cooler, the Yeti Tundra Haul (our review here), to the market. The Haul came in just one size, presumably to test the market. We think that's a no brainer. After all, Tundras are pretty heavy coolers and wheels have always been a popular third-party accessory.
Now, however, Yeti stepped into the game and got their own wheeled cooler. We want to think that there will be more sizes introduced to the market in 2020 as the Haul sells more and proves successful.
The Comprehensive Buyers’ Guide To Coolers & Ice Chests
How to Decide Which Cooler is Right for You
Choosing a cooler is not an easy task. There are many options you have, depending on a number of factors:
- Are you looking for a hard cooler or a soft cooler? Hard coolers are meant for heavy duty use where strength and durability matter. They tend to have greater capacities that soft coolers and also retain ice for longer.Soft coolers are for lighter uses and are often more ‘stylish’ than hard coolers. They are often used where ice retention doesn’t have to be so long. More on that here.
- Are you looking for a rotomolded cooler or a normally manufactured cooler? Rotomolded coolers are the crème de la crème of the coolers world. The plastic is molded as one piece, which means it has no seams or faults.The result is that it insulates and retains ice better, tends to be stronger, and is more durable than your regularly manufactured cooler.It also happens to be more expensive and premium than the average cooler.If you’re looking for something cheaper, it might make sense to get a regularly molded cooler, though we would advise against it.
- Do you have a specific brand in mind? There are luxury brands in the market like Sovaro, there are premium brands, led by Yeti, and then there are the upstarts and the challengers that have arisen recently.If you’re a brand loyalist, then you know what you’re looking for. Otherwise, you’re more open to exploring new brands.
- What purposes are you buying a cooler for? Will you be using it for hunting, fishing, camping, or something else?If you’re going to use it for fishing, then you’ll definitely want one with a fish scale.If it’s for hunting, then you might want a brand that has a camo option. The purposes for which you purchase a cooler certainly influence the kind of cooler you buy.
Many other factors come into play when buying a cooler, all of which should be factored into your purchase. It’s therefore very hard, if not outright impossible, to purchase an all-purpose cooler that meets everyone’s needs. It may even be a good idea to have more than one cooler for different purposes. That is why we have different best coolers in different categories.
How we Decided on Our Best Coolers (our Methodology)
Facts matter for us and they are what we consider when picking from among a range of coolers:
We want to know what the technical specs of the cooler and how they compare to other coolers on the market. Was the cooler rotomolded or regularly molded? What is the cooler's real capacity? What kind of lid gasket does it have? How are the latches and the handles? These and many other factors come into play when we’re comparing the technical specs of coolers.
In this age of environmental awareness, it is important to make sure that the materials used to make a cooler are not only friendly to the environment but also to our health as humans. We, therefore, prefer recyclable BPA-free plastics to alternatives. We also want to know that the materials are durable and high quality, ensuring that your cooler will serve you for many years to come.
The quality of the insulation directly influences ice retention. We, therefore, want to know which cooler brands have the best insulation quality out there.
This is where we consider form and how it complements function. We don’t just want a cooler that works well, but also looks good. We’re also looking for a cooler with great extra features that make its use much easier.
These include ice retention, bear and gator resistance, strength, and many other tests, all designed to determine just how good a cooler is and how well it can do its job.
Comparisons to Industry-Leading Products
How does a particular cooler relate to Yeti and other industry giants? Is it a mere copycat or a serious contender?
These are the things on which we base our evaluations of the coolers in our cooler reviews. We also like to recognize ambitious brands, often new ones, that aren’t just copycats but actually go the extra mile to either innovate new features or improve on existing ones.
We’ve been in the cooler review business for many years now, and have had a lot of fun on the way. We believe that all those years spent passionately blogging about coolers and everything related to them have given us the necessary experience to compare and evaluate the coolers on the market.
We recognize the subtle differences between them, even when they look similar, and talk about them objectively, providing value to our readers that will save them time and money as they choose their next cooler.
Need Help Deciding Which Cooler Is Best For Your Needs?
So now, how do YOU decide which is the best cooler for your needs? Well, that is only an answer you can come up with. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to get started:
What do you plan on using the cooler for? There are lots of coolers on the market, and the manufacturers certainly envisioned them being used for different purposes when they designed them.
Some were designed for fishing and hunting, others were designed for family picnics, others for long camping trips, and others for boat cruises on the open sea. There are even motorized cooler scooters out there.
The world of coolers is so diverse that there is really something for just about everyone. Depending on the specific need you’re trying to fulfill by purchasing a cooler, different coolers will be right for you.
Pelican Products ProGear / Elite Cooler
Why Pelican? Pelican offers one of the best coolers on the market. They have strong, rotomolded body and a super-tough locking mechanism.
Users have reported the ability of this cooler to retain ice for over a week in even the hottest conditions, making it an ideal choice.
If we were to name a cooler that's as close to being a multi-purpose one as possible, we'd definitely place Pelican Elite ice chests on the top of the list.
What will you be using the cooler for? Will it be used for day trips only or as an everyday cooler e.g. for storing lunch? If this is the case, then you may want to consider something smaller and lighter, like any of these personal / lunch coolers, for example.
For some serious, week+ long ice retention times, you'll want an ice chests with thickest insulation, a rotomolded one, of course. Then, they're also thermoelerctric coolers so if you've been looking for a RV cooler for your camper you may want to consider those.
This is a key parameter in coolers. It is usually expressed in days and is something you check to determine if a cooler can keep your ice cold for the amount of time you need it to.
The bigger the ice retention number, the longer your cooler can keep ice, generally speaking. However, you should be careful; manufacturers tend to exaggerate their ice retention times for marketing purposes.
To make sure you’re getting an accurate picture when it comes to ice retention times, read reviews by buyers at Amazon as well as our articles.
There are plenty of factors that influence the ice retention time of a cooler, including the following the thickness of the walls, the material used for insulation, the process by which the cooler was built (rotomolded coolers retain ice for longer), the size of the cooler (larger coolers tend to retain ice for longer), the quality of the gasket on the life, whether or not the cooler was pre-chilled before use, how frequently the cooler lid is being opened, whether or not the cooler was kept in a dark place or in the shade, and many other factors.
For that reason, there is no standard way of measuring ice retention times, and all numbers are best estimates at the very best.
The Design of the Cooler
There are many things that go into the design of a cooler, such as the way it was constructed, the materials used, the technology behind the design, the quality of the cooler, the durability, and so on.
All of these things matter a great deal when it comes to cooler design, and because there are many things to consider, there is a mind-blowingly large range of options to choose from.
On one extreme you have simply boxes with unsophisticated insulation while on the other end you have technologically complex solutions made out of the highest quality materials and packed with useful features for lovers of the outdoors. In this regard, there are a lot of options to choose from.
Coolers have come a long way from simple ice boxes. They are now fully-fledged pieces of equipment all on their own, with all sorts of useful features and accessories that make them useful.
In that respect, there are some features that have become a must-have on coolers these days, such as latches, handles, a drain plug, straps, and so on.
There are also features that, while not necessary, are certainly nice to have and give a cooler extra points, such as fish rulers, bottle openers, baskets, dividers, extra pockets, and so on.
The Brand & Country of Origin
The industry has seen a massive explosion over the past 2 years with dozens of brands coming onto the scene.
There are traditional industry leaders, like Yeti, but there are also plenty of new brands, many of them striving to make a name for themselves by manufacturing top-notch products.
There are coolers made in the USA and other made overseas. Even some best-known brands like YETI manufacture some of their products out of the US these days.
The brand of cooler you buy pretty much depends on your brand preferences and whether that sort of thing matters to you at all. Sometimes it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a Yeti or not, as long as it does its job. But then again, even though a car is a car, wouldn’t it be great to own a Ferrari?
Is price a concern for you? Do you have a definite need for a heavy duty cooler but are on a budget? If you know you need something more than what they have to offer at your local store, then you may want to have a closer look at mid-range rotomolded coolers from new brands like Vibe, Palm, nICE, Pure Outdoors or Seavilis (formerly known as Milee).
Most of these brands started to appear on the market in the last 2 years, offering surprisingly good, rotomolded coolers advertised more or less as “coolers like YETI, but cheaper“. Thanks to outsourcing the manufacturing to China, or to Philippines, these brands have been able to offer quality products at a fraction of the Yeti Tundra cost.
Another alternative for those on a budget could be Coleman or Igloo. Although you'll likely struggle in finding the rotomolded coolers in their product catalogs (especially in Coleman's), these two firms are worth considering when you don't need a week-plus long ice retention times.
Igloo Trailmate Cooler
Why Igloo? It’s a name that many already recognize when it comes to coolers. If you need a quality cooler at a lower price, from a company with a long-standing reputation in the cooler industry, then Igloo may be the best cooler for the money, your money that is.
We especially liked their new, wheeled Trailmate ice chest. Although not a rotomolded one, it still performs quite well and is packed with features.
Can you afford something a bit higher? If your budget is slightly higher and you are looking for something a little more durable, then you may want to check out some of the other products.
For instance, some of the coolers that Orca and Engel have to offer are a little more than Coleman’s prices, but can offer you a bit more, especially when it comes to increased ice retention times, thanks to the rotomolded technology used and more superb (and thicker) insulation.
What size of cooler do you need? Will you be the only one using the cooler or will you need to pack enough food or drinks for the entire family? Will you need to pack food or drinks for multiple days or even a week?
Cooler sizes are measured in quarts, where one quart is equivalent to about 946 milliliters. That is just under a liter, so for all intents and purposes, a quart is approximately a liter in capacity.
Cooler sizes start from a few quarts and go all the way up to more than 500 quarts for the very largest coolers. The size of cooler you go for ultimately depends on your needs, the purpose for which you are purchasing the cooler, and the amount of time you spend away from home on your travels.
Another thing to consider is mobility and ease of use. While you may want a very large cooler, you should factor in the fact that it will be a little harder to move around and use than a smaller one. If you’re getting a large cooler, consider getting a wheeled one for easier use.
Orca Heavy Duty Cooler
Why Orca? The range of sizes goes from 20 quarts to 140 quarts, ensuring that you will be able to find the right size to fit your needs. This cooler is also ideal for many as the attached cargo net provides extra storage space for items not needing refrigeration.
How many people are you packing for? How many days will you need to pack for? How much food and drinks will you need for everyone?
While you may try to find a cooler that will allow you to fit specific amounts of food and drinks, you may want to consider getting something slightly bigger to accommodate anything that may happen (think someone spilling food or accidentally throwing something out).
For instance, if you find that the 20 quarts is what you need, then you may want to opt for the next bigger size at 26 quarts to be on the safe side. This also helps you to accommodate any last minute add-ons of individuals wanting to join you on your next camping trip, excursion or event.
TIP: We recently published a complete guide to different cooler sizes, discussing the pros and cons of the each size group and popular use-cases. You'll also see our best picks within each size category.
If you have found some coolers that fit your budget and your personal needs, and you still find that you are on the fence, there are other things to take into consideration. Here are few of them:
Handles and Carrying Method
Do you need something with wider grips or softer flexible grips? Will you be the only one carrying and transporting the cooler? Is the cooler too wide for you to carry by yourself? How far will you need to carry the ice chest? Or maybe you need a backpack?
Answering these questions will help you to decide on the best cooler for your needs, as it will help to address the concerns brought up from carrying the actual cooler. Many of the coolers listed here have different grips and handles, but hopefully you will be able to find one that fits your needs.
If you have long distances to transport your cooler, or will be navigating difficult terrain, then you may want to consider getting a cooler made from sturdy materials with wheels for easy movement. If you already have a cooler, you can buy a wheels set that's compatible with ice chest, e.g. from Badger Wheels.
Think about where and how you will be using your cooler once again, to help determine the type of build you will require of your ice chest.
Durability / Weight Bearing Capacity
Will your cooler allow you to be able to sit or stand on it? Will you be piling other things on top of your cooler? Your personal needs will determine the cooler you decide on. Some coolers have sturdier hinges and are constructed from stronger material, which will help to make this decision easier.
These days a lot of cooler brands are rallying behind their products by offering warranties that range from 1 year all the way to full lifetime warranties. A warranty is a powerful signal for the market as it indicates that a brand has faith in its products and is willing to back that faith up tangibly.
- As a result, the consumer faith in the same products rises, and they become more willing to buy them.
Coolers FAQ – You Asked, We Answer!
Below are the answers to the most popular, cooler-related questions you've been asking us.
What is the Best Cooler?
This is a frequently asked question, and it is understandable that anyone would want to look for the best overall cooler so that they don’t have to overthink the process of buying a cooler. Unfortunately, however, the matter is simply not that simple.
We have answered this question numerous times throughout our website, and the answer is that there is no best overall cooler; there is only the best cooler for a given category or purpose.
Many factors should be considered when you’re buying a cooler, including the purpose, the size, the ice retention time, and so on. All of these factors should be considered and generalizing on coolers does not help you pick the right one for you.
Don’t be surprised if you pick different brands for your hard cooler and soft cooler needs and neither of them are Yeti.
Still want us to give you some tips on specific coolers? OK, we get it. Our favorite ones for this year would be the following:
- Orion Coolers (we loved every aspect of them, really)
- Pelican Elite (for variety of options and pefect build quality)
- nICE and Vibe Coolers (ex-aequo, for their value-for-money)
Which Cooler Keeps Ice the Longest?
This depends on a number of factors, including the type of cooler and the construction. Overall, hard-sided coolers will retain ice for much longer periods than soft-sided coolers. Additionally, as a rule of thumb, rotomolded coolers have better insulation than regular coolers and therefore better ice retention.
To be honest, it is very hard to objectively determine which cooler has the best ice retention times since it depends on a slew of factors, including ambient temperature, frequency of use, amount of ice used, and others.
At the moment there is hardly a single cooler that retains ice the longest, although there are two lesser-known brands, Kysek and Techniice which both have been praised for incredible ice retention times. Yeti Tundra has always been a good performer, and same goes for Pelican Elite, Orca, Icon Coolers, Kong or Grizzly.
If you're looking for a best performing soft cooler, try the aforementioned Yeti Hopper, Engel HD30, Orca Pod or the new soft Pelicans.
How Large a Cooler do I Need?
As you might expect, the answer to this question is that it pretty much depends on your needs. There are lots of things you should consider when trying to figure out what size cooler you should buy.
Are you going to use it alone or with friends and family? Are you going to take it to work or hunting? Are you prone to going for long trips or do they take a few days at most? What is the average size of the cargo you want to be cooled?
These and many other factors should be taken into consideration when determining your size needs. What we generally advise, however, is that, whatever size you think you need, get something larger, just to make sure your needs will be met.
Be sure to read our guide on cooler sizes for more practical information.
How Much can You Fit in a 20-quart Cooler?
The quart sounds like an abstract unit of measure, and it makes sense to be able to express it in practical terms. So literally 1 quart = 0.946 liters (US – the UK quart is different) but for us the standard 20 quarts square cooler is equivalent to about 24 cans of beer. A 20-quart cooler, however, will likely fit less than this since some space has to be left for the ice as well.
Other factors come into play as well, such as the shape of the cooler, its internal dimensions, external construction, and manufacturer data.
What is the Best Alternative to Yeti Coolers?
This is a yet another tough question. Yeti is the yardstick by which other cooler brands in the industry are measured. It is a legend of the industry and something almost everyone aspires to own. However, it is also forbiddingly expensive, and so it is understandable that one would want to own something cheaper.
Consumers will naturally look for coolers that have Yeti’s great features but come at a fraction of the cost. Fortunately, manufacturers saw this need and rushed to fill it, churning out great substitutes.
Final Thoughts on Best Coolers and Ice Chests
While you may be tempted to pick any cooler, you will need to keep in mind that the best cooler is not always necessarily the most expensive one and vice versa.
Every cooler provides unique things. Take a closer look at the different options that each cooler has to offer to determine whether or not they fit your personal needs.
At the end of the day, if a cooler keeps its items cold then that’s all that matters. However, you may require specific functions from your cooler, which is where your due diligence will come into play.
Remember, don’t pick a cooler just to pick one, ask yourself the right questions and get the one that fits your needs the best.
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