Exploring the Top Outdoor Coolers: Unveiling the Finest Options for 2023!
In the realm of outdoor adventures and balmy summer days, having a reliable cooler by your side is the key to keeping refreshments ice-cold and tasty. As the year 2023 unfolds, the market is brimming with a mix of coolers vying for your attention. Ranging from sleek and stylish models to heavy-duty ones built for rugged terrains, there's a cooler for every kind of outdoor enthusiast. To help you make an informed decision, we've rigorously tested various options and narrowed down the best outdoor coolers for your consideration. So whether you're planning a beach trip, a camping escapade, or a backyard barbecue, read on to discover the coolest coolers on the market.
Top coolers of 2023
Written by Steve Conaway for CNET
In my previous cooler testing, I had listed Cabela's 60-quart cooler as the best large cooler. However, the title now belongs to the Magellan Outdoors model. Nonetheless, when it comes to keeping things cold, nothing beats Cabela's Polar Cap option. During testing, it had the lowest internal temperature and maintained that low temperature for around 20% longer than its closest competitor.
The prices of these coolers range from $300 to $400 for the 60-, 80-, and 100-quart models. The extra cost is justified by the exceptional performance. While the unit may not have many fancy features, it does have bottle openers built into the rubber latches, a pressure relief valve to open the cooler easily, and rubber padded feet to reduce direct heat transfer. It is also certified bear-resistant.
Magellan's largest offering, the Equalizer, performed very closely to Cabela's Polar Cap. The difference in the lowest recorded temperature between the two was less than a degree Fahrenheit (44.6 vs. 45.5). For those primarily concerned about keeping things cold, the question arises of whether paying an additional hundred dollars for that extra 0.9 degrees is worth it. In my opinion, it is better to save that money and use it to stock your cooler. One of the standout features of the Magellan Outdoors coolers is the double-sided hinge latches, which eliminate the need to reach over the lid or ask someone else to grab your drink. These coolers also come with wheels for easy transportation and metal bottle opener inserts on either side.
Yeti is a brand well-known for its performance and higher prices, and their coolers consistently outperform others. The Tundra Haul is no exception. Although it didn't achieve the lowest overall temperature, it held its lowest temperature for a much longer duration than its competitors. The Haul is equipped with rugged "Neverflat" wheels, making it suitable for more challenging terrains. It is also easy to transport and ensures maximum cooling duration.
As unusual as it may seem, another Magellan cooler deserves recognition. The data and performance speak for themselves. This cooler was expected to outperform the competition due to its competitors' thin walls, which don't provide good insulation. However, these alternatives are cheaper and come in convenient backpack formats for those interested.
However, personally, I believe that all soft-sided coolers are not a good choice. They don't get cold enough and fail to maintain a consistent temperature. While some may disagree and find it satisfactory to keep their charcuterie and bottle of red wine slightly cooler than room temperature during their hikes, let's move on to the next coolers.
The previous champion in this category was the Coleman Stacker, one of the cheapest coolers we've tested so far. However, the best value doesn't necessarily mean the lowest price. The RTIC unit performed impressively well with exceptionally low temperatures, comparable to the largest coolers tested.
Currently priced at $220, this RTIC cooler is the most affordable in both the midsize and large cooler categories, excluding the Igloo BMX 52qt Cooler, which performed poorly compared to others in the same categories. If you're looking for great performance at a friendlier price, the RTIC cooler is a reliable choice.
The performance data of the newcomer, Magellan Outdoors, and the previous titleholder, Yeti Tundra 45 Cooler, were nearly identical. Yeti got slightly colder, while Magellan held its temperature slightly longer. However, the deciding factor here is the price. At $120, the Magellan Outdoors cooler is less than half the cost of the Yeti.
Aside from its performance, this Magellan cooler offers various extra features, including a dual-side latch design that doubles as hinges, allowing you to open the cooler from either side. It also includes bottle openers, a metal reinforced lock area, and a drain plug.
Read our review of the Magellan Outdoors Dual Open 20qt Cooler.
Other coolers we have tested
These coolers are currently available on the market and have been tested extensively over the past few years. Here is a curated list of coolers with brief insights:
- Lifewit Collapsible Cooler Bag 24L (25 quarts): This handle-carry soft-sided cooler is popular on Amazon. However, during our testing, we found that soft sides did not perform well in terms of keeping things cool.
- Tourit Cooler Backpack (20 quarts): Another popular find on Amazon. While these backpack coolers were not great for cooling during our testing, this one stands out for its stylish design and built-in metal bottle opener.
- OlarHike Cooler Backpack (23 quarts): Similar to the previous Tourit cooler, this option is slightly less attractive but offers a bit more storage capacity.
- Amazon Commercial Rotomolded Cooler, 20qt (20 quarts): One of the best rotomolded coolers available from Amazon. While it performs better than most coolers, it did not make it to the top of our list. It also has one of the best cooler latching designs. (Update: Temporarily out of stock.)
- Camp Zero 20L Premium Cooler (21 quarts): This cooler offers middle-of-the-road performance. It has neat color options and four lid molded-in cup holders, although they can be inconvenient when trying to open the cooler.
- Frosted Frog 20qt Rotomolded Ice Chest (20 quarts): This brand was recommended by multiple CNET readers and has impressed us with its excellent performance. Although it didn't rank as the best, it still performed admirably. (Update: Temporarily out of stock.)
- Klein Tools Work Cooler (17 quarts): This cooler is sturdy and may keep your lunch cool, but it doesn't perform as well as traditional coolers.
- Igloo Playmate Cooler 4qt (4 quarts): This small cooler has limited capacity and performance, but it is also budget-friendly.
- Orca Light Blue 40 Quart Cooler (40 quarts): This cooler has a higher price tag but offers average performance for its category.
- Igloo BMX 52 Quart Cooler (52 quarts): This cooler stands out for its unique design and low price. However, it performed the worst in our tests.
- KENAI 65 Quart Cooler (65 quarts): This cooler has a classic design, great color options, and performs decently.
- Frosted Frog 75QT Cooler (75 quarts): Like other Frosted Frog models, this cooler offers reasonable pricing for excellent performance.
- Bison Gen 2 Cooler (50 quarts): This cooler provides the coldest temperature in its category, but it struggles to maintain that temperature consistently, preventing it from being a top pick.
- Cabela's Polar Cap Equalizer Cooler (60 quarts): This cooler is one of the most expensive on our list. However, it has been a former top pick for the best large cooler.
- Yeti Tundra 45 Cooler (33 quarts): This small cooler reaches the lowest temperature in its division but comes with a higher price tag.
- Rubbermaid Ice Chest Cooler (48 quarts): This midsized cooler performs poorly in temperature tests. (Update: Temporarily out of stock.)
- Coleman Xtreme Marine Cooler (70 quarts): With its large capacity and affordable price, this cooler is a solid choice.
- Coleman Xtreme Wheeled Cooler (50 quarts): This midsized cooler underperforms in temperature tests, but it is a budget-friendly option. (Update: Temporarily out of stock.)
- RTIC 65 Cooler (65 quarts): This cooler offers average performance with a slightly higher than average price tag.
- Igloo Island Breeze Cooler (48 quarts): This low-cost cooler has the second lowest performance scores in its division.
- Igloo Latitude Wheeled Cooler (60 quarts): This large cooler offers the lowest performance scores in its division. (Update: Temporarily out of stock.)
- Igloo MaxCold Cooler (50 quarts): This cooler performs well in the midsize category and comes with an attractive price tag.
- Rovr Rollr 60 Wheeled Cooler (60 quarts): This cooler holds its temperature well, but it may not get as cold as other competitors. It is also the highest-priced cooler we have tested. (Update: Currently unavailable.)
- Lifetime High Performance Cooler (55 quarts): This cooler offers one of the best performances in the midsize category and is a great deal at just over $100.
- Orca Classic Cooler (58 quarts): This cooler has been awarded the best midsized cooler in the past for good reason. However, it comes with a higher price tag.
- Pelican Elite Cooler (50 quarts): This cooler reaches colder temperatures than most but doesn't hold it as long.
- Yeti Roadie 24 Cooler (20 quarts): This cooler performs average in terms of temperature retention. It maintains a consistent temperature when closed.
- Yeti Hopper Backflip 24 Insulated Backpack Cooler (22 quarts): This cooler serves as a backpack, but it performs lower than other coolers in terms of maintaining temperature.
- Coleman Portable Cooler (16 quarts): This affordable option may not retain its temperature for long periods. (Update: Temporarily out of stock.)
- Pelican 20 Quart Elite Cooler (20 quarts): This cooler did not perform strongly compared to others in its category.
- Coleman 24-Can Party Stacker Portable Cooler (23 quarts): This cooler gets very cold but doesn't retain the cold temperature for long. It is priced at only $30.
- Rubbermaid 45qt Blue Wheeled Cooler (45 quarts): This midsized cooler performs at an average level but comes with a low price tag of $33. (Update: Temporarily out of stock.)
- Xspec 60 Quart Roto Molded High-Performance Cooler (60 quarts): This cooler is one of the best we have tested. It has been named the best overall cooler and comes with a price tag of $270. It offers top-notch features and performance.
- Igloo Trailmate Journey 70qt All-Terrain Cooler (70 quarts): This cooler offers excellent performance and is packed with features. It falls slightly above the median price range.
Before discussing performance, it is important to consider the capacity of the coolers. While some sizes, like the 50-quart option, are more popular, the size and shape of coolers can vary greatly. Size and shape not only determine the number of cans a cooler can hold but also have an impact on performance. A 75-quart cooler, such as the Frosted Frog, has a larger capacity and a bigger job to perform than a 45-quart cooler like the RTIC.
To accurately evaluate performance, I ensured precise measurements by testing each cooler's capacity. I filled each cooler with water until closing the lid caused some water overflow. This allowed me to measure the exact number of quarts each cooler could hold, which is crucial information when dealing with large amounts of melted ice. The smaller, cheaper models tended to underestimate their capacity, with coolers like the Coleman Xtreme and Igloo Latitude wheeled coolers being several quarts larger than advertised.
On the other hand, the higher-priced models didn't live up to their claimed capacity. The Rovr Rollr wheeled cooler, which is priced at $400, claimed to have a capacity of 60 quarts, but I could only fit 52.8 quarts of water inside. The RTIC, priced at $219, held only 39.6 quarts of water, which is less than its specified 45 quarts.
In contrast, the 55-quart Lifetime High Performance Cooler exceeded its spec with a measured capacity of 62.4 quarts. While it didn't retain ice as well as the RTIC, it still performed excellently. The Yeti Hopper Backflip 24, a soft-sided backpack cooler, had the most understated volume among all the coolers tested. While it claimed to fit 20 12-ounce cans, it actually had an internal volume of 26.42 quarts, which is 117 percent of the stated volume. The Tourit Backpack Cooler was the worst offender, only offering 65 percent of its claimed 30-quart capacity.
The Different Types of Coolers
Coolers are available in various types, and the choice depends on the intended use. The easiest way to categorize coolers is by their material and size.
A small, soft-shell cooler is perfect for daily lunches, beach trips with kids, and casual outings. The best soft coolers are made with durable materials like nylon, cotton-twill, heavy-duty vinyl, or canvas. They are collapsible, easy to clean, and can last for many years with proper care. When choosing a soft-sided cooler, look for leak-resistant construction and stain-resistant materials.
Large hard-sided coolers or chests are ideal for hunting, camping, and extended trips. Many hard-side chests are made using rotomolding, which means they are made from one continuous piece of plastic, making them waterproof and leakproof. These coolers are heavier but less prone to breakage. Traditional hard-sided coolers, made using injection molding, are lighter and easier to clean. However, they may not retain ice as well as rotomolded options.
Backpack coolers are similar to soft-shelled coolers in construction. They have heavier padded straps and may include dry storage compartments. These cooler backpacks are convenient for day trips and provide insulation on the go. It is recommended to turn the backpack cooler upside down after use to fully drain it and prevent bacteria and mildew growth, even if it has a drain plug.
In the realm of coolers, the choice ultimately comes down to personal preference despite being rooted in science. While these particular coolers didn't perform as well for various reasons, they made the initial cut for testing. Each of them displayed unique strengths that may still make them a viable option for you. Here are the remaining coolers that underwent testing:
- Igloo EcoCool Latitude 52: This cooler stands out as the most affordable and lightweight option among the group. It distinguishes itself by utilizing post-consumer plastic and more eco-friendly foam, making it environmentally conscious. Despite its thinner walls, it provides about 50 percent more capacity compared to coolers of similar size, like the Yeti Tundra 45. However, it struggled in the insulation test, running out of ice before the 48-hour mark and failing to maintain safe meat temperatures. Additionally, it lacks a built-in mechanism to keep the lid securely shut. While the lid does offer cupholders, they compromise its insulation capabilities. Overall, it serves as a better alternative to styrofoam coolers for short outings, but falls short compared to the other tested coolers.
- BruMate BruTank: This cooler stands out for its prominent feature—an integrated 2.8-gallon reservoir that allows for dispensing beverages through an external tap. Besides providing ample storage for food and pre-packaged beverages, it also offers versatility by utilizing the reservoir as a separate space for dry goods. During insulation testing, the reservoir was removed. The cooler's lid is lockable and features an integrated manual pressure relief valve. It includes a metal basket and plastic divider, accommodating tall bottles. However, it is notably heavy, especially considering its capacity, and comes with a high price tag. Its ring-style rubber latches make opening the lid challenging. In terms of insulation, it performed averagely, which is expected given its large capacity. To summarize, this cooler excels mainly in its unique tank feature, but doesn't outshine the competition in other areas.
- Orca 40 Quart: The ORCA cooler is a strong contender that was difficult to overlook as a category winner. It boasts a bear-proof design, practical cargo net storage compartment, and a variety of color options. It performed well in the insulation test, coming close to the similarly priced Yeti cooler and tying with the more affordable Academy cooler for the most remaining ice. However, it proved challenging to open consistently, as the lid often got stuck. This issue arises from the cooler's great seal, which creates a partial vacuum when the air inside cools down. Unfortunately, the ORCA lacks a relief valve, making it a struggle to pry open. Additionally, it is one of the heaviest coolers relative to its capacity. Nevertheless, it remains an excellent cooler, with the new 80-quart model offering double the capacity at an additional cost of just $125.
- RovR RollR 60 With LandR Bin: This cooler proved to be another standout option that was difficult to dismiss. It has consistently been recognized as one of our favorites for its noteworthy features. The large pneumatic tires make it unbeatable in terms of mobility. It is also bear-proof, equipped with metal bars for securing it with a lock. Despite weighing 45 pounds, the cooler's shape facilitates easy solo carrying and fitting into various vehicles. It offers generous storage space, including a tall two-compartment dry bin internally and a removable folding bin on top, ideal for carrying additional beach or camping accessories. However, it is the most expensive cooler in the lineup. The ring-style rubber pull-down latches make it challenging to open and close. Not surprisingly, given its substantial size, it struggled in the insulation test, falling apart towards the end. Although it may not be within everyone's budget, it would undoubtedly be my top choice for rugged trails or sandy beaches.
In conclusion, choosing the best outdoor cooler for your needs is no longer a daunting task with our comprehensive guide to the top coolers of 2023. From their impressive ice retention capabilities to their durable construction, these top-notch coolers have excelled in various testing scenarios, ensuring your beverages stay chilled and your food remains fresh during your outdoor adventures. Whether you prefer a traditional chest cooler, a convenient backpack cooler, or a versatile soft-sided cooler, we have explored a range of options to help you make an informed decision. So go ahead and invest in one of these superior coolers, and get ready to keep your outdoor gatherings cool and enjoyable all year round.
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