The Ultimate Guide to Poolside Relaxation: Unveiling the Best Coolers for Unforgettable Refreshment

Looking for the perfect companion for your poolside relaxation? Look no further! In this article, we present to you the best coolers of 2023 that are guaranteed to elevate your poolside experience to new heights. We've tested numerous coolers and handpicked the absolute cream of the crop, ensuring that you have the coolest and most refreshing drinks at your fingertips. Whether you're hosting a pool party or simply enjoying a lazy day by the water, these coolers will keep your beverages chilled and your guests impressed. Get ready to dive into our top picks and discover the ultimate best cooler for poolside relaxation!

Top coolers of 2023

Steve Conaway / CNET In my previous cooler tests, I had listed Cabela's 60-quart model as the best large cooler. However, the title now goes to the Magellan Outdoors model. Nonetheless, when it comes to keeping things cold, Cabela's Polar Cap option is unbeatable. It had the lowest internal temperature during testing and maintained that low temperature for about 20% longer than its closest competitor.

The prices for the 60-, 80-, and 100-quart models range from $300 to $400, and you're paying for outstanding performance. While this unit doesn't have many fancy features, it does have built-in bottle openers on the rubber latches, a pressure relief valve to assist with opening the cooler when the interior pressure rises, and rubber padded feet to elevate the cooler and reduce direct heat transfer. Plus, it's certified bear-resistant.

Steve Conaway / CNET Magellan's largest cooler performed almost as well as Cabela's Polar Cap Equalizer. The temperature difference between the two was less than a degree (44.6 vs. 45.5 degrees Fahrenheit). If your main concern is keeping things cold, then the question is whether paying an extra hundred dollars for that 0.9-degree difference is worth it.

Personally, I would recommend saving the money and using it to stock your cooler. One of the standout features of Magellan Outdoors coolers is the double-sided hinge latches. The hinges themselves serve as the latches and are present on both sides of the cooler, eliminating the need to reach over the lid or ask someone else to grab your drink. This model also comes with wheels, making it convenient for heavy loads, and metal bottle opener inserts on either side of the cooler.

Steve Conaway / CNET Yeti is a brand known for its superior performance (even if it comes with higher prices), and its coolers consistently rank among the best. The Tundra Haul is no exception. While it didn't have the lowest overall temperature, it maintained its lowest temperature for a significantly longer time than its competitors. The Haul features rugged "Neverflat" wheels, suggesting that it can handle more challenging terrains compared to other coolers. It's easy to transport and provides maximum cooling duration.

Steve Conaway / CNET Yes, I know, another Magellan cooler. It wasn't planned that way; I simply conducted tests and analyzed the data. The results speak for themselves, as evident from the graphs. The performance gap was too significant for me to consider naming another winner, even if I wanted to.

It was evident even before the tests that this cooler would outperform the competition. The other coolers have thin walls, which severely limits their insulation capabilities. However, if you're looking for a cheaper option or prefer a backpack-style cooler, a few alternatives are available.

But let me be clear, in my personal opinion, all soft-sided coolers are not good choices. They don't get cold enough and can't maintain a consistent temperature for long periods. Of course, there may be some who disagree and are content with keeping their charcuterie and red wine slightly cooler than room temperature for an hour-long hike to enjoy the city view from a flat green spot (or any other scenic area). Moving on...

Steve Conaway / CNET The previous title holder for this category was the Coleman Stacker, which happens to be one of the cheapest coolers we've tested to date. However, the best value doesn't always mean the lowest price. This RTIC unit impressed us with its remarkably low temperatures. It achieved lower temperatures than any other midsize cooler and even competed with the larger coolers.

At $220, this cooler is currently the most affordable option in both the midsize and large cooler categories, except for the Igloo BMX 52qt Cooler, which performed poorly in both categories. So, if you want excellent performance at a more budget-friendly price compared to its competitors, the RTIC is a great choice.

Steve Conaway / CNET The performance data for this newcomer and the previous titleholder, the Yeti Tundra 45 Cooler, were nearly identical. The Yeti achieved slightly colder temperatures, while the Magellan maintained its temperature for a bit longer. The deciding factor here is the price. The Magellan Outdoors unit costs only $120, which is less than half the price of the Yeti.

Apart from its performance, this Magellan cooler offers many other features, including a lid design with dual-side latches that also serve as hinges, allowing you to open the cooler from either side. It's a brilliant design. Additionally, Magellan includes a couple of 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 are the coolers that we have tested over the past few years. Here is a list of them:

  • Lifewit Collapsible Cooler Bag 24L (25 quarts): This soft-sided cooler is popular on Amazon, but it didn't perform well in terms of keeping things cool during our testing.
  • Tourit Cooler Backpack (20 quarts): These backpack coolers weren't great for cooling, but this one is stylish and has a connected metal bottle opener.
  • OlarHike Cooler Backpack (23 quarts): Similar to the Tourit cooler, but not as attractive.
  • Amazon Commercial Rotomolded Cooler, 20qt (20 quarts): This cooler performs better than most and has a great latching design.
  • Camp Zero 20L Premium Cooler (21 quarts): Offers neat color options and molded-in cup holders.
  • Frosted Frog 20qt Rotomolded Ice Chest (20 quarts): This cooler has excellent performance.
  • Klein Tools Work Cooler (17 quarts): Sturdy, but not the best performance as a traditional cooler.
  • Orca Light Blue 40 Quart Cooler (40 quarts): Has median performance in this category.
  • Igloo BMX 52 Quart Cooler (52 quarts): Looks neat and "BMX-y" but had the worst performance.
  • KENAI 65 Quart Cooler (65 quarts): Classic design with ok performance.
  • Frosted Frog 75QT Cooler (75 quarts): Reasonable pricing and excellent performance.
  • Bison Gen 2 Cooler (50 quarts): Higher price tag but coldest temperature.
  • Cabela's Polar Cap Equalizer Cooler (60 quarts): Former "best large cooler" title holder but on the expensive side.
  • Yeti Tundra 45 Cooler (33 quarts): Lowest temperature reached in the small cooler division.
  • Rubbermaid Ice Chest Cooler (48 quarts): One of the worst temperature performers in midsized coolers.
  • Coleman Xtreme Marine Cooler (70 quarts): Tons of capacity at an affordable price.
  • Coleman Xtreme Wheeled Cooler (50 quarts): Fairly poor performance but budget-friendly.
  • Rovr Rollr 60 Wheeled Cooler (60 quarts): Holds temperature well, but not as cold as others. Expensive.
  • Lifetime High Performance Cooler (55 quarts): Better performance and a good deal.
  • Orca Classic Cooler (58 quarts): Formerly awarded the best midsized cooler.
  • Pelican Elite Cooler (50 quarts): Gets colder than most, but doesn't hold it as long.
  • Yeti Roadie 24 Cooler (20 quarts): Holds temperature well.
  • Yeti Hopper Backflip 24 Insulated Backpack Cooler (22 quarts): Other coolers perform better.
  • Coleman Portable Cooler (16 quarts): Cheap option but won't hold its temperature for long.
  • Pelican 20 Quart Elite Cooler (20 quarts): Not as strong as others.
  • Coleman 24-Can Party Stacker Portable Cooler (23 quarts): Gets super cold, but doesn't stay that way for long and it's affordable.
  • Rubbermaid 45qt Blue Wheeled Cooler (45 quarts): Median performance and affordable with wheels.
  • Xspec 60 Quart Roto Molded High Performance Cooler (60 quarts): The best cooler we have tested overall.
  • Igloo Trailmate Journey 70qt All-Terrain Cooler (70 quarts): Feature-rich and excellent performance.

Capacity considerations

Before we discuss performance, let's talk about capacity. While some ice chest sizes are more popular than others, there is no standard size or shape for coolers. Size and shape not only determine how many cans a cooler can hold but also impact its performance. A larger cooler, like the 75-quart Frosted Frog, has a bigger job than a 45-quart RTIC when it comes to maintaining temperature with the same amount of ice.

To ensure accurate measurements, I filled each cooler with water until the lid caused some water to overflow. Then, I measured the exact number of quarts each cooler could hold. This information is crucial when dealing with melted ice. The smaller, cheaper models were mostly conservative in their estimates, while larger brands like Coleman and Igloo offered more space than advertised.

The more expensive models didn't live up to their claims. For example, the $400 Rovr wheeled cooler claimed a capacity of 60 quarts, but I could only fit 52.8 quarts of water inside. The $219 RTIC, advertised as 45 quarts, only held 39.6 quarts of water. However, the affordable 55-quart Lifetime High Performance Cooler impressed with a measured capacity of 62.4 quarts. Yeti's Hopper Backflip 24 had the most understated volume, with an internal volume of 26.42 quarts compared to its claimed 22.5 quarts. The worst offender was the Tourit Backpack Cooler, which only offered 65% of its claimed 30-quart capacity.

In conclusion, the best coolers of 2023 have proven their worth in providing the ultimate poolside relaxation experience. From innovative features to durable designs, these coolers ensure your drinks stay chilled and refreshing on hot summer days. While the other coolers we've tested didn't make it to the top of our list, they still offer reliable cooling capabilities for outdoor adventures. So, whether you're enjoying a day at the beach or lounging by the pool, investing in one of the best coolers of 2023 will undoubtedly elevate your relaxation game and make those summer memories even cooler.

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