These Eight Coolers Dominated Our Tests among 40, Hinting at Unmatched Performance
As warm weather approaches, people begin planning for outdoor activities such as camping, beach trips, park picnics, pool parties, and backyard hangouts. During spring and summer rendezvous, a cooler is an indispensable accessory. If you're entertaining guests all year round or on long journey trips, a cooler is also very useful. Whether you prefer lightweight options suitable for hiking or large models that can hold beverages for massive gatherings, there is a cooler in every shape and size to meet your budget and lifestyle.
To help you choose the right cooler from the plethora of options available in the market, we tested some of the leading coolers side-by-side. We conducted extensive testing on each cooler by loading them up with ice and cans to assess their capacity, recording the temperature at regular intervals over time to evaluate their effectiveness. We evaluated each cooler based on design, insulation, durability, portability, capacity, and value.
Here are the top coolers that will keep your drinks cold no matter where you go.
None of the Yeti products in this line-up have been part of the March 2023 recall. We will keep monitoring and updating our recommendations.
What We Like:
- Certified to be bear-proof
- Can keep perishables cold for several days
- Easy to drain
- What We Don't Like:
Yeti is perhaps the most well-known brand of coolers, and with good reason. Their Tundra range of hard-sided coolers are exceptionally durable, well-designed, and well-constructed. They can keep food and drinks cold throughout an entire weekend camping trip and can be used as a seat around the fire. All models in this range are certified to be bear-proof by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee as long as they're padlocked. Available in a vast range of sizes, from the day-at-the-beach 35 model to the bathtub-sized 350, we think the 65 offers the best size and pricing balance.
The major downside of Yeti is their cost – they remain one of the most expensive brands in the market. Thus, this cooler represents a significant investment that will last a long time but might only be worthwhile if you use a cooler frequently. The Tundra 65 is also quite heavy, especially when full, but the sturdy polyester handles enable two people to share the load and move it around more easily. Our tests have shown that this cooler is a good investment, particularly if you tailgate often or go camping frequently. As one of our reviewers noted, "it keeps your drinks and food cold for days, is well-designed, doubles as a table, and can hold a lot of beverages."
Price as of initial publication: $375
By Henry Wortock, The Spruce Eats
Size: 30.6 x 17.3 x 16 inches | Capacity: Approximately 55 quarts, 52 pounds of ice, or 42 cans with a 2:1 ice-to-can ratio | Material: Polyurethane foam insulation, UV-resistant polyethylene exterior
What We Like
Easy to transport
What We Don't Like
Moderately small capacity
Not suitable for heavy-duty use
The neon-colored, old-fashioned picnic basket style of this cooler is delightful. Though it may not be adequate to feed a gathering throughout an entire camping trip, it is perfect for a day at the beach or an entertainment event. Surprisingly, it performed incredibly well in our experiments, keeping 11 cans and ice at 33 degrees for a full 24 hours.
Additionally, the Insulation performance is beyond impressive, especially when compared to how light the cooler is. It mainly consists of hard plastic and eventually cracked during testing. The cooler's usability was unaffected by the damage. However, a few more cracks or dings would render it unusable, making it an unsuitable option for heavy usage.
Price as of initial publication: $55
By Henry Wortock, The Spruce Eats
Size: 19.8 x 12.9 x 13.1 inches | Capacity: 25 quarts, 23 pounds of ice, or 11 cans with a 2:1 ice-to-can ratio | Material: Plastic exterior
What We Like
Keeps contents cold longer
Simple to roll and maneuver
What We Don't Like
No lifting handles
Yeti produces exceptional coolers that are durable, well-designed, and are excellent insulators. However, they come with a high price tag. The Tundra Haul, like the Tundra 65, our overall winner, can keep nearly two dozen cans cold for 24 hours without difficulty, except it has a folding handle and a set of wheels to assist in transportation. The one-piece plastic "Neverflat" tires are designed to be resistant to impact and punctures, and can easily navigate rocky terrains, grassy parks, potholed tailgate parking lots, and bumpy docks. (According to Yeti, sand will not damage the wheels, but they may have difficulty rolling on the beach.)
The Yeti Tundra Cooler is built with the same insulation, lid design, and cold-lock gasket as other coolers in the line, ensuring its impressive performance in our Lab tests. The cooler is incredibly durable, strong enough to use as a chair without any damage, and comes with a welded-aluminum arm that features comfortable grips tucked into indentations on the side. The curved design of the cooler enables easy steering and boasts excellent turn radius. The only downside found by our testers, aside from the sky-high price tag, is that the cooler lacks carrying handles, making it difficult to lift onto a table or tailgate.
Price at time of publish: $450
The Spruce Eats / Henry Wortock
Dimensions: 28.3 x 18.6 x 19.5 inches | Capacity: Approximately 58 quarts, 55 pounds of ice, or 45 cans with a 2:1 ice-to-can ratio | Materials: Polyurethane foam insulation, UV-resistant polyethylene exterior
What We Like
Excellent insulation capabilities
What We Don't Like
Heavy and bulky
Lacks proper carrying handles
We tested the RTIC Insulated Soft Cooler Bag, which bears a striking resemblance to the Yeti cooler at a lower cost. We tried out the 30-can version in our Lab, but scaled down to 20 cans to make room for ice. The cooler is quite large and heavy, making it difficult to carry around, especially on long excursions with only two handle carrying straps and one shoulder strap. However, it comes in a 20- and 30-can backpack version with shoulder straps, waist straps, and a padded, ventilated back panel that we also tested and rated highly.
Featuring 2-inch closed-cell foam with a puncture- and tear-resistant liner, the RTIC offers excellent insulation. After filling it with soda cans and ice, we left it in our 70-degree Lab for 24 hours and found that the temperature had only risen by 11 degrees. About 20% of the ice remained. The cooler also underwent a durability test by tossing it off a tabletop; luckily, it survived the fall without even a single drop of leakage.
Like most zippered coolers with fantastic insulation and a leakproof design, the zipper on this cooler can be tricky to open and close at first, but it comes with lubricant. Its super-tight seal and heavy-duty nylon shell even make it possible to take this cooler into water, such as lakes and rivers, as every RTIC Soft Pack Cooler is designed to float. It's the perfect choice for boating, camping, beach days, backyard barbecues, and more.
At the current time of writing, the cost of this product is $120.
For those on the move, RTIC has designed a backpack to transport your goods. This soft-sided cooler backpack can carry 30 cans and a bag of ice, keeping your perishable items fresh for an extended period of time. Its front zipper is easily accessible, allowing you to rummage around for a snack without any hindrance. In addition, the backpack floats, making it perfect for trips to the pool or lake.
Upon testing in our laboratory, we discovered that the top-notch insulation and leakproof design made the zipper slightly difficult to open. However, with the included lubricant, the zipper glided smoother. The zipper consists of a T-shaped, durable plastic slider rather than the traditional metal slider, providing a better grip to open and close it.
Even though the backpack can accommodate 30 cans and ice, we used 20 cans and ice instead. We were thrilled to find that the ice had only melted by 50 percent and the temperature had decreased by 11 degrees after 24 hours of filling and leaving it in the Lab. Moreover, the backpack's wide rectangular opening can hold Tupperware or other irregularly-shaped containers with ease. Despite its size, it is comfortable to carry due to its padding on both the straps and the actual cooler. The back panel is ventilated to prevent moisture buildup, and there is a waist strap for weight distribution. You will not feel like you are carrying a massive backpack full of ice and cans despite actually carrying a massive backpack full of ice and cans.
With various attachment points for carabiners and stretchy straps at the front, there is extra space for storing soft items such as a small tent, towel, rain jacket, or compact sleeping bag. If you are an outdoor enthusiast, this cooler backpack is perfect for you. It allows you to go hands-free on your excursions from mountains to lakes.
This product costs $160, and its overall dimensions are 20.25 x 15 x 10 inches, with a carrying capacity of 30 cans and a bag of ice. The material of the backpack is 100 percent waterproof fabric shell.
- Ample space
- Multiple handles
- Waterproof material
- Low capacity for the price
- Leakage from the zipper
This Engel 32-quart bag is a top choice for those who need a large and easy-to-transport cooler. It comes with an over-the-shoulder strap, top and side handles, is waterproof, and can hold up to 60 cans, making it ideal for big gatherings. The foam-like insulation in the interior works exceptionally well in maintaining the temperature of your items, and the bag includes a drainage plug and bottle opener. The sturdy zipper is also waterproof and has enough resistance to prevent any leaks. The lubrication included with the cooler also helps with its longevity.
However, one thing to note is that when the bag is fully loaded, it can get quite heavy and uncomfortable to carry. Additionally, despite its spacious size, this cooler may not be worth the price for those looking for a smaller capacity bag.
Current price: $240
Size: 20.5 x 9.5 x 17 inches
Capacity: 30 quarts
Material: Thermoplastic Polyurethane
- Excellent insulation
- Easy to carry
- Durable construction
- Smaller capacity for the price
- Leakage from the zipper when turned upside down
This Polar Bear soft cooler is perfect for keeping food and drinks hot or cold. Its portability and compact size make it ideal for meals on-the-go or outdoor activities such as hiking or fishing. The nickel-plated brass hardware, high-quality nylon, and double stitching on the bag's seams make it stand out as an impressively durable product. The bag easily accommodates cans as promised and maintains a temperature that is safe for food. However, it may leak from the zipper if not kept upright or turned upside down.
The bag's design is practical and fashionable, somewhat resembling an oversized tote bag. The Polar Bear brand offers a range of colors and sizes including a backpack model, enhancing the versatility of the cooler. Overall, this Polar Bear soft cooler is a solid choice for people who want a durable bag that can keep their food or beverages just at the right temperature.
At the time of publication, this product retails at . The Vinglacé portable wine chiller is the perfect companion for when you want to bring your favorite bottle of wine or champagne on the go. Its lightweight design and ability to keep bottles cold for hours make it a must-have for any wine enthusiast. The adjustable top allows you to customize the size to fit your bottle perfectly, and its stainless steel, double-walled, vacuum-insulated construction ensures that your drink stays chilled without the need for refrigeration. Plus, it's a beautiful and stylish option for gifting. Say goodbye to the hassle of transporting chilled wine and say hello to the Vinglacé portable wine chiller.
This product is available for and is constructed with high-quality stainless steel. The Vinglacé portable wine chiller has an overall dimension of 11.69 x 6.5 x 5.55 inches and can carry a 750-mL bottle.
After extensive testing of over 40 coolers of varying shapes, sizes, and configurations, we have determined that the Yeti Tundra 65 Cooler is the best option on the market. Its leakproof design, exceptional drainage system, and ability to keep food cold for days make it a winner. It even withstands the hungry bears! However, if you're on a budget, the Igloo Retro Picnic Basket Cooler is a great alternative.
Our testing process involved measurements of capacity in standard 12-ounce cans, ice, and cans mixed with ice in the recommended 1/3 cans-2/3 ice ratio, all compared to the manufacturer's stated capacity. We also evaluated the durability and construction of each cooler by checking for leaks, poor-fitting hinges, portability, and the ability to withstand a fall. The Yeti Tundra 65 maintained its superior performance across all tests.
If you're in the market for a cooler, there are a few things to consider before making a purchase. Firstly, there are hard-shell and soft-shell coolers to choose from. Hard-shell coolers are more durable, better insulated, and keep food colder for longer. Some are even bear-resistant. They can be a bit cumbersome to store, however, and don't collapse like their softer counterparts.
Soft-shell coolers are more lightweight and easier to store, but they don't retain cold as well as hard-shell coolers. When picking a cooler, make sure to consider the capacity and footprint. For shorter trips and everyday use, a smaller 25-quart or less soft cooler will suffice. For longer trips and larger gatherings, opt for a hard-sided cooler with a capacity of 50 to 100 quarts or more.
Transportation is also something to think about. Look for coolers with wheels, handles, or shoulder straps, depending on how you plan to use them. Soft coolers are great for day trips, while hard coolers are better for camping, tailgating events, and parties.
Taylor Rock, Commerce Editor for The Spruce Eats, personally tested the soft coolers in this roundup at the Dotdash Meredith Lab. Some of her top picks include the Engel 65 High Performance Hard Cooler, which is bear-resistant and has UV-resistant colors, and the Cotopaxi Helio Cooler Bag, which has great insulation and a padded shoulder strap for easy carrying. That being said, the Helio Cooler Bag does have some construction issues, with liquid leaking through the fabric and zipper and damage occurring after a short drop.
Other coolers to consider are the Igloo Ecocool Latitude 52-Quart Cooler, which holds a lot for its price, but has a lid that doesn't seal shut; and the Polarbox Pop 21 Quart Cooler, which has a retro style but doesn't seal perfectly and leaks liquid.
Ultimately, the choice is yours and depends on how you plan to use the cooler. Just remember to consider capacity, footprint, transportation needs, and insulation when making a decision.
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