Need a reliable cooler for your next trip? We bought and extensively tested 10 of the best models on the market to determine which ones are worth spending your hard-earned Benjamins on. After hours of research, we came up with a selection of models that cover almost every price range and intended use. With many high-end coolers to choose from it can be difficult to figure out which ones will keep your food cold for many days and which ones are just expensive pieces of plastic. Whether you need a cooler for an extended backwoods hunting trip or a relaxing weekend at the beach, our review can help you pick the right one.
Best Cooler All-Around: OtterBox Venture 65
Known for their nigh bombproof phone cases, OtterBox has now thrown their plastic mastery into the cooler ring with the Venture 65. And, in our opinion, they hit it out of the park on the first try. This cooler won our insulation testing, matching the cooling duration of the previous winner despite being 11 quarts larger (based on our measurements). OtterBox has a lot of experience making finely detailed phone cases, and in the Venture 65 they effectively leveraged that experience into making comfortable handles, more user friendly latches, a very effective drainplug, a built-in bottle opener, and attachment points for a multitude of sold-separately accessories like cutting trays, cup holders, wheels, and more. The only downsides: the extra insulation that makes this cooler so powerful also makes it quite large and bulky, and its high cost is on par with that of other high-end models.
Best Value: Coleman Xtreme 5-Day 70qt
The Coleman Xtreme 5-Day performed almost exactly in line with average on our insulation tests. This is particularly impressive when you consider that the field was skewed with double the number of expensive high-end models compared to more economical traditional models. Even more impressive is the fact that it outstripped one of the high-end models, the Grizzly Hunting or Tailgating, in our insulation tests. The Coleman’s drain plug design was also the favorite amongst our testers. Of all the models we tested the Coleman certainly packs the most punch per dollar. If you take a look at our price vs. performance chart you can see that the competition for the Best Buy Award wasn’t even close, the Coleman blew both other inexpensive models out of the water. In our insulation test, it held safe food temperatures for a day longer than the Rubbermaid and retained ice well. It also outperformed its traditional brethren in the durability and ease of use categories, making it the clear bearer of the best value flag. Make sure to check out the full range of sized Coleman offers in the Xtreme series including the Coleman Xtreme 5-Day 120 qt.
Best High-End: RTIC 65
A cooler that is built to last for years can be a great investment, but the initial price tag can still be quite a shock. Enter the RTIC 65. Adhering to their motto, “Over-built, not over-priced,” RTIC built a durable, roto-molded cooler that costs significantly less than other similarly constructed models (case in point: the RTIC lists for $240, and the YETI Tundra 65 lists for $400). In our testing, the RTIC was generally able to keep within spitting distance of much more expensive models in terms of insulation performance and was in lockstep with those models as far as durability goes. If you’re enamored with all of the premium cooler models hitting the shelves but don’t want to spend premium bucks, the RTIC is a perfect compromise. For now, the RTIC is generally only available direct to consumer from RTIC’s website, but we’ll let you know if that changes.
Best for Easy Transport: Igloo Glide PRO 110qt
For dragging a bunch of frosty brews out to the end of the pier, you can’t beat the Igloo Glide Pro. Its rigid, telescoping handle and large wheels make for a smooth roll, even when taking advantage of every one of its 110 quarts. It also did relatively well in our insulation testing, keeping temps below 40˚F for 3.5 days. Just make sure you have a few very strong friends around if you’re planning to lift this fully-loaded icebox into a car.
This is one category where we had two distinct groups: the high-end models that cost an arm and a leg, but for the most part, all performed exceptionally well, and the traditional models that are far less expensive and, while some performed admirably in our testing, were just in a whole different league than the high-end models. If you’re looking for a low-cost traditional model, we feel the Coleman Xtreme 5-Day is far your best choice. However, the high-end models were much more tightly packed in terms of performance. While we feel the OtterBox is the best choice if you’re going to shell out the money for a premium model, we’d feel remiss if we didn’t highlight some of the other great models that were just slightly behind in our testing.
Great Insulation in a More Packable Shape: ORCA 58 Quart
- Product Type: Ice Chest
- Package Dimensions: 71.12 L x 53.34 W x 53.34 H (cm)
- Country of Origin: United States
- Package Weight: 36.450 pounds
The ORCA 58 Quart is both a bit smaller than most of the other models and opts for a more cubic shape. Not only did this help its performance in our insulation testing, but we also found that it made the icebox fit more easily into the back of an overstuffed station wagon. If you can afford to lose a bit of capacity from teh tradition 65 quart size (we measured the ORCA’s capacity at 54 quarts) this is a great choice that will hold ice for a long time. The price has also been dropping as of late, so you may be able to find a good deal.
Easy Latches and Simple Draining: Pelican Elite 70
If a Hollywood executive were casting the role of ‘high-end cooler’ they would choose the Pelican Elite 70. It has the ruggedized look one would expect from a model meant to last a lifetime and thwart off hungry grizzly bears. The latches are button-operated plastic instead of rubber, which makes it easy to open them with one hand. We also felt it was the easiest high-end model to drain. Plus its insulation performance was within spitting distance of the top performing OtterBox.
The Original, and Still Great: Yeti Tundra 65
Yeti essentially invented the high-end cooler, and although their staple offering was not able to top our scoreboard, Yeti still makes an exceptional product. The Tundra 65 was right in the fray with the other high-end models in our insulation testing and features great craftsmanship that will likely last many lifetimes. We felt its drain plug was slightly messier and its handles slightly less comfortable than those of some of the other models, but we still would not hesitate to snatch up one of these coolers if we found it on sale.
Choosing the best Cooler
Buying a cooler used to be an easy decision. You could walk into any store, find just a few models available that were almost identical in appearance, performance, and price, choose a size that fit your needs and be on your way. Now buying a cooler means being inundated with a myriad of varying options, price points, and marketing claims. Suddenly instead of making a quick $50 purchase, you’re considering shelling out upwards of $400 for a fancy foam box that might become an heirloom for your grandkids. Our purpose is to make this process less confusing.
To that end, we ran 10 of the most highly regarded models through the most rigorous set of tests we could imagine. We then considered our testing results in the context of how various people would use them in the real world, to give you a better sense of what model will work best for your needs. For a more in-depth discussion on how to choose the right model, check out our Buying Advice article.
The cooler market has expanded in recent years with a multitude of new brands and designs.
Is That Extra Cost Really Worthwhile?
Models like the Coleman Xtreme offer about half of the performance as the expensive, high-end models at about a quarter of the price. In practice, this corresponds to about 3 days of safe food temperatures with the Coleman and about 6 days of safe temps with the more expensive models. If you consistently go on trips that take you away from stores that sell ice for more than 3 days, that extra cost is likely worth it. If not, your money may be better spent on a low priced model. The other consideration is durability. If you’ve already broken a few coolers over the last 5 years, an indestructible high-end model may be a better value in the long run.
Insulation is far and away the most important performance aspect of a cooler. Accordingly, we put a lot of effort into quantifying each model’s insulation performance. We split our testing into two different metrics, ice retention (which correlates to how long drinks could be kept cold), and safe food storage. We measure the latter by placing a data logging thermometer above the ice where food would be stored, and seeing how long each model kept that sensor chilled below the Food and Drug Administration maximum perishable food storage temperature of 40˚F. All of these tests were conducted with the coolers in the same room, side-by-side. When we get a new cooler we can’t ensure that the room will be exactly the same temperature as the last time we ran the test, so we adjust our figures so that they are directly comparable. That’s why the figures in the table below may be slightly different from those on the other graphs from the individual tests that we ran. For more on that process, you can read our How We Test article.
Safe Food Storage
The chart above shows how long each model held temperatures below the FDA safe food storage minimum of 40˚F in our testing (these figures will change based on weather conditions and the cooler’s contents, but they still provide a useful benchmark for comparison). As you can see, the OtterBox Venture 65 and the ORCA 58 Quart were the only models that broke the 6-day mark, crossing the 40˚F threshold midway through day 7. Both of these models shared the top score of 9 in this test. However, we were more impressed with the OtterBox’s performance than the ORCA’s, as we measured its capacity as 11 quarts larger (65 vs. 54).
Following the OtterBox and ORCA in a tightly packed group were the Pelican Elite 70, Yeti Tundra, the Engel Deep Blue, and the RTIC 65, respectively. All 4 of these models exceeded 40˚F within a few hours of each other midway through day 6, just about 24 hours before the top performers, and they all received an insulation performance score of 8.
Two additional models also scored a 6 out of 10 in this metric, the Igloo Glide PRO and the Coleman Xtreme 5 Wheeled 100qt. These models performed almost identically in our insulations, both maintaining safe food temperatures for 3.5 days. This was considerably less than other coolers that scored in this range. We gave these models a slight handicap due to their larger sizes (110 and 100 quarts, respectively). They were inevitably not going to last as long as the smaller models, as they have much more air space to keep cold (unfortunately there is no truly fair way to compare coolers of very different sizes without a NASA style laboratory). Still, we were impressed at how well they fared in our test.
The two large models we tested both broke the 40˚F mark (for good) at almost the same time in our test.
The middle of day 4 saw the Grizzly and Coleman Xtreme break the 40˚ barrier almost concurrently. We awarded the Grizzly and the Coleman insulation performance scores of 4. With an insulation performance score of 2, the worst performer in our food safety test was the Rubbermaid Extreme. It briefly breached 40˚F midway through day 2 and warmed up for good midway through day 3.
The Industry standard YETI vs. the budget high-end model made by RTIC.
Our testing showed ice retention to be closely correlated with maintaining safe food temperatures. All of the models warmed to above 40˚F within 1-2 days before losing their last bit of ice. The OtterBox, the ORCA, the Pelican, and theYeti all led the pack retaining ice for 7 days, though the ORCA was able to stay below 40˚ for one more day than the others. The Engel rounded out the true high-end performers, each holding ice for 6 days. The Engel maintained safe food temperatures for over 5 days. The Grizzly again fell in with the traditional crowd, performing just as well as the Coleman Xtreme with 5 days of ice retention.
The Rubbermaid Extreme brought up the rear, retaining ice for 4 days. As we mentioned before, ice retention is a good indicator of insulation quality and correlates to how long beverages can be kept cold. Since drinking a slightly warm beer is both less traumatic and less dangerous than eating spoiled meat, most people will want to pay more attention to the results of the food safety test rather than the ice retention test.
What does the extra cost get you? The above photo shows the Coleman Xtreme 5-day (list price $80, Best Buy winner) and the ORCA Extra Heavy Duty (list price $410) on day 5 of our insulation test.
A Note About ‘5-Day’ and Other Claims
Most of the models we tested have some duration claim, purporting to be a ‘5-day model’ or something similar. All three of the traditional models we tested carry a 5-day claim. The high-end models that do make claims are careful to add some plausible deniability into their language. The Engel, ORCA, and Pelican Elite 70 all advertise an ‘up to 10-day’ claim. The Grizzly and Yeti forgo making such claims.
Take these claims with a grain of salt. Most of these claims carry fine print stipulations that don’t match the realities and practicalities of real-world use, such as never draining meltwater, pre-chilling before use, rarely opening the lid, and a consistent external temperature. Although they often do not explicitly say so, these claims commonly refer to ice retention. Our testing shows that temperatures rise above the critical 40˚F mark before the last of the ice has melted, meaning even if the 5-day claim is technically accurate you could have spoiled food before the 5 days are up.
When comparing claims to the more important food safety standard, none of the traditional models we tested lived up to their 5-day claim. The Coleman Xtreme came the closest, hitting 40˚F most of the way through day 4. Most of the High-end models broke this 5-day mark. Only the Grizzly, which warmed up midway through day 4, fell short of this mark. No model was able to match even the more conservative ‘up to 7-day’ high-end claim, though the Pelican came close, lasting 6.5 days. This, however, was still well short of its ‘up to 10-day’ claim.
These products will most likely be put through some abuse, at the very least bouncing around in a tightly packed car as it rambles down a bumpy road. Increased durability naturally means a longer useful life and a lower likelihood of mid-trip creative duct tape repairs. Durability is a difficult thing to quantify. Our durability scores are based on our testers’ impressions after extensively using each one of the products first hand, and data mining online user reviews to identify any salient durability issues.
Unlike insulation performance, which had a fairly widespread, our durability testing resulted in two tight-knit camps: the extremely durable high-end models and the less durable traditional models. After fiddling with drain plugs, pushing on walls and lids, and yanking on hinges, we awarded all of the high-end model’s durability scores of either 7 or 8. The Pelican Elite 70 the Yeti Tundra 65, and the RTIC 65 were the lower scorers due to some minor flaws. Both the Yeti and Pelican models leaked some water out of the lid during our slosh test. We felt this indicated slightly lesser structural integrity, and thus slightly lesser durability, than the other high-end models. The Pelican Elite also had somewhat of a flimsy drain plug leash, which was showing some signs of wear by the end of our testing. The RTIC’s latches are slightly less beefy than other high-end models. They’re definitely not flimsy, but not as over-built as the competition either. Our testers couldn’t imagine having any durability issues with the lids, latches, or hinges of any of the high-end models, and this opinion was corroborated by reading over 1000 online user reviews.
The traditional models felt significantly less durable, and it was easy to find user reviews complaining about broken hinges and handles. Additionally, some give can be felt when pushing against their walls and lids, while pushing against those of high-end models feels like pushing against a rock. The Igloo Glide Pro was the best of the bunch, earning a 5 out of 10. It has a solid body and hinges and latches that are a bit more burly than the other traditional models. Plus, its wheels and handle feel more solid than the other wheeled models we tested. The Coleman Xtreme and Coleman Xtreme 5 Wheeled both received a durability score of 4 from our testing, and the Rubbermaid Extreme received a score of 3. While the Igloo Glide Pro was able to outperform its fellow traditional models, due to its slightly beefier hinges, it only received half the durability score that the Editor’s Choice Award Winning Otterbox did.
This clear split in durability may be the sole justification some need to opt for a high-end model, as increased durability translates to greater longevity and many more camping trips before you will need to buy a replacement. It also means fewer worries when it’s bouncing around in a boat on rough seas or falling off the back of an ATV.
Ease of Use
We feel that ease of use boils down to two major things that you will have to deal with almost every day that you use your cooler: opening the lid and draining meltwater. Lid opening difficulty is mostly determined by the latches that secure it. Lids that have a propensity to snap shut on a whim add a degree of difficulty to normal camp cooking. Some drain plugs create water park worthy jets of water while draining, or tend to drip water onto the underside of the body, all of which can make a mess if you’re trying to drain from inside the trunk of your car.
Our testing did not reveal a huge range in the relative ease of use between the models we considered, with all scores falling between 5 and 8, but there were factors that made some a bit better than others. The highest performing models were the OtterBox Venture 65, Pelican Elite, and the Engel Deep Blue, all earning a score of 8. Our testers felt that these models all had secure yet simple to operate latches, easy to open lids and drain plugs, and could all be drained with minimal hassle and tilting. The OtterBox and Pelican, in particular, have great latches that are very secure yet can easily be opened with one hand. The Best Buy Award winning Coleman Xtreme and the Igloo Glide PRO followed the lead pack both with a score of 7. We found the internal latching mechanism on the Coleman’s its lid finicky to open, often requiring two hands pry loose. However, it made up for this in draining ease; its drain plug pops open in a snap and it is one of the few models that drained completely with little to no tilting. The Glide Pro was also very easy to drain as it easily pivots around its wheels to get an easy tilt. However, the latches were also a bit more difficult to get open than other models.
The Grizzly, Yeti Tundra, Rubbermaid Extreme, the RTIC 65 and the Coleman Xtreme 5 Wheeled all received scores of 6. In general, they all lost points because of annoyances during the draining process. The Grizzly’s drain plug tended to get stuck during our testing, requiring some embarrassing grunting to get it free. It also splashed quite a bit when the plug finally came off. The Yeti’s drain plug had similar splashing issues, especially when it was first opened. Also, the Yeti’s handle sits right at the level of the drain plug, always swinging in the way like an annoying gnat. The Rubbermaid was by far our least favorite model to drain. In order to accommodate its wheels, the drain plug is almost halfway up the body, requiring you to tip it completely on its side to get it to completely drain. The Coleman Wheeled’s lid occasionally got stuck in our testing and required two hands to get open.
The lowest score of 5 was earned, surprisingly, by the Editors’ Choice Award-winning ORCA 58 Quart. This is the only category where the ORCA didn’t excel, and this was almost solely due to its lid. While its latches were simple and lid easy to open, it tended to snap shut unexpectedly in a very hungry hippos-esque manner, requiring an extra bit of caution when fishing for food. The Max Cold lost points due to difficulty draining. It drained very very slowly and required a good amount of tipping to empty completely, though not quite as much as the Rubbermaid. It also lost points because its lid has no internal latching mechanism. While this makes it very easy to open, it also means extra attention must be paid to make sure it stays closed when it needs to.
Ease of use is a category where the results did not clearly split between high-end and traditional models. Case in point, the Best Buy Award winning Coleman Xtreme was one of the higher scorers and was actually the least fussy model when it came to draining.
When fully packed these behemoths are heavy. For example, when we loaded them up with water for our carry test the Yeti Tundra and Coleman Xtreme weighed 137 lbs and 147 lbs, respectively. That’s heavy enough that a one-person carry is near impossible and a two-person carry will certainly get the blood moving. They can be so heavy, in fact, that many people decide to plan all of their logistics around keeping their cooler in the car and not moving it for the entire trip. Ease of portability is almost completely determined by handle comfort. Poorly designed handles can leave your hands looking like a raw slab of meat, while nice handles can make moving a heavy load borderline pleasant (maybe ‘pleasant’ is a bit of an overstatement, they will at least make it less painful). We also considered external size, as smaller or more packable dimensions means you can stuff more toys into your adventure bound car.
Here again, we did not see a big range in scores following our testing, all falling between 4 and 7, but there were subtle differences that will be meaningful to some users. In general, the high scorers were the models that were easy to carry. The ORCA 58 Quart and Pelican Elite, both of which took home the top score of 7, were also our favorite models to carry when heavily loaded. Our testers found the rigid plastic handles of the Pelican to be the most comfortable, but the Pelican lost some packability points due to its hefty exterior size. While the ORCA’s handles weren’t quite as comfortable, they were still clearly better than the rest of the models, and its more cubic shape made it more packable.
Most of the models we tested fell into the mid-range of portability performance, with 7 models exiting our testing with a score of 6. This group, which includes the Otterbox Venture 65, the Coleman, the Engel, the Max Cold, the Rubbermaid, the Igloo Glide PRO, and the Coleman Wheeled, all received average handle comfort scores from our testers. If you often find yourself lugging around a heavy cooler you’ll want to consider one of our top scorers. However, if you’re a pack it up in the car and never move it kind of person, one of these models may suit your needs. The Igloo Glide Pro and the Coleman Wheeled both earned extra points due to their wheels. Both these models slide well. If anything the wheels are a bit smoother on the Igloo. However, both models lost some points due to their larger size, which made them very difficult to lift up. OtterBox does sell a wheel attachment for its coolers, which would greatly improve the portability, but it costs a whopping $250.
The lowest scorers in our portability testing were the Yeti Tundra, which scored a 5, and the Grizzly, which scored a 4. We felt that both models somewhat missed the mark in handle design. The Yeti combined a rigid handle with a rope attachment, which resulted in odd distributions of the load in our testers’ ‘ hands. The Grizzly opted for an all soft handle, which caused a lot of pinching during our carry tests.
Features is our lowest weighted scoring criteria at just 5%. This is because the insulation is far and away the most important thing to consider for these products, so much so that any additional features are just tangential to their primary function. However, there are a number of features available on some models: rulers, cupholders, even emergency bottle openers. High-end models also include more durable construction features, such as pin style hinges and external latches. The feature we like the most is a drain plug leash, but while convenient it certainly isn’t necessary.
The Pelican Elite and the OtterBox Venture 65 topped the features category, both earning a 7 out of 10. The Pelican earned this score to its drain plug leash, built in lid ruler, and all of the accouterments that come with high-end construction. The OtterBox offers some nice touches like a built-in bottle opener and an included tray to keep moisture sensitive food away from the ice. Most of the other high-end models scored in the mid to high range due to their construction features. The Engel, which scored a 5, also includes a built-in emergency bottle opener.
The traditional models scored lower in this category, as they generally don’t have the super durable hinges and other beefed-up design aspects of the high-end models. Models like the Igloo Glide PRO and the Rubbermaid Extreme did earn extra points for their wheels, but other than that the traditional models all lacked the extra features of the high-end models.
One of the complications in buying a cooler is figuring out how much cooler performance do you really need to buy? The very best models are robust and will last a very long time, offering outstanding insulation for multi-day outings. But, the top of the line products is also expensive. If you don’t need to keep things cold for very long then a lower cost cooler is going to be a better investment for your needs. We hope that our testing and ratings have helped you narrow down to one or two products that seem just right for your needs. If you are still not sure what to get, take a look at our buying advice article, which provides some guidelines for narrowing down selection that may be helpful
– James Milner