This review takes a "best in class" approach. We've identified the top coolers across a range of sizes and price brackets for your consideration.
In doing so, we've assembled a shortlist of products that will satisfy just about every circumstance and budget.
We do not accept products directly from manufacturers; we use our own funds to purchase the same “off-the-shelf” products that you do.
And when we've finished our testing and consumer reviews, we donate all these products to charities and other non-profit organizations.
Our finalists of the best coolers are:
Size & Construction
Coolers come in multiple sizes and are made with a variety of materials. As such, the biggest cooler isn't necessarily the heaviest! Our shortlist covers everything from handy coolers for the car to those that will hold enough supplies for a weekend camping trip.
From easy-to-clean interiors to various kinds of wheels, handles, and drain plugs, each cooler on our shortlist features a set of extras that could play an important part in your purchasing decision.
Every manufacturer claims their cooler will keep its contents reliably cool, but for how long? In this part of our ratings, we enlist the help of actual owners to answer this question.
How much should you pay for a cooler? In this section, we look at dollars, cents, and the overall value each product delivers for the money.
Nina is a longtime gourmet chef, interior designer/decorator, and events planner. She has accomplished all of this in addition to maintaining a stellar career as a healthcare executive, where she helps alter the course of people’s lives via preventive care and healthy living. Nina’s hobbies include learning new recipes, planning and executing amazing dinners to impress local chefs, and hiking around the world.
The YETI Tundra Cooler holds 38 quarts and a total of 26 cans. It measures 22 x 17 x 16 inches and weighs around 25 pounds. According to the manufacturer, the polyethylene materials used to make the YETI are the same that are used to make whitewater kayaks. Indeed, that's a durable substance!
The process used to make the YETI is called roto-molding. This is a slow manufacturing process that guarantees product thickness and provides a strong framework for the entire cooler. The YETI Tundra Cooler is so strong, in fact, that it's been accredited by the IGBC (Inter-agency Grizzly Bear Committee). If you haven't already guessed, that means that it's certified as grizzly bear-resistant!
Pelican emphasizes water tightness with the Pro-Gear Elite cooler. The polyethylene shell combines with a freezer-grade gasket to form one of the strongest and most water-resistant products among our contenders. Two inches of ultra-thick polyurethane insulation help provide exceptional ice retention.
The dual handle system makes transportation fairly easy, but the empty cooler is still on the heavy side at 35 pounds. Its molded-in tie downs come with a lifetime guarantee, and the press-and-pull latches are easy to operate—even while wearing gloves.
The Coleman Steel 54-quart cooler fits squarely in the middle of the size spectrum, but it offers a generous 85-can capacity. While it is not completely metal (as was its legendary, military-inspired predecessor), the Coleman does have steel belting for additional strength and steel latches that resist up to 10 pounds of pressure, making it truly bear-resistant. A special rustproof/leak-resistant internal channel drains water without the need for tilting. With a total weight under 20 pounds, the Coleman cooler is very portable. Its internal dimensions are 20 x 12 inches with a depth of 13 1/4 inches. Two- liter beverage bottles easily stand upright inside of it.
In terms of individual pieces, the Igloo 3-Piece includes a one-quart beverage cooler, a "mini cooler" that holds nine cans and some ice, and a main cooler which can hold 38 quarts. The main cooler measures 23 x 12.88 x 15.75 inches and weighs approximately 10 pounds. The combo is made of high-denisty polyethylene and FDA-polypropylene and is tall enough to hold two-liter bottles upright.
The ORCA (Outdoor Recreational Company of America) 20-quart (also available in a 75-Quart version) is roto-molded from durable polyethylene plastic, which means it has no seams that could leak. The lid and box both contain integrated insulation, and a special gasket maintains an air- and water-resistant seal. The extendable metal handle is top-mounted so either one or two people can easily carry it. The latches fit securely into molded-in holders, and the entire cooler is considered to be bear-proof.
Given its size and weight, some might suggest that wheels would be a good idea for the YETI Tundra. However, this cooler is all about rugged performance. Without extra attachments, there's nothing to snap off! Chunky rubber toggles seal the box. Side handles with textured grips and military-grade nylon secure its contents. Non-slip, "bear foot" feet prevent the YETI from sliding around. For those who want extra security, tie-down slots are included on the sides. To improve cooling, the YETI's feet raise its main body off the ground. A dry goods basket is also included, as is a useful drain plug— something you don't often find on cheaper coolers.
The Pelican Pro-Gear Elite's best features concern ice retention and protection from the elements. The lid’s gasket forms a watertight seal with the polyethylene box, and the molded tie-downs hold everything in place. This is an important feature when the cooler is being used to store fish on a boat or fresh game meat at a remote campsite. The dual handle system gives users the option of a single-person lift or a two-person carry. The cooler’s designers even created enough room to accommodate users who are wearing thick gloves. And, the lid contains a fish scale—ideal for tournament use or waterways with catch limits.
The Coleman Steel-Belted Cooler features an internal drainage system that does not require tilting by the user. Steel latches hold the lid securely in place, deterring would-be thieves. Steel side handles with rubberized grips make transportation easy in spite of its heavy weight. The well-insulated lid opens a full 180 degrees for loading and unloading. Our biggest concern about the Coleman’s features is the plastic stopper used to plug the drain. We find that it could be jostled out of place during transportation and trigger a leak.
The Igloo 3-Piece Cooler Combo's highlight feature is the fact that the package includes three different items instead of just one: a main box and two smaller beverage coolers. The main box has a handle and wheels, but the handle is not telescopic. (A number of owners have complained that the reach is awkward.) Molded grips on the side make carrying the larger box quite easy. Some owners complain that the mini cooler is smaller than they expected, but others say that it's the perfect size for lunches or snacks.
The Orca line of coolers all contain many standard features, but some — including this one — also include a cargo net for additional storage. The top-mounted handle has a comfortable rubberized grip for easy transportation. The manufacturer claims an ice retention rate of up to 10 days, although a number of owners report that a more realistic number would be 3-4 days. There is a convenient drain channel that will clear out excess water, so users won’t be forced to reach into a cooler filled with ice-cold slush. The 26-quart model is rather small, but the 75-quart model has the capacity to hold an impressive amount of beverages, ice bags, and food.
If you want something to stay cold, the YETI Tundra Cooler is arguably one of the best products available. It's tough, it boasts extremely high thermal efficiency ratings, and it comes as close to being hermetically sealed as possible. Independent tests suggest that ice can stay frozen for up to 10 days in this cooler. Not everyone likes this product (we'll see why in the next section), but almost nobody complains about its ability to keep items cold.
One common complaint about pricier coolers is that the ice retention claims rarely match real-world performance. This is not the case with the Pro-Gear Elite cooler. Satisfied customers tell us they have stored bags of ice in the Pelican cooler and could still find solid cubes five days later (or more). This is the sign of a well-insulated cooler, especially for hunters or fishers who need to keep their catches packed in ice for days at a time. Emergency storage of frozen or refrigerated food is also a good reason to consider investing in a cooler like the Pelican Pro-Gear Elite.
The manufacturer claims an ice retention rating of up to three days, but a number of users tell us that 1-2 days is a more realistic number. It will definitely keep food and beverages cold during an all-day outdoor event, but the ice may need to be replaced more often when used as a food storage unit for longer hunting or fishing trips. We find that the steel latches perform their main duty accurately, but can fail under moderate pressure. Users should not expect the same level of performance as the previous all-metal Coleman cooler, but it will still keep plenty of food and beverages cold on a hot summer day.
All components of the Igloo 3-Piece Cooler Combo are reasonably easy to clean and maintain. Each component does a decent job of keeping things cool, although a few owners have complained that their lids don't fit well. This could indeed impact efficiency, but the incidence of ill-fitting lids is rare. Overall, the Igloo Camping Combo is considered by most people to be a great everyday cooler.
For many shoppers, the choice for a new professional-grade cooler often comes down to a debate between the YETI and the Orca. Some people who have owned both a YETI and an Orca believe the Orca has better ice retention.
The $399 YETI Tundra Cooler is aimed at the more serious outdoor person—the one who's loading up the truck for the weekend or heading out for several days of fishing or hunting. Yes, that's a lot of money for a cooler, but in terms of toughness and performance, there's nothing in these ratings that comes close to the YETI. It's got non-slip feet and provisions for tie-downs. It seals well and can keep contents chilled for a week or more. It's practically indestructible; even the rope handles are military-grade. And it comes with a small dry goods basket.
On the down side, the YETI is very heavy, and a couple of owners have had problems with leaky drain plugs. In spite of the high price and occasional problems, however, most owners agree it's the best cooler on the market today.
The $374 Pelican Pro-Gear Elite is not the most expensive cooler among our top contenders, but its cost still represents a considerable investment for shoppers. While there are many inexpensive ways to transport ice to a party or store beverages and other picnic items, those coolers are not designed to survive the rugged conditions of a fishing boat or remote campsite.
The high-end Pro-Gear Elite is designed to last for years in spite of rough handling and extreme weather. By contrast, an inexpensive styrofoam or plastic cooler provides little to no protection against natural marauders like raccoons or bears. For high-level protection during camping or hunting trips, you need to consider a rugged workhorse cooler like the ProGear Elite.
The Coleman Steel’s remarkably low retail price of $76 makes it an affordable alternative to the higher-end contenders on our shortlist. Other coolers at this price level either lack the insulative power or the storage capacity of a Coleman model. While it may not be the same all-metal Coleman cooler of the past, it still retains many of the features that made the original so popular with party hosts, campers, and hunters. We would urge users to consider purchasing several of these budget-friendly coolers for larger events instead of trying to pack too many items into a single expensive cooler.
If you're looking for a beverage container, lunch box, and 38-quart cooler, the Igloo 3-Piece Cooler Combo is definitely worth considering at $32. With wheels, a handle, and the Igloo name, it's got a lot to offer. (Unfortunately, the handle isn't telescopic. Tall owners have found it particularly uncomfortable.) A number of people have been critical of the Igloo's mobility, but in spite of this, it's quite popular with consumers.
The $214 Orca 20-quart cooler delivers a performance similar to that of the YETI, although it is much smaller and also costs less. Its seamless polyethylene shell and lid are the same as the YETI, which means there are no seams that could leak. It's durable enough to use on a boat or at a remote campsite, and it has the same air-sealing gaskets as the YETI.
The YETI line of coolers has earned a reputation for toughness and exceptional ice retention, and the 65-quart YETI Tundra is certainly a worthy member of that product line. Construction is top-notch with a special process that creates a solid, one-piece box and a seamless lid. Insulation isn’t a secondary consideration, either. YETI’s proprietary PermaFrost insulation is injected under pressure, ensuring that every inch of the box’s interior is filled to capacity. Other coolers can have insulation gaps or pockets of air that create “hot spots," but not the YETI Tundra. Ice retention ratings are off the charts.
Other features that put the YETI Tundra ahead of the competition are its strong latches, heat-resistant insulation gaskets, and self-stopping hinges. The YETI is truly bear-resistant, but it's easy for humans to access when needed. The gaskets help trap cold air inside the box and prevent hot air from penetrating it, even on the hottest days. Many other coolers don't stop stop the lid from going past 90 degrees, and the stress can damage the box over time. The YETI has a self-stopping hinge that prevents the lid from opening too far and creating excessive strain.
The $399 YETI may be a significant investment up front, but it will deliver years of reliable service, even under rugged outdoor conditions. We gladly declare it to be the Best of the Best!
The YETI is a fanastic cooler, but most people aren't willing to pay quite that much for one. The 54-quart Coleman Steel-Belted Cooler, at a cost of $76, is a much more reasonable purchase, and it's a product of excellent quality. It's the Best Bang for Your Buck.
The Coleman Steel has a generous capacity, but it only weighs 21 pounds. Lots of people complain that cheap coolers are often only big enough for two people, but the Coleman Steel will accommodate provisions for an entire family. The stainless steel exterior looks outstanding, and it's tough, too. Steel handles with rubber grips provide ergonomic comfort, and the latch is normally very secure. A few owners have reported problems with the latch, but these incidents are so infrequent that we can only assume it was a problem with a particular batch.
The Coleman Steel's inside is made of polyethylene. This easy-to-clean substance helps prevent heat transfer via the cooler's metal exterior. A useful plug allows owners to easily drain excess water without needing to tip the entire box upside down. Not that you'll get a lot of melted ice in there; according to most owners, this product keeps items cold with great efficiency. It doesn't have the industrial strength of the YETI, but it's far superior to the market's plastic coolers.
The Coleman Steel isn't as cheap as some coolers available today, but it's not outlandishly expensive, either. If you're a serious outdoor enthusiast with many rough-and-tumble hunting and/or fishing outings in your future, we suggest the YETI. For most, however, we strongly recommend the Coleman Steel Cooler as the best budget deal out there.