Whether you’re headed to the beach, tailgating before your favorite sporting event, or camping in the wild, keeping your food and drinks cold is absolutely key. Thankfully, the market is packed with high-quality coolers that excel at everything from solo day trips to week-long adventures. Below we break down our favorite hard-sided coolers and ice chests for 2021, which include everything from budget-friendly Coleman models to range-topping Yetis. For more background information, see our cooler comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
Capacity: 52 qts. (49.2L)
Weight: 21 lbs.
Other sizes: None
What we like: Great price, versatile size, competitive ice retention, and easy to transport.
What we don’t: Only sold online; injection-molded construction is less premium than rotomolded designs.
The best hard-sided coolers nicely balance capacity, ice retention, portability, and price, and RTIC’s 52 Ultra-Light checks all those boxes emphatically. Starting with capacity, you get a versatile 52 quarts of storage, which easily squeezes into a trunk but still offers sufficient space for two campers headed out on a long weekend (for reference, most alternatives are either 45 or 65 qts.). As the name suggests, the 21-pound RTIC is well-made yet notably lighter and easier to carry than most similarly sized options, including Yeti’s smaller Tundra 45 (23 lbs.). Last but not least is cost: by selling direct to consumer (and consistently discounting their coolers on their own site), RTIC’s prices are significantly lower than much of the competition, with the 52 checking in a considerable $120 less than the aforementioned Tundra.
What are the downsides of buying an RTIC cooler? First is the lack of convenience: while you can see and pick up a Yeti and many other brands at your local outdoor shop, you don’t get the same luxury with RTIC. Additionally, the Ultra-Light’s injection-molded construction means it comes up a bit short in terms of ice retention and durability compared to the Tundra and other premium rotomolded options. That said, the differences aren’t as stark as the price gap would suggest, and realistically, the Ultra-Light is all most of us need for beach days, summer camping trips, and while boating. Added up, the RTIC’s combination of value and performance earns it our top billing for 2021.
See the RTIC 52 Ultra-Light
Best Premium Rotomolded Cooler
Capacity: 60.9 qts. (57.6L)
Weight: 29 lbs.
Other sizes: 28 to 329 qts.
What we like: A premium cooler in every way that should last for years and years.
What we don’t: Expensive for the capacity and heavy.
In the world of coolers, Yeti pioneered the high-end concept, and the Tundra is its best-selling and most versatile model. This popular line checks all the boxes we look for: you get premium cooling and ice-retention capabilities with a thick, rotomolded build, excellent durability, secure closures, and multiple tie-down slots to easily secure it on a boat or truck bed. Throw in Yeti’s clean styling and a nice selection of classy colorways from simple white to dark olive, and the Tundra 65 is an exceptionally well-built and good-looking option for everything for car camping to road tripping and long days on the water (provided you have a generously sized boat or raft).
The biggest downside of buying a Yeti is price. At $350 MSRP (a Yeti is a great item to get on sale), this cooler is more expensive than comparable models from brands like RTIC and ORCA. In addition, the “65” in the Tundra’s name is a bit of a misnomer: with its 2-inch-thick walls, the capacity ends up being closer to 60 quarts, and the same is true for the other Tundra sizes (they are a bit smaller than the product titles would insinuate). But if you’re set on a Yeti, we understand. You do pay a premium for the brand, but the Tundra has an excellent track record of performance and durability and lives up to the hype.
See the Yeti Tundra 65
Best Budget Cooler
Capacity: 70 qts (66.2L)
Weight: 12 lbs. 4.8 oz.
Other sizes: 50, 62, 100, 120, 150 qts.
What we like: Cheap, generously sized, and doubles down as extra seating.
What we don’t: You get what you pay for in terms of ice retention.
Coleman is nearly synonymous with car camping and offers a wide range of products at reasonable price points. In the budget cooler category, we like their 70-quart Xtreme 5 model best. For just $70 (on Amazon at the time of publishing), you get a very generous amount of interior space, Coleman’s Have-a-Seat lid that supports up to 250 pounds (we frequently use our coolers as added seating, so this is a nice touch), and four handy cup holders on top. This inexpensive cooler will far outperform Styrofoam and other cheaper models yet is decently durable, and it comes in a nice range of capacities from 50 all the way up to 150 quarts (and even the largest options still are reasonably priced).
However, there are almost always notable sacrifices when going this cheap, and the Coleman’s biggest downfall is its inability to keep ice frozen for long. Ice retention is listed at five days, but from our experience with the wheeled version, it’s more likely two or three in good conditions. We recommend pre-chilling the cooler prior to loading it up (which we detail in our buying advice below) and keeping it in the shade to help maximize performance. But considering the Coleman undercuts the rotomolded options above by a considerable $150-$250, it’s hard to be overly critical. In other words, for casual outings and shorter ones in particular, the Coleman is all many campers need and nothing they don’t. And for another budget-friendly collection, check out Igloo’s Maxcold series.
See the Coleman Xtreme 5 Cooler
Best Small Cooler for Day Trips
Capacity: 23.6 qts. (22.3L)
Weight: 12 lbs. 13 oz.
Other sizes: None
What we like: Best-in-class ice retention in an easy-to-carry package.
What we don’t: Very pricey for its diminutive size.
If the Tundra above is too much cooler for your intended use, Yeti’s Roadie is far more convenient and manageable. Ideal for day trip uses like paddling, picnics, or outdoor concerts, the 24-quart Roadie offers the build quality and impressive ice retention that Yeti is known for in a small and reasonably light (12 lbs. 8 oz.) package. Importantly, despite its diminutive size, Yeti didn’t skimp on features: you get a stout rotomolded construction, thick rubber latches that can be opened and closed with one hand, and compatibility with the brand’s Tie-Down Kit to secure on a boat or in a truck bed or trailer. All told, if most of your adventures are of the done-in-a-day variety close to your vehicle or on the water, the Yeti Roadie is a great option.
It's worth noting that the Roadie was updated last year, and we think the changes were positive. The design is now taller (it can fit standard wine bottles upright), lighter, and has more capacity, superior ice retention, and an easier-to-use strap and handle system (we did not like the old metal handle). We also appreciate the new latches, which are designed to be opened with one hand, and the updated shape means the Roadie takes up less space in your truck. All that said, while it’s hard to argue with the ice retention and ruggedness of a Yeti rotomolded build, the Roadie 24 realistically is a niche cooler with a steep price tag.
See the Yeti Roadie 24
Best Cooler with Wheels
Capacity: 45 qts. (42.6L)
Weight: 37 lbs. 3.2 oz.
Other sizes: 60, 80, 85 qts.
What we like: The wheels are second to none and this cooler can even attach to your bike.
What we don’t: Expensive and very heavy.
If you plan on covering any kind of distance from your vehicle—whether it be to your campsite, a spot along the river, or the beach—wheels can make transport a whole lot easier. And no cooler is better equipped for the job than the RovR Products RollR 45. This Boulder-based wheeled-cooler specialist offers its signature RollR in four capacities ranging from 45 to 85 quarts. On all models you get big, burly wheels that truly work over a variety of terrain, a long pull handle, and you can even attach this cooler to the back of a bike (BikR Kit attachment sold separately for $55). Throw in a premium rotomolded build with excellent ice retention and a variety of fun features like optional cup holders and a side prepping board, and this cooler is as fun and functional as anything on the market.
As you might expect from a cooler with this many bells and whistles, the RovR RollR 45 is quite expensive at $400 (a considerable $100 more than the similarly sized Yeti Tundra 45). In addition, we do like the wheeled concept for certain people and uses, but the added functionality does tack on a noticeable amount of heft and bulk. In terms of competitors, Yeti does make its popular Tundra in a 50-quart wheeled version for the same price, but it can’t match the functionality of the RovR and certainly can’t be attached to a bike. And cheaper coolers like the Coleman Xtreme below technically have wheels, but the RollR is in a class of its own.
See the RovR Products RollR 45
Best of the Rest
Capacity: 60 qts. (56.8L)
Weight: 31 lbs.
Other sizes: None
What we like: Fun features in a burly, rotomolded build.
What we don’t: Not bear-certified and doesn’t come with a basket for dry goods.
Rotomolded coolers are made out of a single piece of continuous plastic, which is great for durability but means they typically lack built-in features and mounting locations. Xspec’s 60 Quart is a notable exception, with a tough rotomolded build but a functional assortment of extras, including integrated bottle openers and a compass, an air release valve (in addition to the standard drain plug), and even a ruler for measuring the size of a fish. Tack on a price that undercuts the similarly sized Tundra 65 above by a considerable $80, and the Xspec stands out as a very well-rounded design at a great value.
In addition to the drop in price, there are a couple other noteworthy differences between the Xspec Pro and Yeti Tundra. Specifically, the Xspec isn’t certified as bear-resistant, which could be a downside for those who frequently camp in areas where bear-proof gear is required. The Xspec also lacks a dry goods basket, which can be helpful for keeping produce fresh for longer (although this is a fairly cheap item to purchase separately). Finally, some users have noted that ice melts a bit quicker than in a Yeti, but again, it’s hard to argue with the Xspec’s combination of price, features, and overall build quality.
See the Xspec Pro 60 Quart
Capacity: 65 qts. (61.5L)
Weight: 33 lbs.
Other sizes: 25, 45 qts.
What we like: Superb ice retention, sleek design, and thoughtful features.
What we don’t: Rigid handles add some bulk.
OtterBox is best known for their rugged phone cases, but they’ve taken that manufacturing expertise and created some fantastic hard-sided coolers. The Venture 65 was quick to win us over: it keeps food and drinks frosty for days on end, has a stout build that can withstand just about any type of outing, sports helpful features like class-leading, easy-to-use latches, and looks nice to boot. We also love the Venture’s functional, built-in mounting locations for accessories including cup holders, side tables, and cutting boards (for reference, it’s injection-molded rather than rotomolded). All together, we think the Venture is one of the best-designed premium ice chests on the market and a very close competitor to the Tundra 65 above.
If we had to nitpick, the Venture 65’s handles are rigid (rather than rope) and don’t fold down like much of the competition. This adds some bulk and can make the cooler a bit tough for one person to carry. Further, the massive 65-quart carrying capacity and 33-pound weight (4 lbs. heavier than the similarly sized Tundra) might seem like overkill for most occasions, but we’ve found it to be the ideal size for weekend trips with groups of two to four people. If you don’t anticipate needing all that space, OtterBox also makes this cooler in 25- and 45-quart versions that share the same overall design and features.
See the OtterBox Venture 65
Capacity: 20 qts. (18.9L)
Weight: 12 lbs. 8 oz.
Other sizes: 14, 30, 50, 70, 80, 95, 150 qts.
What we like: Lighter and cheaper than the Yeti Roadie above.
What we don’t: Also a step down in quality and performance.
For those who don’t know, Pelican is an industry leader in tough, dependable cases for storing and protecting everything from camera equipment and laptops to guns and drones. Therefore, the jump to hard-sided coolers was a logical progression. Like the venerable Yeti Roadie above, Pelican’s 20QT Elite here is a lower-capacity option for day trips like kayaking, strapping to the back of an ATV, and other short outings away from home. Stacked up against the Roadie, the Pelican is $50 cheaper (albeit with slightly less storage) but comes with functional extras like integrated cup holders, easier-to-use latches, and a more robust carry handle. We also like the unique assortment of colorways, including a handful of bright and fun three-tone options.
Why do we rank the Roadie above the Pelican? The biggest compromises are quality and performance: while the rotomolded Roadie is lauded for its impressive ice retention and undeniably top-shelf build, the injection-molded Pelican is a step down in all-out durability and cooling capabilities (ice retention is listed at an unimpressive two days, although that should be plenty given the small size). And it’s worth noting that neither the Roadie nor the Pelican has a drain plug, which can make dumping melted ice a bit of an involved process. That said, if you’re looking for a portable option for day trips, the Pelican’s compact design and reasonable price make it a competitive Yeti alternative. For personal use and those who work outside all day—including people like rescue personnel and construction workers—Pelican sells a smaller and lighter 14QT Elite for $100.
See the Pelican 20QT Elite
Capacity: 40 qts. (37.9L)
Weight: 30 lbs.
Other sizes: 20, 26, 58, 75, 140 qts.
What we like: Nice balance of price, capacity, and portability; comes in a wide selection of sizes.
What we don’t: Stiff T-handle latch.
ORCA (Outdoor Recreation Company of America) isn’t a household name like Yeti, but the Tennessee brand has gained a dedicated following of committed outdoorspeople. And their 40-quart hard-sided cooler can give other premium models a real run for their money. Its flexible side handles make carrying a breeze, and we found the exterior organizer pocket to be a nice addition for storing small items like koozies and a bottle opener. Starting at 20 quarts and going all the way up to 140, there’s an ORCA cooler for just about any activity.
What bumps the ORCA 40 down our list? To start, the Otter Box above gets the slight edge in ice retention, and the ORCA’s traditional rubber T-handle is a bit stiff and harder to latch than the Venture’s plastic system (even the Tundra’s T-handle is easier to use). Second, this cooler is only $10 cheaper than the Yeti Tundra 45, a smaller-capacity variation of our top premium rotomolded pick, so you aren’t saving much compared to a brand like RTIC. Finally, ORCA coolers aren’t as widely available online or in brick-and-mortar stores as Yeti. But if you can track one down, the ORCA is a solid all-rounder.
See the ORCA 40 Cooler
Capacity: 58 qts. (54.9L)
Weight: 24 lbs.
Other sizes: 25 to 320 qts.
What we like: Respectable ice retention and generous capacity for $70 less than the Tundra.
What we don’t: Decidedly basic design doesn’t really stand out in this competitive field.
At first glance, Engel’s 65 High Performance Cooler might not look particularly special, but this cooler has a lot going for it. First is price: at $280, it undercuts the popular Yeti Tundra 65 above by a significant $70 and doesn’t sacrifice much in the way of performance with respectable cooling capabilities (ice retention is listed at up to 10 days) thanks to two inches of closed-cell foam along the lid, sides, and bottom. Like the Yeti, the Engel also is rotomolded to maximize durability and certified as bear-resistant. Finally, we really like the Engel’s burly latch design, which utilizes stainless steel hardware and is built to last (we’ve noticed some stretching on our Yeti’s rubber T-latches after a couple years of use).
All that said, the Engel 65 High Performance Cooler falls short of the Tundra 65 and other premium rotomolded options above in overall fit and finish. Specifically, the Engel doesn’t come with a dry storage rack, and many users report minor dripping from the drain plug when closed and lower-than-advertised ice retention (again, this is fairly common). Finally, despite a decent array of available colorways, the Engel’s design is decidedly bland and lacking in personality, which is another point in Yeti’s favor. However, if you’re less concerned about looks and more about value, the Engel is a solid option at a good price. Many will also appreciate the wide range of capacities, including options from 25 quarts all the way up to 320.
See the Engel 65 High Performance Cooler
Capacity: 70 qts. (66.2L)
Weight: 34 lbs. 11 oz.
Other sizes: None
What we like: The most fully featured cooler on our list.
What we don’t: Middling ice retention and less premium than the RovR RollR above.
Igloo’s Trailmate Journey is the cooler equivalent of an all-terrain vehicle: the oversized (10 in.) wheels have deep tread to plow through sand, grass, and other soft surfaces, and the burly plastic and metal construction is built to withstand the rigors of regular outdoor use. Throw in a host of fun and well-executed extras including four cup holders, a mesh storage pocket, integrated bottle openers, a “butler” tray for storage and food prep, and even a built-in phone stand, and you get the most fully featured cooler on our list. We also love the legs and telescoping handle, which make toting easy and keep the bottom of the cooler protected and clean.
No cooler is perfect, however, and we do have some sizable concerns with the Igloo Trailmate. First is the fairly middling four-day ice retention (remember, coolers rarely live up to these claims), which falls well short of the RovR RollR above (10 days). Additionally, the substantial build and sheer number of features add a decent amount of bulk and weight. And not everyone will like the utilitarian looks and styling, which are a far cry from streamlined, sleek models from Yeti, OtterBox, and other brands above. Finally, a number of users have reported premature durability issues, including stuck glide handles, broken hinges, and subpar components. But at $280 for a massive 70 quarts of capacity, the Igloo is a good value and backed by a 1-year warranty should you encounter any problems with workmanship.
See the Igloo Trailmate Journey
Capacity: 80 qts. (75.7L)
Weight: 49 lbs. 8 oz.
Other sizes: 45 qts.
What we like: A bombproof wheeled cooler from a brand that knows a lot about rugged gear.
What we don’t: Very heavy, bulky, and expensive.
On the heels of the Igloo Trailmate Journey above is the crème de la crème of wheeled coolers: Pelican’s 80QT Elite. Right off the bat, we’ll address the astronomical price: at $515, this cooler is the most expensive unit here by a sizable margin and has limited appeal for the average outdoors-goer. That said, for targeted uses like hunting, fishing, and other activities that warrant the massive capacity, it’s a true standout. The Pelican boasts heavy-duty wheels, glove-friendly latches, and an extendable handle for easy hauling and handling, as well as a freezer-grade seal and two inches of foam insulation to maximize freshness. You even get an integrated fish scale and garden hose-compatible drain plug to make cleaning a breeze. Tack on a lifetime warranty (for reference, Yeti’s warranty for their Tundra series is five years), and there’s a lot to like with the burly 80QT.
Pelican designs many of its products for agencies like the military and law enforcement, and this tactical styling is readily apparent in its cooler line. In other words, if you’re looking for a sleek and streamlined unit, this isn’t it. The handles are bulky and rigid, the color options are relatively subdued, and the cooler itself is hefty at over 49 pounds before food, drinks, and ice. But again, most people who buy this cooler aren’t overly concerned with looks and simply want a large, beefy, and functional option for safely transporting game or fish. If that’s your end use, the 80QT Elite should be on your short list.
See the Pelican 80QT Elite Wheeled
Capacity: 25 qts. (23.7L)
Weight: 10 lbs. 5.4 oz.
Other sizes: 52, 72 qts.
What we like: Significantly cheaper than the Roadie 24 and built to last.
What we don’t: Middling ice retention.
Joining the ranks of Yeti’s Roadie 24 and Pelican’s 20QT Elite above, Igloo’s BMX 25 is another lower-capacity option for day trips. The biggest selling point here is price: at just $80, the BMX undercuts the Roadie by a whopping $120 and the Pelican by nearly half, which is excellent news for those on a budget. Igloo didn’t skimp on features either, with a triple-point grab handle that boasts rubber on the bottom for easy gripping, a stainless steel kick plate to boost protection, and—similar to the Xspec 60 Pro above—a molded ruler on the lid for measuring the size of a fish. All in all, the Igloo is well-appointed, built to last, and an enticing value.
That said, it’s still important to set reasonable expectations at this price point. As we saw with budget models like the Coleman Xtreme above, the Igloo’s ice retention is a considerable step down from high-end options from Yeti, RTIC, ORCA, and others (Igloo lists it at four days, which seems like a stretch). Some users also report leaking around the lid due to the lack of rubber seal, which likely has an impact on those cooling capabilities. To be fair, the BMX is a sizable improvement performance-wise from many ultra-cheap plastic models on the market, but if you want more than a day or two of ice retention, we recommend spending up for the Pelican 20QT Elite or Yeti Roadie 24 above.
See the Igloo BMX 25
Capacity: 62 qts. (58.7L)
Weight: 13 lbs. 8 oz.
Other sizes: 50 to 150 qts.
What we like: A wallet-friendly, hard-sided cooler with wheels.
What we don’t: Limited ice retention and cheap build won’t stand up to regular abuse.
For around $50, the 62-quart Coleman Xtreme 5 is another standout in the value category, and this time with wheels. In the same family as our top budget pick, this basic cooler certainly is a far cry from the RovR RollR, Igloo Trailmate, and Pelican 80QT Elite above, but the functionality is decent for the price. The simple plastic wheels and tow handle make transporting the cooler over smooth surfaces relatively easy, the hard-sided build provides modest insulation for day or short overnight getaways, and the integrated cup holders atop the lid are convenient for storing drinks. All told, like the non-wheeled Xtreme 5 above, this Coleman cooler should meet the needs of many recreational campers, concert-goers, and tailgaters without breaking the bank.
That said, as with any budget product, the Xtreme 5 Wheeled cooler makes a number of sacrifices to cut costs. First, the cooler is far less durable than premium hard-sided models (when testing them together, the cheap and lightweight materials were very noticeable). We also had trouble keeping the lid open while loading and unloading the cooler, which made the process fairly painstaking, and the wheels are limited even on marginally bumpy paths. Finally, as we touched on above, we’ve found Coleman’s five-day ice retention claim to be overly optimistic (in practice, it’s been much shorter for us). But again, it’s hard to knock the bargain-basement price of the Xtreme 5 Wheeled, which represents another strong value from Coleman.
See the Coleman 62 Quart Xtreme 5
|RTIC 52 Ultra-Light||$180||Injection-molded||52 qts. (49.2L)||21 lbs.||None||10 days|
|Yeti Tundra 65||$350||Rotomolded||60.9 qts. (57.6L)||29 lbs.||28-329 qts.||Unavail.|
|Coleman Xtreme 5||$70||Plastic||70 qts. (66.2L)||12 lbs. 5 oz.||50-150 qts.||5 days|
|Yeti Roadie 24||$200||Rotomolded||23.6 qts. (22.3L)||12 lbs. 13 oz.||None||Unavail.|
|RovR Products RollR||$400||Rotomolded||45 qts. (42.6L)||37 lbs. 3 oz.||60, 80, 85 qts.||10 days|
|Xspec Pro 60 Quart||$270||Rotomolded||60 qts. (56.8L)||31 lbs.||None||Unavail.|
|OtterBox Venture 65||$325||Injection-molded||65 qts. (61.5L)||33 lbs.||25, 45 qts.||16 days|
|Pelican 20QT Elite||$150||Injection-molded||20 qts. (18.9L)||12 lbs. 8 oz.||14-150 qts.||2 days|
|ORCA 40||$290||Rotomolded||40 qts. (37.9L)||30 lbs.||20-140 qts.||10 days|
|Engel 65 Cooler||$280||Rotomolded||58 qts. (54.9L)||24 lbs.||25-320 qts.||10 days|
|Igloo Trailmate||$280||Injection-molded||70 qts. (66.2L)||34 lbs. 11 oz.||None||4 days|
|Pelican 80QT Elite||$515||Injection-molded||80 qts. (75.7L)||49 lbs. 8 oz.||45 qts.||10 days|
|Igloo BMX 25||$80||Blow-molded||25 qts. (23.7L)||10 lbs. 5.4 oz.||52, 72 qts.||4 days|
|Coleman Xtreme 5||$56||Plastic||62 qts. (58.7L)||13 lbs. 8 oz.||50 - 150 qts.||5 days|
*Editor's note: This number represents claimed ice retention. In real-world use and depending on the specific circumstances, we've found these times to be quite a bit lower. More in our "Ice Retention and Cooling Capabilities" below.
- Cooler Construction: Rotomolding vs. Injection Molding
- Cooler Sizes (Capacities)
- Ice Retention and Cooling Capabilities
- Weight and Portability
- Wheeled (Rolling) Coolers
- Are Expensive Coolers Worth It?
- Cooler Latch and Closure Systems
- Bear-Resistant Ratings
- Cooler Drain Systems
- Accessories and Add-Ons
- Ice Types: Crushed, Blocks, Packs, or Dry
- Cooler Warranties
- What About Soft-Sided Coolers?
Construction techniques for premium hard-sided coolers fall into two types: rotational molding (rotomolding) and injection molding. Starting with rotomolding, this process was popularized by Yeti (although they technically weren’t the first to make a cooler in this way) and currently dominates the high end of the market. These types of coolers are made out of a single piece of continuous plastic that is rotated until it forms the desired shape. The advantages are fewer stress points and a consistently thick outer shell, which translates to exceptional durability. Primary disadvantages are cost and weight.
What about injection molding? These coolers are simply made by inserting hot plastic into a defined mold, given time to cool, and then removed. The process is simpler and cheaper than rotomolding and allows for greater precision because of the molded shapes. But they’re made with multiple pieces—unlike the single, uninterrupted form with rotomolding—which can lead to a drop in durability. That being said, a high-end build like OtterBox’s Venture stacks up favorably to top rotomolded coolers in overall toughness, and its injection-molded build allows for various mounting locations for accessories like tables, fishing rod holders, and dryboxes (something you don't typically get with rotomolding).
Before we jump in, there are a few considerations to note regarding sizing. Most importantly, not all coolers measure interior capacity in the same way. Some use cans as a unit of measure, while others use liters, quarts, or gallons. That said, quarts are what the majority of manufacturers list, and we’ve utilized that form of measurement throughout this article (when available). And a final note: don’t be misled by the number in a product’s name. The Yeti Tundra 65, for example, only boasts around a 60-quart capacity once you account for its thick walls.
Small: 10-35 Quarts
If you most often travel solo or prioritize portability, a small cooler could be a good match. At the low end of the capacity range, expect to fit a small amount of ice, a few drinks, and a meal, while 35-quart coolers should hold enough for one or two days. It’s worth pointing out that even a 30-plus-quart design will be stretching it for multiple people over a weekend once you properly fill it with ice, so these coolers lack the versatility of the sizes below. Among our favorites in this category, the Yeti Roadie 24 balances a burly yet compact build (16.5 in. long and 17.5 in. tall) that is sized right for throwing on a backseat or strapping to an ATV or stand-up paddleboard.
Medium: 35-55 Quarts
Stepping up to the 35- to 55-quart range gets you an all-purpose model: these coolers are compact enough to squeeze into a loaded car trunk or truck bed, can typically be carried by one person, and don’t take up too much space on a boat or raft. In our testing, we found that 35-, 40-, or 45-quart coolers sufficed for groups of one to two for a couple days. If your party exceeds that, it’s worth bumping the capacity up to 55 quarts or higher for the same time frame. And if you plan to go on an extended outing or are traveling with a large group, you’ll want to check out the larger sizes below.
Large: 55-75 Quarts
As we touched on above, if you’re headed out with two or more people over multiple days, it’s worth packing a large cooler. It’s true that you’ll likely need a second person to help transport it to and from the car, but the upside is enough space to utilize a proper 2:1 ice-to-food ratio to maximize performance (we cover this in more detail below). In the 55- to 75-quart range, we like Yeti’s Tundra 65 best: it has a great mix of storage capacity, ice retention, and features that should meet the needs of most small groups on extended weekends or larger families on overnight trips. But at more than 30 inches long and 16 inches high, it does take up a fair amount of space in a trunk or pickup bed.
Extra-Large: 75+ Quarts
Coolers in the 75-quart-and-larger range are typically reserved for the committed outdoorsperson. While undoubtedly expensive, extremely bulky, and heavy (the Pelican 80QT Elite is nearly 50 lbs. and a whopping $515), these extra-large models have their place for big groups and certain activities, such as fishing and hunting. On the smaller end of the spectrum, 75- to 85-quart hard-sided coolers are ideal for weekend adventures for groups of around four or five, or longer trips with fewer people.
One of the trickiest things to nail down in researching coolers is ice retention. First and foremost, external factors play a huge role here. Air temperature has a big impact, as does direct sun, and the amount of ice you use is another important factor (most brands recommend a 2:1 ice-to-food ratio). It also matters how often you open the lid, thereby allowing cold air out and warm air in. For maximum performance, you can pre-chill your cooler prior to loading it up. This involves filling the interior with ice for at least a few hours to bring its interior temperature down. When you’re ready to hit the road, swap in some fresh ice at that optimal ratio along with your drinks and food. On the flipside, if you leave your cooler sitting out in the sun before loading it up, you can expect it to be pre-warmed like an oven and not nearly as effective.
Most cooler manufacturers provide a “claimed ice retention” spec in their product listings (Yeti is one major brand who does not). A quick look at the table above shows that the times range from a whopping 16 days for the heavy-duty OtterBox Venture to just two days for Pelican's 20QT Elite. That said, we always take manufacturer-provided specs with a grain of salt, and there isn’t an established, standardized test here. In practice, most of the claimed ice retention times feel quite inflated to us, perhaps due to extremely favorable testing conditions (storing the cooler inside with the lid closed in cool temperatures, for example). If we had to generalize it, we would say that you should expect to get approximately half of the claimed ice retention time in real-world use, give or take depending on your specific circumstances.
If you are looking for maximum cooling power, premium rotomolded coolers from brands like Yeti, RTIC, and ORCA are the clear leaders in keeping ice cold for long stretches. You definitely pay for the privilege, but you can expect multiple days of cold temperatures and solid ice in your cooler with these high-end offerings, and that time goes down as you move toward cheaper hard-sided coolers and soft-sided designs (we cover the latter in more detail below). If you need ice for extended periods (we’re thinking of you, rafters and multi-day campers), the cost is worth it. But for those on day trips or shorter overnight outings with access to new ice, an inexpensive cooler like the Coleman Xtreme is a fine option.
For those who plan to carry or move their cooler with any regularity, weight should be an important consideration. Even when empty, hard-sided options weigh anywhere from 10-15 pounds for low-capacity models up to 50+ pounds for premium designs with 75+ quarts of storage. Once loaded down with ice, food, and beverages, that number skyrockets. And despite including carry handles (many are rope while others like the OtterBox Venture are molded plastic), they're simply too hefty to travel with for long distances. If portability is a priority, we recommend looking at options with wheels, such as RovR’s RollR 45 or Igloo’s Trailmate Journey. Although these units still are decidedly hefty (the RovR is around 37 lbs. while the Igloo is just under 35), the wheels make them much easier and less cumbersome to transport for extended periods, even just for one person.
As we prefaced above, if your cooler must-haves include easy mobility, large capacity, and maximum ice retention, it's best to consider a rolling hard-sided model. From our picks above, the RovR Products RollR 45, Igloo Trailmate Journey, Pelican 80QT Elite, and Coleman Xtreme have rear wheels and tow handles, and Yeti’s Tundra series also includes the wheel-equipped Haul. Downsides are even more weight (the RovR and Igloo weigh around 35 lbs.), bulk, and cost. Additionally, these wheeled beasts still struggle over rough terrain and may require carrying if you don't have a defined path to follow. But for camping, days at the beach, or even tailgating, a rolling cooler can be a solid choice.
Over half of the coolers on our list cost $200 or more, which goes to show how pricey these units can be. But in our opinion, the cost is fairly easy to justify. Hard-sided coolers from Yeti, OtterBox, ORCA, and others are able to keep ice frozen for significantly longer than budget options from companies like Coleman or Igloo. And while bags of ice come relatively cheap, it can be a real pain to have to drain your cooler and replace the ice on a daily basis (not to mention having to travel and purchase more of it). Another benefit of high-end hard-sided units is durability—the difference in quality is immediately apparent and some of the best out there are truly meant to last a lifetime. All that said, if you just need a reliable cooler for days at the beach or packing a lunch on the road, it’s probably a good idea to save your cash. But if you consistently head outside for days at a time, the investment is well worth it.
A final factor when considering a high-end cooler is longevity. Simply put, coolers are unlike most other categories of outdoor gear that may last for just for a couple seasons before needing to be replaced. We have a family member who purchased an original Yeti Tundra back when the line first hit the market in 2008, and the cooler is basically like new today (he had to replace one rubber latch after more than 10 years of use, but that’s it). This means that when you’re making the calculation of whether spending $300 or $400 on a cooler is worth it, you are getting a product that literally should last for decades. That said, if you don’t need multi-day ice retention, even a cheaper hard-sided cooler should be around for many years as well.
A cooler’s latch or closure system is one of the defining characteristics of a premium model and plays a significant role in overall cooling performance. Among high-end hard-sided coolers, you’ll commonly find two rubber T-handles along the front that keep the lid locked securely in place. These handles are fairly user-friendly, extremely strong, and minimize any openings for cold air to escape. We also like the OtterBox Venture’s cam-style latches for their ease of use while also providing an excellent seal. Budget-oriented models like the Coleman Xtreme forgo latches completely and rely on a good fit between the lid and cooler body. This results in reduced insulating performance and means you need to keep a close eye on the lid to make sure it doesn’t pop loose or fall off in transport.
Many of the top hard-sided coolers are listed as bear-resistant, which is a worthwhile consideration should you be camping in bear country. Specifically, you should look for an IGBC (Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee) rating, which designates that a certain cooler has gone through the appropriate testing and been deemed compliant with the organization’s regulations. However, not all coolers listed as bear-resistant carry this certification—you can see a full list of certified coolers here. If you frequent the backcountry or will be traveling where bear-proof gear is required, make sure your cooler is on the list.
Most of the hard-sided coolers on our list have drainage systems to help you empty out water once your ice has melted. Typically, this comes in the form of a screw-on or pop-off cap at the base of the cooler—simply take it off and let the water pour out. OtterBox’s Venture 65 even has a slanted interior that does most of the work for you. Many others include similar drainage channels that funnel water through the opening. Yeti’s Roadie 24 and Pelican’s 20QT Elite are two notable exceptions that don’t come with drain plugs, which can make dumping out extra water a bit of a hassle. However, given these coolers’ smaller capacities, most users will be restocking the contents frequently anyways.
There are a number of useful add-ons and aftermarket accessories available for many coolers. For example, food baskets can be a great way to store fruit and other fragile items, dividers are handy for cordoning off various meals, and external attachments like cup holders and side tables can significantly increase storage and prep space. Most well-known brands sell these accessories directly on their website, although they can substantially increase overall cost. Two of our favorite unique add-ons are Yeti’s fishing rod attachment and OtterBox’s side table that includes a cutting board/food prep surface and three cup holders.
As committed cooler enthusiasts know, the type of ice you use heavily impacts how much you’re able to store and how long it stays cold. Crushed ice is the most readily available—you can find it at most gas stations and supermarkets for fairly cheap. The major draw is that it easily fills the gaps between your food and beverages, cooling them quickly and efficiently. However, crushed ice is also the fastest to melt and you’ll likely need to replace it fairly frequently. Blocks of ice, on the other hand, take much longer to melt than crushed ice. However, blocks are bulky and take up a lot of space in the cooler since they don’t conform around your food and cans. If we have enough space, our preferred method is to use both block and crushed ice together, and Yeti has more great tips here.
If you’re worried about re-stocking, ice packs are a viable alternative. Most major brands have their own designs that work well in their coolers, and the best part is that you can use them repeatedly without ever having to drain melted ice. That said, ice packs are fairly expensive (Yeti’s range from $15 to $30 depending on size) and require refreezing once they lose their coldness, which limits practicality for longer trips.
A final option to consider is dry ice. Since dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide, it passes directly from a solid to a gaseous state, meaning no water to deal with as it melts. However, dry ice can be dangerous to touch (you have to wear heavy gloves to prevent frostbite), doesn’t last long, and many coolers aren’t even rated to handle it. All told, it might take some finessing to perfect your ice strategy, but we think a combination of crushed and blocks is the best (and safest) method.
Coolers are undoubtedly expensive, but having a generous warranty can help ease some of the buying anxiety. And a look at the market reveals a surprisingly wide range of available manufacturer guarantees. At the top end is ORCA, which offers a lifetime warranty that cover defects, while most others range from one to 10 years. It’s also important to point out that some companies provide different warranties for their hard-sided versus soft-sided offerings. For example, Yeti covers its Tundra series with a five-year warranty, while their soft-sided Hopper is only covered for three.
Speaking of soft-sided coolers: we exclusively cover hard-sided units above, but if need a simple and portable option for road trips or day use, a soft-sided design can be a viable alternative. Soft-sided models don’t offer the same ice retention as hard-sided coolers—typically ranging from two to four days—but typically weigh around 5 pounds or less, are more portable and often collapsible, and come in much cheaper. Some also boast padded, backpack-style straps and exterior storage for easily shuttling longer distances. However, in addition to less ice retention, soft-sided coolers are inherently less durable than hard-sided options and often are only offered in smaller capacities. Some of our favorite designs include the REI Co-op Cool Haul 12, AO Coolers 24 Pack Canvas, and Hydro Flask Day Escape.
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