Though rudimentary cold storage vessels for prolonging the shelf-life of perishable goods and foods have existed for centuries, it wasn’t until February of 1951 that the first portable ice chest was patented in the United States. In the subsequent seven decades, these portable offerings — which we know today simply as the “cooler” — have hugely evolved, with advancements in insulation and construction techniques giving way to a host of increasingly efficient, mobile, rugged, and lightweight models.
Because outdoor coolers are designed and engineered with different applications in mind, today’s market encompasses an enormous variety of models, massively varying in not only size and type, but also in overall quality and efficiency. And with the dog days of summer now fully upon us, there’s no better time to invest in a proper outdoor cooler. So, to help you sort through the sea of mediocre coolers, and shine a light on the creme of the cooler crop, we’ve compiled this list guide to the best coolers currently on the market.
Quantifying A Cooler's Quality
The Six Main Areas To Consider When Shopping For A Modern Cooler
Because all coolers perform the same basic function, it can be tricky distinguishing the different models or understanding the justification behind some of the higher MSRPs attached to many of today’s more top-shelf coolers. To help give you an idea of what to look for, we’ve put together this guide on the qualities to hone in on when buying a cooler.
Soft Versus Hard-Sided: Though there are hybrid products, the two most common types of coolers and hard and soft-sided. Both styles have their own unique strengths and weaknesses, with hard coolers typically boasting more rugged and robust construction and often more efficient insulation than their soft-sided counterparts. Soft-sided coolers have the benefit of being lighter, and thus more travel friendly. Plus, the aforementioned advancements in insulation have allowed for several soft-sided models that can rival hard-sided coolers in terms of prolonged temperature regulation.
Intended Application: Your hunt for a new cooler should start with considering how you plan on using the thing. A jumbo-sized rolling hard cooler might be a great choice for tailgating, though will obviously be less-than-conducive to hike-in camping applications. Your intended use should help to narrow down your search and figure out which style works best for your situation.
Materials & Construction: This area determines overall durability. Common constructions utilized for hard coolers are plastics and polymers, while many soft-sided items are comprised of high-denier nylons — both varieties of which often sport TPU and polyurea-coatings. In terms of construction, many of the best hard-coolers are manufactured using rotational molding (or “roto-molding” as it’s often referred to), while high-end soft-sided units can often be found with welded-seams and outfitted with full membranes or liners. Clasps, hardware, zippers, and other closures are also of importance, as the more high-end offerings tend to be equipped with more premium parts such as water and leakproof zippers and Duraflex hardware, to name a few.
Insulation & Cooling Properties: Coupled with a cooler’s outside shell material and liner/membrane, the insulation is the factor that determines a given model’s thermal retention properties. High-density closed-cell foam is fairly common amongst modern coolers, though there are also numerous proprietary types such as YETI’s PERMAFROST and COLDCELL insulations. And, whether or not you fully comprehend what these materials mean, the lion’s share of coolers will typically advertise how long they can realistically remain cold while out in the field.
Physical Dimensions & Storage Space: This one circles back to the intended use, as that’s the area that should be determining what size of cooler you should be getting. It is important to note that external dimensions don’t necessarily reflect internal storage space, as well as the fact that pretty much all coolers require a cooling element (such as ice) in order to operate, and said element takes up some of the available space. To give you a better sense, most companies will advertise internal restate (usually in liters), as well as how many cans it can hold.
Mobility & Weight: The contents inside of coolers — liquid and food typically — can add up quickly, and be extremely heavy. For this reason, it’s important to minimize the weight of the cooler itself. Fortunately, modern materials and construction have allowed for some impressively lightweight models. The general rule is that if you can’t comfortably carry a cooler (when full), then you’re going to want to opt for a rolling cooler equipped with wheels. Additionally, there are also backpack- and sling-style coolers that make transportation easier and free up the use of both of your hands. This is also an area in which intended use once again comes to the surface.
Igloo Recool 16QT Cooler
An unusual alternative to regular cooler models, Igloo’s ReCOOL cooler is a minimalistic take on the common vessel, as well as the world’s first-ever cooler made entirely from biodegradable materials. Made in the USA and measuring 15” x 11” x 11.38”, the cooler is fully reusable. The cooler’s 16-quart capacity is good for accommodating 20 (12oz) cans, too. The design incorporates grab handles into the top of the cooler for easier mobility, while the removable lid contains a number of integrated cup holders. And, while the ReCOOL obviously lacks the durability and structural integrity of its more expensive traditional counterparts, it presents a much more environmentally-friendly option. Furthermore, it only costs a fraction of what regular coolers go for, and is plenty sufficient if you’re only spending a few hours at the beach or in the backyard.
Pelican CSLING Dayventure Sling Cooler
Built with the same rugged construction and hardwearing qualities that Pelican is known for, the CSLNG Dayventure cooler provides a highly-mobile means of schlepping around a twelve-pack of your favorite beer (or whatever other canned beverages), or four (750ml) bottles of wine, with room leftover for ice. This sling-style item’s water-resistant tear-proof shell is made from a TPU-coated 840D nylon that’s been paired with high-density closed-cell foam inner walls, and a wide-mouth opening that’s secured via leak-resistant zippers with a waterproof seal. A compression-molded base and reinforced structure enable the cooler to stand up on its own, and there’s a supplementary leak-resistant-zippered external pocket for additional dry storage. Designed to be compatible with Pelican’s PI icepacks, the cooler also features a removable padded shoulder strap and a reinforced rubberized carrying handle. The CSLING Dayventure is sold in light gray or coyote tan, both of which sport color-matched and stitched zipper pulls.
Maluna Unhinged Combat 22 Cooler
Born out of a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign in 2018 and created by a thermodynamics expert, the Maluna Unhinged Combat 22 is an extremely-rugged cooler designed to handle just about anything you can throw at it. What separates the UC 22 from other hardwearing roto-molded models on the market is the Maluna’s unique patented “Unhinged” lid seal and closure design, which affords it ice retention that’s almost a quarter-more efficient than some of today’s other leading roto-molded coolers. And, considering its immense quality, this cooler’s accessible price is definitely another area that further distinguishes it from other high-end hard-sided models. Proving its incredible performance was a testing process that included the UC 22 standing up to a whopping 100 hours in a 100° F thermal chamber, while still having its internal contents remain chilled. Making this already-impressive cooler all the more attractive is the fact that a portion of the proceeds from its sales benefits veteran-focused organizations and charities, plus it’s backed up by a lifetime manufacturer’s guarantee.
Hydro Flask Unbound Series 22L Soft Cooler Pack
Allowing for an easy hands-free means of hauling 22-liters of thoroughly-chilled real estate, Hydro Flask’s Unbound Series soft cooler backpack is the lightest rugged cooler in its class. Built around a 420D nylon shell and boasting welded seams throughout, the cooler pack uses smart insulation with thicker sections at the base, which is where thermal loss is most prone to occur. As a consequence, this backpack-style cooler can keep its contents nice and frosty for up to 48 hours. Fitted with a YKK AQUASEAL zipper, the cooler’s wide-mouth hinged top allows for convenient access to its contents and makes for easy cleaning, as well. The bag is also self-supporting thanks to a compression-molded base, plus there’s welded seams throughout and an FDA food-grade, BPA-free liner. Sold with a five-year warranty, other noteworthy details on the cooler include a pair of welded nylon tie-down points, an additional dry storage top pocket, supplementary side pockets, padded shoulder straps and woven sternum straps, a mesh back panel, and a stretch mesh pocket for housing one of Hydro Flask’s vacuum insulated water bottles.
YETI Roadie 24 Cooler
For its Roadie 24 Hard Cooler, YETI has taken one of its best-selling models and treated it to a thorough update that’s yielded a cooler with 20% more storage space and 30% better thermal retention, all while weighing in at 10% less than its predecessor. The cooler features roto-molded construction and YETI’s proprietary PERMAFROST insulation. The lid is secured via a heavy-duty QuickLatch system that can easily be operated with one hand, while a padded handle and sling make this full-size cooler less of a chore to transport. Standing at 17.5”, the Roadie 24 boasts an internal ceiling of 13” allowing the lion’s share of standard (750ml) wine bottles to fit inside. Tipping the scales at just under 13lbs when empty, the cooler is made to house 18 canned beverages (when using a 2:1 ice-to-can ratio). YETI also lets sports fans order this cooler from their website, decorated in a variety of collegiate and MLB team logos.
Rugged Road Outdoors Onitis 45 Cooler
Made in America, this cooler takes its name from the Onitis beetle, which is capable of carrying 1,100-times its own body weight. This is fitting considering the cooler is capable of supporting more than 150-fold its own weight. Weighing only eight pounds when empty, the ONITIS 45 is capable of floating in water, even when loaded with food or drinks. Measuring 16” x 23.5” x 17/25”, the cooler can house 12 gallons of water, 55lbs of ice, or 60 can or 40 bottles of your favorite drink. The cooler’s light weight is made possible through a patented design that calls on a lightweight core that’s molded extremely densely. The cooler is also outfitted with mirroring foam grips and a quick-release harness system comprised of heavy-duty nylon webbing linked to five mil-spec buckles. In addition to gunmetal grey (seen here), the cooler is also sold in beige, coral, seam foam, and black with a red top, too.
YETI Hopper Flip 12 Soft Cooler
When it comes to modern soft-sided coolers, very few models can compare with YETI’s Hopper Flip 12. Another updated take on an already-incredible cooler, the Hopper Flip 12 is an updated iteration of the brand’s personal-sized soft-sided cooler. Sold in five colors, the cooler features YETI’s waterproof and mildew, UV, and puncture-resistant DRYHIDE shell, which is equipped with MOLLE webbing and mated to an FDA-approved food-grade liner. Stellar thermal retention is afforded by the company’s COLDCEll (closed-cell) rubber foam insulation, and the soft cooler’s wide-mouth opening is paired with YETI’s HYDROLOK zipper, which is reportedly the “toughest, highest-performing waterproof and leakproof cooler zipper in the world.” Considering its 3.1lb weight, this cooler offers amazing cooling properties and blows regular lunchbox-style soft-coolers out of the water. And, despite its somewhat meager size — measuring 8” x 9” x 11” internally — the Hopper 12 can still house 13 cans of beer (again, when using a 2:1 ice-to-can ratio).
Otter Box Trooper LT 30 Cooler
Despite being better-known for its ultra-hardwearing smartphone cases, Otter Box also makes some top-notch — and equally-rugged — coolers, very much including the Trooper LT 30 soft cooler. Capable of being carried as a backpack via the shoulder straps or briefcase-style using the cooler’s two-inch-wide carrying strap, this cooler boasts a rugged TPU-coated nylon exterior. Premium-grade thermal insulation allows the Trooper to keep ice frozen for 72 hours, while leakproof seals and a food-grade liner ensure that when ice does finally melt, it won’t become a leaky puddle of a mess. Backed by OtterBox’s lifetime warranty, this IP65-rated cooler is also fitted with a heavy-duty, abrasion, and puncture-resistant base, and a Duraflex-made external accessory mounting system and hardware. Available in five color combo options, Otter Box’s Trooper cooler is also sold in 12 and 20-quart sizes. And, as an added bonus, the cooler is also sold with an included bottle-opener, multitool, carabiner accessory.
RTIC Ice Chest Hard Cooler
Good for storing a cool 36 cans — as well as enough ice to keep all three-dozen cans nice and frosty for up to ten days (as in 240 hours!) — this cooler offers absolutely incredible thermal retention, partially due to its clever use of a freezer-style lid gasket. Boasting roto-molded construction, this hard cooler also sports an integrated locking system and heavy-duty rubber t-latches that together allow it to be bear-resistant. Furthermore, heavy-duty rope handles make for easy carrying and fold down and out of the way when not in use, while this RTIC cooler’s molded tie-down slots make it a breeze to cinch the cooler down onto a roof rack or canoe. The base is also reinforced via heavy-duty non-slip feet at all four corners, and the lid has been bestowed with enough traction that it can actually double as a casting platform. Lastly, the cooler — which is also sold in 20, 65, 110, and 145-quart sizes – is fitted with a quick-draining Rapid V-Drain system for ultra-fast and easy emptying/cleaning.
Rovr Products ROLLR 60
While large hard-sided coolers can offer you and your party days of chilled drinks and perishables while off-the-grid, most of them, unfortunately, lack the mobility to easily get them to remote locales, especially when traveling on foot. Rovr Products ROLLR hard cooler was dreamed up to offer a solution to this issue, equipping the standard top-shelf roto-molded cooler with rugged off-road-friendly aluminum wheels with sealed bearings that linked via a 12.5mm stainless steel axle, are wrapped in 9” all-terrain tires, and a massive aluminum handle with padded “motocross-style” grips for easy-pulling, even on over fairly rough terrain. Certified grizzly bear-resistant, the ROLLR packs a host of attachment points for add-ons and accessories like cutting-boards, rod and umbrella holders, and storage boxes. Capable of storing 60 cans and 20lbs of ice — or 40 cans and 10lbs of ice in the main compartment with plenty of room left over for meats, cheeses, fruits, veggies, or bread in the dry compartments — the ROLLR will keep ice frozen sold for ten days.
SpeedBox Endurance-40 Military Grade Cooler
Utilized by military forces including the Navy’s EOD, the National Guard, and Air Force Pararescue Jumpers, and Army Special Forces, this legitimately military-grade cooler is roto-molded from an advanced polymer that’s incredibly strong yet lightweight. Riding on no-flat off-road tires, this cooler packs an impressive 300lb capacity, multiple lifting points, and was designed to fit on standard shipping pallets. The Endurance-40 also features parachute rigging slots along its heavy-duty hinged lid, which is fortified via a cam-latched lid and a set of aluminum lock plates. This cooler can also have multiple units neatly stacked atop each other, and because of its ultra-rugged construction, it has no problem doubling as a table, platform, or bench. Like the ROLLR, the Endurance-40 is outfitted with a long padded handle that neatly folds down and out of the way when the cooler isn’t being towed.
YETI V Series Hard Cooler
Vacuum-insulated items have become the standard in the water bottle industry over the last few years, prized for their ability to keep hot drinks hot or cold drinks cold for extended periods of time with tremendous efficiency while coming in at relatively minimal weights. Recognizing the obvious merits of this style of construction, in late 2019 YETI applied it to coolers, resulting in the V Series. Vacuum-insulated on every side — including the lid, which is mated to the body via cast aluminum hinges — this cooler is made from kitchen-grade stainless steel. The V Series hard cooler can carry 46 cans (plus the adequate ice when using a 2:1 ice-to-can ratio) and can be emptied through its deep-seal drain-plug. Camping, Overlanding, tailgating, fishing you name it, the V Series is up to the task. And while the price may admittedly seem a bit steep, the overall fit and finish on this cooler is seriously next level, with an absolutely beautiful industrial design, and numerous premium details found throughout.
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