YETI vs. RTIC: Which Cooler Is Better?

Oct 20, 2020

Category: Gear

The gear industry is something that’s seemingly always in flux. Though, sometimes, there are brands that tend to dominate a specific category therein — which, occasionally, can keep them at the top of the heap for decades. But, thanks to the very nature of the free market, contenders are always welcome to try their hand at toppling those dominant brands with similar products that either perform better, have a more desirable appearance, cost less, or some combination therein.

Today, we’re hoping to compare one of the aforementioned top-name brands with their chief competitor — pitting their primary offerings, technologies, cost associations, and more in a head-to-head battle. In this case, it’s two brands in the adventure cooler space: YETI and RTIC. Both somewhat household names, at least in the outdoor gear industry, these cooler-making giants are extremely similar in some ways and vary wildly in others. But we’re hoping the following guide will give you a better education on what each brand has to offer, which will enable you to make the right decision the next time you need to purchase an adventure cooler or another associated piece of gear. This is our YETI vs. RTIC product showdown.

Photo: YETI

Brand Histories

The Birth & Evolution of YETI & RTIC

YETI: Founded in 2006 by brothers Roy and Ryan Seiders out of Texas, YETI was built upon a single guiding principle — to design and build the ultimate everyday cooler. Of course, that end-goal also paired with a lifetime of experience in the great outdoors — especially in the fishing and boating industries — and an outlook that favored personal experience and perfectionism over marketing schemes and mass production. Over the course of the next 14 years, the brand focused primarily on their collection of hard- and soft-sided coolers, becoming a veritable household name in the cooler industry and acquiring a massive following, but has since expanded into numerous other categories including bags, drinkware, and even a suite of dog-friendly gear. Today, YETI is synonymous with quality, often at a high price, but the brand is no less amongst the most respected in the outdoor industry.

RTIC: Interestingly, RTIC was also founded by a pair of brothers out of Texas. However, John and Jim Jacobsen of Cypress founded their brand in 2015 rather than in 2006. The similarities don’t stop there, either. Like their chief competition, RTIC was created with the intention of crafting unrivaled outdoor-ready gear — chiefly in the realm of adventure coolers. Where they differ, although, is in the fact that RTIC also wanted to ensure that their overbuilt offerings were also available at a much lower price point than big-box retailers primarily through a direct-to-consumer (DTC) business model. To this day, regardless of how much their catalog has expanded (which it has, quite a bit), they still hold true to their original ethos.

Legal Battle

Intellectual Property Dispute

It’s extremely important to note that, in July of 2015 (the same year RTIC was founded), YETI filed a series of lawsuits and grievances against RTIC for copyright infringement — claiming that the recently-launched RTIC was offering a suite of products too similar to those offered by YETI, thereby infringing upon their intellectual property. In 2017, the brands settled the multiple lawsuits with the stipulation, according to a press release put out by YETI, that RTIC “make a financial payment to YETI; to cease sales of all products subject to the lawsuit — this includes hard-sided coolers, soft-sided coolers and drinkware; and to redesign all products in question.” While both brands claimed the settlement decision to be amicable and in both brands’ best interests, it’s also worth noting that RTIC — in their own release — said they had “agreed to redesign only those products involved in the dispute.” Both companies have been operating normally since.

Rotomolded Coolers

Camping Adventure Staples

The bread and butter of both of these brands are their ultra-tough rotomolded hard-sided coolers. Well-known and -respected for their absurd durability, ice retention, and more, these types of coolers have set the standard across the entirety of the cooler industry — be that for camping, fishing, or just backyard usage. And while it’s clear that YETI and RTIC offer an extremely similar suite of rotomolded cooler offerings, they do differ in some key areas, which we’ve outlined below.

Size Range

YETI: As far as internal storage space is concerned, YETI’s suite of hard-sided rotomolded offerings has an impressively wide range — wider than most folks are probably aware — clocking in as small as ~24 quarts and as big as a whopping ~329 quarts. And it isn’t just one or two coolers between the top and bottom of the range, either. In fact, the brand’s offerings (denoted in ascending-size order) include 24, 35, 45, 65, 75, 105, 110, 125, 160, 210, 250, and 350. It’s worth noting, however, that the numbers are actually not exacting regarding their internal space — the 350 actually holds ~329 quarts. Of course, users might be more interested in the brand’s approachable “cans of beer” measurement, which will tell you exactly how many 12-ounce aluminum cans you can store inside — ranging from 18 to 259.

RTIC: Unlike YETI, RTIC’s numerical denotations are much more accurate to the actual internal storage space. The brand’s smallest offering — the RTIC 20 — can hold up to 22 quarts of liquid, and its largest holds up to 145 quarts. Along with having a smaller range of available sizes, RTIC also has fewer options in-between the low- and high-end quart capacities, including a 22, 45, 65, 110, and 145 options. The brand also offers a 52-quart “Ultra-Light Cooler” for those that are interested.

Ice Retention

Unfortunately, neither YETI nor RTIC is willing to take a hard-and-fast stance on exactly how capable their rotomolded adventure coolers are regarding their ability to keep ice frozen. This is likely due to numerous factors, including external and internal starting temperatures, general usage, possible manufacturing defects, and more. What we can tell you is that both brands offer “up to 10 days” worth of ice retention with some user reports claiming even more than that. As far as we can tell — at least regarding definitive figures — this category (which is likely the most important to the end-user) is a complete wash.

Construction & Durability

Like their ice retention properties, the primary construction of most YETI and RTIC hard-sided coolers are virtually indistinguishable. Commonly referred to as “rotomolded,” these hard-sided coolers are constructed primarily of a “rotationally molded plastic” (or polyethylene) that’s incredibly tough. In fact, both YETI and RTIC even rented living and breathing bears to see if the beast could destroy and/or get into their coolers — spoiler alert: it couldn’t. The only leg up we could find between the two brands was in that YETI has received official certification by the USDA Forest Service offshoot IGBC (Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee) for use on public lands occupied by grizzlies. Unfortunately, that approval does not actually account for whether YETI’s coolers are tougher than those made by RTIC, making this another dead tie.

Alternatives

YETI: While we outlined YETI’s primary hard-sided options above, those aren’t everything the brand has to offer in the category. For instance, the highly-favored Tundra lineup also includes one with wheels for easier hauling. Furthermore (and unlike RTIC), YETI also offers an industry-first stainless steel vacuum-insulated hard-sided cooler that was inspired by the brand’s drinkware and is said to be the best vacuum-insulated cooler in the world.

Purchase: YETI

RTIC: Despite the fact that RTIC has a more concentrated approach than YETI, they do offer the same number of alternative hard-sided coolers. The first is the aforementioned Ultra-Light Cooler, which presently only comes in one size (52 quarts) but is 30% lighter than traditional rotomolded coolers and comes in at an impressive 57% cheaper price of $150. Beyond that, the brand also offers a foam-insulated kit — called the BaseCamp Bundle — that includes a water bottle, lunch box, and 50-quart cooler that’s said to be 85% lighter than rotomolded coolers, but can retain ice for a shorter-yet-still-respectable 3 days.

Purchase: RTIC

Soft-Sided Coolers

A More Portable Alternative

YETI: Though not nearly as durable or capacious as most of the brand’s rotomolded hard-sided adventure coolers, YETI’s suite of soft-sided coolers are an excellent alternative for anyone who wants solid ice retention in a more portable, packable package. They’re available in sizes as small as 7.9L (the Hopper Flip 8) and as big as 30L (Hopper M30). The coolers are also available in five different formats — including a backpack with 24L of storage — and a multitude of colors. Furthermore, the brand also boasts a lunch bag and box. The whole collection is also built from sturdy puncture-resistant waterproof fabric and is suitable for just about any adventure.

Purchase: YETI

RTIC: RTIC’s soft-sided coolers are a bit more varied in their format than YETI’s. There are six different options — Soft Pack, Day Cooler, Lightweight Backpack Cooler, Back Pack Cooler, Handle Top Lunch Bag, and Insulated Tote Bag — across 13 different sizes ranging from as small as 3L to as big as 32.4L (depending on the options you choose). It’s worth noting, however, that these options are also constructed differently — not all of them have a waterproof exterior fabric like YETI’s offerings have. Still, the versatility and lower overall price range is more than enough to put them over the edge for some.

Purchase: RTIC

Bags, Backpacks, & More

Gear Haulers

YETI: If its bags and backpacks you’re looking for, then YETI is likely to edge out RTIC, as they boast 10 different options to RTIC’s 4 — however three of those options are actually different sizes of the brand’s waterproof Panga duffel bag. Other options include the pair of aforementioned lunch containers, YETI’s famed Sidekick pouch, two backpacks (one for EDC and a Panga waterproof one), and two totes. The boast a wide range of sizes, formats, and prices — as low as $50 to as much as $400. Seeing as how these bags are quite specialized, you’ll have to take a gander yourself to decide which are and/or aren’t right for you.

Purchase: YETI

RTIC: As mentioned, RTIC’s bag offerings are limited to just four — a tote, duffel, backpack, and a hard case. However, it is worth mentioning that the duffel is available in a trio of sizes and the USA-made hard case boasts seven available sizes and is probably best compared to the hard cases made by Pelican (YETI has no such offering). It’s also worth noting that RTIC’s prices are, once again, much lower to start than YETI, ranging from as low as $50 for the backpack to as much as $230 for the largest hard case. Of course, the bags are also not waterproof (YETI’s Panga bags can be completely submerged) and don’t quite have as good a design as those offered by their chief competitor.

Purchase: RTIC

Drinkware

Vital Vessels

YETI: Accounting for different size options and value packs, YETI offers a total of 22 different drinkware options. All within the Rambler family, they’re built utilizing the same technology — all-metal construction with vacuum-insulation — and (better still) they’re all dishwasher-safe, making it much less of a hassle to clean these vessels. Furthermore, the varying array of options covers a wide range of styles including tumblers, coffee mugs, wine glasses, can koozies, all the way up to gallon-sized jugs. They’re more expensive than RTIC’s options, but they’re convenient and built YETI-tough, which certainly says something.

Purchase: YETI

RTIC: If accounting for different sizes, RTIC boasts a grand total of 16 different drinkware options. And, for the most part, they’re built using similar design language and technologies. Ranging from camping-friendly lowball insulated tumblers on up to gallon-sized jugs, RTIC has drinkware for just about any venue and activity. We wouldn’t likely call any of it innovative, but it’s made to perform, durable enough to last, and offered in a staggering number of colorways (depending on the drinkware of your choosing).

Purchase: RTIC

Photo: RTIC

Price Comparison

& Other Considerations

As we have mentioned numerous times, there’s a pretty large disparity in the realm of price between these two brands. And while some of that can be credited to things like brand name recognition and overall outdoor industry clout, it must be pointed out that YETI’s high-priced offerings are the result of clever and constant innovation. Yes, RTIC beats YETI pretty much across the board when it comes to cost — and most people are going to be perfectly happy with the way the lower-priced gear performs — but if you’re going to put things through their paces and potentially subject them to high levels of punishment, you may be better off paying a slightly higher price for what is undoubtedly more sturdily-built, well-designed gear.

Who Is The Victor?

The Final Verdict

Spoiler alert: there was never going to be a clear winner in this contest. The truth is, like all gear and apparel, that the pendulum is going to swing in favor of one or the other depending upon the factors of an individual. If you want the most top-of-the-line coolers, bags, drinkware, and more, you’re probably going to choose YETI — but you’re going to pay a premium for the name and quality. If you can handle something that’s slightly lesser in its overall performance and appearance (we want to be abundantly clear that RTIC gear isn’t badly designed, it’s just not quite at YETI’s level), then RTIC and their across-the-board cheaper offerings will be your preferred path. Weigh the pros and cons of each and we’re confident you’ll pick your own victor.

Purchase: YETI Purchase: RTIC

The 10 Best Rugged Adventure Coolers

RTIC and YETI might be two of the bigger names in the industry, but they’re hardly the only brands making worthwhile coolers. Find more purchase-worthy options on our list of the best rugged adventure coolers.

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