Reviews Of The Best Coolers On The Market For The Money
If you’re looking for top rated coolers, then look no further. We’ve put together some reviews to highlight the most important factors to consider before making your purchase.
The cooler that you decide to buy can make the difference between a great day fishing or a tough day in the sun.
It can be the difference between enjoying fresh food a week into your camping trip or warm beer bottles by day three.
Now I don’t want to say it's a matter of life or death, but the prospect of warm beer means that choosing the best ice chest is serious business.
There are a number of things to consider when deciding on which cooler to buy. Firstly you need to have a clear idea of where you intend using the cooler and for how long you need it to stay cold.
Your budget is important as well and you need to be sure you’re getting the best cooler for the money. There’s no point in spending a fortune on a cooler that you'll be taking to the beach for a few hours.
Buying a cheap cooler and thinking that it will do the job for your two week camping trip isn’t very smart either. Durability is another consideration. If you’re going to be using the cooler on a regular basis, or if it’s going to be used in a tough environment, then you need to get something that’s up to the challenge.
Cooler Comparison Table
Ice Retention (Days)
8 - 10
5 - 8
8 - 10
6 - 9
8 - 10
7 - 14
3 - 5
3 - 5
3 - 5
Different Types Of Coolers
The main differences between the different types of coolers are size, portability, performance and cost. Are you looking for a cooler for a fishing trip or a camping trip? Do you want to keep your sandwiches fresh for lunch or ice frozen for days? Which of these cooler types match what you’re looking for?
Soft Sided Coolers
A soft-sided cooler doesn’t have the same cooling performance that a hard cooler has, but then they don’t need to. These are perfect for a day trip or a few hours at the beach.
The main benefit of these soft-sided cooler bags is that they stow easily. Being flexible means you could fit them behind the seat of your car or collapse them and store them in a cupboard when not in use.
Being soft sided does mean that you need to take more care with them than with a hard cooler. The linings can be susceptible to being punctured or torn. The cheaper the cooler, the more chance there is of this happening.
Soft coolers can be notoriously hard to clean and to keep mold and odor free. The better quality soft coolers have linings with antimicrobial properties that keep the inside of the cooler from becoming a biohazard zone.
Small Personal Lunch Coolers
If you currently take your lunch to work in a brown paper bag, then the experience of using a lunch cooler will be life altering. Think we’re overselling it?
Imagine enjoying a relaxing half hour while eating a fresh sandwich followed by a cold refreshing drink and perhaps a cool yogurt for a healthy dessert. Fresh, cold and refreshing are not words that can be used to describe what comes out of a brown paper bag halfway through your day.
Make the right choice in buying a small cooler and you can make sure that, if nothing else, at least your lunch break works out right. You’re going to want something that will be durable enough for everyday use and cleaning.
If you work behind a desk then there are some great soft cooler options but if your office has no walls or roof then you need to consider some rigid cooler options that will survive construction sites.
Ice Chest Coolers
If you absolutely need to have ice a week or 10 days into your trip, then your options get a lot more limited. That old cooler that dad gave you years ago with the lid that doesn’t quite close just isn’t going to cut it. You need the best ice chest possible.
This is the space where the big boys of ice chest cooler design come into their own. It’s all about insulation, seals and latches. If your cooler has thin walls or a mediocre sealing gasket then don’t be surprised at the puddle of water where your ice used to be.
While there are some good value, cheaper ice chests, our experience has been that when it comes to ice retention, you get what you pay for. It’s one of those cases where the philosophy of “less is more” just doesn’t apply.
Because you’ll be packing these coolers with ice, food and drinks for days they tend to get heavy. Make sure you get a good quality ice cooler with tough handles and hinges. This is essential if they are going to cope with the weight.
The great outdoors won’t seem so great if your beverages are warm and you’re miles from the nearest store. Not all coolers are capable of keeping food and drinks cold for days. Even fewer can do this while surviving the bumps and scrapes that are inevitable on a camping trip.
Are you a 3 day camper or someone who goes off grid for 2 weeks at a time? Decide on that before committing to the capacity and ice retention performance you need from your cooler.
Are you setting up camp in a squeaky clean formal camp site or are you heading out where no man has gone before? If you’re planning on forging rivers and dragging things over rocks then the durability of your cooler is as important as it’s performance. Make sure you get a camping cooler that is built as tough as the environment you intend taking it into.
Sea, sand and sunburn. If you’re heading to the beach and want your snacks and soda to be fresh and cold then make sure you take the best beach cooler with you.
It doesn’t have to be something that keeps ice for days, but it needs to be able to manage a few hours in the sun where the temperature is hot.
Bear in mind that a trip to the beach involves carrying loads of stuff so your beach cooler needs to be something light and easy to carry. Also, make sure that the handles and straps are good quality and comfortable.
This especially makes sense when you consider how far you often end up having to park from the beach. To reduce the amount of bags you need to carry it’s a good idea to get a cooler that has additional pockets to store your phone, keys and wallet.
Why carry your cooler when you can just pull it behind you? There are some great options if you’re looking for a cooler that you don’t have to carry. All the usual factors apply when choosing a rolling cooler but the addition of the wheels and tow handle add two more things to consider before making your purchase.
Normally you’d be using a wheel cooler for something like a picnic, so it’s best to get a cooler with bigger wheels that'll cope with rolling on grass.
Cheap plastic wheels will break so spend a little more on a cooler with decent rubber wheels and you’ll be rewarded with a soft ride feel as well. You don't want a wheel cooler with wheels that don't even work.
As for the tow handle, try to get a telescopic one if possible. That way you can stow the handle when not in use. Because the tow handle experiences the load differently from the carrying handles it’s really important to make sure these are tough.
High End Coolers
The saying, “you get what you pay for” is particularly true when shopping for a new cooler. The best high end coolers may cost more than the cheaper options but their performance is in a different league. That’s not to say that the most expensive option is the best one though.
Long term ice retention is something you will only get from the best insulated coolers, especially when the temperature is warm. Good quality insulation is one of the biggest factors that separate the high quality coolers from the mediocre ones.
The other main difference you’ll see when evaluating a premium cooler is their tough construction. These products are made to last a lifetime which is also why a number of them come with a lifetime manufacturer warranty.
Some of the toughness and quality built into these coolers is in places you hardly ever look, like the hinges and gaskets. Buying one of these superior coolers means you get a product that has toughness and performance built in at every stage of the manufacturing process.
There are so many new cooler brands on the market today. Some of them hang around for a while while others disappear almost as soon as they appeared. On the other hand, brands like Engel, Yeti, Igloo, Grizzly and Coleman have been around for ages and they consistently produce the best rated coolers.
These are the kinds of companies that have been making coolers for 50 to a 100 years and have refined their products and manufacturing processes during this time.
If you focus your attention on these brands then you’re more likely to end up being a happy customer. When we review products that these companies produce, it’s clear that their brand is more than just an exercise in marketing.
The community of people who use coolers while fishing and camping are quite outspoken about their experiences. Their positive reviews testify to the quality behind these top cooler brands.
Engel Coolers and Ice Chests
While some of our favorite coolers come from a number of the top brands we do keep gravitating towards one of our favorites, Engel. If you’ve ever owned one of their top end products then you won’t be surprised to hear that Engel is one of the most popular cooler brands.
After 50 years of making coolers, these guys have learned a thing or two about insulation and cooler construction. Everything, from the handles and hinges to the seals and latches, just shouts quality.
Because they insist on producing rugged, high performance coolers their products have become a favorite with outdoorsmen and especially fishermen like me.
When you pick one of their coolers up you immediately get a feel that this thing has been made to last. We especially like that they don’t just make generic coolers but have also make coolers specifically with anglers and campers in mind.
Way back in the 60’s it was Engel who was the first to produce Roto-Molded coolers and it’s clear from their current products that their insistence on innovation hasn’t stopped.
They have a wide range of coolers for varying applications and their high quality is evident throughout their range.
Yeti Coolers and Ice Chests
If you’re happy to spend the money to get the best, then Yeti is one of the top brands out there. These guys use the best insulating materials and designs in their products and if you’ve ever had the pleasure of owning one of their products then you’ll know that it makes a difference. A big difference!
While they are probably better known for their larger coolers like the Tundra range we think that the Yeti Hopper Cooler is the best portable cooler. The zipper creates a watertight seal and the bag will keep ice for days. It’s perfect for a bike trip or even just a day on the beach.
Igloo Coolers and Ice Chests
When a company is named after a house built from ice then you get a pretty good idea what they’re about. Igloo have been producing some of the best coolers for decades and they claim that 3 in every 4 American households own at least one Igloo cooler.
If we were asked what we thought was the best Igloo cooler it would have to be the Igloo Iceless Thermoelectric Cooler. It runs off 12V and the 8-foot cord plugs into a standard cigarette lighter outlet. We really like the fact that because it's iceless, there is way more room to store your food and drinks.
Cooler Reviews: Our Top 10 Coolers
There a bunch of coolers that we’d love to have in our garage. If we had to narrow it down to just 10 of the top coolers then these are the ones we would choose.
Their ice retention is best in class. They claim that these coolers will keep ice for 8 to 10 days but we’ve experience better than this. Some users have reported still having useable ice up to 12 days later.
Every part of the cooler is rock solid. The latches fit flush with the body of the cooler when in place so they won’t catch on anything while being moved about and they also double as bottle openers. The seal Engel used is made from food grade silicon and this, combined with the latches, makes sure that when the lid closes it makes an airtight seal.
At the base of the cooler are 4 non-skid, non-marking feet that make sure that it won’t slide around in the back of your truck or mark the deck of your boat. The 2 inches of insulation on all sides are the reason for the excellent performance of these coolers but this can make the larger capacity coolers a little heavy. The integrated rope handles make these coolers a pleasure to carry even when fully loaded.
Choosing between the Engel DeepBlue and the Tundra series Yeti cooler is like having to decide which of your children is your favorite.
The Tundra coolers deliver outstanding cooling performance and are probably the toughest coolers available.
The material that the shell is made from is the same stuff they use to make whitewater kayaks so you just know it’s going to survive whatever nature throws at it.
The inside of the lid has one of Yeti’s proprietary ColdLock gaskets that combines with the T-Rex latches to make an airtight seal when the lid is closed.
One of the areas of cooler construction that a lot of brands overlook is the lid hinges. On cheaper coolers these are often the first things that break. The Tundra coolers have a tough hinge integrated along the full length of the lid.
The non-slip feet on the base make sure the cooler stays put. You can also use the built in strap guides to ratchet this cooler down even more. The Tundra comes with handles integrated into the body for solo carrying as well as rope handles so that it can be carried easily by two people.
If you plan on taking a cooler into some tough terrain, then the Extra Heavy Duty cooler range from Orca is one of the few that will make it back in one piece.
With 10 day ice retention not only are these coolers tougher than most, they perform better than most other coolers as well.
One of the reasons for their great performance is the good quality gasket in the lid that makes sure none of the cold air escapes when the lid is closed.
Carrying coolers is our least favorite task but the extendable flex-grip handles make it easy for solo or tandem carrying. The cargo net on the back means you have extra space to stash the rest of your stuff so that you only have to make one trip from the car instead of two.
One of the things we really like about this range of coolers is that they are made in the USA. If you prefer to buy local (and we do) then this is one of your best options.
The 40-Quart Grizzly cooler is one of the better small to medium cooler options available today.
This is a great example of another cooler that is produced in the USA, but doesn’t blow your budget.
Size for size, it’s actually cheaper than the Yeti Tundra while still delivering rock solid performance.
The overall construction is tough and the latches, gasket and hinges have a high quality look and feel about them.
When it comes to ice retention we’ve heard reports from users of these coolers keeping ice for 9 days which is really good. The feet do a good job of preventing the cooler from sliding around. It also has hard mount points so that you can cable lock it in place on the back of your truck.
The latches do a great job of securing the lid and it also has holes for locks in case you want to make it's extra bear safe. The large drain plug makes this cooler a pleasure to clean.
Pelican is better known for making rugged storage solutions and holdalls, but with their ProGear Elite range of coolers they’ve quickly joined the ranks of some of the top cooler brands.
These coolers combine their rugged container expertise with leading edge insulation design.
The walls of the cooler have 2 inches of insulation all round and a freezer grade gasket in the lid. The Press and Pull latches keep the lid securely shut yet are easy to open even while wearing gloves.
When it comes to carrying it you can either use the molded in handles to carry it yourself or get someone to help you by using the hinged handles. The molded in tie downs also make it easy to secure during transport.
Pelican built these coolers to last a lifetime, which is exactly how long they guarantee these coolers is for. That, and the fact that they are made in the USA, makes this one of our favorites.
To round out our top 10 list here are 5 more of the best coolers on the market.
If you want to be happy with the cooler you bought years after you bought it then it’s important to do a bit of research first. Check the specs out and thoroughly read about the top rated coolers you're considering. It sounds like a simple purchase because all the cooler needs to do is keep things cool, right?
The science behind performing that simple task during hot days and in tough environments means that there a few things you need to take into account when looking to buy a top rated cooler.
Application: Make sure you have a good idea of where you intend using the cooler. There’s no point splashing out on a large cooler that keeps ice for a week when you only intend taking it to the beach or a party for a few hours. Taking a soft cooler into a rugged environment for a 5 day bugout also isn’t going to end well.
Capacity: Coolers come in a variety of sizes from small personal lunch coolers to large ice chests that can hold 250 quarts. If you’re going to be storing food and bottles in the cooler think about how many people you’re catering for and for how many days.
Are you going to be moving around a whole lot? Then you’re going to need something portable or on wheels. Staying put for a few days? Something larger with good handles will be fine then.
Performance: If you just need to keep the contents cool for a few hours don’t spend big bucks on best in class ice retention. If you’re going to be away for a few days then how long your cooler keeps ice should be top of your buying criteria list.
Durability: Coolers take a beating on fishing trips, camping or even a trip to the beach. Make sure the cooler you choose has decent handles, hinges and seals so that you don’t have to replace it after your first trip.
Buying a cooler seems like a simple task, but the cooler you ultimately choose can have a bigger impact than you think. Whether you intend taking it on a fishing trip, to the beach or out into the wild, your enjoyment of that experience depends very much on the performance of your cooler.
A day on the boat without catching a fish doesn’t seem so bad when you get to end it with a cold beer. Opening your cooler 5 days into your camping trip and still seeing ice means you get to decide when it’s time to go home, not the 90 degree heat.
Don’t compromise on the quality of the cooler you buy just to save a few bucks. Invest in a premium cooler and it will reward you every time you use it for years to come.
Product Images Sourced From Amazon.com