The Best Cooler Review

Which is the best cooler for you? Which is the best on the market? We tested the best insulators, examining insulating value, durability, portability, and ease of use. Our testers jostled them in cars and sand, from muggy coastlines to the fierce desert sun. We recognized models with awards, noting the absolute best we’ve ever used, a great value, a large model, and a unique electric-powered chiller.

Read our Buying Advice article for our tips on the features you should consider when purchasing an ice chest.

Read the full review below >

Review by: Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab November 11, 2013

Top Ranked Coolers Displaying 1 - 5 of 8 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Yeti Tundra 45
Yeti Tundra 45
Read the Review
Video video review
Pelican 45 Elite
Pelican 45 Elite
Read the Review
Coleman 62 Xtreme Wheeled
Coleman 62 Xtreme Wheeled
Read the Review
Video video review
Coleman Steel Belted
Coleman Steel Belted
Read the Review
Igloo Iceless 28
Igloo Iceless 28
Read the Review
Video video review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award    Best Buy Award    Top Pick Award 
Street Price Varies $350 - $380
Compare at 2 sellers
$270$49
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$110
Compare at 2 sellers
$65
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Pros Strong and insulating.Durable and highly insulatingInexpensive, lid cupholders.Nostalgic Design, solid constructionElectronically cooled, compact and portable
Cons Expensive and heavy.Heavy and bulky, given the interior space.Small handles on each end.Fiddly latch, no wheels.Condensation. Cannot be used as a seat.
Best Uses Extended and rugged use. Camping, fishing, hunting.Camping really close to a boat or car.Weekend family campout.Backyard barbecuing.Extended road tripping.
Date Reviewed Nov 11, 2013Nov 11, 2013Nov 11, 2013Nov 11, 2013Nov 11, 2013
Weighted Scores Yeti Tundra 45 Pelican 45 Elite Coleman 62 Xtreme Wheeled Coleman Steel Belted Igloo Iceless 28
Durability - 20%
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Ease Of Use - 20%
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Insulation Value - 40%
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Portability - 20%
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Product Specs Yeti Tundra 45 Pelican 45 Elite Coleman 62 Xtreme Wheeled Coleman Steel Belted Igloo Iceless 28
Ice remaining in test 4 3.9 3.4 3.3 3.2
Capacity 38 qts 45 qts 62 qts 54 qts 28 qts
Insulation Syle normal normal normal normal thermoelectric
Handle Design insets and stiffened rope handles bar-type, and fold-out bar-type plastic. Sliders on each end, fold out pull handle for wheeled use Steel, fold out picnic basketî style
Wheels? no no yes no no
Drain? yes yes yes yes no
Weight (lbs) 25 35 14 15 10

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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Igloo Iceless 28
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Igloo Glide Marine Ultra 110
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Flip-Box Collapsible Iceless
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Pelican 45 Elite
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Coleman Steel Belted
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Igloo Island Breeze 60 Roller
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Selecting the Right Product
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Yeti testing on the beach. Monterey, CA.
Credit: Megan Seel
The world of portable coolers is a complex one. The entire spectrum ranges from flexible insulators given away as promotional materials to fork-lifted, thousand-dollar, insulated boxes at the other end. Our testing, and most of your shopping, focuses in the middle, useful part of the range.

Types of Coolers
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The leaning tower of coolers! Bottom to top: Igloo Glide, Coleman Xtreme, Pelican Elite, Yeti Tundra, Igloo Island Breeze, Coleman Steel belted, Igloo Iceless, and Flipbox.
Credit: Jediah Porter
In our testing and market experience, we divide the available models into three types.

High-End
What we term as high-end models come in a range of sizes, but are characterized by expensive engineering and immaculate construction. They are heavy, ridiculously rugged, highly insulating, and have thick, space-consuming walls.

Traditional
When you think of a cooler, you probably think of what we’ll term traditional models. This is the classic, plastic portable insulator.

Specialty
The specialty category encompasses all the other options. Soft-sided, folding, and thermoelectrically cooled devices all round out this category.

Size
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The "meat" of our review, representing the bread and butter of the cooler business, is insulators in this size class. These can all be carried by a single person, fit easily in even a compact car trunk, and hold enough for a family of 4.
Credit: Jediah Porter
Special mention must be made of size. Virtually every on the market comes in multiple sizes. For a given price point, feature set, and wall thickness, each manufacturer offers at least two different sizes. Again, in most cases. Our review collects a range of sizes in different models and manufacturers. You will choose the size, making three primary considerations: How much stuff do you need to keep cool? How far and how often do you need to move it And how long do you need to keep the contents cool. Consult our Buying Advice article for a more thorough discussion of size.

Criteria for Evaluation

Insulation Value
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Filling up the Igloo for a week on the road.
Credit: Jediah Porter
“Cooler” is a misnomer. It would be more accurate to call these “keepers”. Virtually all of the boxes we have collected and reviewed are insulated in order to maintain temperature inside. They will keep your stuff cool if it starts out cool, or decrease the temperature of something if it is put in the box with something at a lower temperature. That cold something will inevitably warm up in the deal. Most users utilize frozen water as the cooling medium. Water ice is readily available and inexpensive. However, “dry ice” can also be used. Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide has a much lower freezing point than water. Therefore, dry ice can keep things even colder than regular ice.

In any event, we tested for their insulation value. Regardless of how the contents are initially cooled, we look for ours to keep that temperature low. Insulation value is a function of many different variables. The end result, or the rate at which the contents will change in temperature, depends on insulation thickness, internal space, lid seal integrity, and, to some degree, external color. Thicker insulation is better than thin; thickness of the walls is by far the most significant variable. Larger models full of more cold stuff stay cold longer. Rubberized lid gaskets block drafts better than even the closest non-rubberized junction. Finally, light-colored exteriors warm up marginally less in direct sunlight. In our testing, both the Pelican 45 Elite and Yeti Tundra 45 deliver impressive insulating performance. In each, the walls are thick, the lids seal with rubber refrigerator-style gaskets, and the exterior is white.

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testing in a back porch bbq.
Credit: Viren Perumal

Size, as it pertains to insulation value, must be addressed separately. It is true that, all else equal, a large insulator full to the brim will keep its contents cool longer than a smaller one. In other words, a sixty quart model full of ice will keep that ice longer than a full forty-five quart similarly-constructed model. However, when selecting one, the size one chooses is a function of application and efficiency more than desired insulation value. In one case, though, insulation considerations and size selection overlap. If ice-retention is your highest priority, and you require large storage volume, a single large vessel will be more effective than multiple smaller versions adding up to a similar capacity. In our test, the immense Igloo Glide Marine Ultra 110 lacks the super-thick and sophisticated insulation of the Yeti and Pelican offerings, but, when filled to the brim with ice and drinks, holds ice for a long, long time. Consult our Buying Advice article for further discussion of the interplay of insulation value and convenience.

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The iceless cooler plugged in, loaded up, and ready for travel. Cold sodas all the way.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Finally, in terms of insulating value, special mention must be made of our Top Pick award winning Igloo Iceless 28. This is a relatively small insulator, with an electrical cooling system built into the lid. As the name implies, this puppy will chill your contents without ice. Plug it into a wall outlet or car cigarette lighter socket and the thermoelectric machinery will chill the goods and space within.


Durability
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From left to right: Pelican Elite, Flipbox (on top of the Pelican), Yeti Tundra , Igloo Iceless, Igloo Island Breeze, Coleman Steel Belted, Coleman Xtreme, and Igloo Glide.
Credit: Jediah Porter

In our testing and long-term usage, we considered durability in two major categories: main structural integrity and hardware or “accessory” durability. Primary structural strength is indicated by the product’s ability to hold its basic square or rectangle shape. The length and strength of service of things like handles, hinges, and clasps is also variable among offerings on the market. In short, all of our tested models are suitably durable. Most users will fill theirs just a few times a year, and have no problem handling them with some care. For these “routine” users, durability is not a great concern overall. If anything, our testing reveals that the integrity of the auxiliary components is of greatest concern to the average consumer. Handles, hinges, and lid locks can and do fail.

Throughout most of the history of cooler construction, all long-term designs (disregarding grocery store “throw-away” styrofoam versions) were manufactured of sheets of foam insulation and plastic or metal linings and shells. The parts were (and still are in most versions) glued and riveted together to yield the shapes we see. The quality of the individual parts, as well as the integrity of the junctions and joints, determines the durability of these “traditionally” constructed models. In our test, all but the Yeti and Pelican models are put together this way. These “modular” designs demonstrate a wide range of durability. Some last years and years, while others break down sooner. The good news is that even the least expensive of the “modular” versions will hold up to occasional and normal usage. With time, usage, and UV exposure, the glues holding the parts break down. Rivets loosen and insulation comes delaminated from the shells and liners. Effective designs utilize tight tolerances and mold shells and liners from thick plastic. In the products we tested we had no significant issues with durability of the overall construction. Basically, the less expensive models in our review show some loosening of the hardware, and our testers' long-term experience with other coolers reveals the type of failures that can occur with certain construction subtleties.

In 2006 the ice-box specialists at Yeti changed the game with their high-end offerings. Yeti then, and subsequently a few more manufacturers, started making insulators in a completely different fashion. Models in this high-end class, represented in our review by Yeti and Pelican, are constructed of one-piece molded shells, injected with thick insulation. This construction makes for very strong and durable boxes. In each of the above versions, the primary molded construction is supplemented with high-quality hardware. These are head-and-shoulders above the crowd when it comes to durability. In fact, both the Pelican and Yeti models in our test are certified by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee to be resistant to brown bear attack.


Ease of Use
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The Editors Choice winning, high end Yeti Tundra 45.
Credit: Megan Seel

You will open and close your cooler many times in its lifetime. You will pack and unpack, dirty and clean, fill and drain over and over. Effective latches, smooth hinges, and lids that stay where you want them (open or closed) make packing a breeze or a pain. Some slide easily on smooth plastic bottoms while others come equipped with grippy rubber “feet”. All large models must be equipped with a drain to let out melted ice. Even small ones benefit from this feature. The best draining versions have a recessed and ramped interior groove to channel the water to a durable and replaceable threaded stopper. “Pop-top” drain plugs, like on the Igloo Island Breeze 60 Roller are easier to disengage, which is a double edged sword. It's nice to be able to quickly and easily drain some melt water. However, inadvertent opening of the drain plug in a crowded mini-van cargo section can have disastrous results. Our test team prefers threaded plugs like that found on Editors Choice Winner Yeti Tundra 45.

The outside dimensions affect portability, while the inner dimensions and shape determine the ease of use while filling up. In our review, we mainly evaluated size in the portability category. However, the ratio of outer dimensions to inner dimensions is an important qualifier in terms of overall usage efficiency. Our tested products represent a broad spectrum of wall thickness. Highly insulating versions like the Pelican 45 Elite and Yeti Tundra 45 have very thick walls. While the outer dimensions of these beefy models are roughly similar to something like the Coleman Steel Belted, the inner capacity is very different. For the same space in your car or camper or boat, the Steel Belted offers more than half again as much interior volume as the Tundra 45.


Portability
Coolers are intrinsically mobile. We use them in circumstances where residential refrigeration isn’t practical. Even if you use oner for extra drink space during a backyard barbecue, you’ll need to get it in place for that. You will regularly move your ice box around. Probably much further than from the garage to the backyard. You’ll heft it in and out of the car, move it from curb to picnic table and from campsite to van. Our testers appreciated thoughtful features that allow for one person or two person carry. Wheels make life nicer when the ground allows for such transport. In our testing and evaluation, wheels earn higher marks. Lightweight models scored better than heavier ones. Designs with inset handles for solo carriage and separate, longer handles for tandem transport earn high marks. No one product in our review is lightweight, wheeled, and equipped with super-effective handle schemes. Overall size will also have a significant effect on portability. Because most of our tested products come in different sizes, and because the consumer will select a size for their own specific purposes, we evaluated portability mostly independent of size.

Editors Choice: Yeti Tundra 45
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Editors Choice winning Yeti Tundra 45.
Credit: Jediah Porter

The burly and virtually cryogenic Yeti Tundra 45 earns our Editors Choice award. This is a no-holds-barred, bear-resistant piece of food and drink storage technology. The Yeti and Pelican Elite 45 essentially destroy the competition in insulating value (and price). The Pelican, however, comes in a much heavier and bulkier form. The Yeti is lighter by 10 pounds. Both the Pelican and Yeti compromise some efficiency with the thickness of their walls. The ratio of interior to exterior dimensions is significantly smaller in these high insulators than in the more “traditional” models we tested. But this tradeoff is easily worth it for the significant gain in insulation value.

Top Pick for Specialty Design: Igloo Iceless 28
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One handed carry is easy. Igloo contoured the shape so that the handle sits a little off center and the side towards the carrier's leg is curved. It's subtle, but it helps.
Credit: Viren Perumal

The Igloo Iceless 28 is a clever mating of the standard insulating ice box tech with a cooling mechanism built into the lid. In our testing, the Iceless 28, sans frozen water, kept our meat and veggies fresh in a hot car and stowed indoors awaiting travel. The cooling mechanism works as advertised, effectively keeping the contents significantly more chilled than the ambient temperature. The thermoelectric cooling fan hums lightly, powered by either a 12v “cigarette lighter” socket or a standard wall outlet. In an unexpected advantage, this diminutive model has excellent usable space. If you can keep it cool with electricity, and leave out the ice, you are left with much more space inside.

Best Buy: Coleman 62 Xtreme Wheeled
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Our Best Buy pick Coleman 62 Qt Xtreme Wheeled.
Credit: Jediah Porter


While we unequivocally recommend the pricey Yeti Tundra 45 (or a Yeti model of any size) for any regular and dedicated user, most consumers will use an ice box far less often. This mass of users will also use theirs for shorter endeavors. For those on a budget, or those simply chilling some drinks for an afternoon picnic, or even a weekend camping trip, a model of “traditional” construction is far more appropriate. In this category, we like the Coleman 62 Xtreme Wheeled. This mid-sized, durable, and efficient insulator is a solid and dependable, inexpensive investment. The walls are a little thicker and more insulating than designs used to be, yet the whole package is eminently portable and usable. The handles are simple and clean, while the wheeled status gives yet another option for locomotion.

Jediah Porter
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by Jediah Porter
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