Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Strong and insulating.
Cons: Expensive and heavy.
Best Uses: Extended and rugged use. Camping, fishing, hunting.
In OutdoorGearLab reviews, sometimes a product or subset of products stands clearly apart from the rest. Yeti coolers are exactly this way. This category that, on the surface, is just a collection of insulating boxes, can be clearly and cleanly divided in two. There's most coolers, and then there's the high-end class. The Editors Choice Tundra 45 and Pelican 45 Elite represent this high-end class. In many ways, these two high-end designs we tested are very similar. They basically insulate to the same degree, have a similar ratio of internal volume to external dimensions, and are both very durable in overall structure and hardware. However, in portability they greatly differ. The Tundra is far lighter and more compact around the lid. It weighs ten pounds less than the Pelican and the overall shape, including the lid, is rectangular and rounded. The Pelican has bulky protruding handles and a lid area that "overhangs" the rest of the box. The more compact and clean form factor earned it the nod as our Editors Choice.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
In 2006, Yeti started selling their paradigm shifting Tundra coolers. The whole business has taken notice. The Tundra 45 we tested is a rock-solid, simple piece of high-end insulating machinery.
This insulates very well. The thick walls, tight-fitting lid, and white exterior serve to significantly slow heat transmission. In our head-to-head testing, the Tundra scored best of all. In extended usage in the deserts and beaches of the American west, it kept ice for days and days. In fact, one block of ice, in the wildly fluctuating temperatures of Indian Creek, Utah, lasted over 10 days.
Ease of Use
This offers a simple suite of features and design considerations that make it a joy to use. The lid hinges smoothly to vertical, and stays there while contents are loaded or removed. The lid latches down with simple, and mildly stretchy, rubber buttons. The buttons slot into molded plastic stanchions on the main body. The bottom of the Tundra comes equipped with grippy rubber "feet". This, along with effective and intelligent tie-down slots, means it can be stowed in the back of a bucking pickup or strapped to the roof of a smaller vehicle. The tie-down slots allow the Yeti cooler to be secured to a vehicle or watercraft such that the lid can still be opened. Additionally, the lid can be locked closed with a long-throated padlock. Secured thusly, the Tundra meets the requirements for certification by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. Incidentally, for California consumers wishing to use a Tundra in the bear-riddled Sierra, the grizzly bear certification does not extend to California black bear approval.
The Tundra drains readily. The screwed plug on the bottom of one end opens into a recessed and ramped groove lining the bottom interior. The plug need not be entirely removed to drain. Rather, the plug has a hole in the middle of the threads that allows water to begin draining before the stopper is completely removed. It is little features like this that "seal the deal" on an expensive model like this. While little things like the drain plug and lid latches aren't worth hundreds of dollars on their own, they complement impeccable overall construction and industry leading insulation value.
If a cooler is grizzly bear resistant, it's got to be pretty durable in human hands. Because the it was such a joy to use, and kept ice for so long, it received the most extensive testing of any of our products. In the end, one tester used the Tundra 45 for over a month of travel. All of his perishables lived in the Tundra. Many rounds of ice and many moves into and out of cars resulted. In all this usage, nothing on the Tundra shows any sort of wear. The smooth, rounded plastic cleans easily and hardly shows scratches once cleaned.
The beefy construction and thick insulation means that the Tundra is heavier than cheaper models of similar capacity. But it is much lighter than the Pelican. It's approximately twice as heavy as the cheaper models in our test, while the Pelican is another 10 pounds heavier. To maintain the clean lines, presumably, Yeti does not equip any of its coolers with wheels. In this size category, that is fine. In the larger sizes of the Tundras, it is peculiar that they don't build in wheels. They do provide, however, the best carrying handles in our test. For solo carry there are low-profile inset handles just under the lid. These are rounded, close to the center of gravity, and don't catch on stuff when packing in a car. For two person carry the Tundra comes equipped with longer rope handles. These rope handles are stiffened with plastic bars to make holding considerable weight easier.
This is the most expensive contender in our test. For most users, this will be a prohibitive cost. Something like our Best Buy winning Coleman 62 Xtreme Wheeled will far better suit anyone but the most dedicated user. However, if you use a cooler for a month or more each year or need to transport valuable cold cargo in hot climates, the Tundra 45 will pay for itself in food preservation and ice efficiency.
This is the Cadillac of coolers. It is impeccably designed and built. It inspires confidence, and rises to high expectations with industry leading insulation value.
Other Versions and Accessories
Yeti offers the Tundra in six different capacity sizes from the smaller Tundra 35 to the ginormous Tundra 160 with 160 quart capacity (40 gallons), and four sizes in between. In each case, the XX number in Tundra XX indicates the capacity in quarts.
Yeti offers a variety of accessories for the Tundra line, including several we think are particularly notable:
— Jediah Porter
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Most recent review: March 14, 2014
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