Our panel of experts researched 100+ top models before purchasing and testing 12 of the best coolers available in 2019. Our goal? To determine which ones are worth spending your hard-earned Benjamins on. With tons of high-end ice chests and some competitively-priced performers to choose from, it can be difficult to figure out which ones will keep your food cold for many days and which ones are just fancy pieces of plastic. Whether you need an icebox for an extended backwoods hunting trip or a relaxing weekend on the beach, we can help you pick the right one.
The Best Coolers and Ice Chests of 2019
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|Pros||Excellent insulation, durable construction, useful features||Good insulation, durable, easy to drain||Best in class insulation, durable, easy to carry||Durable, good lid seal, built in bottle opener||Good insulation, durable|
|Cons||Expensive, bulky||Large exterior, heavy, expensive||Lid snaps shut unexpectedly, expensive||Uncomfortable handles, expensive||Uncomfortable handles, messy drainplug, expensive|
|Bottom Line||The absolute best high end model on the market.||Heavy, but good insulation and well-designed latches make up for it.||Top notch insulation performance, but slightly smaller than other competing models.||Good overall performance, but the uncomfortable handles feel like a significant drawback.||A great model that largely lives up to its pedigree.|
|Rating Categories||Venture 65||Pelican Elite 70||ORCA 58 Quart||Engel Deep Blue||Yeti Tundra 65|
|Ease Of Use (15%)|
|Specs||Venture 65||Pelican Elite 70||ORCA 58 Quart||Engel Deep Blue||Yeti Tundra 65|
|Measured Cooling Duration (Days Below 40˚F)||6.5||5.8||6.5||5.6||5.7|
|Claimed Cooling Duration (days)||16||Up to 10||Up to 10||Up to 10||N/A|
|Weight||33.3 lb||42.8 lb||31.1 lb||26.1lb||29.7 lb|
OtterBox Venture 65
Known for their nigh-bombproof phone cases, OtterBox has now thrown their plastic mastery into the ring with the Venture 65. And, in our opinion, they hit it out of the park on the first try. It won our insulation testing, matching the cooling duration of the previous winner despite being 11 quarts larger (based on our measurements). OtterBox has a lot of experience making finely detailed phone cases, and in the Venture 65 they effectively leveraged that experience into making comfortable handles, more user-friendly latches, a very effective drain plug, a built-in bottle opener, and attachment points for a multitude of sold-separately accessories like cutting trays, cup holders, wheels and more.
As much as we love this impressive model, the extra insulation that makes this cooler so powerful also makes it quite large and bulky, which makes it a pain to lug down the beach and across the campsite. We also weren't in love with its high cost, which is on par with that of other high-end models. However, if cooling performance is what you're after, we solidly recommend the Otterbox Venture.
Read review: OtterBox Venture 65
Best Bang for the Buck
Coleman Xtreme 5-Day 70qt
The Coleman Xtreme 5-Day performed almost exactly in line with average on our insulation tests. This is particularly impressive when you consider that the field was skewed with double the number of expensive high-end models compared to more economical traditional models. Even more impressive is the fact that it outstripped one of the high-end models, the Grizzly 75, in our insulations tests. The Coleman's drain plug design was also the favorite among our testers. Of all the models we tested the Coleman certainly packs the most punch per dollar. The Coleman blew the other inexpensive models out of the water. In our insulation test, it held safe food temperatures for a day longer than the Rubbermaid and retained ice well.
The Coleman also outperformed its traditional brethren in the durability and ease-of-use categories, though it couldn't hold a candle to the more intensely rugged, high-end models like the ORCA, RTIC, or Yeti chests. It also has some pretty uncomfortable handles compared to the competition, so you probably won't be excited to carry it too far from your vehicle. Yet its combination of performance and price make it the clear bearer of the best value flag. Make sure to check out the full range of sized Coleman offers in the Xtreme series, including the Coleman Xtreme 5-Day 120 qt.
Read review: Coleman Xtreme 5-Day
Best Overall Soft Cooler
Read review: Engel Coolers HD30
Related: The Best Soft Coolers
Best Buy: High-End
A cooler that is built to last for years can be a great investment, but the initial price tag can still be quite a shock. Enter the RTIC 65. Adhering to their motto, "Over-built, not over-priced," RTIC built a durable, roto-molded model that costs significantly less than other similarly constructed models (case in point: the RTIC generally sells for almost 30% less than the comparable YETI Tundra 65). In our testing, the RTIC was generally able to keep within spitting distance of much more expensive models in terms of insulation performance and was in lockstep with those models as far as durability goes.
We aren't in love with the messiness of the drain plug (but still appreciate that it has one), and feel that the handles could be more comfortable to aid in carrying an already heavy box to your ideal picnic spot. If you're enamored with all of the premium models hitting the shelves but don't want to spend premium bucks, the RTIC is a perfect compromise. For now, the RTIC is generally only available direct to consumer from RTIC's website, but we'll let you know if that changes.
Read review: RTIC 65
Top Pick for a Personal Model
Igloo BMX 25
If you're here for the cooler, but don't always need the full chest, the Igloo BMX 25 is the perfect size for a personal icebox. It easily fits all your personal tailgating needs, road trip refreshments or beachside brews without requiring a two-handed carry. The BMX is a slightly larger capacity, lower weight cooler than the similar-sized Yeti Roadie, that's just over a third the cost. This little icebox performed almost as well as its counterpart, keeping its contents cold for over 4.5 days, and only 70 minutes less than the Roadie! Its thick handle and lighter starting weight make for a more comfortable carrying experience, and a handy ruler across the top helps you easily measure your catch of the day.
We weren't impressed by the hinges of the BMX 25, which complain visibly when over-extending the lid, and we wish this model came with a drainage hole. The BMX doesn't boast the tank-like durability or longevity that the Roadie brings to the table, but it's still pretty solidly built and easier to carry. And unless you need a grizzly bear approved food container, the BMX is a great insulation option for your refreshments — and your wallet will certainly thank you.
Read review: Igloo BMX 25
Top Pick for Ease of Transport
Igloo Glide PRO 110qt
For dragging a bunch of frosty brews out to the end of the pier, you can't beat the Igloo Glide Pro. Its rigid, telescoping handle and large wheels make for a smooth roll, even when taking advantage of every one of its 110 quarts. It also did relatively well in our insulation testing, keeping temps below 40˚F for 3.5 days. Just make sure you have a few very strong friends around if you're planning to lift this fully-loaded icebox into a car.
Read review: Igloo Glide PRO
Why You Should Trust Us
This review brought together a team of testers, including Maggie Brandenburg, Max Mutter, and Steven Tata. When lead tester Maggie isn't leading educational backpacking trips, she's finding as many adventures as she can while living out of her teardrop trailer, and thus knows what it's like to rely on a cooler for long periods of time. Max spends most springs harvesting maple syrup at an off-the-grid tree farm, using coolers to keep that gorgeous amber elixir from turning. Steven has spent multiple months living and climbing in Yosemite National Park, storing all of his food in a cooler. Steven also used his expertise as a mechanical engineer to design our detailed insulation testing process.This review represents over 300 hours spent using, abusing and meticulously testing over 50 ice chests, and even more time researching hundreds of models to find the ones worthy of inclusion. Apart from using these products while camping, road tripping, and hanging out on the beach, we objectively measured each contender's performance in a controlled environment using precise temperature sensors.
Related: How We Tested Coolers
Analysis and Test Results
Buying a cooler used to be an easy decision. You could walk into any store, find just a few models available that were almost identical in appearance, performance, and price, choose a size that fit your needs and be on your way. Now buying one means being inundated with a myriad of varying options, price points, and marketing claims. Suddenly instead of making a quick purchase, you're considering shelling out multiple hundreds of dollars for a fancy foam box that could become an heirloom for your grandkids. Our goal is to make this process less confusing. To that end, we ran a dozen of the most highly regarded models through the most rigorous set of tests we could imagine. We then considered our testing results in the context of how different people would use them in the real world, to give you a better sense of what model will work best for your needs.
Related: Buying Advice for Coolers
Is it worth it for you to make a considerable investment in a fancy ice chest? As you can see, models closest to the lower right quadrant like the Coleman Xtreme offer about half of the performance as the expensive, high-end models at about a quarter of the price. In practice, this corresponds to about three days of safe food temperatures with the Coleman and about six days of safe temps with the more expensive models. If you consistently go on trips for more than three days that take you away from stores that sell ice, that extra cost is likely worth it. If not, your money may be better spent on a low-priced model. The other consideration is durability. If you've already broken a few coolers over the last five years, an indestructible high-end model may be a better value in the long run.
Insulation is far and away the most important performance aspect. Accordingly, we put a lot of effort into quantifying each model's insulation performance. We split our testing into two different metrics for the large models: ice retention (which correlates to how long drinks could be kept cold), and safe food storage. We measure the latter by placing a data logging thermometer above the ice where food would be stored, and seeing how long each model kept that sensor chilled below the Food and Drug Administration maximum perishable food storage temperature of 40˚F.. All of these tests were conducted with the models in the same room, side-by-side. When we get a new model, we can't ensure that the room will be exactly the same temperature as the last time we ran the test, so we adjust our figures so that they are directly comparable. That's why the figures in the table below may be slightly different from those on the other graphs from the individual tests that we ran.
Safe Food Storage
The chart below shows one example of how long several models held temperatures below the FDA safe food storage minimum of 40˚F in our testing (these figures will change based on weather conditions and the cooler's contents, but they still provide a useful benchmark for comparison). The OtterBox Venture 65 and the ORCA 58 Quart are the only models that broke the 6-day barrier, crossing the 40˚F threshold midway through Day 7. However, we are more impressed with the OtterBox's performance than the ORCA's, as we measured its capacity as 11 quarts larger (65 vs. 54) — a larger capacity translates to more space to keep cool.
Following the OtterBox and ORCA in a tightly packed group were the Pelican Elite 70, Yeti Tundra, the Engel Deep Blue, and the RTIC 65, respectively. All four of these models exceeded 40˚F within a few hours of each other midway through Day 6, just about 24 hours before the top performers, and they all received an insulation performance score of 8.
We also tested two personal-sized contenders, the Yeti Roadie 20 and the Igloo BMX 25. While the Roadie outperformed the BMX in other areas, the BMX held its own in insulatory value against a much more expensive competitor. Both kept safe food temperatures for over 4.5 days, with the Roadie only holding colder temperatures for just over an hour longer than the BMX. We are solidly impressed with this little model's performance, which earned the BMX our Top Pick for a Personal Cooler. You can see the results of our temperature test in the chart below.
Our testing showed ice retention to be closely correlated with maintaining safe food temperatures. We only performed this test on the models over 50L, as the small personal-sized models have less internal space in which to vary the food temperature from ice concentration. All of the models warmed to above 40˚F within 1-2 days before losing their last bit of ice. The OtterBox, the ORCA, the Pelican, and theYeti all led the pack retaining ice for seven days, though the ORCA was able to stay below 40˚ for one more day than the others. The Engel rounded out the true high-end performers, each holding ice for six days. The Engel maintained safe food temperatures for over five days. The Grizzly again fell in with the traditional crowd, performing just as well as the Coleman Xtreme with five days of ice retention.
A Note About '5-Day' and Other Claims
Most of the models we tested have some sort of ice or cold duration claim, purporting to be a '5-day model' or something similar. The high-end models that do make claims are careful to add some plausible deniability into their language, such as the Engel, ORCA, Pelican Elite 70, and Igloo BMX25 which advertise an 'up to X-day' claim. Others like the Grizzly and Yeti models forgo making such claims.
We advise you to take these claims with a grain of salt. Most of these claims carry fine print stipulations that don't match the realities and practicalities of real-world use, such as never draining meltwater, pre-chilling the entire chest before use, rarely opening the lid, using specific shapes or amounts of ice, and maintaining a consistent external temperature. Although they often do not explicitly say so, these claims commonly refer to ice retention. Our testing shows that temperatures rise above the critical 40˚F mark before the last of the ice has melted, meaning even if the five-day claim is technically accurate you could have spoiled food before the five days are up.
When comparing claims to the more important food safety standard, none of the traditional models we tested lived up to their five-day claim. The Coleman Xtreme came the closest, hitting 40˚F most of the way through Day 4. Most of the High-end models broke this five-day mark. Only the Grizzly, which warmed up midway through Day 4, fell short of this mark. No model was able to match even the more conservative 'up to 7-day' high-end claim, though the Pelican came close, lasting 6.5 days. This, however, was still well short of its 'up to 10-day' claim.
These products will most likely be put through some abuse, at the very least bouncing around in a tightly packed car as it rambles down a bumpy road. Increased durability naturally means a longer useful life and a lower likelihood of mid-trip creative duct tape repairs. Durability is a difficult thing to quantify. Our durability scores are based on our testers' impressions after extensively using each one of the products firsthand, and data mining online user reviews to identify any salient durability issues.
Unlike insulation performance, which had a fairly widespread, our durability testing resulted in two tight-knit camps: the extremely durable high-end models and the less durable traditional models. After fiddling with drain plugs, pushing on walls and lids and yanking on hinges, we awarded all of the high-end models durability with higher scores in this metric. Some of these models, like the Pelican Elite 70 the Yeti Tundra 65, lost some points for not being airtight and letting water spill out during our slosh test. We feel that this indicates slightly lesser structural integrity and thus slightly lesser durability than the other top-performing models. The Pelican Elite also has somewhat of a flimsy drain plug leash, which showed some signs of wear by the end of our testing. The RTIC's latches are slightly less beefy than other high-end models. They're definitely not flimsy, but not as over-built as the competition either. Our testers couldn't imagine having any durability issues with the lids, latches, or hinges of any of the high-end models, and this opinion was corroborated by reading over 1000 online user reviews.
Impressively, we found the much smaller Yeti Roadie 20 to be incredibly durable. It was able to handle anything we could come up with, and if Yeti's YouTube channel is to be believed, a whole lot of things we didn't actually test (like a live grizzly bear, filling the whole thing full of fireworks, or dropping it off a cliff). This little cooler is even tested and approved for use in grizzly bear territory by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee! The hinge, usually a weak point of any cooler, is an impressively interlocking design that can withstand the immense amount of pressure we applied to it. The Roadie's rotomolded construction means the entire body is made out of a single piece of plastic, much like a whitewater kayak. The tag even proclaims this little bad boy is "virtually indestructible" and we can't say we found any reason to doubt that under typical use. Our only minor concern is that the latches are rubber — very sturdy, thick rubber — and we're not totally sure how they'll handle the test of time through extreme sunshine for years or being stored in a garage that's alternately boiling hot and freezing cold. That said, we actually experienced no issues with the latches during our testing and this little-cooler-that-could received our highest score for durability.
The traditional models felt significantly less durable, and it was easy to find user reviews complaining about broken hinges and handles. Additionally, some give can be felt when pushing against their walls and lids, while pushing against those of high-end models feels like pushing against a rock. The Igloo Glide Pro was the best of the bunch. It has a solid body and hinges and latches that are a bit more burly than the other traditional models. Plus, its wheels and handle feel more solid than the other wheeled models we tested. This clear split in durability may be the sole justification some need to opt for a high-end model, as increased durability translates to greater longevity and many more camping trips before you will need to buy a replacement. It also means fewer worries when it's bouncing around in a boat on rough seas or falling off the back of an ATV.
Ease of Use
We feel that ease of use boils down to two major things that you will have to deal with almost every day that you use your cooler: opening the lid and draining meltwater. Lid opening ease is in a large part determined by the latches that secure it and also by how well it stays open while loading/unloading. Lids that have a propensity to snap shut on a whim add a degree of difficulty to normal camp cooking. And lids that are difficult to open when you've already got a handful of a platter of raw meat or uncooked veggies aren't as user-friendly. Some drain plugs create water park worthy jets of water while draining, or tend to drip water onto the underside of the body, all of which can make a mess if you're trying to drain from inside the trunk of your car. And some coolers have no drains at all.
Our testing did not reveal a huge range in relative ease-of-use between the models we considered, but there were factors that made some a bit better than others. The highest performing models were the OtterBox Venture 65, Pelican Elite, and the Engel Deep Blue. Our testers felt that these models all had secure yet simple to operate latches, easy to open lids and drain plugs, and could all be drained with minimal hassle and tilting. The OtterBox and Pelican, in particular, have great latches that are very secure yet can easily be opened with one hand. The Best Buy award winning Coleman Xtreme and the Igloo Glide PRO as well as both the portable models, the Yeti Roadie 20 and Igloo BMX 25, followed the lead pack.
We found the internal latching mechanism on the Coleman's lid finicky to open, often requiring two hands pry loose. However, it made up for this in draining ease; its drain plug pops open in a snap and it is one of the few models that drained completely with little to no tilting. The Glide Pro was also very easy to drain as it easily pivots around its wheels to get an easy tilt. However, the latches were also a bit more difficult to get open than other models. The Yeti was a bit challenging to open with a single free hand and the handle that snaps vertically into place for ease of carry is next to impossible to get with one hand. The Igloo BMX has a lid that must be pushed back into a specific position to stay open and has no drain but is fairly easy to use with one hand already full of that night's dinner.
Ease of use is a category where the results did not clearly split between high-end and traditional models. Case in point, the Editors' Choice, ORCA 58 Quart was one of the lowest scorers, due mostly to its tricky hinges that tended to snap shut like a hungry hippo. On the other hand, the Best Buy award winning, Coleman Xtreme was one of the higher scorers and was actually the least fussy model when it came to draining.
When fully packed, some of these behemoths are heavy. For example, when we loaded the biggest models up with water for our carry test, the Yeti Tundra and Coleman Xtreme weighed 137 lbs and 147 lbs, respectively. That's heavy enough that a one-person carry is near impossible and a two-person carry will certainly get the blood moving. They can be so heavy, in fact, that many people decide to plan all of their logistics around keeping their giant ice chest in the car and not moving it for the entire trip. Ease of portability of these enormous models is almost completely determined by handle comfort. Poorly designed handles can leave your hands looking like a raw slab of meat, while nice handles can make moving a heavy load borderline pleasant (maybe 'pleasant' is a bit of an overstatement, they will at least make it less painful). We also considered external size, as smaller or more packable dimensions means you can stuff more toys into your adventure-bound car.
Here again, amongst the large to massive iceboxes, we did not see a big range of scores following our testing, all falling between 4 and 7, but there were subtle differences that will be meaningful to some users. In general, the high scorers were the models that were easy to carry. The ORCA 58 Quart and Pelican Elite, were also our favorite big models to carry when heavily loaded. Our testers found the rigid plastic handles of the Pelican to be the most comfortable, but the Pelican lost some packability points due to its hefty exterior size. While the ORCA's handles weren't quite as comfortable, they were still clearly better than the rest of the models, and its more cubic shape made it more packable.
Obviously the personal-sized coolers we tested did much better in this metric. The Igloo BMX 25 is very portable while still maintaining a large internal volume compared to the other personal cooler, the Yeti Roadie 20. We think the Igloo BMX is a bit easier to carry around, as it's not only a full five pounds lighter when empty, but the handle is a much larger diameter that fits more comfortably in our hands, making it much less of a chore to carry. The Roadie is still easier to cart around than any of the humoungous iceboxes we tested, but its narrow handle and heavier starting weight made it less pleasant than the BMX 25.
Most of the larger models we tested fell into the mid-range of portability performance, with seven models exiting our testing with a score of 6. This group, which includes the Otterbox Venture 65, the Coleman, the Engel, the Max Cold, the Rubbermaid, the Igloo Glide PRO and the Coleman Wheeled, all received average handle comfort scores from our testers. If you often find yourself lugging around a heavy cooler you'll want to consider one of our top scorers. However, if you're a pack it up in the car and never move it kind of person, one of these models may suit your needs. The Igloo Glide Pro and the Coleman Wheeled both earned extra points due to their wheels. Both these models slide well. If anything the wheels are a bit smoother on the Igloo. However, both models lost some points due to their larger size, which made them very difficult to lift up. OtterBox does sell a wheel attachment for its products, which would greatly improve the portability, but that accessory alone costs as much as most coolers.
This is our lowest weighted scoring criteria at just five percent. This is because insulation is far and away the most important thing to consider for these products, so much so that any additional features are just tangential to their primary function. However, there are a number of features available on some models: rulers, cupholders, even emergency bottle openers. High-end models also include more durable construction features, such as pin style hinges and external latches. The feature we like the most is a drain plug leash, but while convenient it certainly isn't necessary.
The Pelican Elite, OtterBox Venture 65, and Yeti Roadie 20 topped the features category, each earning a 7 out of 10. The Pelican earned this score to its drain plug leash, built-in lid ruler, and all of the accouterments that come with high-end construction. The OtterBox offers some nice touches like a built-in bottle opener and an included tray to keep moisture sensitive food away from the ice. The Yeti Roadie has tie downs, locking corners, an easy-to-use drain plug, and is built to withstand dry ice, for when you need extra cooling powers. Most of the other high-end models scored in the mid to high range due to their construction features. The Engel also includes a built-in emergency bottle opener.
The traditional models scored lower in this category, as they generally don't have the super durable hinges and other beefed-up design aspects of the high-end models. Models like the Igloo Glide PRO and the Rubbermaid DuraChill did earn extra points for their wheels, but other than that the traditional models all lacked the extra features of the high-end models.
One of the complications in buying a cooler is figuring out how much performance do you really need for your adventures? The very best models are robust and will last a very long time, offering outstanding insulation for multi-day outings. But, the top of the line products are also expensive. If you don't need to keep things cold for very long then a lower cost product is going to be a better investment for your needs. We hope that our testing and ratings have helped you narrow down to one or two products that seem just right for your needs. If you are still not sure what to get, take a look at our buying advice article, which provides some guidelines for narrowing down selection that may be helpful.
— Max Mutter, Steven Tata and Maggie Brandenburg