We've tested 35 models over 8 years in search of the best cooler. This review covers 20 top ice chests available in 2021 we bought and tested side-by-side. We started in the lab with rigorous insulation testing and continued assessments through a wide range of real-world uses. From picnics in the park to beach BBQs, we carted these models everywhere we went to learn which models are most portable and enjoyable to use. We went through hundreds of pounds of ice and frosty cans for rigorous insulation tests, too. Whether you're setting out on a road trip or a hunting trip, we can help you choose your perfect icebox.Related: Best Soft Cooler of 2021
Best Cooler of 2021
|Price||Check Price at REI|
Compare at 3 sellers
|$339.99 at Amazon||$279.99 at Amazon||$250 List||$279.99 at Amazon|
|Pros||Excellent insulation, super durable, easy to use, great size||Excellent insulation, great drainage, durable, compact design||Pretty good insulation, convenient size, comparatively lightweight, good price||Very durable, good insulation, comfortable handle grips||User-friendly latches, large capacity, decent insulation, durable walls|
|Cons||Expensive, no leash for plug, smaller than claimed||Tall narrow shape is hard to dig through, expensive, not our favorite handles||Handles uncomfortable, not our favorite latches||A bit large for one person, no leash for plug, latches are scarily stretchy||Hinge not most durable, awkward shape, expensive|
|Bottom Line||For the toughest, best insulated, and highest all-around performing cooler; the Tundra is where it’s at||Top-notch insulation in a long-lasting, compact design||A less expensive option that still performs well in the face of some stiff competition||Great, long-lasting performance in a premium and functional cooler||A good performer though with an odd shape|
|Rating Categories||Yeti Tundra 65||ORCA 58 Quart||Engel 65||RTIC 65||OtterBox Venture 65|
|Ease Of Use (15%)|
|Specs||Yeti Tundra 65||ORCA 58 Quart||Engel 65||RTIC 65||OtterBox Venture 65|
|Shelf Life of Food (Measured Days Below 40ºF)||6.5 days||6.5 days||5.6 days||6 days||5 days|
|Weight (lbs)||31.9 lb||30.6 lb||25.5 lb||34.9 lb||34.1 lb|
|Measured Capacity (quarts)||56 qt||56 qt||54 qt||67 qt||66 qt|
|Advertised Capacity (quarts)||65 qt||58 qt||65 qt||65 qt||65 qt|
|Days of Cold Beverages (Measured Days Below 50º F)||7.4 days||7.3 days||6 days||6.8 days||5.8 days|
|Internal Maximum Body Height (inches)||10.5"||13"||10.75"||12"||12.25"|
|Does it Fit a Wine or 2L Bottle Standing Upright?||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Exterior Dimensions (L x W x H)||30.75" x 17.5" x 16"||26.75" x 20" x 19.4"||29.5" x 17" x 16.6"||32" x 18.5" x 17"||40.5" x 18.75" x 18.75"|
|Construction||Rotomolded polyethylene||Rotomolded||Rotomolded||Rotomolded||Polypropylene (not rotomolded)|
Yeti Tundra 65
Yeti is one of the most recognized names in the game for a good reason. The Tundra 65 boasts the most impressive all-around performance out of any model we tested. Through numerous rounds of our intensive insulation testing, the Tundra 65 continues to outlast the rest when it comes to how long it can keep its contents at safe temperatures for consumption and refreshing temperatures for drinking. It's a straightforward, rotomolded design that just works. The Tundra 65, one of many chests we tested with a bear-resistance certification from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC), has sturdy latches that are easy to use and durable. It also comes with a removable dry basket inside the top to keep sensitive items out of melty ice water and can be outfitted with loads more accessories for all kinds of activities. The Tundra 65 is a reasonable weight for its size, and its shape has a low profile that makes the last beverage easy to find while still being narrow enough for a single person to load into A truck. Even after regular use over several years, the Tundra 65 works just as well as the day we bought it. Yeti also continues to diversify the colors and personalization options available for this cooler, providing more choices to match your style better.
We are a bit disappointed to have measured this large model with "65" in the name at just 56 quarts, but our testers ended up appreciating this surprisingly useful size more than the models that are actually 65 quarts. The Tundra line also includes a plethora of other sizes, many of which we've tested — from small, personal boxes to behemoths. Like many of its competitors, the Tundra 65 has a tiny lip on the inside the bottom of the drain, making it challenging to 100% empty without flipping the whole thing upside-down. But with those minor complaints aside, we think the Tundra 65 is a super handy option for just about any activity you would drive your car to.
Read review: Yeti Tundra 65
Best Bang for Your Buck
In the realm of incredibly tough ice chests, the Xspec 60qt emerges as an impressive model with a price tag that offers some respite from the rest. Sure, it's not the cheapest option out there, but for less than half the price of so many others we tested, it offers thoughtful design features, more than adequate insulation, and a reliable structure. Rotomolded construction and one of the few actually airtight seals lend ample insulation power to get through most summer weekend camping trips. Easy-to-use latches combine plastic clasps with rubber security for a painless opening and closing experience. After a few years of use, we've noticed the rubber on these latches has gotten ever so slightly stiffer, requiring just a touch more force to operate, though still pretty undemanding. A pressure release push valve located on the side frequently comes in handy through changes in outside temperature and elevation. This ice trunk is narrow enough for solo carry, tall enough to fit an upright bottle of chilled white wine, yet still shallow enough to find items that have migrated to the bottom. It has a slew of useful features, including bottle openers, easily removable handles, a fish ruler, and even a small, fairly accurate compass.
With that said, it does fall short in some areas. Maintaining temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for 4.7 days is probably sufficient for most uses. Still, it lags behind the best performers that achieved over six days of keeping food below that critical safety threshold. And while the Xspec does have several features we love, it's missing a handy dry basket that now comes standard with so many others. Over the past couple of years using this chest regularly, it's managed to pick up a fair bit of dirt and a few scratches, but no major damage. With just a few minor shortcomings aside, we love what the Xspec has to offer for its price, and we think it's a wholly high-value piece of gear.
Read review: Xspec 60qt
Best on a Tight Budget
Coleman Xtreme 5-Day 70qt
We are quite impressed with the insulation performance of this rather inexpensive product. Up against models that are three or four times its price, the Coleman Xtreme 70 holds its own. Though it can't match the premium models' rotomolded insulation prowess and rugged durability, the Coleman clearly shows its worth and value, considering the massive chunk of change you'll save. It's also much lighter than the majority of the rest of the competition, even lighter even than several of the personal-sized models we tested. And to top it off, it has a deceptively large internal volume for a comparatively small overall size. With a simple pull-open lid and no latches to slow you down, the Coleman is one of the most natural-feeling chests to use — like opening your fridge at home. It's a simple design that does what it's meant to do.
That said, if ruggedness is something you need, the Coleman may not be the best choice. Its handles, hinges, and latches don't inspire confidence in their ability to last the years in the same way as the high-end, IGBC certified, and rotomolded models do. Every time we've used it over the past several years, it seems to pick up numerous extra scratches and dirt, though it still works the same. We also aren't in love with the comfort of its narrow, plastic handles in the shadow of some of the broader, more cushioned options utilized by its competitors. While we appreciate the simplicity of the pop-open drain, its small size can't offer the same rapid flow rate as the much wider drains found in the competition. It also lacks a rubber gasket around the top or lid. Still, you could purchase 3 or 4 of these coolers for the same price as some of the competition, and it works to keep your goods cold for days.
Read review: Coleman Xtreme 5-Day
Best Mid-Sized Model
Though it's tempting to assume all sizes of a particular model are the same, we put that to the test. When it comes to mid-sized coolers, our favorite of the bunch is the Orca 40. True to its name, this thin-profile ice chest has a full 40 quarts of internal storage. Additionally, you get bonus storage on the outside of the ice chest with this line's external, velcro-sealed mesh pocket stretching across the entire back of the box. While most of the Orca 40's competitors include some sort of rubber seal around the lid, this is one of the very few that actually creates an airtight seal, with a thick tube that squishes flat when closed, filling in gaps, and a cleverly welded-shut seam (rather than the taped-over gap we see in so many others). We're also thoroughly impressed with the overall design and construction of this super-durable box, which not only is certified bear-resistant by the IGBC but demonstrates obvious attention to detail, with sturdy, confidence-inspiring features and smooth finishing touches.
Though it was just a few hours shy from being the top mid-sized insulation performer, the Orca 40 was surpassed slightly by the Yeti Tundra 45, a cooler that's actually 5 quarts smaller. Still, the Orca 40 achieved 3.5 days at food-safe temperatures of sub 40ºF in our hot room — plenty of time for a weekend of camping and most needs. Despite its taller profile, it can't quite fit an upright, standard-sized bottle of wine or 2L of soda, though it comes fairly close, at 11.25 inches of internal height. The thick, stiff latches of this Orca provide additional security, as well as require a little extra muscling to maneuver them in and out of place. While more and more competitors now automatically include an internal dry basket, Orca continues to offer it as an extra accessory, subbing in the external mesh pocket instead. Despite these few minor gripes, we love the all-around size, feel, and performance of the Orca 40 as the best mid-sized option on the market today.
Read review: Orca 40
Best Wheeled Option
RovR RollR 60
When it comes to rolling coolers, the Rovr is easily our favorite. It's the only model we tested that has actual pneumatic tires instead of cylindrical plastic chunks labeled as wheels. You can pump them up just like your car or bicycle tires, giving you the freedom to run over the same types of terrain. While other models often have tiny wheels, rigid wheels, low clearance, or narrow, uncomfortable handles, the Rovr is what a wheeled chest should be. It has a broad handle featuring comfortable and functional rubber grips on either end, making it a breeze to stroll down the sidewalk, through the grass, and across the beach with this box in tow. The Rovr also boasts solid, durable construction, hefty latches, and integrated hinges to help it last through countless picnics and get-togethers. If that's not enough, it also comes standard with some of the most useful features we've seen (no extra purchase required), including a large, removable dry bin and a giant dry storage box that attaches to the lid and literally doubles the amount of stuff you can haul. You can put everything you need for the barbecue in and on this cooler and wheel it to the park with one hand. Feeling fancy? You can also pick up the handy bike attachment and tow the Rovr behind your bicycle. It costs extra, but we bought it, tried it, and now we can't imagine life without it.
The most crucial aspect of any wheeled model is how easily it gets you there, which the Rovr does spectacularly. That said, it lags a little in the insulation department compared to some intense rivals, which is likely due to the imperfect seal between the top of the body and lid. It is important to remember that you're probably not interested in taking a wheeled chest on a ten-day rafting trip or a three-week road trip, but rather to the picnic down the road or a tailgating party. We think the latches are a bit stiff to manipulate but can become easy to learn with some practice. After using it for years now, this rolling icebox is like nothing we've ever experienced before and is the only one that our friends request to cart around.
Read review: Rovr RollR 60
Best Personal Model
Yeti Roadie 24
Sometimes you don't need that much space, but you do need excellent performance. That's where the Yeti Roadie 24 comes into play. Just as we've come to expect from Yeti products over the years, the ruggedness of the Roadie model doesn't disappoint. A beefy, integrated hinge in the sturdy rotomolded exterior protects contents from the trials of all your outdoor adventures. It's built to be a seat when you finally reach your destination (Yeti even sells a seat cushion to go with it, though we haven't tested it yet). This latest version of the Roadie includes numerous upgrades we love, including redesigned latches that let you easily open the lid one-handed and a flexible, webbing top handle. The Roadie 24 is just over 13 inches tall inside, which allows standard wine and 2L bottles to stand upright. The Roadie also outlasted all other personal-sized models in our insulation testing. Just as its name suggests, this little box has proved itself to be our go-to road trip companion.
It's our favorite personal model, but it's not perfect. The webbing top handle is a bit short. This makes it more comfortable to carry but also frequently positions the handle in a way where it inhibits opening the lid. It also lacks a drainage port, and this version doesn't boast the IGBC certification of larger Yeti hard coolers. Yet, because it's so small (relatively speaking), we hardly miss those extra features. The Roadie is not airtight or leakproof—a minor letdown from an otherwise impressive model due (in large part) to a sizeable gap left where the ends of the rubber seal meet, that's only covered by a piece of fabric tape. It's also almost alarmingly expensive compared to others. If you don't often need a small ice chest, we think the Igloo BMX 25 is a better value for your money, but if your cooler comes with you everywhere and needs to be the best and withstand the most, there's no other personal icebox we'd recommend more for the task than the rugged Yeti Roadie 24.
Read review: Yeti Roadie 24
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is the brainchild of a team of testers, lead by Senior Review Editor, Maggie Brandenburg. Maggie has been playing and guiding in the outdoors for over fifteen years, from backpacking the Tahoe Rim Trail to kayaking the Caribbean. She is an avid camper and even lived in her teardrop trailer for several seasons. She spent eight years at Iowa State University completing two science degrees and teaching numerous college science courses, so she has a comprehensive understanding of the importance of rigorous and scientific testing processes. Maggie doesn't underestimate a great cooler's value, whether it's for off-grid living, celebratory summit beers, road trips, or backyard barbecues. She ropes in friends and family to her testing to gain perspectives from all ages and abilities. Our testing team also includes Max Mutter and Steven Tata. Max spends most springs harvesting maple syrup at a remote tree farm and relies on ice chests to keep that perfect amber elixir from spoiling. Steven has spent numerous months living and climbing in Yosemite National Park, where he lacks a fridge; instead storing all of his food in a cooler, working to keep it safe from the hundreds of black bears that call the park home. Maggie, a trained scientist, put her head together with Steven, a mechanical engineer, to design our detailed, intensive insulation testing process.
This review represents over 600 combined hours spent using, abusing, and meticulously testing over 35 different ice chests over a span of seven years — not including the time spent researching hundreds of new and promising models to find the ones worthy of inclusion. We ran and re-ran insulation tests under controlled but harsh laboratory conditions. We dragged our test subjects through the gravel, sand, mud, and grass while road tripping, tailgating, camping, and hanging out on the beach. We asked our friends and family, who span three generations, to help us dive into these coolers (sometimes literally) and identify the top performers. From being dropped from waist height, thrown into vehicles, jumped on by a 200lb tester, dragged across hot surfaces, yanked on, jerked around, and otherwise abused, these chests have seen it all.
Related: How We Tested Coolers
Analysis and Test Results
The market for ice chests continues to grow over the years, resulting in some extremely close competition and hard-fought rivalries. To tease apart performance differences between contenders, we implement specific tests, spanning five exhaustive, mutually exclusive metrics. We test the insulation performance, durability, ease of use, portability, and features of every single model. As some performance aspects are more important than others, we weight each metric accordingly. Below, we discuss our test results and which models stand out in each area.
Related: Buying Advice for Coolers
Though our scoring system of each contender's performance does not include the cost of the unit, we recognize that this is a crucial aspect influencing the decision of which one to purchase. This particular market includes a huge range of prices that make one wonder if a plastic box could be worth that much money. In some cases, that extra cash does bring excellent insulation performance, greater utility, and convenience. In other cases, you can spend far less without a substantial drop in overall performance. It's also helpful to consider how often you find yourself needing the cooling and insulating services these ice chests provide and how burly and rugged you need your gear to be.
When it comes to high durability and above-average insulation and usability, the Xspec 60 is a fantastic example of a high-value item. This under-budget, yet over-performing, model has been accompanying our team for years of adventures now, handily getting the job done for weekends full of summer fun. If you don't need such a beefy box or a lengthy time frame for storing raw meat, the Coleman Xtreme 70 is another good choice, saving you both money and weight. On the other hand, if you're the type of explorer heading off the grid for extended periods and pushing your gear to the limits, the extra cash you'll drop on the Yeti Tundra 65 is well worth the investment. This bear-resistant box provides top-notch insulation and superb usability that's become our team's go-to companion for longer trips.
The most important metric for most of us is how well an ice chest keeps food cold and fresh. This metric is also the source of a lot of really extraordinary claims from manufacturers. From models with "5-Day" in the name to stickers boasting up to 16 days of ice retention, it seems that just about every product out there will knock your socks off. That is until you read the fine print, which typically includes a litany of stipulations such as the entire chest has to be pre-chilled (walk-in freezer, anyone?), its contents must also be pre-chilled or even frozen (no more buying drinks straight off the shelf and tossing them in the cooler), you can only open it once a day when it's cool (what about lunch?), or you'll need twice as much ice as food (gonna need a bigger cooler…). While all these things will of course help extend the life of your ice and, therefore, the freshness of your food, it's unlikely that you'd actually be able to do all of these things every time you use it. So we tested a more realistic usage. We bought some ice, filled them each model about ⅓ full, and put a mixture of cold and room temperature cans in them. Then we simulated a midsummer trip by sealing them in a heated room for over a week while tracking and recording each unit's internal temperature.
There are two critical temperature thresholds we made a note of; 40º F, and 50º F. 40º F is the maximum acceptable temperature recommended by the FDA to ensure food safety, as it minimizes the growth of pathogenic bacteria. Put simply, keeping refrigerated food items below 40º F greatly reduces the chance of food spoiling and making you sick.
The 50ºF threshold we highlight represents the average maximum ideal temperature to serve beer. The American Homebrewers Association breaks down the optimal serving temperature range for different types of beer, which we based this threshold on. We chose 50ºF in part as an average maximum ideal beer serving temperature and also to easily see the rate at which each cooler gains degrees as its ice melts within by comparing how much time there is between when each model crosses the 40º and 50º lines.
The Orca 58 and Yeti Tundra 65 are the winners of our demanding insulation testing. Both maintained a temperature of less than 40º F for 6.5 days. While the Orca outlasted the Yeti here by just shy of 30 minutes, the Yeti then hung out below 50º F for an hour and a half longer than the Orca, demonstrating that it has a slower warming rate. When all was said and done, the top-scoring Tundra 65 provided a whopping 7.3 days of sub-50º F refreshments.
Additional close contenders include the Pelican Elite Wheeled and RTIC 65, which both maintained FDA safe temperatures of less than 40º F for about six days and acceptable beer temperatures for just shy of 7 days. These are impressive scores for a lineup with an average performance of maintaining sub-40º temperatures for just over 4.2 days, and sub-50º for just over 4.7 days.
Just because a cooler is rotomolded doesn't necessarily make it the best insulator. For example, the OtterBox Venture, one of several non-rotomolded chests we tested, lasted five days below that critical lower temperature threshold, a performance that bested numerous rotomolded models. The Coleman Xtreme is another great example. Though it lasted just 4.1 days under 40º F, it came in only 14 hours behind several burlier (and far more expensive) rotomolded models.
Among mid-sized models, it's useful to point out that the internal volume of the Yeti Tundra 45 measures roughly 35 quarts. Don't let the "45" throw you off. We measured the Orca 40 true to its name with 40 quarts of internal volume. In our insulation tests, the Tundra 45 eeked out a marginal win, lasting 3.8 days under 40º F. Impressively, with an extra 6 quarts of internal volume, the Orca 40 maintained food-safe temperatures for 3.5 days. These two top-scoring options continued to warm at nearly equal rates, with the Tundra 45 topping out at 4.2 days of sub 50º F and the 40-quart Orca 40 crossing that final threshold at 3.8 days.
The small, personal-sized models can't keep up with their larger brethren regarding insulation. The Yeti Roadie 24 impresses us, though, and is the best personal-sized model we tested. It lasted 2.8 days in keeping its contents under 40º F and just a few minutes shy of 3 full days under 50º F. Not far behind, the Igloo BMX 25 also scores well in this arena. It managed to maintain sub-40º F temperatures for 2.6 days, besting the similarly sized Stanley Adventure by several hours and leaving the Pelican Elite 20qt in the dust (which had a disappointing performance of just 1.4 days under 40º F).
Of our test subjects with a manufacturer's claim for ice retention attached to them, not a single one lived up to it in our tests. As the market continues to grow, many manufacturers have stopped including specific number-of-day claims or have started adding asterisks to those claims that require limiting conditions to exist for them to be met. However, while the results from our insulation testing are in many cases far below some of the manufacturer claims, we went out of our way to push these competitors to their limits. There are many tips and tricks that can help you get even more from your ice, such as pre-chilling the cooler, keeping it in the shade, and packing a 2:1 ice to contents ratio.
Knowing your investment will last through years and years of adventures is important for any piece of gear you own, and these products are no exception. Though we didn't have ten years to spend testing each model, we spent months subjecting them to a lot of prolonged use and a fair amount of abuse to see how they stood up to the pressure. We overextended hinges, jumped on lids, yanked on latches and handles, and dropped full chests from a carrying height. We set accident-prone friends, young children, and hefty humans loose on them to see what they're made of by pushing them in ways more typically spread across many years of use. We filled each model with water to see how well their seals worked (or if they worked at all) and left them all out in the scorching midday desert sun for hours on end to see what would happen. Several of our top-performing contestants have been in regular use for several years now, and each season we update their durability and performance information, documenting how they change over time.
Several of the models we tested have IGBC certification - what does that mean, though? A certification from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee verifies that the product in question has been tested by said committee and meets minimum standards for design and structural standards that are considered "bear-resistant" by a team of grizzly bear experts. The IGBC specifically states that this does not mean the product in question can't be opened or destroyed by a bear, nor does it mean the product is leakproof. With that said, even the minimum construction standards required to deter a hungry 10 foot long, 900 lb grizzly lend a lot of credibility to the durability of a product. Models we reviewed that are IGBC certified include the Yeti Tundra 65 and Tundra 45, OtterBox Venture 65, Orca 58 and 40, Pelican Wheeled 80 and Elite 20, Engel 65, Arctic Zone Titan 55, and Rovr RollR 60. These products proved to be very durable, despite the fact our team was unable to find a grizzly bear willing to test each of them rigorously.
Additionally, several other aspects add to each one's overall durability, beyond just a sturdy hinge and a set of bearproof locks. The latches and handles don't factor into an IGBC rating, as they are entirely irrelevant to bear safety but extremely relevant to any model's longevity. Rubber T-grip latches are popular as a durable, easy-to-use solution for keeping your ice chest closed. The Yeti Tundra (both the 65 and 45 models) latches performed the best in our durability testing, with a combination of thickness and sturdiness mixed with the right amount of flexibility to stay tightly in place when needed and not give away to the incessant yanking of a bored four-year-old. Even after several years of use, the Tundra 65's latches are virtually the same as the first day we got it. If you prefer thicker, sturdier latches and don't mind the extra muscling they require to operate, the Orca 58 and Orca 40 both have brawny rubber T-grips (in the shape of orca tails) that practically exude security and confidence.
The RTIC has visually similar rubber latches that are much more flexible. While this comes in handy for its ease of use, it does concern us a bit that they might stretch out over time. The Igloo IMX 70 is in the same boat, with exceptionally easy-to-use latches that are so flexible and soft that we worry about how they'll hold up through years of UV and user exposure. For the time being, though, this is just a concern and not something we witnessed during our extensive testing. TheIgloo BMX also has T-grip latches with slightly different shapes and thicknesses that both get the job done just fine.
The Xspec, Engel, OtterBox Venture, and Yeti Roadie 24 are some that buck the trend of popular T-grip closure mechanisms on high-end coolers. The Engel has part-rubber-part-metal latches, and the Xspec mixes plastic clasps with rubber straps that ditch the brawn for a bit more finesse when securing them. After multiple years of use, we've noticed the Xspec rubber sections have tightened up over time. This makes them just as secure as ever but requires slightly more force to operate. The Roadie 24 and OtterBox Venture both have plastic and rubber latches similar to the Xspec, but they're both exceptionally easy to use, requiring less finagling and feeling much stronger overall.
When it comes to handles, models with immobile handles have an additional advantage. Many models accomplish this by having two sets of handles—one indented in the sides of the chest for single-person lugging and a second set of mobile handles that extend above the top of the chest for two-person toting. The Engel, Tundra 65 and 45, Xspec, Titan, Orca58 and 40, RTIC, and Igloo IMX all follow this model. The thick handles jutting out from the OtterBox sides also impressed us with their obvious strength. Overall, the contenders with the most durable combinations of design, construction, and features are the Roadie and Tundra models, with the Orca and Rovr not far behind.
That being said, there's something a little bit extra about a plastic box that's not only well-designed and durably built but clearly shows attention to detail at every turn. The Orca 58 and 40 both are those coolers. Where so many competitors have visible screws holding on the latches (Kenai 65) or hinges (Igloo BMX 25, Coleman Xtreme 70, and others), rope ends and knots visible (RTIC, Engel, and others), or even tiny plastic ridges leftover on edges from the manufacturing process (Yeti Tundra models), every unit we've tested from Orca appears clean and polished. These details perhaps don't matter in the long run from a durability standpoint, but go a long way toward making your expensive cooler look as impressive as its price tag and performance suggest.
Ease of Use
So your cooler works. And it's going to last a good long while. But is it a pain in the bum to use? Ease of use is a critical factor in your overall happiness with any given product. We tested each model's ease of use by, well, using them. A lot. We gauged how easy each one is to open and close - does the lid stay open while you load it? Are the latches easy to maneuver with full hands? We also observed how easy they are to load: is it a conducive configuration for oddly-shaped items? Is it tall enough for 2-liter soda bottles or celebratory champagne? Does it come with any handy features like a dry bin for items that shouldn't touch ice or soak in slushy water?
We gauged the ease of grabbing the handles without looking and took note if they require extra steps to slide them out into place or push them back down out of the way. We evaluated each drain (if there was one) to see how thorough a job it does and how simple it is to use. And for wheeled models, of course, we considered how that pair of spinning discs affects the chest's usage when you're not actively pulling it around.
Both Pelican models we tested - the Pelican Wheeled and the Pelican 20 stand out to our testers as having exceptionally easy to use latches. Unlike the rubber latches of many of their competitors that you stretch into place, Pelican's latches are a simple push design, featuring a release button in the middle that 'unlocks' the lid, allowing you to lift the latch away from the body and raise the top. When asked by a four-year-old which model she thinks is the easiest to open, she picked the Pelican latches, hands down.
The Xspec, Roadie 24, and OtterBox Venture are also notable for innovative and fairly effortless latch experiences. Both of these big boxes combine a rubber latch for tightness and security with a plastic locking mechanism that makes them a breeze to use and requires much less brute strength than any of the 100% rubber latches demand. The Kenai 65 features mostly rubber, stretchy latches, but swaps out the rubber T-grip section for short metal posts that grip grooves underneath the rim of the body. Though they're comfortable and easy to use, they proved to be less secure when jostled or dropped, and occasionally popped open during our testing.
The Stanley Adventure has plastic latches that are simple to use with one hand. They require just a minimal amount of pressure to seal your precious cargo or access its delicious contents, but the long-term durability of these plastic latches isn't confidence-inspiring. Interestingly, the Igloo Mission 50 pairs fully metal latches on a plastic-bodied cooler. They're not as secure as most other latches, but they're very easy to operate.
As far as drains go, several products have dual-function drains, meaning there's a hole through the shaft of the drain plug the lets water run out without having to remove the entire drain cap. Of course, if you want a faster flow, a total plug removal is advised, but don't misplace that cap, as most models we tested don't come with a leash to keep it attached to the body of the box. The Tundra(s), RTIC, Engel, Arctic Titan, Orca(s), Kenai, Xspec, Stanley, and Rovr all have this handy dual-drain ability.
The drain plug isn't the only factor that makes emptying water easy or annoying. Most of the contenders we tested also have a sloping channel behind the drain to help gravity pull water out. Still, several have unfortunately paired this with a large lip or other obstruction that then stops your drainage progress before it's 100% complete. Models that we found the easiest and most thorough to drain include the Engel, Kenai, Xspec, Orca(s), Titan, and Tundra(s), which all feature either a tiny lip or a sloped lip to make emptying your meltwater a breeze. The Arctic Titan has an oversized drain to decrease the time you spend emptying it. And if one drain isn't enough for you, the RTIC features two drains, one on either end.
We also considered the overall shape and size of each competitor as part of its usability score. Models featuring a compact, packable shape and handles that hide away easily are easier to pack into a vehicle for your next adventure. On the flip side, those products with large handles and awkward shapes that are difficult to Tetris into the back of the minivan, along with everything else you need for the party in the park, don't score as well. Of course, the internal dimensions and capacity also make a big difference in what you can bring with you in your icebox and how many extra bags and boxes you'll need to bring along. And the proportion of these dimensions to one another also makes a big difference. A low and long model is easy to find things in but harder for one person to carry. On the flip side, one that's too narrow and tall is easier to carry but harder to locate items that have wormed their way to the bottom. The Xspec strikes a very happy medium, narrow enough for simple solo carrying, tall enough to fit an upright bottle of wine, yet shallow enough to find whatever you're looking for easily. If you're interested in a smaller capacity option, we're big fans of the exceptionally useful 40-quart volume and compact shape of the Orca 40.
The RTIC and Rovr RollR are two more of our favorites among the crowd for their ease of use. The Rovr has a sizeable dry bin and tall interior with nearly vertical walls, making it much more comfortable than most models to pack it exactly how you want it and keep it organized. This is a feat made even more impressive by all the bouncing you'll be doing with the enormous wheels over debris on your way to the party. It also boasts one of the tallest internal heights of any model we tested, so you can rest assured your chilled Pinot Grigio will stay that way all day. The RTIC offers a similarly simple interior that's spacious enough to bring a ton of food with you on your hunting trip or camping adventure. Its dual drains make cleaning it a breeze, and the flexibility of this model's rubber latches means it's easier to open and close with a single hand than other rubber-latched models.
At first glance, the matter of portability seems obvious: wheels? Portable. Small size? Portable. Large capacity? Not so portable. And while, in general, this is true, it's not the whole story. We not only considered these self-evident factors in our testing but also looked at them in more detail. We challenged every pair of wheels to roll not only over the smooth, paved driveway of your friend's house but also over the soft sand at the beach, the chunky construction debris that's strewn across the path to the park, and the lumpy uncut grass of your Saturday picnic spot. We scrutinized every handle's design, shape, location, and comfort while carrying a full load. And we considered not just the sheer weight of each chest, but what that weight gets you in terms of capacity - as in how worth it are the extra pounds? We filled them up and loaded them in and out of cars, slogged across beaches, and traipsed through neighborhoods to see which ones bash against your knees, bite the backs of your heels, or form blisters on your palms.
Much to no one's surprise, personal cool-boxes like the Pelican 20, Stanley Adventure, Yeti Roadie, and Igloo BMX are much more portable than larger models. A combination of low weight, small size, and large carrying handles help make this possible. But being small isn't the only aspect affecting portability performance. Among these smaller coolers, the Igloo BMX has a much broader, more comfortable to use, plastic top handle, and a smoother overall design that makes carrying this product full of heavy glass bottles of craft beer a much more pleasant experience. It also weighs less by a significant margin, which adds to its portability. The Roadie 24 has a flexible webbing strap that more comfortably facilitates an over-the-forearm carry. It also has a pair of indented handles hiding underneath both sides of the top for two-handed carry. The Stanley, as the largest of the small coolers, is the toughest to carry. It lacks a top handle and instead has just two hard plastic handles on each side, requiring a fairly uncomfortable and uncushioned two-handed carry. The Pelican 20 is also less enjoyable to carry, with a hard plastic top handle and a tall, gangly shape with too many rigid edges that smacked our legs and ankles as we walked.
Wheeled coolers may appear astoundingly portable, but we found that their actual usefulness in this metric is wildly dependent on their wheel design and clearance. We've tested several rolling models over the years. The Rovr is the only one with actual rubber tires filled with air (aka pneumatic tires), the same as a vehicle or bicycle. While competitors may point to this as a downside (more maintenance, the potential for flats, etc.), it makes for a vastly better system of pulling. The juddering of pulling hard-wheeled models over even smooth surfaces, like city sidewalks, can quickly leave blisters on your hands from the vibration of the plastic wheels (this really happened to a tester). But pulling the Rovr with its air-filled wheels lets you glide over imperfections in the ground and keeps your hands happy.
Equally as important, the Rovr's handle swings out far enough from the chest's body to avoid painful heel smashing. And with motocross-style rubber handles located on the edges of the sides of the wide trolley handle, it's clear that this product is designed with the user in mind. Lastly, the bike attachment accessory is seriously impressive. Initially skeptical, we now use it all the time. Attachment is easy, and the flexible, pivoting arm allows for freedom of bike movement and no loss of turning radius or steering ability. We are so genuinely impressed by this rolling icebox's portability that we hardly even notice or mind its heavier initial weight.
As for large, non-wheeled models, we still noticed many differences that lend themselves toward making specific units more portable than others. The Coleman Xtreme is just a few ounces heavier than the personal-sized Igloo BMX, which is astounding for its 68 quart capacity. The Engel and Tundra 65 both are relatively portable as well; their combined overall shapes and mid-50-quart capacities make finding what you're looking for easier. They're big enough to bring everything you need without being so big that they require two people to lift them out of the car. The Xspec is slightly larger but maintains the same overall dimensions ratio (shorter length, taller height - but not too much to make it hard to find that last beer under all the ice), making it reasonably easy for a single person to carry a short distance. Interestingly, the RTIC is the only model we tested with straight-up foam handles for a two-person carry. You may not enjoy lugging its extra weight around, but at least it probably won't leave big red marks on your fingers.
Mid-sized models offer a middle ground between the many large options that can often be overkill for a simple picnic or road trip but offer more storage space than the small personal chests. The Orca 40 is our favorite medium-capacity contender. It fits a full 40 quarts of contents as well as whatever you can cram into the large external storage pocket covering the back of the box. Its taller, narrower shape is also more comfortable for a single person to carry from the car to the beach.
Little things that make a product easier to use, more conducive to your lifestyle, or help you not have to carry so much stuff with you can make a difference in how excited you are to use it. But not all features, add-ons, and extras are created equal, and their value may depend on how and where you intend to use your gear. In general, we gave higher scores to more universally useful features, such as a leash for the drain plug (so you don't lose it), internal baskets or dividers to keep your food fresh the way you want it, and the ability to hold dry ice, which extends the cooling capacity. Other features that are still useful but are more specific to certain styles of use received lower scores. These include things like cup holders, bottle openers, and measurement notches. We also only ranked contenders based on the features they come with, and not on all the accessories you could choose to purchase for an additional charge. That said, many manufacturers offer some exceptionally handy add-ons that, should you choose to purchase them, can easily turn a product into your perfect hunting companion, tailgating buddy, or camping friend.
The OtterBox Venture, Rovr RollR, Arctic Titan, Yeti Tundra 65 and 45, and Igloo IMX all come with practical interior dry storage options, which is great for holding aside some clean ice for drinks or keeping sensitive food out of ice water. The Igloo IMX wire basket is a tighter wire weave, making it much easier to keep small items contained than most other models. The Titan, Tundra 65 and 45, and both Igloos all feature a simple basket that sits across the top of the opening, while the OtterBox is a similar concept but is a solid plastic bin instead.
The Rovr's dry storage goes above and beyond since it has a large dry bin that extends to the bottom of the interior. It also attaches to the side of the interior with a simple hand screw, which means it won't move during transit like all the other baskets are wont to do. The OtterBox, the Coleman Xtreme, Pelican, and Igloo Mission 50 all have leashes attaching their drain plugs to the body of the chest. Both Pelican and larger Igloo models, the Engel, and the Xspec also all have built-in bottle openers hidden in various spots. Helpfully, many of the units we tested are rated to hold dry ice, so feel inspired to take that long midsummer canoe trip with your Xspec, Tundra, OtterBox, Engel, or RTIC ice chest.
If you're an angler, you might appreciate a model with an integrated ruler across the top to measure your catch. Many of the options we tested have this feature, including the Pelican Wheeled, Arctic Titan, Xspec, Igloo IMX, and Igloo Mission 50. Still, others have specific slots to tie them down in your boat, backseat, or truck bed.
The Rovr RollR does a bang-up job of living up to its claim as being "the most feature-packed 60-quart cooler ever." Beyond the ultra-useful internal dry bin, this compact roller features a 60 quart external dry bin that attaches right to the top of the lid, literally doubling the number of things you can cart with you. When it's time for storage, or you get to your destination, the dry bin folds down flat and can easily and securely be stored on the top of the lid. We found these two features to be very handy in countless situations. And if you are so inclined to make additional purchases, the Rovr can be mounted to the back of your bicycle like a tiny, ice-filled wagon.
We've been researching, testing, and retesting popular coolers for years to bring you the most competitive models out there, and this most recent round of contenders is no exception. After months of rigorous side-by-side testing and years of extended examination and use of top performers, conducted by our experts and a veritable crowd of friends and family who also enjoy fresh food and cold drinks, we got to know these models quite literally inside and out.
— Maggie Brandenburg