"I’m such a Type A personality. When it comes to a road trip, I plan my food so far in advance. I roll hard with a cooler. I don’t mess around. I want to avoid ending up eating fast food."Justin Timberlake
No one likes soggy food. Fortunately, some of today's high-tech coolers can keep your food on ice (and not in water) for well over a week! To judge the relative strengths and weaknesses of various brands of so-called "super coolers," I invited the most popular cooler companies to participate in some extensive tests of their products. Seven took me up on the challenge: Cabela’s, Coleman, Grizzly, Kong, Orion, Pelican, and Yeti. I tested two models from Coleman for a total of eight coolers overall.
The first thing I did was load each cooler with 32 pounds of cubed ice. Then I closed the lids, and checked them once a day at 9am for the first five days, then twice (9am and 9pm) for the following days. They were all sitting outside my garage in the shade. Temperatures averaged from 41˚F (overnight) to 84˚F over the two weeks tested.
I then timed how long it took to drain the melted ice water, by opening the lids, and opening or completely removing the spigots (when I could), and finally measuring the amount of water that didn’t drain.
Following that, I dried out the coolers, poured a 5-gallon bucket of hot water into each one, and sealed them for 20 minutes. Meanwhile I took seven 10-pound hams, which had all been heated to an internal temperature of 185˚F (+ or - 4˚F), and double wrapped them in heavy duty foil. I then placed one wrapped ham in each cooler, noted the time, and sealed the coolers.
Every thirty minutes, I opened the coolers long enough to use my trusty Thermapen to check the internal temperature of each roast in two marked places. This continued every half-hour, using the same holes, until the internal temperature dropped to 145˚F (the accepted safe temp for eating pork). Then I recorded that time.
For the next test, I filled each cooler with water and tipped them on their sides gently, to measure leakage, then turned them over with the lids down. As the Colemans don’t have sealing latches they both completely failed this test, as the lids popped open instantly, sending out a torrent of water.
To test durability, I filled each cooler halfway with water, added 6 filled water bottles and hired two neighborhood boys to push the coolers off the back of a pickup truck onto a concrete driveway. (They couldn’t believe they would be paid for such a fun chore!) Field & Stream magazine did a similar test, only they drove their pickup at 45 mph while dumping the coolers. I merely duplicated the problem of the cooler slipping out of a pickup truck, albeit it a slower speed. An older Coleman cooler was part of the testing (just to see how old and new stacked up against each other), and while I passed on abusing the old Coleman, I gleefully let the boys push over the newer model. Details below.
Finally I tried to bend the lids, handles and any other moving parts as much as I could. I can report that all of the coolers handled this abuse very well. One note however, since the older Coleman cooler I’ve had for 12 years has some missing screws in the hinge, it was spared the abuse tests.
Below, I list some of the included gadgets, thingamajigs and extras for each cooler, not because they particularly influenced my review but merely to let you know what each manufacturer thinks is important to add on. I feel that most of these thingamajigs are unnecessary.
All of the coolers I tested, except the two Colemans, are made by a process called rotational molding, or rotomolding, which means they are all one-piece construction, so every part of the cooler has equally thick walls with no imperfections. Generally, these rotomolded coolers can withstand any type of abuse, including being handled and mauled by grizzly bears (no kidding). Lastly, all the coolers that I tested claim to be BPA-free.
|COOLER||8:30 a.m.||9:30 a.m.||10:30 a.m.||12:30 p.m.||1:30 p.m.|
Available only at Cabela’s stores or online, this cooler simply blew me away and excelled in almost every testing category. From its freezer-grade gasket, barrel-shaped rubberized T-shaped handles that each feature integrated bottle openers, to the dual handle system, non-skid feet that reduce heat transfer, molded lock eyelets, multiple tie-down points, and large leak-proof drain spigot with its stainless-steel lanyard, this is a well-crafted and cleverly designed product. When you close the airtight, lid you will hear a hiss of pressure which indicates a vacuum inside the cooler, and the handy pressure relief valve makes it easy to open, equalizing the inside and outside pressure. The pressurized interior is one reason this cooler did so well on the ice and heat retention tests. This cooler is also IGBC (Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee) certified against destruction by grizzly bears.
Ice retention. Absolutely blew away the competition, as there was noticeable ice in the cooler until the morning of Day 16!
Heat retention. Again led the pack, keeping the ham temperature safe for 4 hours and 20 minutes.
Leakage/Dropped Damage. Did not leak when turned over on its side or top, or dropped from pickup truck, and only suffered minor abrasions on the lid and one corner.
Hinges, latches and lid. Molded and poly cord. The T-handles can be tricky and take a bit of strength to open and close. The lid is comfortable and safe to either sit or stand on.
Drain efficiency and speed. Drained 100% of the water in :52 seconds.
Handles. The only dual system of handles on any cooler we tested, including both molded handles and rope handles.
Dimensions. 32”L x 18”W x18.5”H. 38 quart capacity.
Weight. 28.8 lbs.
Extras. Dolly pin latch retainer for use with the optional dolly.
Warranty. Lifetime Unlimited Warranty (you must keep your receipt).
Cost. Approx. $250
Country of origin. USA
Pitmaster Club Member Reviews
A rugged chest that keeps cool longer than the competition, all at a fair price. --Best of the Test, Field & Stream 2016, first place
Cabela’s All the Way!!! I love mine as a cooler and cambro. Field & Stream did a test vs Yeti and the Cabela’s Polar outperformed all. Best cooler I have ever owned. --Mattcotool, club member
With the most striking appearance of any cooler we know, Orion has seven different cooler designs, each of which is literally a work of art. The Rockfish, the cooler tested, looks from the outside, and inside too, like a lovely surrealistic painting in reds and blues. The beauty of Orion coolers is matched by outstanding performance. These rotomolded coolers have built-in aluminum bottle openers on all four corners, six tie-down points, molded lock eyelets, low profile lifetime galvanized camming latches that won’t snag, a “grippy” standing pad on the lid for comfortable, no-slip standing, and a solid thermoformed plastic tray that allows drainage. The cooler latches are extremely user-friendly and can be used by young, old, strong, and weak alike. Their patented YakAttack™ tracks allow for adding accessories like fishing rod holders, phone, cups and fish finders, without drilling.
Ice retention. Tied for second, the ice hung around for 11.5 days.
Heat retention. It took 3.5 hrs. for the ham to drop to 145˚F.
Leakage/Dropped Damage. Did not leak when turned over on its side or top, or dropped from pickup truck, and only suffered minor abrasions on several corners from the drop test.
Hinges, latches and lid. Easy-to-use hinges and low-profile latches didn’t budge when I pulled or leaned on them with full force, and the lid is comfortable and safe to either sit or stand on.
Drain efficiency and speed. Drained 100% of the water in :52 seconds. Drain plug has no attaching lanyard and could be misplaced.
Handles. Molded and poly cord.
Dimensions. 27”L x 14.5”W x 18.5”H
Weight. 31.3 lbs.
Extras. Available in 7 colorful designs, plus Stone (an off-white). A sectional divider that doubles as a cutting board.
Cost. Approx. $450.
Warranty. 10-year limited liability
Country of origin. Sparta, TN., USA
A relatively new player in the cooler field, Elkhart Products only began making and distributing Kong rotomolded coolers in early summer 2017. Elkhart, one of America’s largest custom rotational molding companies has over 30 years’ experience manufacturing custom andon-the-shelf plastic water and holding tanks and other molded products. Like the Cabela’s cooler, when the lid closes you hear a noticeable hiss as the interior is pressurized. These coolers feature multiple tie-down points, multiple rotomolded pass-throughs, a clever system of multiple watertight compartments separated by dividers which double as cutting boards, molded lock eyelets,and a dual breather, rapid drain system. They are BPA free and include multiple holes for locking. The Kong is available in four color schemes, and are IGBC (Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee) certified against destruction by grizzly bears.
Ice retention. Ice lasted for 12.5 days.
Heat retention. Ham temperature dropped to 145˚F in 4 hrs.
Leakage/Dropped Damage. Did not leak when turned over on its side or top, or dropped from pickup truck, with only light abrasions on two corners and one side.
Hinges, latches and lid. Features top down pressure applying latches, and the lid is comfortable and safe to either sit or stand on.
Drain efficiency and speed. :50 seconds, with no water remaining. Drain plug has no attaching lanyard and could be misplaced.
Handles. Rigid, padded molded Bearpaw™ handles fold out of the way.
Dimensions. 30.5”L x 17.2”W x 17”H
Weight. 32 lbs.
Extras. “Krush Guards” (rubber devices to prevent a dropped lid from smashing fingers). Cooler can be divided into three compartments. When placed against a wall, the Kong lid still can open to 45˚ without moving the base.
Cost. Approx. $325.
Warranty. Limited lifetime warranty.
Country of origin. Ridgefield, WA, USA.
Pelican’s “Press and Pull” latches are easy to use by young and old, strong and weak alike, and I think the most secure latches of all the coolers we tested. Pelican’s rotomolded polypropylene coolers are BPA-free, feature 360 degree freezer-grade gaskets, 2 inch thick polyurethane insulators in the inner lid, have a built-in aluminum bottle opener, non-skid and non-marking raised feet, a molded-in lock hasp with a stainless steel plate, four molded-in tie downs, and integrated cup holders with drainage channels so liquid doesn’t pool in them. The lid also features both metric and US rulers. Coolers are IGBC (Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee) certified against destruction by grizzly bears. Popular Mechanics tested these coolers with a Grizzly bear, and the Pelican was the only cooler capable of preventing a 450-pound Grizzly bear from getting in.
Ice retention. Final cubes of ice melted after 13 days
Heat retention. It took 4.3 hrs. for a ham to drop to 145˚F.
Leakage/Dropped Damage. Did not leak when turned over on its side or top or when dropped from pickup truck. Only suffered minor abrasions on the corners from the test.
Hinges, latches and lid. Sturdy hidden hinge, easy-to-use unique two-stage and low-profile latches, and the lid is comfortable and safe to either sit on or stand on.
Drain efficiency and speed. Sloped channels drained 100% of the water in 49 seconds, the 2nd fastest of all the coolers we tested. Drain plug has an attached plastic lanyard and is threaded to connect to a garden hose.
Handles. Molded polypropylene fixed handles
Dimensions. 30”L x 20”W x 20”H
Weight. 26.39 lbs.
Extras. Available in 9 colorful designs: white/grey, brown/tan, tan/orange, seafoam/grey, dark grey/white, Realtree Extra/OD Green, light blue/grey.
Cost. Approx. $299
Warranty. Lifetime Guarantee, 90 days on gasket.
Country of Origin. Torrance, CA, USA.
Certainly, no cooler has done a better job of marketing than Yeti, with its unrivaled advertising and marketing campaign that grabbed headlines 10 years ago and cementedthe Yeti brand as a line of “gotta have” products. Their Tundra model features Patented T-Rex™ lid latches which fit into a ball and joint type of closure, “Anchorpoint™” tie-down slots molded into the body of the coolers to easily secure it to a truck or trailer, and a patented “Coldlock™ freezer-quality gasket. It is available in three colors, can be locked, and has two types of handles, molded lock eyelets, the speediest drainage system we tested, and 2+ inches of Permafrost™ insulation, all of which has helped make Yeti the standard of coolers almost since its inception. The Tundra is IGBC (Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee) certified against destruction by grizzly bears.
Ice retention. All ice gone in 10 days.
Heat retention. Ham temperature dropped to 145˚F in 3.10 hrs.
Leakage/Dropped Damage. A flood of leakage when turned its side, but it didn’t leak when it was laying top (lid) down. When dropped from the truck, the cooler leaked heavily, again while lying on its side, but had only minor abrasions on two corners and the lid.
Hinges, latches and lid. can be difficult for small or older individuals to work as the rubber is quite hard to close for some. The lid is comfortable and safe to either sit or stand on, which stands to reason as that’s one of the main reasons this cooler was invented.
Drain efficiency and speed. The fastest draining cooler at :40 seconds with no residual water.
Handles. Lipgrip™ molded and DoubleHaul™ polycord handles which are tied with knots through eyelets. Caution: the rope handles are easy to replace, but could release if the knots come loose while the cooler is being carried.
Dimensions. 25.75”L x 16”W x 15.5”H
Weight. 23 lbs.
Extras. Owners can easily replace the T-Latches, handles, pins, and gasket, as well as choose from unspecified limited edition colors and a detachable hose fitting for the drain.
Warranty. 5 year limited warranty.
Cost. Approx $350.
Country of origin. From the manufacturer: “We work with a number of manufacturing partners that are located in the US and abroad to produce our coolers. For competitive reasons, we do not disclose the locations of our manufacturing partners.”
Pitmaster Club Member Reviews
I have a Yeti. I’ve used it to haul frozen chip steak from Philadelphia to N. Illinois on a hitch hauler over the highway in the middle of summer. I had family with me so we took two days. The meat was still frozen solid and there was still ice in the box. That was about 50 pounds of meat. Aside from the fact that it worked, I liked the ability to lock it to the hitch haul with “interior” hooks and then lock the lid closed. It’s sturdy. I can easily stand on it and have. On the downside, it’s heavy on its own, but packed full, you really need two people to move it. It’s better as a set-in-place cooler — like tied down in your boat or truck bed. Then use a lighter cooler to haul the cold stuff to the campfire or whatever. --Lmhfive, club member
Yeti hands down. Have used it to brine in, as a cambro, ice chest, step stool, flotation device, safe... You name it. Only negative is the weight. Never had one break and have abused several. Keeps ice twice as long as other coolers, and keeps food hot at least twice as hot. Have cooked briskets, put them in a preheated yeti, and taken a 7-hour trip. Food was still HOT when we got there! --texastweeter, club member
Other than the Colemans this is the least expensive cooler we tested. It uses a freezer-grade gasket to seal the cooler, is rotationally molded, employs a dual handle system of a rope/rubber/nylon-sleeved handle as well as molded. in heavy duty handles, has molded lock eyelets, non-slip and non-marking rubber feet so the unit won’t slide, multiple tie-down points, a large leak-proof drain spigot, and a molded-in hinge. It is IGBC (Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee) certified against destruction by grizzly bears.
Ice retention. All ice gone in 7.5 days.
Heat retention. Ham temperature dropped to 145˚F in 2.85 hrs.
Leakage/Dropped Damage. No leakage, suffered minor abrasions on two corners and the lid.
Hinges, latches and lid. The Grizzly Bearclaw™ latches can be difficult for small or older individuals to pull down enough to open and close the lid. Has a molded hinge with two stainless steel pins.
Drain efficiency and speed. Drained in :57 seconds with no residual water. Drain plug has no attaching lanyard and could be misplaced.
Handles. Molded and poly cord. Caution: rope handles are tied to the cooler with knots through eyelets and are easy to replace but could release if the knots come loose while the cooler is being carried.
Dimensions. 24.25”L x 16”W x 15.5”H
Weight. 24 lbs.
Extras. Two tie-down slots
Warranty. Limited lifetime warranty.
Cost. Approx. $225 to $250
Country of origin. Decora, IA, USA
The Coleman wheeled cooler is perfect for most weekend or 1-2 day cooling needs. At one-quarter the price of our other reviewed coolers, the cost-to-performance ratio is more than adequate for many needs. With no latches and only marginal hinges, this is not a sturdy cooler. In fact, it exploded water in the drop test. Surprisingly, it came near to matching one of the premier coolers in the ice and heat retention tests, despite costing an amazing 20% of several of them. This cooler doesn’t have a ton of bells and whistles, isn’t particularly sturdy, can’t be locked, and is pretty slow to drain.
Ice retention. All ice gone in 7.5 days.
Heat retention. Ham temperature dropped to 145˚F in 2.3 hours.
Leakage/Dropped Damage. A flood of leakage, as there is no latch, so when the cooler was turned on its side or hit the concrete after being dropped from the truck, the lid flipped completely open, and the water exploded out. It suffered abrasions on top and one side.
Hinges, latches and lid. Hinges are screwed into the plastic body. There is no latch. Lid could be sat on but I’d hesitate to stand on it.
Drain efficiency and speed. Drained in 1:38 min., approx. 8 oz. water left after draining. Drain plug is attached with plastic tab.
Handles. Extending handle, as this is a cart, and molded handles.
Dimensions. 22.6”L x 17.6”W x 17.7”W
Weight. 12.1 lbs.
Extras. Four molded cup holders in lid
Warranty. One year limited warranty (Keep your receipt)
Cost. Approx. $65 to $75
Country of origin. Wichita, KS, USA
Pitmaster Club Member Reviews
I have the 2 Colemans in your pic, the rectangle one on top and the square one on the right (except mine are light blue instead of grey). They're no YETI OR RTIC, but for their price I like 'em just fine, especially when they're on sale at Walmart for $20 instead of $60. They keep my beer & groceries cold for my 3-4 day camp trips, even one trip when it was 93˚F and sunny every day still had plenty of ice left over. Had I spent hundreds on a YETI my ice would've still been there too, possibly more of it, but I couldn't have afforded the beer. --Huskee, Mgr., Pitmaster Club
I included this cooler only for sentimental reasons, and to see how a 15-year old cooler stands up to its newer cousin, as well as the much higher priced premier coolers. It did fine. No locking device, no tie-downs, no extra handles, can’t be locked, doesn’t drain very fast or well, but for a weekend warrior or backyard picnic, this old standby does a serviceable job. Many folks who eschew spending a family fortune on a cooler are perfectly happy with this basic model and its newer cousin on wheels.
Ice retention. All ice gone in 7 days.
Heat retention. Ham temperature dropped to 145˚F in 2.25 hrs.
Leakage/Dropped Damage. Lid sprang completely open when the cooler was turned on its side. I spared my old friend from dropping it from the truck. Too old and too frail.
Hinges, latches and lid. Hinges screwed into body of cooler (but are easily replaceable), lid can be sat on but I’d hesitate to stand on it.
Drain efficiency and speed. Drained in 1:19 min., left approx. 8 oz. water. Drain plug is attached with plastic tab.
Handles. Molded handles.
Dimensions. 28”L x 17”W x 15”H
Weight. 12 lbs.
Extras. It’s not pretentious, has four molded cup holders and an embossed 22” ruler on the lid.
Warranty. One year limited warranty (Keep your receipt).
Cost. Approx. $35 to $45.
Country of origin. Wichita, KS, USA.
Pitmaster Club Member Reviews
I’ve always had Colemans. I have them ranging from 45 qt all the way up to 120 qt .... the really big white one. I take them fishing/camping in Eastern Washington every summer. WIth ice blocks and crushed ice, I keep my beer and food cold for all my long weekend trips. One of the great things about Coleman is that you can order replacement parts. I’ve replaced the hinges and latches on my big Coleman twice now, had it for 20 years. --Ecowper, charter member
I've had a Coleman for a million years that has always performed as expected, but I'm not a power user by any means. The comments about Yeti are interesting, though. --Baltassar, charter member