Last update on 2023-12-07 / Affiliate links / Images, Product Titles, and Product Highlights from Amazon Product Advertising API
Size and Capacity
It's possible to find coolers of varying sizes and capacities to suit a wide range of requirements. Smaller rotomolded coolers weigh around 15 pounds, have a 24-quart capacity, and measure 16 inches in length, 14 inches in height, and 17 inches in depth. If you use ice or ice packs at a ratio of 2:1, you can transport 16 drinks.
Picnics, tailgating parties, and camping trips can all benefit from the spaciousness of a 45-quart cooler, which typically measures around 27 inches in length, 16 inches in height, and 16 inches in depth.
Large 65-70 quart coolers are 30 inches in length, 17 inches in height, and 17 inches in depth, and they can contain up to 40 cans with a 2:1 ratio of ice to drinks, making them perfect for larger families or multi-night camping trips.
Rotomolded coolers, depending on size, can weigh anywhere from 15 pounds to 40 pounds when empty. They will also have a lower carrying capacity than equivalently sized coolers with thinner walls.
Material and Construction
The efficiency of a rotomolded cooler depends on factors such as the plastic's quality, the wall's thickness, and the insulation's R-value. The standard wall thickness for a cooler is 3 inches. As the contents of a cooler are better insulated by thicker walls, the cooler is able to maintain its cool temperature for a longer period of time. Additionally, they add extra weight to the cooler.
Manufacturers of rotomolded coolers assign stars to their wares based on how long the ice stays frozen inside. These estimates begin in the low days and go up to a startling 10 days. Keep in mind that these ratings are condition-dependent, even if they do assist determine how well a cooler insulates food. Many manufacturers condition their ratings on either the entire cooler's contents being cooled with ice the night before usage or the ambient temperature around the cooler remaining below a specific temperature. So, while contrasting models, be sure to read the fine print.
How easily you can transport your cooler depends on its size, shape, and features like wheels, handles, and weight. The wheels on one side and the huge handle on the other make it possible to haul some coolers. Most cooler wheels perform best on smooth pavement, but life on the road isn't always easy. Larger wheels are needed to navigate unpaved areas like a stadium's gravel parking lot, a campground's dirt roads, a park's overgrown lawn, and a beach's sand.
The grip, likewise, is a crucial feature. The cooler needs to have handles on both sides so that it can be picked up as a whole, and a longer handle that can be extended to raise the end without wheels so that it may be dragged. Handles should be sufficiently sized to make carrying the cooler easy and comfortable.
A cooler's portability is affected by its weight. One may more easily transport a 24-quart, 15-pound cooler than a 65-quart, 35-pound cooler.
A cooler's ability to keep ice frozen for an extended period of time is a major selling point (melted ice, or water, does not do as well a job of keeping drinks cold as solid ice does). The new, more expensive choices are banking on this metric, with roto-molded coolers engineered expressly to do well in this test (and in doing so, to justify their price tags).
Well, that's nice and all, but I was concerned that the results of a simple ice retention test wouldn't give us the complete picture. Of course, some ice chests are better than others at keeping their contents frozen, but focusing on how long the ice stays solid as a statistic appears to ignore the context. Before the ice had even begun to melt, I wanted to have a good feel for performance, not in terms of days but of hours.
For this purpose, I first performed an adaptation of the ice retention test. I opted not to fill each cooler to capacity with ice, but rather to fill each with ice that would melt to 10% of its original volume. (Thanks to the capacity test I just mentioned, I know the exact volume of each cooler.) Less ice meant more of a challenge for the coolers, and hopefully a clearer picture of how they stack up against one another.
To measure the ambient temperature, I placed a thermometer in a jar of propylene glycol solution (watered-down antifreeze) that I had elevated above the ice in each cooler I tested. What's the point of being lofty? Since the ice depths of all the coolers would have been about the same temperature, the only meaningful difference would have been the level of retention. Keeping an eye on the air temperature above it provided us with considerably more information and offered us more variables to work with.
Mobility and durability
As I tested, I also considered the construction quality of each cooler based on its appearance and features. The top on my Igloo Latitude wheeled cooler was particularly disappointing. The plastic nubb hinges and lack of a locking mechanism make this a useless piece of junk. The entire top comes off with only a little tug, and I wasn't impressed by the cheap plastic wheels. Not recommended if you need a cooler for outdoor activities.
Fortunately, the Rovr Rollr wheeled cooler fared better because to its tough construction, which has heavy-duty wheels, a sturdy steel handlebar, and a $50 adapter that allows you to pull it behind your bike. The fact that it can be personalized with different inner liner designs and that it comes with a partition to keep moist objects away from the ice was also a big plus. My only complaint is that the T-shaped handlebar only has rubber grips on the ends, not in the centre, where your hand will naturally rest while you're carrying it with one hand.
The Igloo Journey Trailmate 70qt All-Terrain cooler, which was also on wheels, has a bewildering number of options and attachments. Overall, it wasn't as sturdy as the Rovr, but I imagine their primary functions are different anyhow. The Rovr is a must-have for any weekend camping trip I go with friends in the woods. However, if I'm taking the kids to the beach for the day, we'll probably rent an Igloo.
Oh, and if you plan on doing a lot of camping in an area where bears are a problem, you should probably buy a bear-resistant cooler. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee maintains a database of approved products, which includes several of the coolers on this list. Several models from Cabela's, Orca, Rovr, Magellan Outdoors, and Yeti that I've tried are top-notch.
It's also important to think about whether or not your cooler is robust enough to use as a seat while camping. The majority of the coolers I tried met this criterion, but a few went above and above. The Bison Gen 2 Cooler, for example, promotes itself as the perfect casting platform to stand on on your next fishing trip, and it even sells nonslip traction mats for the lid in a number of patterns.
The Bison cooler had the most high-end feel to it thanks to its hinges, lid, drain plug, and lid latches, but it was not as effective at keeping things cool as our other roto-molded picks and cost around $150 more than the Xspec 60qt High Performance cooler.
Cooler Latch and Closure Systems
The latch or closure method of a cooler is one of its defining features and has a major impact on its ability to keep its contents cool. Premium hard-sided coolers typically have two rubber T-handles along the front edge of the lid to prevent it from being accidentally opened. These knobs are not only sturdy, but they also minimize the passage of cold air and are easy to operate. The cam-style locks on the OtterBox Venture are both easy to operate and effective at keeping water out. To keep costs down, coolers like the Coleman Xtreme and the Igloo ECOCOOL rely only on a snug fit between the lid and the body. This reduces the effectiveness of the insulation and necessitates constant monitoring to ensure the lid doesn't come off during shipment.
The fact that more than half of the coolers on our list are over $200 in price is indicative of how costly they can be. However, we believe the expense is justifiable. When compared to cheaper solutions from brands like Coleman or Igloo, hard-sided coolers from YETI, OtterBox, ORCA, and others can keep ice frozen for far longer. Even though ice is inexpensive, having to empty and refill your cooler every day might be a nuisance (not to mention having to travel and purchase more of it). Additionally, the best hard-sided units are built to last a lifetime, and the noticeable quality gap between cheap and expensive models is one reason why. Although, if all you need is a reliable cooler for trips to the beach or for taking lunch on the road, it's definitely best to save your money. However, it is money well spent if you plan to spend days at a time in the great outdoors.
The durability of a high-end cooler is another important issue to think about. Unlike other types of camping equipment, such as tents and sleeping bags, coolers can be used for more than a number of seasons before being in need of replacement. A relative of ours bought a YETI Tundra when they first came out in 2008, and after more than ten years of use, the cooler looks and functions almost as well as the day he bought it (he had to replace one rubber latch). This implies that if you are debating whether or not to spend $300 or $400 on a cooler, you can rest assured that you are receiving a product that should last for decades. However, if you don't need to keep ice for more than a few days, a less expensive hard-sided cooler should last you just as long.
What is a rotomolded cooler?
The cooler is manufactured using a process known as rotomolding. The term "rotational molding" describes the technique used to ensure uniform wall thickness throughout the cooler's casing by rotating molten plastic at a high speed. Rotomolding eliminates the potential for cracks and breaks in the cooler's structure at the points of manufacture.
How long does food stay cold in a cooler?
All of this is cooler-specific. When properly insulated, the walls of the best rotomolded coolers can keep food cold for up to 10 days without opening.
How do you pack your cooler correctly?
Precool the cooler by filling it with ice the night before you want to use it. For the greatest results, pack the cooler with frozen food and cold drinks instead of cold drinks and room temperature food. Two times as much ice as food/beverages should ideally be placed in the cooler. Adding as much ice as possible is a plus. Tightly packing the cooler will prevent warm air from circulating and hastening the ice's defrosting time.
The top rotomolded coolers come in a variety of shapes and sizes to suit your needs. It really depends on your own situation and preferences. If you have one of these coolers handy the next time Yogi Bear stops by, you won't have to worry about your lunch disappearing.