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Imagine going on a deep-sea fishing trip for a few days, only to find your entire catch has spoiled. Or reaching for a cold one after a game of touch football only to find your drinks are warm. You have a limited amount of leisure time, don’t let a bad cooler ruin it. A good cooler is more than just an insulated plastic box that can keep your ice frozen. What you need depends on the activity. For example, a fisherman would want a ruler on the lid of his cooler to make sure his catch is legal, but a bowhunter would want a model that’s bear-resistant to keep her basecamp safe. And everyone benefits from a cooler with a built-in bottle opener. If you’re curious to know about the other ice coolers we’ve tested, we have a total list of 13 that have gone through our tests to see which one can keep your food and drink cool the longest.
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission. The Otterbox Venture 45 won our top spot. Out of all of the ice coolers that we tested, the Otterbox Venture 45 kept its cool, and had great versatility and usability. We found the latching lock system easy to use, and once engaged nothing leaked out no matter how much we shook the unit. When you decide to set up camp, you can use the side handles to tie-down the cooler for extra security. Even without that though, we found the rubber feet to be well designed and sturdy on their own.
When loaded with ice and drinks, Venture didn’t budge an inch after a swift kick from our boot, where lesser coolers tipped over. After the fun was done, we popped the drain and watched all the melted ice drain through the sloped interior. If we had one complaint, it would be that the price is a bit high for anyone who doesn’t go on multi-day fishing or camping trips. We found the Ozark Trail to have the right balance of value and performance. Cold hard facts: 52-quart capacity, includes wire basket, bear-resistant, limited five-year warranty. The Ozark Trail found its way to be our best value pick. It has a built-in fish ruler, four cup holders, a bottle opener, a threaded plug, and T-handles. It also comes with a removable wire basket.
F, the point at which the FDA says meat will spoil. Because it didn’t ace the temperature retention tests and can’t handle being in choppy situations, like the Venture, it did not get the top spot. However, given its low price, we think it’s a solid value. How We Tested The Testers Hi, Kyle Hamilton, Jon Chan, and Dr. We’re the testing team at Reviewed, which means we designed and implemented the experiments involved in this article. For ice coolers, we were most concerned about performance, portability, and price.
The Selection Process When searching for the right cooler or ice chest to test, we made sure to include some of the most popular units on the market. We also knew that we wanted to include a variety of coolers, ranging from hard to soft, portable to heavy-duty. In addition to types, we took care to find coolers available at a variety of retailers, including Amazon, Home Depot, and Walmart. In some cases, coolers that performed well did not win top spots because they were difficult to use. After being assigned this project, we knew the first thing we wanted to test was how long each cooler could maintain a temperature. To do this, we filled each cooler, regardless of size, halfway up with ice. The best way to test portability is to carry a cooler around.
The next tests involved portability, build quality, and aesthetics of each ice cooler. We design the portability test to be pretty straightforward: Fill the cooler with water and walk around with it. We went up inclines, took sharp turns, and trotted around the lab. Exhausted and out of breath, we then tested to see if they were leakproof by tipping each cooler to see if the water would come out. Nowadays, coolers are more than just plastic boxes. We tested all the extra features to see if they worked. What You Should Know About Coolers How Much Ice Should I Use? You should use a 2-to-1 ice-to-food ratio.
According to Popular Mechanics, you should use a 2-to-1 ratio of ice to items being cooled. For example, if you were cooling a gallon jug of milk, you’d use two gallons of ice to keep it cool. However, the more ice the better the food preservation. How Can I Make My Cooler Last Longer? To maximize your cooler’s performance, keep it locked up tight and in the shade. Pre-cool your cooler: If you’re storing your cooler in a hot garage, bring it inside so it can get up to room temperature, that way you’re not wasting energy cooling down a hot plastic box. Don’t drain out the excess water: Cold water helps insulate the ice you add-in.
Can I Use Dry Ice in a Cooler? Dry ice can be used in most coolers. It’s way colder than normal ice and can keep ice cream and meat frozen. When it evaporates, it leaves no puddles to clean up. Dry ice melts at an alarming rate, about 5-10 pounds every hour depending on how often you open the cooler. It also someone dangerous to store indoors, as it is constantly outputting carbon dioxide. Are Coolers With Wheels Worth It?
You may have noticed that none of the coolers we tested have wheels. After doing some extensive research, we decided not to include any rolling coolers. The milage people get out of wheeled coolers varied too much for our liking. On the lower end of the price spectrum, wheels and axles are a major point of failure, one of the first things to go on a cooler. However, if you’re dead set on getting a cooler with wheels, we’d suggest thinking of your cooler like a piece of luggage rather than an icebox. Look for a unit that has a comfortable handle that can extend comfortably to your height. For the wheel themselves, the bigger the better.
Bigger wheels spread out the wear and make for a smoother experience. What Should You Look for in a Cooler for Camping? It all comes down to how long and how far you’re going out. For trips that are less than a day, a portable backpack cooler is perfect. Just keep in mind that backpack coolers work better with ice packs than loose cubes. Once that ice melts, the sloshing will make the backpack more unstable. If you’re heading into the backcountry, you’re going to need something more robust. The coolers that keep hot air out the best typically have T-handles and are difficult to open because of how well they seal shut.
Not only do you want a unit that’s well-insulated, but you also want one that keeps the scent of your supplies away from bears and other predators. When packing a cooler to preserve food for more than a day, you should use a combination of chunks and chips of ice. Chips help with immediate cooling and chunks are for the long haul. Also, be sure to store your cooler in the shade away from direct sunlight. The Yeti V series cooler is in a league of its own. It performed so well, we actually had to redo the scaling of testing after this cooler.
The stainless steel latch loop and vacuum insulated panels really did their job to a degree we did not expect. However, even with all this fancy technology, we can’t give this cooler an award. First, the V series is in its own price bracket. It’s almost triple the price of its nearest competitor. We also thought the exterior was way too shiny, almost obnoxiously so if you went to the beach. And while this cooler contains some impressive technology, it’s overkill for barbeques, tailgating, and beachgoing. The Pelican Elite is a top-tier cooler. Our testing showed that it could keep meat and drinks cold for up to five days.
The Pelican Elite is a top, but you also want one that keeps the scent of your supplies away from bears and other predators. When you’re unwinding outdoors, here’s a nice looking Adidas shirt to lounge in. Keep it locked up tight and in the shade. If you were cooling a gallon jug of milk; they are available in either black or white. If there was ever an ice cooler, in bottle opener.
Combine the high insulation with the huge interior, and you can easily carry enough food for two people for a long weekend. During testing, our reviewers found it a bit cumbersome and bulky to carry around. We’d suggest this for road trips rather than backcountry camping. Overall we found the Elite easy to maintain. It has a threaded stopper at the bottom to drain ice melt and it has durable stainless steel parts for durability. Given the high price, this cooler is an investment. If the open road is constantly calling out to you, you should check this model out. Cold hard facts: 45-quart capacity, includes no-slip feet and multiple drains, limited lifetime warranty. The RTIC comes equipped with tie-down slots, anti-slip rubber feet, rope handles with comfort grips, and T-handle latches. A nice perk of this cooler is that it has two drains, making it much easier and faster to drain.
Unlike other T-handle latches in this roundup, we did not find the ones on the RTIC to be a pain to open. Out of the many soft ice coolers that we tested, the Yeti Hopper Two 30 was the only cooler with a water- and leak-proof zipper. The Hydrolok zipper is durable and has a built-in seal in-between, making sure the cold air stays in for long periods of time. Although, due to the sturdy nature of the zipper, it is a little tough to open at times, but it’s definitely worth it for that good seal. It also has closed-cell foam insulation: a superior form of insulation compared to most soft coolers. With its design of both zipper and insulation, this Yeti cooler was able to keep in ice for three days and 12 hours, impressive for a soft cooler. Besides its design on the inside, it has good added value features on the outside. All the handles are double-stitched which allows for easy carry for all loads. It has tie-down points on the sides, making it mountable. Cold hard facts: 45-quart capacity, includes dry-goods basket and anchor point tie-down slots, five-year warranty.
The T-handle latches are nice to use and aren’t too stiff. The drain works well, although it does not have a latch to stay onto the cooler. The rope handles are okay, the grips are sturdy and the length is a decent size. The non-slip feet work well and keep the cooler in place, as do the tie-down slots on the sides. Everbilt High Performance lived up to its name, keeping ice cool longer than any other in our roundup. The results impressed us even more because this cooler is half the price of many of its competitors. Besides the nice insulation, the Everbilt also comes plenty of crowd-pleasers like a fish ruler, cup holders, and a bottle opener. When we finished the performance and portability tests, draining the Everbilt was a cinch.