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The 5 best coolers: Keep everything icy cold this summer

What is the best cooler? ZDNet's No. 1 choice is the Yeti Tundra Haul Hard Cooler. We all know the greatest adventures require food and drink, so here are some of the best coolers to keep everything fresh during warm weather. We compared pricing as well as features like capacity and max cool time to determine our top pick as well as four other honorable mentions.
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Reviewed by Elyse Betters Picaro

Coolers, like gas or charcoal grills, are a staple of summertime. Whether you're taking a day trip to the beach, hiking for the weekend, or spending a week at the campsite, you'll need a sturdy, reliable cooler to keep your drinks, snacks, and meals fresh. There are plenty of options out there for coolers, but there are two main types: hard-sided and soft-sided. Hard-sided models are typically what you picture when you think of coolers: big, often plastic, tubs with insulated sides and lids for holding a large amount of ice, food, and drinks. Whereas soft-sided coolers are more akin to your typical school lunchbox: thinner walls with lighter insulation, zippered openings, and smaller capacities. 

Each type of cooler has its drawbacks and benefits as well as best-use cases: a hard-sided cooler is perfect for longer camping trips since they're more durable and tend to keep ice for much longer while soft-sided ones are best for day trips to the beach, hiking trails, or park. To help you find the perfect cooler for your next summer outing, we've gathered up five of the best coolers available and have broken down their features and price points. You can keep reading below to find the cooler that best fits both your budget and travel needs.

Person opening teal blue cooler outside next to a river
Yeti

Specifications: Weight: 37lb empty | Can Capacity: 45lb (55lb ice only) | Size: 25.25 x 19.5 x 18.6in | 5-year warranty 

The Tundra Haul is worth mentioning because it's the first Yeti cooler on wheels, making it a great choice for beach-goers and campers who need a high-performance, portable cooler. 

 Features:

  • Portability: Portability is not an issue for this cooler despite its larger-than-average size. The Tundra Haul features a set of solid, single-piece tires that are puncture- and impact-resistant. 
  • Tough design: The rotomolded construction of Yeti coolers makes them hold up to most outdoor elements. 
  • High-performance insulation: Yeti's insulation design, called Permafrost, uses pressure-insulated polyurethane foam walls, ensuring items stay cold for days at a time.

Pros:

  • Decent capacity
  • Built-in wheels and handle
  • Excellent insulation

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Heavy
Person's hand opening a bottle of beer on a rugged cooler outside
Otterbox

Specifications: Weight: 32.95lb empty | Can Capacity: 36 - 12oz(75lb ice only) | Size: 40.01 x 18.76  x 18.83in | Limited Lifetime warranty

The Otterbox Venture 65 is the ideal large-capacity cooler for the week-long camper or boat-goer. It's also a versatile option for tailgate parties.

 Features:

  • Insulation system: The Venture 65 has a two-part insulation system with polypropylene shells inside and out. Silicone seals and latches keep items cool for up to sixteen days. 
  • Bear-tested: The Venture 65 is certified bear-resistant, making it one of the toughest coolers on the market. It is built for rugged use. 
  • Accessories: The accessories options on the Venture 65 are top-notch. The cooler features a dry storage tray and mounting system for additional accessories that can be purchased separately ­-- cutting boards, separators, and an all-terrain wheel attachment.

Pros:

  • Bear resistant
  • Tons of attachments available
  • Excellent insulation

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • No wheels
REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack cooler
REI

Specifications: Weight: 2.2lb | Can Capacity: 12 cans with 6lb of ice | Gear Capacity: 1,770 cu. inches | Size: 22 x 15 x 8in

For hikers looking for a great soft-sided backpack cooler for those long treks in the woods, you can do no better than the REI Trail Split Pack Cooler. 

 Features:

  • Compartment feature: The split compartment feature allows hikers to hold necessary gear in the top compartment while keeping drinks and food cool in the lower compartment. 
  • Removable insert: The Trail Split Pack features a leakproof, removable insert. This allows you to pack for volume if needed. 
  • Comfortable design: The Trail Split Pack Cooler is built for hikers. In addition to its lightweight construction, the padded shoulder straps and extra pockets make it ideal for hikers who want comfort on the trail without sacrificing gear space.

Pros:

  • Great for hikers and day-trippers
  • Leakproof
  • Split compartment design
  • Great insulation

Cons:

  • May not be a comfortable fit for bigger bodies
Magellan Outdoor IceBox dual-pen 20qt cooler
Magellan

Specifications: Weight: 18.4lb empty | Can Capacity: 14 with 2:1 ice-to-contents ratio | Size: 14 x 14.5 x 22in

The Magellan Outdoor IceBox is a great, low-cost option for a small, portable cooler. It makes a perfect companion for keeping your drinks cold on the go.   

Features:

  • Easy access: The dual-opening lid offers easy access to the contents inside while keeping things cool with dual-side latches and v-seal technology.
  • Ergonomic handles: The ergonomic grip of the buckle handles makes this cooler comfortable and portable, while the stainless steel locking system ensures the contents are secure in case it gets dropped.
  • Tailgate ready: This cooler features two built-in bottle openers, and its anti-skid feet make sure it stays in place on your tailgate. 

Pros:

  • Stainless steel locks
  • Built-in bottle openers
  • Tons of colors to choose from
  • Dry ice compatible

Cons:

  • Bucket handle may not be comfortable to use when cooler is loaded
Large white cooler outside in the woods with people in camo next to it smiling and a dog
Igloo

Specifications: Weight: 18.2lb empty | Can Capacity: 188 with 2:1 ice-to-contents ratio | Size: 38.31 x 17.38 x 17.75in

The Polar 120-quart cooler from Igloo is a great choice for those looking for serious capacity without breaking the bank. No flash, all utility.  

Features:

  • Long-lasting: The insulation technology of the cooler body and lid, Ultratherm, holds ice for up to five days. 
  • Easy carry and loading: The Igloo Polar has reinforced swing-up handles that make it easy to carry, while the tie-down loops make loading simple and security easy for travel. 
  • Additional features: Dual snap-fit latches ensure contents are kept in place during travel. In addition, the threaded drain plug makes cleaning and draining easy.

Pros:

  • Great insulation
  • Great capacity
  • Easy-clean drain plug

Cons:

  • No wheels

What is the best cooler to buy?

In our opinion, the Yeti Tundra Haul is the best cooler you can buy. It features a rugged design that can handle everything from weekend picnics and camping trips to days on the boat and even bear encounters. The solid-molded wheels and folding handle make it easy to move the Tundra Haul over just about any type of terrain, while the 2 inches of insulation help keep ice for up to 10 days.

Cooler

Price

Capacity

Max cool time

Yeti Tundra Haul

$400

45 cans/55 lbs. ice

5 days (cans)/10 days (ice only)

Otterbox Venture 65

$350

36 cans/75 lbs. ice

10 days (ice only)

REI Co-Op Cool Trail

$80

12 cans/6 lbs. ice

40 hours (cans and ice)

Magellan Outdoor IceBox

$120

14 cans with 2:1 ice ratio

7 days (cans and ice)

Igloo Polar 120 quart

$120

188 cans

5 days (cans and ice)

Which is the right cooler for you?

Of course, these are just a few features to consider before purchasing a cooler. Luckily, there are many coolers available in 2022 that fit the needs of nearly anyone -- from the day-trip hiker to the week-long camp goer.

The market is full of cooler options. It is safe to say that there is a cooler out there for just about everyone. Most coolers discussed above were for outdoor use. But, at the end of the day, it comes down to your needs. There is no shortage of options.

Choose this cooler...

If you want...

Yeti Tundra Haul

The best overall option

Otterbox Venture 65

A cooler made for camping 

REI Co-Op Cool Trail

A cooler made for hiking 

Magellan Outdoor IceBox

A smaller-sized cooler perfect for tailgating

Igloo Polar 120 quart

A large cooler to hold more than 180 cans

How did we choose these coolers?

We chose these coolers by research, and some of our team even used the products themselves. We compared factors like pricing, reviews (both good and bad), different features that make each cooler stand out, and the number of cans that each cooler can hold.

Are Yeti coolers worth it?

Yeti coolers are definitely worth the hype—they keep whatever is in them cold for much longer than many other coolers and are easy to drain and clean. Although expensive, in our experience using them, they are worth getting if you use a cooler often.

What should you consider when buying a cooler?

No one likes reaching into a cooler only to find cans floating in a tub of lukewarm water. Melted ice need not spoil your summer adventure -- here are some features to consider before you buy your next cooler:

Cooler uses

Not all coolers are created equal. Some are more travel-friendly and work best for the avid camper or the beach-goer who must maneuver around beach umbrellas in the soft sand. So where will you use it? Camping? Beach? Home office? 

Cooling performance, durability, and portability

How long do the contents of your cooler need to stay cool? Hours? Days? Determining which cooler is best for the length of time required for item storage will come down to material and insulation technology. A hard-sided rotomolded cooler may be best for the avid outdoors type due to its durable design and thick, foam-insulated walls. A hiker or day-tripper might opt for a soft-sided backpack cooler. These days there are numerous coolers to choose from: hard-sided, soft-sided, and even thermoelectric coolers. 

Capacity

Cooler capacity is another important factor to consider. Most cooler capacities are measured in quarts. Content capacity (drinks and food) and ice capacity vary depending on the design. 

Cost

Suffice it to say, cooler prices vary. Many low-budget options are out there, but sometimes a lower cost means sacrificing better quality materials. Generally, high-performance coolers carry a premium price tag. 

How long will a cooler last?

That all depends on the kind of cooler you're looking at and how you use it. Soft-sided coolers, like the REI Cool Trail, will last for a few years as long as you use and store them properly; though they will always be at-risk for rips, tears, and punctures. Hard-sided coolers, like the Yeti Tundra Haul or Igloo Polar, will last just about forever as long as you aren't abusing them. There will always be the risk of cracking and insulation loss, but as long as you aren't slamming the cooler around in the bed of your truck or throwing it around your campsite, chances are your grandkids will be able to pull it out of the garage to use on their own weekend trips.

And no matter if you're using a soft or hard-sided model, keeping everything clean and sanitized is a big part of extending the life of your cooler. If your cooler has a drain plug, make sure you run some disinfectant through it to prevent the build-up of mold, mildew, and bacteria. If it doesn't, you can wipe out the inside of your cooler with a sanitizing wipe or a warm, soapy sponge. Make sure your sponge doesn't have an abrasive pad on it, since this can create micro abrasions in the plastic or fabric lining of your cooler which are a breeding ground for nasty bacteria. Also make sure you keep your cooler open and in a sunny or well-ventilated area to dry out completely before you store it after cleaning to prevent musty smells and scummy build-up.

Do white coolers keep ice longer?

Believe it or not, the color of your cooler does play at least a small part in determining how long it will keep ice. Darker colors will absorb and retain more heat that's generated from sunlight, reducing the maximum cooling time. While it's not a drastic reduction, it may pose problems on longer camping or fishing trips where ice is in short supply for keeping food at proper temperatures to prevent spoilage. If you plan on using your cooler for more than a few days, choose a lighter color model, preferably all white. White reflects almost all of the visible light spectrum, reducing how much heat it absorbs, and ensuring that you get closer to your cooler's optimum ice-keeping capacity.

Are there alternative coolers to consider?

Here are a few other options to look into:



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