When you’re unwinding outdoors, the right cooler makes all the difference. From keeping your catch fresh on a deep sea fishing trip to maintaining the coldness of your cold ones at a game, coolers are essential. You have a limited amount of leisure time, don’t let a bad cooler ruin it.
A good cooler does more than keep your ice frozen; it complements your activities. An angler may want a ruler on their lid to make sure their catch is legal, while a bowhunter may want a bear-resistant model to keep their basecamp safe. And everyone benefits from a cooler with a built-in bottle opener.
After testing some of the best coolers available in the summer heat—our favorite is the OtterBox Venture 45(available at Amazon). Offering great insulation, durability, and customization, the OtterBox Venture 45 will best serve the needs of the average tailgater, fisher, and camper.
For a great option at a lower price tag, we suggest the Ozark Trail cooler. There are plenty of other winners among the coolers we tested, for all priorities and price points.
These are the best ice coolers we tested ranked, in order:
Best Overall: Otterbox Venture 45
Best Value: Ozark Trail
Best Upgrade: Yeti V Series
Yeti Hopper Two 30
Yeti Tundra 45
Otterbox Trooper LT30
Igloo Marine Ultra
Igloo Island Breeze
Coleman 30 can
OtterBox Venture 45
Cold hard facts: 45-quart capacity; includes dry storage tray and bottle opener; bear-resistant; limited lifetime warranty.
The Otterbox Venture 45 kept its cool, and offered great versatility and usability. Through our testing, it was able to keep temperatures under 40°F for almost five days, 20% above average. The latching lock system was easy to use and prevented leaks no matter how much we shook the unit.
We also appreciated the mounting system on the front and back for additional attachments. The way the handles are built into the body of the cooler made us feel confident when moving the Venture.
When you set up camp, you can use the side handles to tie down the cooler for extra security. Even without that though, the rubber feet are well-designed and sturdy on their own. When loaded with ice and drinks, the 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.
Cold hard facts: 52-quart capacity; includes wire basket; bear-resistant; limited five-year warranty.
The Ozark Trail is our best value pick, offering strong features and performance for the price. It has a built-in fish ruler, four cup holders, a bottle opener, a threaded plug, T-handles, and a removable wire basket. During our tests, the Ozark Trail stayed cool a little over four days before it hit 40°F, the point at which the FDA says meat will spoil.
Based on all its extra features, this cooler is perfect for anyone looking for a leisurely trip—think of all those cupholders!
Unfortunately, it didn’t ace the temperature retention tests and can’t handle being in choppy situations like the Venture. It also lacks any built-in method for mounting it to a truck or boat. Still, given its low price, it’s a solid value.
The Yeti V series cooler is in a league of its own. Over the course of testing, the internal temperature stayed below 37°F for eight days. 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 did their job to a degree we did not expect.
However, even with all this fancy technology, we can’t give this cooler Best Overall. First, the V series is in its own price bracket. It’s almost triple the price of its nearest competitor.
The exterior was also way too shiny, almost obnoxiously so for a sun-drenched beach. And while this large cooler contains some impressive technology, it’s overkill for barbecues, tailgating, and beachgoing day trips.
Cold hard facts: 50-quart capacity; built-in fish ruler, bottle opener, and cup holders; lifetime warranty
The Pelican Elite is a top-tier cooler. Our testing showed that it could keep meat and drinks cold for up to five days. Combine the high insulation with the huge interior, and you can easily carry enough food for two people for a long weekend.
The Elite was also easy to maintain. It has a threaded stopper at the bottom to drain ice melt and it has durable stainless steel parts for durability. 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.
Given the high price, this cooler is an investment. But if the open road is constantly calling out to you, it’s worth checking out.
Cold hard facts: 45-quart capacity; includes no-slip feet and multiple drains; limited lifetime warranty
In our testing, the RTIC cooler lasted a little over four days hitting 40°F. The RTIC comes equipped with tie-down slots, anti-slip rubber feet, rope handles with comfort grips, and T-handle rubber latches.
A nice perk of this rotomolded cooler is that it has two drains, making it much easier and faster to drain. Unlike other T-handle latches in this roundup, the ones on the RTIC were not a pain to open.
Cold hard facts: 23-can capacity; includes six tie-down points, three reinforced handles, a leak-proof zipper; three-year warranty.
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.
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, which is superior to the insulation in most soft coolers.
Between the zipper and the insulation, this Yeti cooler was able to maintain ice for three days and 12 hours, impressive for a soft cooler. It also has great features on the outside. All the handles are double-stitched, allowing for easier carrying.
The tie-down points on the sides make it mountable. It also has multiple hitch points on the front and back of the cooler, so you can add any attachments you might want to bring along. There’s also a shoulder strap for easier carrying. Lastly, the bottom base is nice and flat, keeping the cooler upright at all times and adding that extra bit of sturdiness.
Cold hard facts: 45-quart capacity; includes dry-goods basket and anchor point tie-down slots; five-year warranty
During our testing, the Yeti Tundra 45 was able to last four days until the temperature reached 40°F. 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. The top of the lid is textured, which can be used for multiple purposes, including as a stable seat. The included wire basket is a nice addition to hold any additional items that don’t need to be touching ice.
Cold hard facts: 30-quart capacity; includes a food-grade liner, waterproof external pockets, and bottle opener; limited lifetime warranty
If there was ever a soft-body cooler that could be described as heavy-duty, it’s the Otterbox Trooper LT 30. This massive ice “briefcase” is designed for short jaunts into rough terrain. In our tests, it kept the temperature below 40°F for just over three days. The wide-mouth opening is an awesome design, making it easy to open and access.
It also has a great leakproof seal, so everything stays inside. The handles are very durable and wide, making it easier to carry. While it can be worn as a backpack, it’s a bit awkward to walk around with, especially if it’s full of ice and beverages. However, the padded back and backpack straps help out a lot.
The two front-facing pockets are waterproof, and a nice added feature. Also on the front are two mounting brackets for accessories. Lastly, the base is very sturdy, keeping the ice cooler upright and protecting it from abrasion.
Arctic Zone 16 Can Titan Deep Freeze Zipperless Cooler
Cold hard facts: 30-can capacity; includes a smart shelf, bottle opener, and zipperless open; limited lifetime warranty
In our tests, the Arctic Zone Titan Freeze cooler lasted two days and 12 hours. The biggest feature to note is that this cooler doesn’t have a zipper to close the top of the lid. Instead, it’s just held by a Velcro strap, making it much easier to access while still keeping in the cold.
Aside from the lack of zippers, the Titan also offers some unique features. There’s a removable hard body liner and smart shelf, insulated pockets, and a bottle opener on the side. In addition to its large padded shoulder strap, it also has two handles on the side. The handles hide nicely within two side pockets, which are also perfect for holding water bottles.
Cold hard facts: 48-quart capacity; includes two rules and UV inhibitors; one-year warranty
In our tests, the Igloo Marine Ultra lasted three days and 12 hours before the temperature reached 40°F. For such a simple ice cooler, it has some nice perks that go a long way, especially for those who want a cheap option for fishing. It has tie-down loops on the side so you can mount the cooler down. It also comes with two rulers on the top of the lid, one in Imperial and the other in metric.
The handles provide the most comfortable grip of any box coolers that we’ve tested. They flip up to the perfect height and feel nice to hold. It does come with a drain hose, but there is no slope and the drain is higher than the base of the cooler, which can lead to sitting water unless you tip the cooler.
Cold hard facts: 30-can capacity; includes a front pocket
This Coleman cooler lasted a little over a day before it reached 40°F. It comes with two side handles and a shoulder strap. On the front is a pocket that can fit slim items. The biggest feature is a Velcro hatch, that offers easy access to the cooler without opening the zipper.
Hi, Kyle Hamilton, Jon Chan, and Dr. Julia MacDougall here! 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 researched the most popular units on the market. We also wanted to include a variety of coolers, from hard to soft, portable to heavy-duty. We also took care to find coolers that are widely available.
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. We then placed the ice coolers into our humidity-controlled lab space to ensure a consistent ambient temperature of 72°F and 50% relative humidity.
To track the temperature of each cooler, we placed two temperature sensors inside to measure when the internal conditions reached over 40°F—the point at which meat becomes unsafe to eat. We placed one sensor at the bottom of the cooler, wrapped inside a ground pork meatball. We placed the other sensor on top of the ice and removed it daily both to get readings and simulate normal use. The test ended when a cooler visibly contained no ice.
The next tests involved the portability, build quality, and aesthetics of each ice cooler. The portability test was 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 whether they were leakproof by tipping each cooler to determine whether the water would come out. Then, we emptied each model of water to look into the design and features. Finally, we filled each cooler with soda cans to see how many cans they could hold, compared to their stated capacity.
What You Should Know About Coolers
How Much Ice Should I Use?
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 need 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?
• 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.
• Avoid using ice that's already melting: A bag of ice that's dripping water is already too warm to keep a cooler at the correct temperature.
• Don't drain out the excess water: Cold water helps insulate any ice you add later.
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.
However, there are disadvantages. Dry ice melts at an alarming rate, about 5-10 pounds every hour depending on how often you open the cooler. It’s also somewhat dangerous to store indoors, as it is constantly releasing 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 mileage 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. Meanwhile, premium coolers with sturdy wheels and long warranties can go for over $400, a little too rich for our blood.
If you’re dead set on getting a cooler with wheels, think of your cooler like a piece of luggage rather than an icebox. Look for a unit with a comfortable handle that can extend to an appropriate 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 day trips, 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’ll 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. You want a unit that’s well-insulated, and 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, 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.
Jonathan Chan currently serves as the Lab Manager at Reviewed. If you clean with it, it's likely that Jon oversees its testing. Since joining the Reviewed in 2012, Jon has helped launch the company's efforts in reviewing laptops, vacuums, and outdoor gear. He thinks he's a pretty big deal. In the pursuit of data, he's plunged his hands into freezing cold water, consented to be literally dragged through the mud, and watched paint dry. Jon demands you have a nice day.
Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.