Best Coolers of 2017: Ultimate Buying Guide

Best Coolers

Whether you are going camping or to a tailgate party, coolers provide you an easy way to keep your beverages and food, fresh and cool. When you are looking to purchase a cooler there are many things you should consider like the type, size, insulation, amongst other things.

There are many different types of coolers. We will discuss the more popular types:

  • Soft-sided (Fabric)
  • Hardshell (Roto-molded)
  • ​Electric
  • Styrofoam

Soft-sided Coolers

Soft-sided coolers are made out of synthetic fabric, usually a durable canvas-like material. Their sizes vary, however they are usually smaller in size than your traditional coolers. This is because they are meant to be portable, carrying food and drinks for 1-2 persons.

Insulation on these coolers also vary depending on the brand and style you get. Yeti’s Hopper series is an example of an excellent soft-sided cooler which provides insulation for upto 3-4 days whereas there are also others that provide insulation for just 1-2 days. The biggest selling point to these coolers are that they are portable, easy to carry and may even have pockets for your accessories like a phone or keys.

Hardshell Coolers

If you are looking for a durable cooler that allows you to store more food and drinks, then a hardshell cooler is for you. These coolers are roto-molded which is a construction process that makes sure there is no seam in the material. The process ensures no leakage while providing durability to the cooler.

Insulation in hard shell coolers is far better than soft-sided coolers some easily retaining ice for up to 6 days. With the exceptional insulation and the sturdy design, these coolers are great for camping, fishing, and other outdoor activities. You can find numerous companies that make hardshell coolers like ORCA and Yeti.

Electric Coolers

There are two types of electric coolers: thermoelectric and compressor-driven. The two differ in how they operate but both operate on 12 volt DC current by a car or boat cigarette lighter. Thermoelectric cooler depends on the “Peltier effect” in which heat is absorbed or emitted as an electric current passes crosses between two materials. The effect keeps the content of the cooler cooler or hot, depending on what is needed. The main advantage to this cooler is that they do not require ice to keep the content cool. So there is more room to store items for your trip and no need to drain the water afterwards. It is however, reliant on the ambient temperature so the hotter the weather, the less likely the inner temperature inside the cooler will stay cool.

A compressor-driven cooler acts similar to the fridge you have it home. It has an evaporator along with a compressor which allows it to keep the content within the fridge cool and also provides the option to freeze the items. The ambient temperature does not impact the functionality of the cooler so it is a better option than a thermoelectric cooler in warmer climates.

Styrofoam Coolers

Styrofoam coolers are not very durable and not recommended for heavy-duty use. Made from styrofoam these are light and less expensive. The insulation isn’t great for trips that are longer than a day. So if you are looking to throw a barbecue and need a cooler just like that then you can get a cooler made out of styrofoam.

Once you have the material sorted, you need to figure out the size of the cooler you require.

What Size Cooler Do You Need?

Size depends on the use of the cooler. In reference to size, you can find a cooler that can fit 1 can all the way to one that can fit well over 100 cans. Coolers size tends to be in quarts, that is the standard used by most companies.

To gauge the size of a cooler, you need to know how many individuals the cooler would cater to, which allows you to figure out how many drinks and how much food you would have. You then need to decide how many days your outing would be. For a day trip on your own, you can easily survive with a smaller soft-sided cooler while for a fishing trip with 10 individuals for a day would mean you need a hardshell cooler of around 40-50 quarts.

It is important you don’t get a cooler that is too big. If the cooler is too big and not completely filled it leaves room for excess air in the open space which makes ice melt faster. The only exception to this is if you are going fishing and plan to use the cooler to store the fish you catch.

Once you have figured out the size and type of the cooler you are interested in, you can also consider the following:

  • Portability - goes along with size and ease
  • Cooler with wheels - makes it easier to take it around
  • Bear-proof - if you are going camping
  • Drainage - to easily drain the excess water from melted ice

To ease your cooler hunt we have reviews hundreds of coolers. From camping, beach, tailgate parties, fishing, to barbecue’s we can help you select the most suitable cooler for you. We will start off with the best performing coolers overall.

The Best Coolers Overall of 2017

In our overall ranking of coolers, we evaluated the coolers based on performance, durability, design, and ease of use. Price didn’t factor much into our evaluation of the best coolers for the year since our main focus was to base the list on performance. The list features the premier coolers out in the market. So whether you are going fishing or planning a week long trip into the wilderness, these coolers will be great company for you.

NameOur RatingCost
1ORCA 58 Quart4.75 out of 5$$$$
2Yeti Tundra 654.70 out of 5$$$$$
3Pelican Elite Cooler 704.60 out of 5$$$$$
4Engel Deep Blue4.53 out of 5$$$
5Igloo Yukon Cold Locker4.47 out of 5$$$$

We start the list off with the big fish in the sea, the ORCA 58 Quart.

ORCA 58 Quart

ORCA 58 Quart

Performance: 4.8 out of 5

Durability: 4.8 out of 5

Design: 4.7 out of 5

Ease: 4.7 out of 5

Pros

  • The best insulation out of all coolers tested
  • Roto-molded hardshell design, very durable
  • Comfortable handles for carrying ease

Cons

  • Lid needs support to stay open, otherwise shuts

ORCA has really outdone itself with its new line of coolers. It has dethroned Yeti Tundra as the best cooler in the market with the help of its exceptional performance. It outlasted all coolers tested in the insulation test by a full 24 hours. That is one whole extra day worth of fun. If you feel that the 58 quarts is too big for you ORCA has you covered. The cooler ranges from 20 quart all the way to 120.

Let’s breakdown look at the various factors that led to ORCA being at the top of the list.

Performance

If you are looking for a cooler to accompany you on a week’s long trip then look no further. With the exceptional insulation of the ORCA it can retain ice for up to seven days while also maintaining temperature under 40 degrees Fahrenheit for six whole days. The unique, longer body of the cooler aids the insulation process while the thickness of the wall and lid help from heat easily transferring in.

Durability and Design

Just with a glance, you can tell that the ORCA has high-end construction. The lid is solid with latches that are durable and thick. The hinges are pin style and can stand quite a load. To test the lid’s strength, we put water inside the cooler and knocked it around and not a drop of water came out. Making it top of the class in durability also.

Ease

The ORCA is quite portable, it is slightly big in size but the semi-rigid rubber handles make carrying the cooler an ease. They are comfortable and the perfect size so you can easily balance the weight inside the cooler. We only had a problem with the lid which automatically shuts if you do not hold on to it. Which makes digging through the cooler for items a bit tougher since you need to hold the lid with one hand.

Overall, we couldn’t find much wrong with the ORCA. That is why it ranks as the top cooler. You can use it for any and every occasion, it comes in numerous sizes so you can purchase the size that is more suitable for your need.

We now move on to the cooler that just barely missed out on the top spot, Yeti Tundra 65.

Yeti Tundra 65

Performance: 4.6 out of 5

Durability: 4.9 out of 5

Design: 4.7 out of 5

Ease: 4.6 out of 5

Pros

  • Durable cooler with bear proof technology
  • Provides good insulation

Cons

  • Handles are not very comfortable

When it comes to high-end coolers, you cannot have a list without mentioning a Yeti. They have been manufacturing high-end coolers since 2006 which specialize in durability and performance. The Tundra series is Yeti’s top of the line coolers which is suitable for the most demanding of users.

Performance

Similar to the ORCA, the Yeti Tundra can retain ice for up to seven days. It just lacked in performance when it came to maintaining a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less within the cooler, which it can do for up to five days. This does put it above many other coolers in the market which is why it comes in second.

Durability and Design

The Tundra design can be compared to that of a safe. The durability of the cooler is first class. It comes with bear proof design, it can be thrown around by a bear and still would not break. The T-Rex lid latch makes sure the lid stays shut securely. Which make it a great companion for camping.

Ease

When it comes to ease of carrying the cooler, the handles weren’t as comfortable as we would have liked. The rubber handle were a bit flimsy putting more weight on the hands. The draining system is also slightly flawed as the handle hangs down to the point of the drain. So you need to hold it up so that the water doesn’t splash off the handles. A reason why it hasn’t scored as well as the other coolers on the list in ease.

Overall, the Tundra series by Yeti is top of the line. It lives up to the standard Yeti is known for when it comes to making durable coolers. Whether you need a cooler for a fishing or camping trip for a few days, the Tundra will keep your food, drinks, and catch nice and cool. It comes in different sizes so you can choose the size based on your requirement.

In at third we have the Pelican Elite 70, tied for the biggest cooler we tested with fifth place Igloo Yukon Cold Locker.

Pelican Elite Cooler 70

Performance: 4.6 out of 5

Durability: 4.6 out of 5

Design: 4.6 out of 5

Ease: 4.6 out of 5

Pros

  • Durable
  • Provides good insulation
  • Nice, comfortable handles

Cons

  • Bulky, heavier design
  • Handles are not extendable

If you were to cast a cooler for a action movie, then the Pelican Elite 70 would fit the role well. It has a rugged, bulky look that matches the build of most action heroes out there. In our test, the look matched the performance which is a major reason why the cooler came in third of the many tested.

Performance

Performance wise, the Pelican Elite 70 matched the performance of the Yeti Tundra and just lagged behind the ORCA. Which is why it has the same score in performance at the Tundra. It retains ice for up to seven days while maintaining temperature of under 40 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 5 days. Depending on your ice to content ratio, you might be able to squeeze an hour or two more of temperature under 40 degrees Fahrenheit but it still was behind the ORCA’s insulation performance.

Durability and Design

The Pelican Elite 70 is bulky and weighs a good 33.3 pounds, roughly 13 pounds heavier than the Tundra 65. The rugged design of the cooler do give it an appeal, sort of make it look cooler in a class of coolers that are more basic in design. It sort of resembles a tank in its tan and orange color combination. The combination of colors it comes in makes it stand out in a class of colors that tend to be one plain color. The lid shuts securely and when we tested it for leakage it passed. It wasn’t as secure as the ORCA as some water did manage to escape but it wasn’t like all of it came seeping out.

Ease

The latches and lid are of sturdy molded plastic. So when you open the lid, it stays up unlike the ORCA’s lid which shuts on its own. The drain system is one of the best in the class. You can even attach a garden hose to the drain, making the process easier. Even though the Pelican Elite 70 is heavy it has comfortable handle which making carrying the cooler less of a task. The handles however, are not extendable so you may need to bend a little as you carry it.

Overall, if you are looking for a cooler that can provide you days of cool drinks and fresh food on your trip with a cool design then the Pelican Elite 70 is for you. It has minor setbacks but performance wise is on par with the Tundra.

We move on to fourth place with the Engel Deep Blue.

Engel Deep Blue

Engel Deep Blue

Performance: 4.55 out of 5

Durability: 4.6 out of 5

Design: 4.5 out of 5

Ease: 4.5 out of 5

Pros

  • Good lid seal
  • Durable, simple design
  • Comes with a built-in bottle opener

Cons

  • Handles are uncomfortable

The Engel Deep Blue is a dependable, simple cooler which was the most affordable from the coolers we tested. Its performance was on par with the coolers above it so the lower cost is an added benefit. As you won’t miss out in performance by saving a few bucks.

Performance

Matching the performance of the two coolers above it, the Engel Deep Blue doesn’t lack much when it comes to performance. It will surely keep all contents within the cooler cool for your weekend trips and even your longer 5-6 days trips. The only shortfall in the cooler is that it retains ice for six days whereas the coolers above it can for seven days.

Durability and Design

The design of the Engel Deep Blue will not blow you away. It is very simple, minimalistic design. It is however durable with solid hinges, latches and handles. The lid shuts securely and you can take it on the bumpiest of roads without any water leaking from the lid.

Ease

With extended handles, the Engel Deep Blue is easy to carry. The handles however are made out of hard plastic which put a little extra force on the hands, even though they have curves for your fingers. The drain on the cooler make it easy for you to flush the excess water out once you are done using the cooler. It also comes equipped with a bottle opener so you won’t misplace the opener.

Overall, if you are looking for a cooler that will give you great insulation for a lower price, the Engel Deep Blue is right for you. The design doesn’t really pop out but then again some people prefer to keep it simple.

We finish off the list with the Igloo Yukon Cold Locker, which comes in at fifth with medial performance and a durable build.

Igloo Yukon Cold Locker

Igloo Yukon Cold Locker

Performance: 4.4 out of 5

Durability: 4.7 out of 5

Design: 4.4 out of 5

Ease: 4.4 out of 5

Pros

  • Durable
  • Easy to drain

Cons

  • Bulky, heavy design

When it comes to performance the Igloo Yukon Cold Locker is in the middle of the pack. The coolers ranked above it will be better suited for longer trips but the Igloo Yukon is made of high-end construction and great for short camping trips.

Performance

The performance of the Yukon is far better than the lower end coolers. It can maintain safe food temperature for up to four days while retaining ice for six days. The lower end models can maintain safe temperature for about two and a half to three days. It is however sub-par to the other coolers on our list.

Durability and Design

The Yukon does score well when it comes to durability. It has a strong build with a design that will surely last you for years. You can toss it around without causing much damage to it. Making it great for camping, just in case a bear was to try to play around with it. The lid shuts well and you won’t find much water leaking from it once closed.

Ease

The Yukon was the heaviest cooler we tested at 34 pounds. It however has handles that extend which ease the process of carrying the cooler while also aiding in distribution of weight. We really like the drain on this cooler with a drain plug that can easily be pulled out for the water to rush out of the cooler. It ranked the lowest in ease compared to the other coolers on the list due to its excess bulk.

Overall, the Yukon is a decent cooler but for its price range it doesn’t really perform. You can get the ORCA for about the same price. So why compromise on performance when you can get a cooler that performs better at the same price?

With that we end our list of the high-end coolers you can buy. Not everyone has a need for a high-end cooler so it doesn’t make sense for them to spend hundreds of dollars on a cooler they will barely use. So for customers that would prefer an average cooler and those that are on a budget we now look at coolers that are under $100.

The Best Coolers for Those on a Budget

With numerous companies producing coolers now there are plenty of decent, mid-range coolers that you can purchase on a budget. While testing the coolers, we took price and performance as the main two factor. We tested numerous coolers under $100 and picked out those that performed well. By performance we rate the insulation of the cooler. Our ratings for each of the category: performance, durability, design, and ease are based on all the coolers tested, not just in relation to each other for this list.

NameOur RatingCost
1Igloo Glide PRO 110qt4.0 out of 5$$
2Coleman Xtreme 5-Day 70qt3.75 out of 5$$
3Rubbermaid Xtreme 5 Day 75 qt3.25 out of 5$

Igloo Glide PRO 110qt

Performance: 3.8 out of 5

Durability: 3.7 out of 5

Design: 4.2 out of 5

Ease: 4.4 out of 5

Pros

  • Sturdy design
  • Spacious at 110 qt
  • Easy to transport with wheels and metal handles

Cons

  • Handles for lifting and carrying the cooler pinch the hands

The Igloo Glide Pro has the most to offer for its price and therefore is at the top of our list. The Glide Pro is one of two coolers with wheels on our bargain list. It has plenty of room at 110 qt and is really a steal at its price due to the ease and space it provides users.

Performance

Whether you are going out for a weekend to the beach or camping, the Glide Pro is the option for all your cooling needs. Now while testing the insulation out, we must admit that our test was slightly skewed since we didn't fill the cooler up completely. It was probably filled up to about 70% which meant that there was room for air in the cooler. Even with the excess air, the Glide Pro kept a temperature under 40 degrees Fahrenheit for about four days. That is more than any other cooler we tested on this list. It can easily retain ice for up to 6 days. When completely filled, we are certain it can give you a little more juice.

Durability and Design

The Glide Pro has a sturdy but hefty design. It isn't as high-end as the ORCA or Yeti Tundra but Igloo made sure the material and construction can withhold the weight of all the ice, drinks, and food a 110 qt cooler can hold. The cooler has plastic wheel which are also strong enough to take on the weight, which can easily be well over a hundred pounds once filled. The extended towing handles on the cooler are made out of metal and are quite sturdy also.

Ease

The metal handles and the wheels really make this cooler a great buy from the perspective of ease. You can easily tow it without having to carry the hundred some pounds. The handles provide plenty leverage so you don't have to slouch while you tow it. It comes equipped with a drain so you can easily empty the water out after a long fun day or two at the beach.

Overall, you can’t really ask for more than the Glider Pro 110 qt when it comes to a cooler on a bargain. You get plenty room, great insulation, and ease of transport making it a great value for the money.

Next up we have a cooler from a company that is known to make coolers at a bargain.

Coleman Xtreme 5-Day 70qt

Performance: 3.6 out of 5

Durability: 3.4 out of 5

Design: 4.0 out of 5

Ease: 4.0 out of 5

Pros

  • Great insulation for the price
  • Comes with a drain
  • Light-weight

Cons

  • Handles are a bit uncomfortable

The Coleman Xtreme 5-Day is an economical cooler that performs in the middle of the pack when compared to the high-end coolers. So when we factor out the high-end coolers than we are left with a pretty impressive cooler that is quite affordable.

Performance

For its price the Xtreme performed exceptionally well in the insulation test. It retains ice for 5 days and holds temperature under 40 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 3 days. This performance is in the middle of the pack when you compare it to high-end coolers but considering that it cost four times less than the ORCA and almost five times less than the Tundra, it is a bang for the buck.

Durability and Design

The Xtreme has a traditional cooler look. The body and lid are made out of plastic and fairly durable. The lid is slightly more stiffer than the higher end models and if you were to test the structural integrity of it, you would find some water to leak out.

Ease

The draining system on the Xtreme was on par with that of the premier coolers. It has a plug which can easily be removed and plugged in, doesn’t get stuck. When unplugged you will get a stream of water flowing out, you may have to tilt the cooler a little as the flow begins to slow down to ensure you get all the water out. When carrying the cooler, we found the handles to be a little harsh on the hands. Made out a plastic, the handles pinch which makes carrying the cooler a bit of a task.

At 70 quart, the Xtreme is quite a bargain. Whether you are looking for a cooler for a party, a weekend fishing trip, or camping. The Xtreme will not disappoint you.

Rubbermaid Extreme 5 Day 75 qt

Performance: 3.0 out of 5

Durability: 3.0 out of 5

Design: 3.5 out of 5

Ease: 3.5 out of 5

Pros

  • Has wheels for ease of transport
  • Low price

Cons

  • Difficult to drain
  • Insulation is poor

The Rubbermaid Extreme 5-Day is the second cooler on this list that comes equipped with wheels for easy transport. The cooler isn't going to blow anyone away with its performance but it will get the job done and for its low price, it is a bargain.

Performance

The performance of the Extreme 5-Day is subpar at best. The cooler can keep temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for about two days while retain ice for about three and a half days, even though it claims to retain ice for five days. If you are going on a longer trip then we would not recommend the Extreme 5-Day, it is however a bargain for short weekend trips.

Durability and Design

Both the design and durability of the Extreme 5 day are what you would expect from a traditional cooler. The handle and hinges aren't as sturdy as we would have liked. We faced no problem with it but there are many complains online from users of one thing or the other breaking with regular use. The lid on the cooler was probably the least stable compared to the Glide Pro and Coleman's Xtreme. The is not too hard to bend, so we do not recommend sitting on it.

Ease

The wheels on the Extreme are great for ease of transport but with excess use we found them to be flimsy. They had trouble going over rocks at times which made towing the cooler a task, they worked fine on smooth surface. The towing handle isn't as sturdy as the one on the Glide Pro but it gets the job done. The drain works well but you need to be careful with the plug. It isn't the sturdiest of materials and can break easily.

Overall, if you are looking for a bargain cooler that would only be used for short trips then the Rubbermaid Extreme 5 days is a decent choice. It provides ample space with its 75 quart capacity and can keep content cool for at least three days.

Best Coolers for More Extreme Outdoor Activities

Are you planning on going fishing out in the sea? Or maybe you are planning on going camping for a week at the Yosemite National Park? Having a trusted cooler can be as important as carrying a map on the trip with you. When you go on longer trips the last thing you want is to be in the middle of the ocean or a campsite with a cooler which no longer keeps the food and drinks cool. You won’t be able to hop into your car and go to a shop near by because the closest shop would more likely than not be miles and miles away.

Here is a list of our coolers that will surely not fail you when you on your trips out to the sea or camping.

NameOur RatingCost
1ORCA 40 Quart4.75 out of 5$$$$
2Yeti Tundra 654.70 out of 5$$$$$
3Pelican Elite Cooler 704.60 out of 5$$$$$

We can pretty much apply the same list we have for the best overall coolers for this one. As you require high-end coolers for longer trips when you go fishing or camping for days. These coolers come in various sizes so you can buy them according to your needs and even if you go with a smaller or bigger size the functions and performance will not vary. So that is the list we have for our hardshell coolers.

If you are looking for a convenient, light-weight cooler for a short camping or trekking trip then we have these top of the line soft coolers for you.

NameRatingCost
1Yeti Hopper Two 304.7 out of 5$$$$
2Ice Mule Pro4.4 out of 5$$
3Polar Bear Cooler 24 Pack4.4 out of 5$$

We start the list off with a company that is known to construct durable, high-end coolers. The Yeti Hopper Two 30.

Yeti Hopper Two 30

Yeti Hopper Two 30

Pros

  • Durable design
  • Great Insulation
  • Portable and light

Cons

  • Expensive

Yeti translated its hardshell cooler standards quite well to its soft cooler, the Yeti Hopper Two 30. This cooler provides you with everything you look for in a soft cooler: durability, portability, and exceptional insulation. The cooler is slightly bulky in design but that is so it provides proper insulation to the content inside. It comes equipped with watertight zippers which ensure there is no leak and is manufactured with waterproof material.

When it comes to performance, the Hopper is the top of its class. We packed 8 pounds of ice for our trip and by the end of day 3 it still retained about 20 ounces of it. That is much better than the second best performing cooler, Polar Bear Coolers 24, which had nothing left inside after the third day. The soft cooler an easily hold your drink cans cold for about a week.

The Hopper comes with a long strap which makes it easy to carry and has additional pockets so you can easily keep your keys or additional gear stored inside. It is constructed with a heavy rubber exterior which gives it exceptional durability. You can throw and toss it around without any cuts or breakage in the cooler.

Overall, the Yeti Hopper is the ultimate soft cooler. Therefore, the high price tag does not surprise as but with Yeti you know what you get and with the Hopper you get exactly what you pay for.

Ice Mule Pro

Ice Mule Pro

Pros

  • Easy to carry, light-weight
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Insulation could have been better

The Ice Mule Pro is the only backpack we have on our list of soft coolers. It provides users with portability and pack-ability with its spacious design with a roll-top opening. It is a great companion for long treks.

Fitting securely on your back, the Ice Mule Pro is not as good as the Yeti Hopper or Polar Bear Coolers 24 when it comes to insulation. It can retain ice for about two days while the other two can for at least three. But the ease of use is why it is at a tie with Polar Bear Coolers 24.

The fact that it is a backpack makes a lot of difference. When you are out trekking or just taking a walk, shoulder bags can put quite a strain on your shoulders. With the backpack, the weight is evenly distributed on both shoulders and there is extra padding on the back area of the bag which supports your back well. It also comes equipped with an air valve to ensure the pack is as low profile as it can possibly be.

The bag is sturdy and you may think the straps are a bit flimsy but after use you will be able to tell exactly how sturdy they are.

Overall, the Ice Mule Pro is an exceptional choice if you are on a budget and looking for a soft cooler. It is easy to carry and provides you great insulation for up to 2 days.

Polar Bear Cooler 24 Pack

Polar Bear Cooler 24 Pack

Pros

  • Great insulation for its price

Cons

  • Not so durable

The Polar Bear 24 is probably the most economical out of the three coolers in the list. It costs as much as the Ice Mule Pro but provides better insulation which is almost at par with the Yeti Hopper.

The Polar Bear 24 comes in second only to the Yeti Hopper in the insulation test. It can retain ice for three days just slightly behind the Hopper. You can be sure it will keep your cans cool for days when you go on your trip.

It is slightly smaller in size than the Hopper 30 and is made with nylon canvas. We had some concerns about the material as with excess use and some dragging you will notice some wear on the bag. It has strong zippers which keep water from leaking the bag and a shoulder strap for you to carry the bag.

The Polar Bear 24 can give the Hopper a run for its money. For a quarter of its price, it provides insulation that is almost as good while providing almost as much space for you to store cans and food.

So no matter if you are going fishing, camping, to the beach or hosting a party. We have covered all your needs as far as coolers go. We can now only wish you the best of luck on all your adventures.

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