12 Top-End Coolers Ranked and Reviewed | Field & Stream

Ice-Chest Throwdown

We tossed 12 top-end chests off a speeding truck. Check out which ones kept their cool

cooler review

The contenders.

Jim Golden

Not long ago, a good cooler kept ice for a weekend, maybe. Today’s premium rotomolded coolers have quadrupled that period, but at the cost of a new truck payment. With so many dollars on the line, you need to know exactly what you’re getting. To that end, we started with a dozen high-end chests, and after 10 days of measuring ice melt, tossing the coolers off a pickup at 45 mph, and carefully weighing the pros and cons of every latch, hinge, handle, and foot, the best ones of the bunch emerged. Here they are, ranked and reviewed.

THE TEST
Three buddies and I first measured each cooler’s true capacity by weighing them, filling them with water, weighing them again, and doing some math. We then filled each with 1 pound of ice per quart of true capacity, put them a temperature-controlled room, and monitored them remotely for 10 days. We charted when each hit 32 degrees (the point that ice starts to melt), 40 degrees (when meat starts to turn), and 42 degrees (when beverages taste warm). That done, we timed how long it took 5 gallons of water to drain, and then measured the residual H2O. Each cooler was then tossed from a pickup truck going 45 mph to gauge durability. We compared features and handling, and, finally, we combined the length of the warranty and whether or not the cooler was made in the U.S.A. to arrive at a service score. Ice retention was given up to 50 points, features 30, durability 10, and service and handling 5 points each, for a total possible score of 100.

cabels, cooler test 2016,

The Cabela's Polar Cap

Jim Golden

   

[1] CABELA’S POLAR CAP 40-QT EQUALIZER (BEST OF THE TEST)

$250; cabelas.com

SPECS 38 qt. • 28.8 lb. • 1-year warranty, made in the U.S.A.

TOTAL SCORE 87

The Polar Cap kept ice longer than any other cooler and didn’t hit our warm-beer threshold of 42 degrees until eight days, 20 hours. Its molded-in handles were a tester favorite, and the single-pin hinge was near bulletproof. The drain, too, was excellent and attached with a metal wire lanyard.

HITS Testers liked the pressure release valve, which makes the lid easier to open when tightly sealed, as well as the glow-in-the dark rope handles that snap to the cooler’s side, out of the way. Latches double as bottle openers.

MISSES One tester felt that the rubber latches were too stiff to manage in the cold, especially for older or arthritic hands. The warranty is less than stellar.

THE SKINNY A rugged chest that keeps cool longer than the competition, all at a fair price.

UPDATE Cabela's just dropped the regular price of this cooler to $250, making it a Best Value, too.

orion, cooler test 2016,

The Orion 45

Jim Golden

[2] ORION 45

$449; ORIONCOOLERS.COM

SPECS 45 qt. • 31.3 lb. • 5-year warranty, made in the U.S.A.

TOTAL SCORE 86

The Orion 45 is loaded with smart features. Testers loved the nonstick lid pad, which prevents gear from sliding. There are bottle openers on the corners and six reinforced tie-downs. An integrated rail system lets you mount a phone, GPS unit, camera, and more. The internal sectional divider doubles as a cutting board.

HITS It’s tough. A 45-mph bounce off a dirt road barely scratched it. The latches also scored highest.

MISSES The Orion placed fourth in our ice-retention test. Had it done better, it would have run away with the test.

THE SKINNY If you don’t need your beverages to stay cold for more than eight days, this may be your cooler. Two testers named it their overall favorite. It’s expensive, but quality comes at a cost.

yeti tundra, cooler test 2016,

The Yeti Tundra 50

Jim Golden

[3] [YETI TUNDRA 50]

$380; BUY IT NOW

SPECS 43.7 qt. • 29 lb. • 5-year warranty, made in the U.S.A. and Philippines

TOTAL SCORE 85

Yeti started the rotomolded trend and remains the cooler all others are typically compared to. The Tundra 50 scored middle of the pack on ice retention, but it was completely unfazed by our roll test and does all the little things right. If you want a U.S.A. make, all you have to do is ask.

HITS Simple and rugged. Latches, hinges, handles, and feet are all rock solid. The drain was slow, but left almost no water behind.

MISSES Needs an attached drain plug. Testers did not like that true capacity was less than 45 quarts.

THE SKINNY When you think of a quality cooler, you probably think of Yeti, and for good reason. This thing is indestructible. It’s the standard-bearer, but that standard doesn’t come cheap.

igloo, cooler test 2016,

The Igloo Sportsman

Jim Golden

[4] [IGLOO SPORTSMAN (BEST VALUE) ]

$250; BUY IT NOW

SPECS 54 qt. • 30.4 lb. • 5-year warranty, made in the U.S.A.

TOTAL SCORE 84.6

The Sportsman was one of the largest coolers in the test and yet still handled quite well. It scored fifth out of 12 in our ice-retention test and held its own in most other categories, too.

HITS The large quick-detach drain with metal lanyard moved water fast. Online, the Sportsman can be found for less than $200, easily making it the test’s best deal.

MISSES While all the other top coolers have a single-pin hinge, the Igloo utilizes a less durable two-pin design. The rigid plastic side handles are more likely to break, compared with rope handles.

THE SKINNY The bare-bones Sportsman excels at its one big job—keeping things cold. And it does so at a can’t-be-beat price.

pelican, cooler test 2016,

The Pelican Elite

Jim Golden

[4; TIE] [PELICAN ELITE 45QT]

$350; BUY IT NOW

SPECS 44.1 qt. • 35.9 lb. • Lifetime warranty, made in the U.S.A.

TOTAL SCORE 84.6

It looks as if you could drop the Pelican Elite out of a helicopter and keep a dozen eggs intact inside. So it was a big surprise when one of the hard-plastic handles broke in our roll test. Otherwise, it would have placed second overall.

HITS It was second in our ice-retention test, and it has the best warranty in the business. So if yours ever breaks, they’ll send you a new one.

MISSES One of two models to suffer damage in the roll test. The drain plug is not built to the same standard as the rest of the cooler—flimsy at best.

THE SKINNY The Pelican could be a contender if it works out a few small quirks. Rigid plastic handles are more prone to breakage, and it’s begging for a drain-plug redesign.

engel, cooler test 2016,

The Engel ENG5

Jim Golden

[6] [ENGEL ENG5]

$330; BUY IT NOW

SPECS 45.2 qt. • 23.8 lb. • 3-year warranty, made in Thailand

TOTAL SCORE 84.2

Engel brought the first modern rotomolded cooler to the U.S. market. The new ENG50 was the tallest cooler in the test and tied for second place on ice retention, going eight days and three hours before hitting 40 degrees—the point at which meat starts to turn.

HITS The best drain of the test, it dumped 5 gallons of water in a minute and 37 seconds, and we had to squint to see any moisture left behind. Its size-to-weight to-
ice-retention ratio was also among the best. A silicone, not rubber, seal likely contributed to it’s high ice-retention marks.

MISSES No one liked the latches, even though they double as bottle openers. It opened on the roll test. The warranty is subpar.

THE SKINNY The ENG50 is lightweight and easy to handle, with great ice retention and a great drain. If it had a better warranty and was made in the U.S.A., it would have placed much higher.

orca coolers

The Orca Coolers 40

Jim Golden

[7] [ORCA COOLERS 40]

$350; BUY IT NOW

SPECS 38.8 qt. • 28 lb. • Lifetime warranty, made in the U.S.A

TOTAL SCORE 84

Tennessee-made ORCA Coolers are extremely popular in the South, and for good reason. This minimalist chest—similar to a Yeti—started strong, holding ice under 32 degrees longer than all but two other coolers in the test. But it lost ground in the race to 40 and 42 degrees.

HITS The first-rate drain plug dumped 5 gallons of water in less than 2 minutes, and left behind less than an ounce. A cargo net along the outer back wall is handy.

MISSES Testers didn’t like the elevated, somewhat slick plastic feet. The nylon tug handles secured with aluminum pins prompted questions of durability.

THE SKINNY It’s a solid all-around performer that’s made in the U.S.A. and comes with a lifetime warranty. If you haven’t seen an ORCA at the boat launch yet, you will soon.

Frostbite Coolers

The Frostbite R 48

Jim Golden

[8] FROSTBITE R 48

$280; FROSTBITECOOLERS.COM

SPECS 45.6 qt. • 26.2 lb. • 5-year warranty, made in Thailand

TOTAL SCORE 83

From High Performance Coolers, the company behind Icey-Tek (see below), the Frostbite R48 is a well-built chest that does a lot of things right at roughly $80 to $100 less than other high-end models.

HITS Solid single-pin hinge, good latches, rubberized feet, and respectable ice-retention scores.

MISSES The drain system took more than 5 minutes to dump 5-gallons of water and left 3 ounces of water behind. The fit and finish was also rough. The lid warped slightly in our roll test.

THE SKINNY This no-frills cooler lost ground in the drain test, but with some re-engineering and a little polish it could be a player down the road—especially at this price.

canyon, coolers 2016,

The Canyon Coolers Outfitter

Jim Golden

[9] CANYON COOLERS OUTFITTER 50

$290; CANYONCOOLERS.COM

SPECS 50 qt. • 24.3 lb. • Lifetime warranty, made in the U.S.A

TOTAL SCORE 81.8

While many of the smaller cooler companies appear to be chasing Yeti in their design, Flagstaff, Arizona-based Canyon Coolers is cutting its own path. The thinner-walled Outfitter 50 is durable, lightweight, and easy to handle.

HITS The Outfitter scored high marks for its durable lid hinge, portability, and overall craftsmanship.

MISSES The Canyon placed in the bottom four in the ice-retention test. The latches opened up in our roll test. The cooler itself suffered no damage, but you’d be picking dirt off your venison quarters.

THE SKINNY All the testers really liked the Canyon, and were disappointed that it did poorly in our ice-retention testing. The loose latches were panned, but the portability is a big plus. And it just feels like a high-quality product.

grizzly 40, cooler review 2016,

The Grizzly 40

Jim Golden

[10] [GRIZZLY 40]

$340;BUY IT NOW

SPECS 36.3 qt. • 23.9 lb. • Lifetime warranty, made in the U.S.A

TOTAL SCORE 80.2

Grizzly Coolers is bringing smart ergonomic design to the ice-chest market. This cooler was well made and comfortable to carry. The thin, split-latch design looked flimsy, but try as we did, we couldn’t break them.

HITS Good latches, hinge, handles, and feet. The nylon tug handles were especially strong and felt made for the hand. Nice fit and finish.

MISSES Ice-retention killed this bear. It came in last place by hitting 32 degrees in just over two days. It remained in last place at the 40- and 42-degree markers, too.

THE SKINNY Had this cooler done a better job of keeping cold, it would have been a top contender. It checked all the boxes, except the most important one.

bison cooler, cooler test 2016,

The BISON COOLERS 50

Jim Golden

[11] BISON COOLERS 50

$329; BISONCOOLERS.COM

SPECS 49 qt. • 30 lb. • 5-year warranty, made in the U.S.A

TOTAL SCORE 80

Fort Worth-based Bison coolers are tough, and have a long lineup of available accessories, from carts to traction pads for the lid and custom graphics. Texas-flag cooler anyone?

HITS A 45-mph tumble down a dirt road didn’t phase the Bison. Testers loved its unique latch design, which was rock solid and easy to use with heavy gloves or weak hands.

MISSES This top-heavy cooler wouldn’t stand upright with the heavy lid all the way open. Poor drain performance. It also came in second to last at the 40- and 42-degree markers, and third to last at 32 degrees.

THE SKINNY The poor ice-retention results were excpected, as Bison advertises 5-day ice retention instead of the 10 days many others claim. That said, they’re doing several interesting things, like their latch design, that other companies are not.

icey-tek 55 long, cooler test 2016,

The Icey-Tek 55 Long Box

Jim Golden

[12]ICEY-TEK 55 LONG BOX

$295; BUY IT NOW

SPECS 57.9 qt. • 25 lb. • 5-year warranty, made in Thailand

TOTAL SCORE 70.9

Unlike its sister cooler, the Frostbite R, the Icey-Tek Long Box has a way to go before it’s competitive in this crowd.

HITS Relatively low price.

MISSES The corner sidewall of the Icey-Tek split during our 45-mph roll test. It was the only cooler rendered inoperable during the process. The two drain holes are well above the bottom of the cooler, which resulted in very slow drainage and more than two cups of leftover H2O. It also finished bottom of the pack ice retention, and has three exposed hinges.

THE SKINNY The two drain plugs are nice, as there is no need to spin the cooler to get at one side. But the drain placement is odd, along with most of the design choices on this cooler. It’s simply not in the same class as the others.

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