Summer is here, and if you appreciate a frosty beverage on a sunny day as much as I do, then you'll want to be sure to have a dependable cooler on hand. That's why we decided to take a quick break from the gadgets and gizmos of the CNET Smart Home to test out twelve hard-bodied coolers that range from $4 to $400 in price. Our goal? Identify the smartest buys for your buck.
Click through to see a quick rundown of all of them, complete with links to handy reviews that'll help you figure out which one is worth the cold, hard cash. And be sure to check out our full roundup post, too -- we've filled it to the brim with tips, picks and buying advice.
Let's start with the cheap guys. Up first: The Igloo Island Breeze Cooler, which I grabbed on sale at Dick's Sporting Goods for $15. It's about as basic as coolers come, with no latch for the lid and no drainage spout, either, and the performance was pitiful. I say cool your jets and buy something better.
Rubbermaid doesn't make as many coolers as it used to, but you'll still find a few options if you shop around, including the $20 Rubbermaid Ice Chest Cooler. Like that Igloo cooler from the previous slide, it lacks both a latch and a drainage spout, and the performance was, again, pitiful. In fact, Rubbermaid finished dead last in our tests. Buy literally anything else.
When I say "buy literally anything else," I mean it. Case in point: Lifoam. It's a $4 throwaway Styrofoam cooler that I picked up at the grocery as a control unit, and to my amazement, it arguably outperformed both Rubbermaid and Igloo. With a small load of ice inside each one, the Lifoam cooler didn't get as cold as those two did overall, but it came close -- and, more importantly, it held its cool longer than either of them, meaning that it'll keep your beers colder for longer. No joke -- this is a CNET recommended product (for cheapskates, at least).
Coleman sells a boatload of different coolers, including the popular Coleman Xtreme Marine Cooler, which I picked up for $42 at my local Walmart. With the all-white, wide-bodied design, it's meant to fit right in on a boat (fishermen can even use the lid to measure whatever they reel in), but you can use it like any other cooler wherever you like.
Performance was decent, but not spectacular when we tested it out. The real draw, however, was the capacity. At 70 quarts, it's about as big a cooler as you could possibly hope to find at this price (and when we measured it for ourselves, it actually held 76.1 quarts).
For a fantastic value pick, consider the $45 Igloo MaxCold Cooler. It isn't anything special to look at, but it performed better than any of the cheap coolers I tested -- and better even than some of the really expensive ones. Put it at the top of your list if you're just looking for great cooling power at a great price.
Not all Igloos are created equal. Take the Igloo Latitude for instance. Unlike that MaxCold cooler I just raved about, the Latitude was a lousy performer, and only incrementally better than what you'll get from Rubbermaid or the Igloo Island Breeze. On top of that, the design is flimsy as hell, with a lid that rips right off of the hinges whenever you give it a gentle yank. Steer clear of this one.
This Coleman cooler isn't much better as far as the design is concerned, although the lid does tend to stay on its hinges when you pull on it, so point Coleman. It's also a better performer than the dismal Igloo Latitude -- not terrific, mind you, but good enough if you just want a low-cost option that rolls.
Lifetime High Performance Cooler, 55 quarts -- $97
If you're willing to spend a little more, you might consider upgrading to the 55-quart Lifetime High Performance Cooler, which I found on sale at Walmart for $97. In fact, I'd recommend that you strongly consider it. For the money, you're getting performance that's just as good as the impressive Igloo MaxCold, plus a much nicer design that includes dual-locking lid latches, a roomier-than-advertised interior, fancy-schmancy roped handles and even a built-in bottle opener for good measure. Why every cooler doesn't come with a built-in bottle opener is beyond me, but kudos to Lifetime for making it happen.
Let's pause to consider the performance of all the coolers we've seen so far (except for Lifoam -- it's better than the cheapies but that's about it).
As you can see, we're starting to fill in the bottom half of that graph quite nicely, especially the Igloo Maxcold and Lifetime High Performance coolers. But what about coolers that cost even more, you say?
So glad you asked. Up first, the Yeti Tundra 45. It's probably the most popular "rotomolded" cooler out there, and at $300, it ain't cheap. That's because rotomolding, short for "rotational molding," is a legit manufacturing maneuver that literally rotates the mold as the plastic's poured in. The result is plastic that's a lot more durable, a lot better at holding the cold -- and, a lot more expensive.
Still, it's worth it if you just want the best performance for the price. Simply put, the Yeti clobbered the competition in our tests. Just keep in mind that Yeti's coolers aren't as big as the names suggest -- the Tundra 45 here holds just 33 quarts, which isn't great considering how much you'll have to pay for it.
For a rotomolded option that's a lot bigger at the same $300 price, consider the 58-quart Orca Classic. It didn't hold the cold for as long as the Yeti did, but it still performed admirably, earning the runner-up spot in our tests. Plus, it's just as big as Orca says it is, coming in at a very sizable 58.1 quarts.
At $399, the Rovr Rollr 60 was the most expensive cooler that we tested, but when you consider the build, the price makes a little more sense. Not only is it rotomolded, but it also comes with a rugged set of 9-inch inflatable rubber wheels, plus an aluminum axle and handlebar. It's basically a tank that's made to go anywhere you want to take it (you can even hitch it behind your bike). The comparable wheeled Yeti model is just as expensive, and a Bison with a wheeled cart accessory will cost a total of $460, so don't rule Rovr out if you lead an active outdoor lifestyle.
All right, here's all of them (again, except Lifoam -- you had your moment!) That pink line at the bottom that's making all of the other lines jealous is Yeti -- nothing we tested really came close to matching it.
If you don't feel like spending $300, don't worry -- the Yeti wasn't the only recommendable option we found by any stretch. Be sure to check out our full cooler roundup for all of our top picks and buying recommendations, with reviews for everything to help you pick the perfect one.