Shop around for a cooler and you'll find a flurry of new, expensive, "rotomolded" designs from names like Yeti and Orca. With higher-quality materials and extra-thick insulation, each of them promises superior performance, but they cost hundreds of dollars.
The best argument against coolers like those? The plain ol' plastic Igloo MaxCold Cooler. At a modest asking price of just $45, its ability to hold the cold blew away the rest of the budget-priced coolers I tested -- and it even managed to keep up with the rotomolded Bison Gen 2 and Rovr Rollr 60 coolers, which cost $329 and $400, respectively. It's nothing fancy, and it won't hold cold temperatures as long as Yeti or Orca will, but it'll get you awfully close for just a fraction of the price. That makes it my top value pick in the cooler category, and an excellent choice if you just want something dependable that won't break the bank.
The Igloo MaxCold isn't much to look at -- it's just a traditional chest cooler available in one color: Navy blue with a light blue lid. You won't get much as far as features are concerned, either: Just a set of handles, a drainage spout and a latch for the lid.
Still, that's more than some other cheap coolers can say. Downgrade to the $20 Rubbermaid Ice Chest Cooler or the $15 Igloo Island Breeze Cooler, for instance, and you won't get a lid latch or a drainage spout at all. And, to the MaxCold's credit, it's both comfortable to carry and sturdy enough to sit on, which makes it a pretty good pick for a camping trip.
Inside, you'll find what Igloo describes as 50 quarts of storage space for your food and beverages. The actual number came in just a bit lower when I double-checked it, as I was only able to fill the MaxCold with 46.5 quarts of water before the lid wouldn't close without overflowing. Still, that's a decent amount of space for the price, and more than enough to keep plenty of cold beers on hand.
All of that is well and good, but what really sets the Igloo MaxCold apart is its outstanding level of performance. In my tests, I filled each cooler with 3 pounds of ice, then tracked their internal ambient temperatures on a minute-by-minute basis over 48 hours in a climate-controlled room set to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Among all 12 of them -- including four of those expensive, rotomolded coolers -- the MaxCold finished in third place, managing to tie the $329 Bison Gen 2 and beating the $400 Rovr Rollr 60.