If you haven't shopped for a cooler in awhile, you might be surprised by how expensive some of the latest options are. Chief among them is Yeti, a company that broke out big by selling "rotomolded" coolers that promise exceptional performance and cost hundreds of dollars. The company was so successful that it spawned a flood of rotomolded imitators.
I'm always pretty skeptical of big performance claims at astronomically high prices, but rotomolding -- short for rotational molding -- is legit. The process is just what it sounds like; the mold gets rotated as the manufacturer pours the plastic in. The result? Plastic that's sturdier, more uniform in density and most importantly to the cooler category, better at insulation.
As such, I expected the Yeti Tundra 45 -- which costs a princely $300 -- to perform well in my tests. And boy, did it ever. Out of 12 coolers tested, it was by far the top performer, retaining ice longer than the competition and keeping ambient temperatures inside nice and low, even with a minimal amount of ice. It isn't the easiest cooler to carry, and at 38 quarts, I hate that it's 15 percent smaller than the name suggests, but if performance is what you care about (and if you're willing to spend), then look no further.
Available in a variety of colors (I went with a limited-edition shade of salmon), the Yeti Tundra 45 is one of several hard-bodied Yeti coolers currently available for purchase. The design is clean, simple and sturdy as hell, with smooth, high-quality construction, roped handles and a hinged lid that locks shut with a pair of thick, rubber latches.
The thing's a tank, which is great if it's going to be banging around in the back of your truck on a road trip. Carrying it is another story. At 23 pounds when empty and with walls that are at least an inch thicker than most coolers, it's a bulky haul even without beer in it, and while the roped handles look appropriately fancy, I much prefer rigid handles that don't sway back and forth as I'm lumbering along. Fortunately, the Yeti also includes rigid handles like that just above the roped ones -- to each their own, I guess.
Those extra-thick walls might also help make for an interior that isn't as spacious as the product name suggests. Many shoppers will understandably assume that the Tundra 45 holds 45 quarts, but they'd be wrong -- I was only able to fill it with 38 quarts of water before the lid wouldn't close without overflowing.
In fairness, the folks at Yeti never make the specific 45-quart claim, and in the fine print, you'll see the Tundra 45 listed at 8.2 gallons, which comes out to about 33 quarts. Still, they know what they're doing with that "45" in the moniker. I see you, Yeti.