When you wanna keep your foods and drinks outside the fridge in the summer, the best way to do it is to use a cooler. It allows you to keep your food on ice for a prolonged period of time.
But with so many coolers out there to pick from, you may have a hard time finding the best cooler for the money. They are designed to keep the contents cold and intact for days while being submerged, beaten, and dropped.
That makes them suitable for different uses and activities, such as grocery shopping, road trips, camping, fishing, and more.
You can rest assured that all our picks offer great value for the money.
10 Best Coolers for the Money 2018
|Pelican ProGear Elite – Editor's Choice|
|YETI Tundra Cool|
|Orca Cooler with Lid & Bottom|
|RTIC Cooler (RTIC 45)|
|Grizzly Coolers Cooler|
|YETI Hopper TWO|
|Coleman Steel-Belted Cooler|
|Igloo Glide PRO|
|Igloo Iceless Thermoelectric|
1. Pelican ProGear Elite Cooler – Best Cooler for Keeping Ice (Editor’s Choice)The Pelican ProGear Elite is our top choice for many reasons. It’s not only one of the most affordable coolers but also one of the top-performing models in terms of durability, ease of use, ice retention, feel, and look. That’s why it is ranked the #1 best cooler of 2018. When compared to other major brands on the market, all these features make it the best cooler for the money.
First and foremost, this exceptional cooler is the absolute winner with regard to ice retention. It is proven to keep ice for 7 to 10 days. So you can rest assured that it’s gonna keep ice for at least one week in hot temperatures.
One of the first things you will notice at the ProGear Elite is its robust plastic pull up handles on each side of the unit. These beefy handles are really amazing to hold, whether you are carrying the cooler with a friend or by yourself. Alternatively, you can use the handles molded into the exterior when carrying the cooler. Compared to the rope handles, they are less prone to break off.
The next brilliant feature you’ll appreciate is the press and pull latches. This robust cooler is proven to seal exceptionally well while preventing the lid from accidental opening. While many coolers use the pull-down rubber latches, which are a bit hard to use, the Pelican boasts one-of-a-kind press and pull latches that are extremely easy to use.
You can unhook the cooler in a jiffy by pressing the red buttons and lifting the lid up; press them down and they will click into place. That lets you close and open the cooler at the push of a button which is not possible with most coolers.
Why the Pelican ProGear Is The Best Cooler for the Money
Other neat features worth mentioning include the molded-in ruler on the lid, tie downs, and drain plug. The first feature is particularly useful for fishermen, allowing them to quickly measure the fish and decide whether to throw it back or keep. As far as the drain plug, it comes with a hose attachment that lets you drain the cooler away from the place where it is located. Be sure to drain the water every day to prevent condensation build up.
For easy transporting, there are molded-in tie-down points, which make the cooler suitable for taking on a truck or boat. It won’t move an inch thanks to the tacky rubber that prevents the cooler from slipping and sliding around. A great feature when using it on a slippery boat floor.
At last, let’s say a few words about durability and construction. The Pelican ProGear Elite is designed to last for years. The exterior is made of high-impact military grade polyurethane that makes the unit incredibly durable and difficult to break. You can throw it around or drop it off the back of a truck while driving at high speed. Yep, it will survive!
Okay, we have seen all the great features and perks, but is there any catch? This product is on the heavy side because of its robust design, which is actually the only significant issue of the Pelican coolers. Weighing about 10 pounds more than the coolers with similar size, the Pelican is one of the heaviest coolers on the market for sure. That could be a problem for those who have a bad back.
2. Yeti Tundra 50 – Best Cooler for River RaftingIt was a very close election result between the Yeti Tundra and PelicanProGear Elite when we ranked the best cooler for the money, but the price has played a critical role in the end. Yeti is certainly one of the best known and most popular cooler brands, but it gets a hefty price tag as a result. On the other hand, the Pelican is considerably cheaper while still offering a great value for the money.
Nevertheless, most people are inclined to picture a Yeti before any other brand when thinking of top-notch ice chests.
This US company has created the top-of-the-line category focusing on a high-end durability and performance. So if you’re looking for a cooler capable of lasting for many years and providing an impeccable functionality all through its lifespan, look no further than Yeti Tundra.
Those coolers are armed with plenty of great features that set them apart from the rest. The rotomolded polyethylene construction is certainly one of the most important ones. Such a construction can be found in whitewater kayaks, meaning Yeti coolers can easily survive the float trips, even if they end up overboard.
The Tundra Series includes models from 20 to impressive 350 quarts, each of which is perfect for any kind of outdoor pursuit. But the Tundra 50 is particularly convenient for river rafting, as it fits most raft frames. That particular model can also be a regular part of your tailboard or campsite alike. The capacity of 50 quarts allows you to place the maximum of 32 cans at once with a suggested 1:2 contents-to-ice ratio.
Further Reviewing the Yeti Tundra 50: Our Second Best Cooler for the Money
As for the ice retention, the Yeti Tundra can keep ice for up to 7 days thanks to the hard walls that features a distinctive FatWall design. That design involves three inches of pressure-injected insulation foam inside the walls, enabling the ice to stay solid inside the cooler for long durations.
The enhanced ice retention is also ensured by the insulated lid that is fitted with the T-Rex latches. These latches are meant to keep the lid and inner contents extremely secure, employing patented keeper technology with heavy-duty rubber.
There’s also a ColdLock gasket that prevents the warm air from getting inside, which helps your beverages and food stay chilled longer. Plus, the cooler involves the InterLock Lid system that engages a unique form-fitting barrier to lessen the effect of direct sunlight. Another valuable system you will like is so-called The NeverFail Hinge System. It utilizes two pins to secure the hinge and prevent it from breaking.
3. Orca Cooler – Best Cooler for CampingIf you are one of those outdoorsmen sick of ice chests that can’t withstand extended trips, go for Orca coolers and you’ll be able to stay at campsite much longer. Those roto-molded coolers are suitable for long camping trips, so they are perfect for campers, hunters, fishermen, and other people who spend a lot of time outdoors.
ORCA is a famous American brand that has been around for many years with superb coolers. Unlike some other brands, such as YETI that have been outsourcing Hopper Series to China, ORCA products are still produced in the US. That makes a big difference, right?
You can find Orca coolers in different colors and sizes, ranging from 20 to 140 quarts. Start with the smallest 20-quart cooler for weekend trips and switch to a massive 75-quart model when you want to spend all week in nature. The 140-quart Orca coolers are ideal for big-game hunters needing the extra storage.
What makes these coolers stand out from the crowd is their build quality and design. They look classy thanks to the sleek design and cubic shape. Being made of high-quality materials, these roto-molded coolers are extremely durable and heavy-duty. On the back, there’s a nifty pouch that can be used to keep small items like a pocket knife, phone, or keys.
More on the Orca Cooler
Orca coolers also set themselves apart from the rest with their excellent ice retention capability. According to the manufacturer, these coolers are capable of retaining ice for 10 days when properly prepped. While consistently providing safe temperatures of 90ºF+, the smaller sized models can keep ice for 4-5 days. As the quarts go up, the ice retention gets increased, too.
These robust coolers come with a cargo net attachment, which is something not many brands include in their coolers. That useful attachment allows for added storage so that you can store your dry goods aside from putting drinks inside.
The latches perform pretty well locking down a water- and air-tight seal. Besides, this cooler features premium flex-grip handles that make portage comfortable, as well as a drain plug that won’t splash when you are taking out meltwater.
4. RTIC Cooler – Best Insulated CoolerAs a camper or hiker, the last thing you want to see while you’re in the forest or elsewhere in the wilderness is your foodstuff going bad due to a faulty ice chest. That’s why many outdoorsmen choose RTIC coolers when seeking an affordable cooler for a worry-free extended trip.
This RTIC line includes coolers in three different sizes — 20, 45 and 65 quarts — allowing you to find a model for every occasion. The small 20-quart models are perfect for individuals and a few buddies who need their food and/or drinks kept chilled for a short trip. The RTIC 65 is a cooler that can easily accommodate a group of 5-10 people, so it’s perfect for a rafting trip or party.
Let’s focus on the 45-quart option for this roundup. The mid-size RTIC 45 is a multipurpose product that is perfect for any type of outdoor activity, be it a camping, boating, mountaineering, hunting, or fishing. Weighing 25 pounds and measuring 15.5 x 26.5 x 16.5 inches, this model fits snugly in a tailgate or back of a pick-up truck. It can hold 36 cans with roughly 40 lbs of ice.
Once you get it out of the box, the first thing you’ll notice about this product is its great build quality and handsome design. Like ORCA, RTIC coolers feature a roto-molded construction that ensures the highest insulation and durability. Such a molding method maximize the ice-retention time from inside while making the unit resistant to heavy use from outside.
Further Reviewing the RTIC Cooler
The insulation quality is surely one of the strongest points of the RTIC coolers. How long they hold ice? Although the manufacturer claims that these coolers can keep ice up to 10 days, you should count on 7 days with a 45-quart option. This is truly amazing for this size, as it is on par with the high-end expensive coolers. Of course, this time goes up with bigger 65qt models and it gets reduced with the smaller 20qt size.
There’re also many other features which make the RTIC ice chests the best coolers for the money. Just to mention T latches, strong molded handles, a rope handle, freezer grade gasket, full-length hinge system, and two-step draining system. All these features make RTIC coolers a great deal, especially when considering the price.
5. Grizzly Cooler – Best Cooler for HuntingGrizzly coolers possess all the features and traits a hunter could ever need, including bear-proof design, large capacity, rugged construction, and a decent ice retention time. This is why they are considered to be the best hunting coolers. Besides hunting adventure, those heavy-duty coolers are also convenient for a camping trip or picnicking with friends.
These American-made ice chests are engineered to be a “do-everything” ice chest. The size range from 15 to 400 quarts to provide anything and everything you could ever need. Whether you are on the lookout for something larger that can be placed in the back of your truck or smaller that can fit into your car backseat, Grizzly coolers have got you covered!
All the Grizzly coolers aim to hold out against the hard outdoor setting while maximizing ice life at the same time. And this is where roto-molded design comes into play. It implies a piece of solid plastic accompanied with metal and rubber to provide tough build.
They are equipped with non-slip rubber feet which ensures that the unit stays put in your truck when you drive on rugged roads. The rubber is also used in the lid for the gasket. To resist rust and failure, the cooler uses stainless steel hardware. To improve and ease mobility, there’s a nylon grip sleeve on each side along with side rope handles. Everything else on this cooler is made from solid plastic.
More on the Grizzly Cooler
When speaking about a cooler, one of the most important considerations is how well it performs in terms of ice retention. Well, Grizzlies will not disappoint you at all. To maximize ice life, these coolers use secure latches, a well-fitted gasket rubber gasket, thick roto-molded walls, and pressure-injected insulation. That combination results in the top-end insulation ability and relatively long ice life.
In a 90-degree environment, you may expect that your ice will be retained 7-10 days in the larger models and 4-6 days in the smaller ones. That’s pretty impressive! Other useful features include an embossed ruler onto the lid, a 2-inch drain plug, a dry goods tray for better organization of stored items, and trademarked BearClaw latches for a secure grip.
6. YETI Hopper 20 – Best Soft Cooler & for AnglersDespite being known for the hefty price tags, Yeti is one of the market leaders when it comes to the ice chests. The Yeti Hopper line offers a great value for the money, including some of best soft-sided options on the market.
As opposed to flimsy soft-sided coolers, these two portable coolers are designed to withstand a heavy abuse by keen outdoorsmen, such as anglers packing a fresh trout or salmon out of the wilderness.
Constructed from a DryHide shell and fitted with sturdy D-rings, the soft Yeti Hopper is anything but soft. Thanks to the welded seams on the shell (which can be found in heavy-duty whitewater rafts), this cooler is watertight, puncture resistant, mildew resistant, and resistant to UV rays as well.
It’s available in three different sizes — the 20, 30 and 40 — as well as two different colors, white and tan. The Hopper 20 is so portable and hence ideal for trout fishing on the river. Alongside the ice, this model can accommodate up to 18 cans. However, if you’re worried about having insufficient space, go for the larger 30 or 40 sizes. They are particularly favorable for the canoe or drift boat.
Why We Love the Yeti Hopper 20
Yeti soft-sided coolers are insolated with rubber foam and made of a food grade FDA-approved material. They are fitted with a special HydroLok zipper for hazmat suits. Tie downs, handles, and hitch points are double stitched. All of this ensures a great safety of inner contents.
As far as the ice retention, the Yeti Hopper 30 and 40 are proven to keep ice 5-6 days, while the smaller Hopper 20 can go up to 3 days, which makes it suitable for shorter trips. Perhaps this ice retention doesn’t seem so impressive, but you’ll get a great portability and superb form factor in turn. This is why Yeti Hopper is such an amazing cooler for the money.
7. Coleman 54-Quart Steel-Belted Cooler – Best Stainless Steel CoolerColeman is a brand that people all around the world recognize as a synonymous with ice coolers. The chances are high that you or somebody you know owned a Coleman cooler. That doesn’t come as surprise since the Coleman coolers have been around for decades.
The company has started off with gas lamps at the beginning of the last century. But it has soon evolved and started to produce equipment for outdoor adventures. Coleman has constantly added some innovations. One of the latest models that came from this company is a 54-quart cooler with steel belt. This steel-belted cooler is back on the market after years of hiatus, better and more appealing than ever before.
While it’s not completely made from metal, there is the steel belt for extra strength. Steel latches, capable of resisting up to 10 Ibs of pressure, make the chest bear resistant.
It comes with stainless steel hardware, sturdy body, and strong lid. Even the hinges and handles are a high-quality stainless steel. These features protect the cooler from rusting, scratches, and heat warping. Beyond the practicality, this 54-quart cooler boasts great finishing as well.
More on the Coleman 54-Quart Cooler
There are a lot of reasons why the Coleman cooler is the best choice when it comes to the steel coolers. First of all, it has a firm construction and nice design. This ice chest comes with a steel belted jug and drinking cup. The handles offer a rubber grip for a safe and comfortable handling. The solid latch lets you seal the contents inside the cooler completely safe. Besides, the rust-resistant hinges and screws minimize cases of wear and tear.
The Coleman cooler offers a decent weight capacity, allowing you to store about 85 cans at once. On the inside, it is 20″ long, 12″ wide, and 13 1/4 inches deep/high. That means you can put 2-liter beverage bottles upright inside of the cooler with ease.
With a total weight of about twenty pounds, the cooler is easy to carry around. Aside from this, its liner, base, and lid are also quite easy to clean. Thanks to a broad mouth, it’s very easy to fill, empty, and clean the cooler. Yes, everything is so easy with this steel-belted Coleman cooler!
8. Igloo Glide PRO Cooler 110Qt – The Most Spacious Cooler & With WheelsIf you are gonna be on the move and need a big cooler to store a lot of contents, choose the Igloo Glide PRO and you won’t go wrong. While rolling it around at the beach or park on a hot day, this big wheeling cooler will keep your soda cold and make the transportation easy. It is designed to make pulling and storing a breeze.
Its glide rally wheels and extendable, sturdy handle make it easy to ferry drink and food around the dock, campground, or boardwalk. It allows anyone to effortlessly roll this cooler in any terrain even if it is fully loaded. Considering its large size, it is the thumbs up for the Igloo Glide PRO Cooler.
The horizontal telescoping handle comes with a slide-and-lock system, providing max leverage while facilitating lifting loads. There are plastic handles on both sides which are not so impressive, though. They feel a little flimsy, especially when you want to lift the cooler up. In our opinion, those handles need to be much stronger for such a big, 110-quart cooler.
Further Review of the Igloo Glide PRO
In addition to a great mobility, this rolling cooler performs very well when it comes to the insulation, maintaining a safe food temperature all the time. It can keep ice for 4-5 days when it is 90°F outside thanks to its thermal proof lid and ultratherm insulated body. That makes it suitable for a weekend camping trip, especially if you fill it up with pre-chilled food or drinks. However, if you are in need of a cooler for a 7+ day trip, then the Igloo Glide PRO cooler is not the best choice.
Maybe the Glide PRO is not as strong as the roto-molded high-end coolers, but it still features a rugged construction. Unlike the traditional models which utilize flimsy hinges and press fit lids, it uses large latches and massive hinges to ensure that the lid is securely closed.
On the downside, it’s quite difficult to lift this 110-quart behemoth when fully loaded, especially when you want to lift it in or out of your vehicle. When filled to the brim, it easily weighs about 230 pounds! So you are advised to have at least another person available when lifting it up.
9. Igloo Iceless Thermoelectric Cooler – Best Cooler for Road TripsAre you going to make a great family road trip? Tired of buying ice for a mini refrigerator that frequently needs cleaning and draining? Do you need something that is a bit more convenient? The chances are you’re looking for something like the Igloo Iceless Thermoelectric cooler.
This little iceless cooler is very convenient to use, letting you cool on the go. You just need to plug the cooler into a 12V port (it could be a cigarette lighter) and let it cool your vitals down. There’s no inconvenience and mess of ice in your vehicle. Ice-free design allows you to have more space for your beverages and/or food.
It’s all about the convection cooling system and thermoelectric technology. The cooler uses a brushless motor and noiseless fan to circulate cold air. This way it can chill the temp to 36°F below the outside air temperature.
NOTE: Don’t put warm food or drinks into the cooler before plugging it because it will take you a lot of time (24 hours or more) to chill your items. As a matter of fact, it’s recommended that you run the cooler for a couple of hours prior to adding your items, according to the manual.
TIP: Make sure to cool your contents down before putting them into the cooler for the best results.
There are two available sizes — 26 or 28 quarts — so pick one that will better suit your needs. The slim design and 8-foot power cord allow you to fit it easily behind the passenger seat while traveling. If you opt for the 26-quart version, than the exterior dimensions are 18.19″ x 15.47″ x 13.11″; the bigger 28-quart version measures 18.23″ x 16.65″ x 12.87″.
There are molded hands on each side for two-handed lifting and carrying. The unit features an ergonomic design with a bent back, which makes carrying more comfortable.
10. Engel High-Performance ENG35 Cooler – Another Top Rated CoolerThose searching for a tough, well-insulated cooler that can keep their drinks and food ice-cold when camping, paddling, or fishing, should consider using the Eng35 Cooler.
This roto-molded cooler highlights HardShell construction, which is suitable for rough water conditions and traveling on rugged terrain. Aside from being shockproof, this cooler is also bear proof. It proudly wears IBSC certification, meaning it will protect your food from hungry bears when you camp in a bear country.
The Eng35 Cooler comes with airtight ArcticVault gasket and 2-inch insulation. According to the manufacturer, the cooler can hold ice frozen for up to ten days, but this mainly depends on the size and way of use. The truth is that you can use it for the 3-day trip with peace of mind. Every extra day could be risky for your food.
Other features include the stainless steel Unity Latch system for a safe closure, a TruHold Lid for a secure grip, and the DuoLock holes for enhanced locking security against wild animals.
There are also tie-down points to fasten the cooler to an all-terrain vehicle, boat, and the like. You’ll also notice a grippy Cornerstone Feet and Flick Drain plug at the bottom. All is well engineered and wrapped up.
Things You Must Know Before Buying a Cooler
As a buyer, your decision about the brand and model depends on various factors. Aside from the price, you need to consider the cooler design, ice retention, capacity, key features, and more.
So read on to find out about the critical factors you should check out when buying a cooler.
The coolers come with a similar design, appearance, and features. Yet, those are not equal when it comes to cooling ability. All manufacturers claim their coolers are able to keep food cool and fresh.
But the question is, for how long? Some don’t keep foods cold on a hot day, while others are prone to leak or run out of ice quickly. That’s why you should be careful when shopping.
When shopping a particular cooler, try to find out how long it can keep food and drink chill before requiring extra ice. Each cooler should serve its main purpose – to keep stored items cold. You should believe to customer reviews rather than sellers.
In general, the heavy, big, and roto-molded models provide the better ice retention. There’s still lots of competition and variance within these coolers, though.
Insulation is certainly the key performance metric when it comes to coolers. When speaking of insulation performance, there are two different categories: ice retention and maintaining food-friendly temperatures.
As for the safe food temperatures, it mustn’t exceed 40˚F for perishable food. The cooler must be able to maintain a temperature below 40˚F in the airspace where the food is usually stored, i.e. above the ice.
As its name suggests, the ice retention implies the time ice can be retained, i.e., how long a cooler can keep ice. It mostly depends on the construction, type of insulation, and lid. The pressure-injected PermaFrost insulation and roto-molded construction yield the top insulation performance. The lid also needs to be well insulated and to seal well.
Pelican Elite and Yeti Tundra are two brands that excel at insulation and ice retention. Orca, RTIC, Grizzly are also exceptional in terms of ice retention, so you can’t go wrong with any of them.
Since the coolers are often subjected to some kind of abuse (e.g. bouncing around, throwing, striking, and beating), those products have to be very durable. This is especially true when you rambling down the local bumpy roads with a cooler in your car.
Increased durability commonly results in a longer lifetime of the cooler, while lowering chances of makeshift duct tape repairs.
However, it’s difficult to quantify the durability when buying goods. This is where online user reviews come in. If there is any salient durability issue, the users will identify it. So it pays to read the customer reviews before going shopping.
Ease of Use & Way of Use
You should know how you will use a cooler, so before making a final decision, make sure to determine some things.
Will you pack food and/or drinks for one day or several days? What kind of contents will you take? Also, take into account which type of trip or activity you will be making.
Will you camp alone or with your friends? Some models are more convenient for camping, while others are better for road trips, river rafting, hunting, or angling.
Ease of use typically counts down to 2 things – draining meltwater and opening the lid.
While draining, some drain plugs are creating a significant amount of water or are prone to leak and form water build up on the bottom side of the cooler body. That can wreak havoc on your car.
For most difficulties related to lid opening, the main culprits are the latches that need to secure the lid. Beware of those lids that are inclined to snap shut all of a sudden!
All customers love features. The today’s coolers aren’t only the simple ice chests for food and/or drinks, but also fish scales, bottle openers, picnic tables, cutting boards, and more.
Any additional feature should serve the purpose, either to improve insulation or simplify chores like storing, transporting or emptying water out.
Nonetheless, the majority of the newest models are armed with plenty of nifty features, such as:
- Emergency bottle openers
- External latches
- Pin style hinges
- Drain plug leash, etc.
Let’s reiterate again, extra features should ONLY tangential to the primary functions of coolers.
Once you have clarified how you’ll use a cooler, you will be able to pick the right size. The coolers range from small, handy models to the huge ice chests that can hold enough food for a 14-day camping trip.
The coolers are available in different sizes, ranging from 10 to 400 quarts. The more quarts, the more space for your items. That’s fine but bear in mind that the biggest models are usually the heaviest ones.
Logically, the price plays an important role in choosing the best cooler for the money. Maybe the price is not everything when shopping a cooler, but it is supposed to be quite reasonable and in accordance with what you’re getting.
Many people cannot afford high-end, costly coolers, and that’s why we’ve singled out ten models that offer a great value for money.
FAQ About Coolers
Q: What is a Roto Molded cooler?
A: Roto molded coolers, also known as rotationally molded coolers, are manufactured to hold ice cold for a prolonged period of time. Also, it’s designed to keep your food protected from bears and other forest animals. These coolers are made from a material known as rotationally molded plastic.
The process for rotomolding assures that every component of the cooler is made with a thick wall, containing no faults. Roto molded coolers are so sturdy that they can really take serious abuse, including being tugged and grabbed by grizzly bears.
Q: How do coolers work?
A: The cooler’s insulation lets you carry lots of perishables, keeping them cool for a continued period of time. This works by the reduction of the process of heat transfer. Basically, insulated materials stop heat heat in its track from coming in or leaving the cooler.
For that reason, cool items such as perishables or drinks remain cold since heat doesn’t get into the container. A cooler has what’s known as thick thermal insulation around it. Normally, such coolers have a urethane composition. Coolers with new designs often sport various types of materials, such as polystyrene, polyethylene, and polypropylene.
There are other types of insulation materials we didn’t even mention, since there many. There best coolers are often made using insulated fabrics. There are also thermoelectric coolers, which are heavier in nature, but can keep your food cool in pack form. Modern cooler designs also showcase reliable waterproof lining which helps keep moisture away.
Our Verdict for the Best Cooler for the Money
A cooler shouldn’t only keep your food cold but also provide convenience and comfort. That said, you must take into consideration different models when buying a cooler.
Make sure to check on the reputable brands, in particular. That will help you narrow down your choices and pick one that would work best for you.
Obviously, the price plays a key role if you’re seeking the best product for the money. That’s why the Pelican ProGear Elite is our top pick.
This amazing cooler comes at the right price without sacrificing the quality. Nevertheless, you should compare all the brands we have showcased here and pick one that best fits your needs.