Beer lovers will always agree on two things about their favorite brew. One, the taste of the beer and two, the fact that it must be consumed chilled—and even more so when you are outdoors.
As we are all aware, temperatures last summer were brutal running in the 90s along with high humidity levels. So we spent the last summer putting to test some of the most popular coolers on the market to pick out the best among the lot. Yeah, and in the process had a lot of beer! We looked for the cooler that kept the ice formed the longest, the drinks chilled the best and for those that could hold the most number of drinks.
The average coolers seen in most cases keep cold cuts and beverages chilled for a few hours on an outdoor trip, but when you are looking for some serious ice retention, you need high efficiency coolers that have the capability to hold ice for days together!
These are rugged coolers, made for heavy duty performance and are popularly known as ‘ice chests’ by many. Top put these coolers to the test, we stocked up to 10 pounds of ice in each and let the sun and the hot air do the rest. We put three coolers to the test, the first from Kelty (58 quarts), the second from Igloo (45 quarts) and the third cooler from Yeti Tundra Cooler (70 quarts).
We planned to keep the coolers under the sun for seven days to find the best insulated cooler that served us the most chilled beer. Well, that was the plan. Under the brutal summer sun, however, the best these coolers lasted was four days. We accessed the coolers once a day when we cracked open a few beers.
The Insulated Cooler Test
Filling the coolers with ice
We began by stuffing the coolers with about 10 pounds of ice each. The Kelty filled about half way up. This cooler has a zip closure and is a soft body cooler. The Igloo has thick plastic walls and the 10 pounds of ice left three-quarters of the inside area empty. The Yeti’s 70 quarts made it spacious enough to place the 10 pounds of ice while leaving plenty of room for drinks.
24 hours into the scourging heat we found the Kelty competing well enough with the other hard-bodied plastic coolers we were reviewing. There was plenty of melted water but there was also a fair amount of ice retention. Not bad compared to any other traditional cooler.
We checked on the Igloo next. This, too, had plenty of ice retention and under an inch of standing water.
The Yeti took us by surprise, as we found very little ice reduction, with a very small amount of water at the bottom– just a handful when compared to the rest.
48 hours in, the Kelty was ready to throw in the towel. So while this particular cooler does have plenty of features such as being lightweight, low priced, etc, in terms of insulation, it was certainly not among the top of the line.
The ice on the Igloo, too had begun melting, as we noticed small cubes of ice as the 10 pound large chunks began to break apart.
The Yeti was still clearly ahead of the rest. While there was some melted ice water, it wasn’t as much as the Igloo.
When we checked on the Kelty 72 hours in to the test, we found that it was already out of the race, succumbing early to the summer heat. The same was true of the Igloo.
The Yeti, on the other hand, was undoubtedly the clear winner. It still had half of its ice left and could easily go on for another day or two.
Read on for detailed reviews on each of the coolers we tested. Below, also find tips on how to go about choosing the right cooler according to your needs.
Yeti Tundra 35 45 Cooler Basket
For a chilled beer on an outdoor trip, the Yeti Tundra is a cooler that you can rely on as was evident in the test we performed. The cooler is highly recommended for outdoor hobbyists or enthusiasts that want to keep their beer chilled for longer stretches.
The manufacturer has been a market leader in the cooler and ice chest segment and has quite a reputation for quality products as seen in the Yeti Tundra as well. The Tundra series launched by Yeti showcases the company’s commitment to a quality line of products.
The Yeti Tundra is also as tough as it looks. Its thick wide walls make for an almost airtight lockdown. With this cooler you can go for days at a time keeping your beers or other beverages chilled. The design of the cooler is rugged and it is definitely built to last. The build quality is solid and it is designed keeping in mind the environment the cooler is meant to be used in. The Yeti is available in a range of sizes from 35 to 420 quarts.
Igloo MaxCold Cooler (165-Quart, White)
The insulation in the Igloo Family Cooler can easily hold ice for 5-6 days. The top lid of the cooler is dome shaped which allows one to place bottles in an upright position. On top of the domed lid, the cooler also features a smaller lid that comes in handy to quickly access the cooler when needed. The smaller lid also ensures that the trapped cool air does not unnecessarily escape improving the overall insulation of the cooler.
The design of the cooler has four cup holders that are self draining along with two heavy duty handles on each side that are coated with rubber for a softer grip. There are two latches on the front of the cooler and the hinges on the back are made of high quality plastic and metal.
The stainless steel tethered plug seen on one side can be attached to a garden hose to help drain the cooler. A ruler is also available on the top of the cooler which is 33 inches in length. The inside of the cooler is equipped with anti-microbial liner and also ultra violet inhibitors which can’t be physically seen but help keep the cooler clean and protect it from the sun.
The cooler is 41.21 inches in length, 17.5 inches in breadth and 22.6 inches tall. The capacities in which is the cooler is available is up to 165 quarts or 156 litres.
Kelty Folding Cooler (Forest green)
The Kelty Folding Cooler mainly goes to solve the issue of wasted space along with the bulkiness other coolers add.
The cooler is designed to fold in the shape and size of a briefcase — The unit folds down to one third of its height that can be stored easily. A little bit of unzipping and unfolding and you have a soft cooler to keep those beers chilled. The ingenuity and simplicity of the design is very impressive and while you may initially be sceptical about its ability to retain ice and chill your drinks, you will be surprised at how well it performs.
Although this cooler isn’t heavy on the insulation it provides, its well designed soft insulated walls are covered by a thick rubber that attaches together with strong velcro. In comparison to hard coolers, this cooler isn’t as efficient. However, it does have its advantages.
The waterproof design hold the ice water well and there is no spillage whatsoever. It is also lightweight and easy to transport and store.
One drawback we noticed in the Kelty Folding Cooler was that the bottom does get a bit damp with condensation. As a result, it cannot be placed on surfaces like the seat of the car.
A popular alternative to the Yeti Tundra range and the Igloo series are the Grizzly Coolers. The Grizzly Coolers Tailgating Cooler, TAN, 75-Quart and the Grizzly Coolers Hunting Cooler, White/White, 60-Quart are well known for mainly four selling points.
The manufacturer claims that the cooler has lifetime usage which is goes to its high quality build.
Secondly, the latches of the cooler are made from bronze and are integrated into the body of the cooler. Thirdly, Grizzly Coolers feature a unique two-inch drain that makes purging, cleaning and maintaining these coolers a lot easier.
Lastly, these coolers are available in a variety of colors — bright pink, vibrant green — that make them stand out from the rest.
Orca 58 Quart Cooler
The Orca 58 Quart Cooler is one of the unfamiliar underdogs on the market. What it lacks is being a brand that isn’t as widely recognised as the rest.
However, it does stand up to the tough competition in the segment pretty well. On testing this cooler, we found that it did exceedingly well in the insulation tests. It was easy to transport when loaded and is fairly easy to drain as well.
We did notice that the lid didn’t snap shut sometimes as it needs to be adjusted just right, however it can give our preferred recommendation — the YETI Tundra series — a definite run for its money. The Orca 58 Cooler competes neck and neck with the insulation of the Yeti Tundra.
Priced lower than the Yeti Tundra series, the cooler also comes with a load of positive reviews you must check out.
What to look for in a cooler
Coolers are categorized into three main categories, basic, soft-side and heavy duty. Some other forms that are available are Styrofoam coolers and ice-less refrigerators. (Styrofoam coolers have been banned in most state and national parks. Iceless coolers need a power source to operate which may not always be convenient).
Traditional coolers are the ones that we have come across growing up and are the ones we most often see at picnics or family outings. The insulation on these coolers is minimal, and they seal around the lid. They are also priced negligibly and lack the features often seen in modern day heavy duty coolers that have been added to the category of coolers over the last decade or so.
These offer thick insulation, almost air tight locking lids and tight seals made to keep food and beverages cooler for a longer periods of time in harsh outdoor environments. If you are particular on sipping your beer chilled, these coolers won’t disappoint.
The usage of your cooler
How you plan to use your cooler will help you better identify a cooler that best suits your needs.
- If you plan to haul a few beers in your backyard or at your kid’s party, go in for a mid-range cooler.
- If you plan to be outdoors in the backcountry for days together, however, you will need a cooler that offers better insulation and can keep food and beverages chilled for longer periods of time. Heavy duty coolers have the advantage of superior build quality, and hard plastics made to last in harsh outdoor conditions.
The features outdoor coolers have to offer
Besides the cooler price, its insulation and portability, outdoor coolers come with a whole host of other features that come in handy when outdoors.
A basic cooler is essentially a combination of plastic and foam with a hinge lid and a drain. Along with this, cooler manufactures offer plenty of functionality features such as air tight locking lids, better seals, drain plugs which are screwed-in, lid tops that are non-slip, better insulation and overall a better build quality.
These features make the cooler versatile enough to be used in harsh outdoor situations. Soft side coolers replace the hard plastics with a durable bag. The insulation in the bag is flexible and the zipper tops or the roll-tops are waterproof to help seal the cooler.
Choosing the right size for an outdoor cooler
Another vital consideration before making a purchase is the size of the cooler. Coolers are available in a wide range from 20-350 quarts. An average sized cooler in the 20-50 quart range is more than sufficient to carry basic food and a few drinks. If you plan to use the cooler for group outings we would recommend a cooler in a 65 quart capacity and above. One thing is for sure, most coolers are made to last which means that you wouldn’t need to buy another one for pretty much forever.