Ice chests or coolers have made some impressive advances in recent years. Unfortunately, not every cooler is worth the investment.
This was a tough review. Each of these coolers or ice chests has its pros and cons, and choosing which ones weren't worth the investment is a judgement call. But in the end, after researching many reviews and cooler challenges, we decided upon six coolers that didn't quite make the cut, with the MSR price being a deciding factor.
1. ICEY-TEK 55 Long Box
The Icey-Tek 55-Quart Long Box is a cooler made in Thailand. In a Field & Stream field test the ice chest was the only one, of twelve coolers, that actually broke during the "45-mph roll test" (they drop the cooler from a truck going 45-mph to see how it stands up to the trauma). The corner sidewall of the cooler split as a result of the test.
The water drain holes are also poorly located, leaving plenty of water standing inside the cooler. And worst of all, it failed pretty miserably in the ice retention test, where they filled each cooler with a pound of ice per quart capacity and measured the ice as it melted over a 10-day period. They documented when the internal temperature hit 32, 40 and 42 degrees. The Icey-Tek did the worst of all 12 coolers.
With a price tag of close to $300 ($295 MSR) you should expect a cooler to be tough enough to not break, and to retain a cold temperature for a modicum of time.
2. Igloo Yukon 70 Cold Locker
Igloo is a leader in portable coolers. They've been around a long time and have built a solid reputation for quality products. Their Yukon 70 Cold Locker, however, may be just a bit overpriced at $340 at Amazon and $300 at the Igloo site, for what it delivers.
In a head to head comparison with several other high-end coolers it performed below average. Outdoor Gear Lab's test criticized the Igloo Yukon for its bulkiness and unwieldy size (it is so big that it would not fit into a Yosemite National Park bear box). Its rigid molded handles made carrying the cooler a bit of a challenge as well.
It did quite well in the durability test, but fell short in the ice retention test, a major shortcoming. Outdoor Gear Lab also listed its MSR price at $462, which is a bit confusing, but still, at the Igloo website $300 to $340 it does seem expensive. The actual quart capacity also measured out to 67 quarts - three quarts less than the advertised capacity.
3. Kelty Folding Cooler
The Kelty Folding Cooler is based on an ingenious concept: a cooler that folds flat when empty. What a great space saving idea. Unfortunately, it also has more flaws than benefits in its design thus far.
Gear Junkie ran a challenge with the Kelty, and its ice retention was pretty miserable. It lasted only two days before it went belly up. Now maybe that's all you'd need it to last for, but at a $65 MSR you could get yourself a Coleman Steel Cooler for around the same price, which would have much better ice retention and be as solid as a rock.
Amazon reviewers also gave the Kelty poor reviews, stating that the cooler leaked pretty badly. Unless portability when empty is important to you, spend your money on a Coleman Steel Cooler.
4. GRIZZLY 40
It has a good design, with rope handles, solid latches and hinges, but when you're paying $350 you expect a cooler to not reach 32 degrees after only two days. You can get a Cabela's Polar Cap 40 quart cooler with better ice/temperature retention for $100 cheaper.
5. Rubbermaid 75-quart DuraChill Wheeled 5-Day Cooler
The Rubbermaid 75-quart Wheeled Cooler is advertised as a camping cooler. It's a big beast, and the handle and wheels make lugging it around a fairly easy task. This is no high quality ice chest, make no mistake about that. But it is advertised as a 5-day camping cooler. In a Camping Life test the Rubbermaid began losing cubed and block ice almost immediately.
At two days its internal temperature was 43 degrees and at five days its internal temperature was a full 50 degrees. It lost 100 percent of the cubed ice and more than 95 percent of the block ice. That's unacceptable.
Also, the drain hole is situated so high above the floor that the chest required extreme tilting to drain it of water.
The MSR price is $60, but you can find these coolers for less in big box stores. But again, for not much more than that price you could get yourself a Coleman Steel Cooler - with less capacity to be sure - that would keep your cooler contents colder longer.
6. YETI Tundra 45
This probably seems sacrilegious to some, given that YETI is viewed as practically the gold standard in high end coolers. But as good as this Yeti cooler is, you can do better for the price of $350 MSR.
Here are some of the differences:
- Pelican uses stainless steel hardware and Yeti uses aluminum.
- Pelican uses 3" Press & Pull latches and Yeti uses rubber latches.
- Pelican is made in the USA and Yeti is made in both the Philippines and USA.
- Both Pelican and Yeti features 2.00" to 2.75" insulation on their coolers.
- Pelican has a lifetime warranty, Yeti has a 5-year warranty.
Pelican also has better ice retention than Yeti by three to five days. The Yeti retails at $350, and while the Pelican doesn't give its MSR price on their website, I have found them online for anywhere from $260 to $340. So, instead of spending $350 for a Yeti Tundra 45 you might just consider a Pelican Elite 45. You'll save some money and get some better features in the process.
Like what you see here? You can read more great articles by David Smith at his Facebook page, Stumpjack Outdoors.