We tested these so you don’t have to.
// by lila edythe
ORCA WALKER 20 TOTE
What is it? A burly, waterproof, leakproof soft-sided tote cooler with a capacity of 20 liters and 50 pounds.
What’s Cool? The Walker Tote is the exact perfect height to accommodate wine bottles. Also, it has a water-resistant dry bag front pocket, an oversize top zipper opening that allows easy access to the tote’s interior, and a removable padded shoulder strap.
Not Cool? While this cooler’s construction can handle a 50-pound load, neither the magnetic split handle nor the shoulder strap make carrying that amount of weight comfortable.
Best For? Keeping post-adventure drinks and snacks cold in the car while you’re out playing.
Details. The Walker Tote weighs 3.6 pounds when empty and has exterior dimensions of 15”x 9.5”x 15.25”. $179; visit orcacoolers.com to find a local retailer
DOMETIC CFX3 Powered Cooler
What is it? Tested in the extreme heat and rugged conditions of the Australian Outback, Dometic’s CFX3 series are the coolers to rule all coolers. Thanks to a VMSO3 compressor, they freeze down to -7 °F using less energy than a 60-watt light bulb.
What’s Cool? You don’t need ice to keep this cooler cool, and it has an integrated ice-making compartment. Also, don’t worry about it draining your car’s battery; it monitors battery power and turns itself off when low voltage is detected. It can also be charged with a 100-watt solar panel.
Not Cool? If you’re looking to feel like you’re leaving the world and technology behind, a cooler that connects to your phone with WiFi or Bluetooth and is controlled by a mobile app will harsh your buzz. Also, powered coolers do not come cheap.
Best For? Being a conversation starter wherever you take it.
Details. Dometic CFX3 coolers are available in sizes from 25 to 100 liters. From $839.99; dometic.com
TAIGA TERRA 27
What is it? Taiga’s 27-quart Terra cooler is the first high-performance cooler made using bio-plastics. (Its polypropylene walls are filled with a 25 percent hemp-based insulation instead of a conventional fossil fuel based polymer.)
What’s Cool? Taiga is a veteran-owned company that manufactures in the U.S., and its coolers are highly customizable; through the company’s custom cooler shop, you can upload a photo that can be made into a UV-protected, vinyl lid graphic.
Not Cool? The cooler smelled a little funny for the first couple of weeks, and the seams on both side handles were rough and required we file them down. As big as the Taiga’s footprint is, it can only hold twenty-four cans (and one bag of ice).
Best For? Those looking for an American-made premium cooler.
The Taiga’s exterior dimensions are 23”x 15.5”x 15”, and its dry weight is 20 pounds. $199; taigacoolers.com
HYDRO FLASK DAY ESCAPE SOFT COOLER PACK
What is it? Hydro Flask’s new Day Escape cooler is a 20-liter, ultra-lightweight, waterproof, leakproof soft cooler backpack that keeps its contents cool (with ice) for about thirty hours.
What’s Cool? This is the ultimate cooler for a hike-to or ride-to picnic with friends—or for bringing the beer to a backcountry bonfire. (It holds thirty-six cans of beer.) Being a backpack makes it easy to carry, and handles on the side make it easy to move around once you’ve arrived at your destination.
Not Cool? With the only access through a top zipper, and the cooler being taller than it is wide, it can be difficult to reach to the bottom of the cooler or to look for items in it without taking other stuff out. When carrying the max number of beer cans, our shoulders wished the pack had a hip belt.
Best For? Picnicking a couple of miles from the parking lot.
Details.The exterior size is 17”x 18”x 8.5”, and empty the pack weighs 2.5 pounds. $199.95; hydroflask.com
YETI HOPPER FLIP 18
What is it? The Yeti Hopper Flip 18 is a virtually indestructible, waterproof-leakproof 18-liter soft-sided cooler with side handles, a removable shoulder strap, a flip-top lid, and the capacity to hold twenty cans of beer (using a two-to-one ice-to-can ratio by volume).
What’s Cool? No other soft cooler tested came close to keeping things cold for as long as the Flip 18. Bonus points for fun colors (that won’t fade thanks to the exterior material being UV-resistant), lots of loops to use as attachment points, interior ease-of-access, and buoyancy.
Not Cool? You’d think a soft-sided cooler would be less expensive than a hard-sided one, but no. The Hopper Flip 18 costs $50 more than the brand’s 35-liter hard-sided cooler.
Best For? The Hooper Flip 18 rules the weekend road trip and the day-long float trip with friends.
Details. Empty, this cooler weighs 5.1 pounds, and its exterior dimensions are 10.75”x 13”x 16.25”. $299.99; visit yeti.com to find a local retailer
YETI TUNDRA 45
What is it? In 2006, two brothers dreamed of making the world’s coldest, most durable cooler. Coolers in Yeti’s Tundra line are made through a process called biaxial rotomolding—the same way kayaks and orange street barricades are made—and they are the realization of Roy and Ryan Seiders’s dream.
What’s Cool? Go ahead and stand on a Tundra, then ask a couple of your friends to join you. It’s that strong. (The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee approved it as grizzly proof.) Anything on it that is breakable is easily replaceable. Depending on how you pack and use it, ice can stay cold in a Tundra for more than a week.
Not Cool? When Tundra’s predecessor, the Sherpa, debuted in 2006, it was ten times the cost of the average Igloo or Coleman cooler. Since then, other companies have begun making premium coolers; Yetis do not cost ten times as much as these, but they are still the most expensive.
Best For? When you’re ready to think of a cooler as a long-term investment and never want to have to buy another one.
Details. Tundras come in capacities from 35 to 312 liters. From $249.99; yeti.com
What is it? Coleman introduced the first portable cooler in 1957—an invention made possible because of expanded polystyrene foam (EPF, aka styrofoam), a petroleum-based, lightweight, insulative product.
What’s Cool? Styrofoam exists because Dow Chemical was looking for an alternative to rubber during World War II. Dow research engineer Otis McIntire came up with EPF, which Dow patented as Stryofoam. Today McIntire is in the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Not Cool? Styrofoam coolers break easily, ice will not last longer than one day in them, and EPF is non-biodegradable and made of non-renewable petroleum products. (Yes, the latter goes for many other cooler materials, but those coolers are built to last, versus the single-use nature of EPF coolers.)
Best For? Shipping things that need to stay chilled; one-time cooler needs; sitting in a landfill for centuries.
Details. Most coolers made from EPF weigh between 1 and 2 pounds and can cost as little as $3. JH