The Best Cooler for the Money
By Brandon F. on June 15, 2019
As you have seen here at TheCoolerZone, there are a huge number of coolers to choose from on the market. They can range greatly in size, ice life, features, and of course price. But what is the best cooler for the money? Like many things, there isn’t always a simple answer to this and the correct cooler can also vary from person to person depending on their needs and budget.
To help find the best cooler for the money to meet your needs, we are listing the top coolers for three different price ranges: budget, mid, and premium. Remember: just because a cooler is “cheaper” doesn’t automatically mean that it is “better”! Sometimes it is worth spending some extra money to get a cooler that blows the competition out of the water and has a much longer life expectancy.
For those who are just looking for our results for the best coolers for the money, we have included a helpful table below. For those who want to read more about our choices and methodology just hop right below!
The Best Coolers for the Money
- 1 The Best Cooler for the Money
- 1.1 How We Determined the Best Cooler for the Money
- 1.2 Cooling Ability
- 1.3 Life Expectancy
- 1.4 Features
- 1.5 Price
- 1.6 The Best Cooler for the Money: Our Top Choices for Each Price Tier
How We Determined the Best Cooler for the Money
Similar to how we review and rank many coolers on TheCoolerZone, we establish metrics to judge each cooler off of. This not only allows us to quantify its performance but it also makes it much easier to directly compare two coolers.
In determining what the best coolers for the money are, we are going to use a few important metrics: Cooling ability, Life Expectancy, Features, and of course Price. We feel that these are the top considerations that people have when shopping around for the best cooler.
The priority of each metric may vary from person to person. But in our experience, the most important tend to be cooling ability and price.
We will briefly elaborate on each metric below.
This is how long a particular ice chest is able to keep stored items cool before requiring additional ice. Typically, the huge, heavy, and expensive roto-molded coolers excel in this category, but there is still a lot of variance and competition within these products.
In addition, in the mid and budget tiers, long ice life can be a much more challenging achievement which makes it easy for us to pick examples that stand out from the competition.
That isn’t to say that some of the smaller and more affordable coolers don’t put up great numbers! Brands have made great strides in really pushing their ice performance to the limits. This has been accomplished by using more advanced materials and optimizing manufacturing processes.
This metric is essentially how long you can expect a cooler to last with typical use. Obviously, how well you take care of a cooler and the environments you put it in play a huge role in how long it will last, but certain key features and construction methods typically allow for coolers to shine in this category.
In the more affordable tiers, some of the premium components that play a part in increased durability (higher-end plastics, stainless steel hardware, reinforced walls, etc.) are simply too pricey to include. Because of this, manufacturers have to find clever and unique ways to increase the life of their products while staying within a certain price point.
We all love features! These days, coolers are not only coolers but can also double as bottle openers, fish scales, cutting boards, picnic tables, and more. In addition, annoying tasks such as emptying out water, transporting from place to place, and storage can be greatly simplified with helpful design features.
We admit that some features may be considered a bit “gimmicky”. But there are other features that we have found to be extremely helpful. And with talking to readers, they tend to agree.
As expected, price plays a vital role in determining the best cooler for the money. While asking price isn’t everything, in order to be considered in this competition, the price does need to be very reasonable compared to what you are getting. We want to reiterate again that PRICE ISN’T EVERYTHING. Some things in life are worth spending a bit extra on for quality. And a cooler is definitely one of them!
That being said, we understand that some coolers are simply out of many peoples’ budget. This is why we have created three price tiers to choose from.
Now that we have established the metrics we are looking for, let’s get started!
When shopping around for the best cooler for the money, how well the cooler actually performs as a cooler is extremely important. There are a lot of features that we typically see that effect if a cooler will be good or bad at keeping ice frozen. While many of these features will obviously add cost to the asking price, there are some more affordable routes that can be taken.
These routes allow non-premium priced coolers to have great ice life while still staying within their desired price range. Some of these features include roto-molded construction, thick rubber gaskets, quality hinges, elevated bases, metal hardware, and tighter tolerances in construction.
To find out how long the coolers in our competition would hold ice, we put them through our own in-house ice tests. This involved filling the cooler up with ice to the recommended level, leaving them outdoors, and occasionally opening the lid. This allows for a more “real-life” test.
You can see the results of our ice tests for each price tier below.
Premium Price Tier
The premium-priced coolers almost always offer up impressive ice life compared to many cheaper coolers on the market. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t clear-cut better products within this price range. Typically with premium price coolers, you can expect ice life starting at a few days and that number can increase up to a week or more! Many people may not have any need for 10 days of ice life but for some, that might be required for long camping excursions or road trips.
According to our extensive reviews that are summarized in our Cooler Comparison Chart, the premium coolers with the longest ice life are as follows:
Yeti comes in at the top with an insane 13 days of possible ice life. Below that is the Grizzly Cooler with an impressive 10 days. And tied with the Grizzly is the Pelican Elite Cooler with 10 days as well.
None of these numbers are disappointing. And maximum ice life will be heavily dictated by the size of the cooler. For instance, Yeti has some of the largest sizes available for any cooler. And not surprisingly, these largest sizes hold ice for the longest.
Mid Price Tier
The mid-price tier doesn’t offer up quite as impressive of ice life as its more expensive siblings. But that isn’t to say that you can’t find a great performance here. Many ice chests in this category can offer up a few days of ice life which is still more than enough for many people.
The top three mid-price coolers in regards to ice life are:
At the top of this price point is the Igloo Maxcold Cooler. This large cooler can hold ice for 6 days. Nearly a week of ice life at this price point is a great deal! There are two coolers that are tied for second place. The Rubbermaid Gott Marine Cooler and the Igloo Super Tough STX Cooler both offer up to 5 days of ice retention.
An added bonus for the Rubbermaid Gott Marine Cooler: there are built-in slots on the bottom of the lid where you can attach ice packs. Using these ice packs supercharges the cooling ability of the cooler. This allows you to retain ice for even longer!
Budget Price Tier
The budget line is where you may start to really see particular products struggle to hold ice for long periods of time. Some of the features such as premium gaskets, thick roto-molded walls, and quality hinges are simply too expensive for many of these examples. However, you can still find ice chests with acceptable ice life if you know where to look.
And quite frankly, if you all you need is a cooler to hold ice for a tailgate or a short weekend trip, then a budget cooler will still do fine.
Our top budget price coolers for ice life are:
The top-performing budget cooler that we found during testing is the Igloo Quick and Cool Cooler. It was capable of 5 days of ice retention. The Coleman Ice Chest was right behind it, offering up 4 1/2 days of ice life. And right on its tail is the Coleman Xtreme Cooler with 4 days.
As you can probably see, both Igloo and Coleman lead the way in the low-cost cooler categories. They provide excellent performance given the price.
Below is a graph showing all of the coolers that ranked for ice life and how long they can keep life (approx).
It is no surprise that the much more expensive coolers had a clear edge when it comes to ice life. However, we were surprised to see just how close of a race it was between the mid-priced coolers and the budget coolers. The higher asking price of the mid-priced coolers doesn’t seem to have a huge effect on prolonging ice life. Because of this, if you are on a tight budget and simply after the best ice life for the money, a budget cooler may be the way to go.
The best cooler for the money should last for a long period of time relative to its asking price. People expect their ice chests to hold up for more than a few uses. And depending on the construction materials and build quality, there can be quite the gap between on product to the next.
This gap becomes even more noticeable when you expose the cooler to nonoptimal outdoor elements including rain, long-term exposure to the sun, and the occasional bump or drop.
A lot of the features that make a cooler have long ice life may also play a part in improving the durability. While certain features such as rotomolded plastic technology will be too pricey of a manufacturing process to dip into the budget coolers, there are still quite a few features that we are seeing more and more and the “low-price” brands as well.
When shopping around, try to find cheaper models that offer some of these desired features and you will likely find a cooler that has a longer life expectancy.
Premium Price Tier
When you are spending hundreds of dollars on a cooler, you expect something that not only will perform up to your high expectations but that will also do so for a long period of time. When you buy a premium cooler, you are buying something that you plan to use for many years to come.
The high initial cost of a premium cooler can be somewhat offset from the fact that you may go through 3 or more cheap coolers in the same timeframe that you will go through a single expensive cooler.
The top coolers in the premium category are designed to last for years if not decades with typical wear and tear. In addition, they can handle mild levels of abuse without issue. Oftentimes, the premium coolers will have a more impressive warranty as well. Seeing a 3, 5, or even a lifetime warranty isn’t common these days.
Rather than break down all of the specific life-lengthening features of each cooler (which you can find in our full reviews for each product), we will simply summarize our top choices here for the sake of time.
Coming in at the top of our list for the premium price range is the Grizzly Cooler. This Cooler has everything that you could possibly want in a cooler designed to last. Great build quality, thick walls, high-quality components, and a bulletproof warranty. Coming in a close second is the Pelican Elite Cooler. This cooler is designed to last and we really like the durable latch system that it uses. In third, you will find the K2 Summit Cooler. This cooler brand has many years of experience and their simple approach has resulted in a rock-solid competitor.
Mid Price Tier
Mid-priced coolers can still adopt some of the life-lengthening features that we see in the premium cooler category. However, they may also have to accept some sacrifices in some areas to keep the price down. The biggest areas we see these sacrifices are in the wall construction and the quality of components and hardware.
You won’t see as many roto-molded examples in this group. You will also see more plastic used in the place of stainless steel and other metals. But overall, many of these ice chests can still last many years without concern. The biggest difference may be in their ability to handle above average abuse.
Things such as being “bear-proof” won’t be as prevalent here. And if you accidentally drop your cooler off the back of the truck bed or scrape it against a sharp rock during transport, it may create more significant damage.
That being said, our top three mid-priced coolers in terms of ice life are:
Coming in at first is the Rubbermaid Gott Marine Cooler. This cooler is designed for marine applications (which can be some of the most challenging conditions that you will find anywhere). The specialized coating and the water-resistant construction make this one tough cooler. In 2nd place is the Igloo Super Tough STX Cooler. If it wasn’t obvious from the name, Igloo pulled out all the stops to make this one of their toughest coolers in their lineup. It comes with reinforced hinges, strong latches, and surprisingly thick walls given the price. For 3rd place, you will find the Igloo All Terrain Cooler. The real star with this ice chest is the impressive heavy-duty wheel system. It makes it an extremely mobile cooler that can handle the demands of an outdoor environment.
Budget Price Tier
Unfortunately, “budget” and “long-lasting” typically go against each other. The feature cuts necessary to drive down the price directly affect life expectancy as well as a cooler’s ability to handle natural elements. You won’t find as many of the premium features in this price range. But for those on a tight budget, you can still rejoice! We have researched and discovered some budget cooler examples that can still offer a few years of proper performance without concern:
The Igloo Ice Cube Cooler, despite being extremely affordable, is one tough competitor (and our top choice). The simple square design and reinforced corners make it very resilient to being dropped and scraped. The Rubbermaid Durachill Cooler is our second place choice. Rubbermaid has managed to iron out all the kinks and deliver a reliable and proven cooler that should last for many years with proper care. In third place, you will find the Coleman Chest Cooler. One of the best-selling coolers of all time, the Coleman Chest takes a simple approach that has decades of success stories to back it up.
These days, most coolers are much more than simply a place to store your chilled items. The best cooler for the money should have plenty of extra features and accessories outside of those there strictly to assist with ice life.
A wide range of features has started to be added to coolers to make them more user-friendly. Not only that, but some of these features also allow them to stand out from the crowd.
As mentioned earlier, finding features such as bottle openers, scales, internal compartments, etc. are fairly common these days. But in some cases, you can find more unique features like internal lights and even speakers! After extensive research into the various features that our tested coolers possess, we came up with a list of our top 3 choices for each price tier.
Premium Price Tier
As expected, the most expensive coolers typically have the most impressive array of additional features. However, there are some products that stand out from the rest. Some brands simply go above and beyond to offer up some really helpful features that make their cooler the ultimate all-in-one package.
Top Choice: Kysek Cooler
First up, we have the Kysek Cooler. This example comes with a host of features including Durocold insulation, a Bearclaw bottle opener, Heavyhauler inset wheels, and even an optional Codeblue sensor that helps to monitor internal temperatures. Several of these features are rarely seen in other products on the market. And for that reason, we had to put Kysek at the top of the list.
Second Choice: Igloo Yukon Cold Locker
Not far behind is the Igloo Yukon Cold Locker Cooler. This cooler includes features such as an integrated fish scale, over-sized drain plug, dual lid locks, Cooler Riser technology, and a handy raised surface on the lid. It has a nice combination of traditional features that we expect to see in ice chests at this price bracket and some clever ones that we aren’t used to seeing.
Third Choice: Grizzly Cooler
Finally, we decided on the Grizzly Cooler. This ice chest has helpful additions including an oversized drain plug, skid-free rubber feet, easy snap latches, both rope and built-in side handles, and a built-in ruler. While Grizzly doesn’t have as many “eye-catching” features, they have all of the essential features that people use most. And for that reason, they also made our list.
Mid Price Tier
While noticeably more affordable than the premium price tier, mid-priced coolers can still offer up a lot in terms of features. In fact, we have found that many mid-priced coolers actually offer up larger selections of accessories than their more expensive siblings! However, there are certain key features that are less prevalent here. Rotomolded walls, high-end hinges/latches, and freezer-grade rubber gaskets will be harder to come by.
Top Choice: Rubbermaid Gott Marine Cooler
Our top choice for the mid-price tier is the Rubbermaid Gott Marine Cooler. This cooler has built-in cup holders, embedded slots for ice packs, a reinforced lid that doubles as a seat or eating table, and an easy-open lid. The embedded ice slots are really what makes this ice chest shine out and take the top spot. Few other coolers an offer such a feature (even in the premium price tier).
Second Choice: Igloo Party Bar Cooler
Next up is the Igloo Party Bar Cooler. This cooler is loaded to the brim with clever features that make it perfect for cookouts, summer parties, or tailgates. This includes 16 waterproof LED lights, a built-in bottle opener and bottle cap catch bin, modular grates for dividing up the storage spaces, wheels, a see-through lid, locking casters, and more. The only reason that this cooler didn’t receive 1st place is that it is a bit polarizing in its applications. For those after a more traditional cooler with longer ice retention, the Igloo Party Bar won’t be your best option. It is missing many features that assist with long ice life.
Third Choice: Igloo All Terrain Cooler
Finally, we have chosen the Igloo All Terrain Cooler. This cooler is designed to be mobile and its list of accessories reflects that. These features include oversized pneumatic tires, pivoting tow handles, additional side handles, and a threaded drain plug. For people that value easy transportation, this ice chest is among the best that are out there.
Budget Price Tier
The top budget price tier coolers for the money find a happy medium between offering up an acceptable array of features while maintaining a competitive price point. Some noticeable features will be missing in these products such as premium hardware, roto-molded construction, etc., but there are still plenty of helpful accessories to choose from (but less than the mid-priced tier, of course).
Top Choice: Igloo Marine Ultra Cooler
First up is the Igloo Marine Ultra Cooler. For the price, this ice chest is loaded to the brim with helpful features such as an integrated fish keeper, odor-resistant lining, corrosion-resistant hardware, side handles with a rubber grip, and a threaded drain plug. It is set up perfectly to handle the demands of a marine environment while not being too heavy on the wallet.
Second Choice: Coleman Xtreme Cooler
Second is the Coleman Xtreme Cooler. It comes with ThermOZONE insulation, oversized wheels with aggressive treads, two-way rotating handles, built-in cup holders, and a hinged lid. This Coleman Cooler made the list because of the ergonomic handle in conjunction with the reliable wheels. We also liked just how many cup holders are available on the lid.
Third Choice: Rubbermaid Durachill Wheeled Cooler
Finally, we have the Rubbermaid DuraChill Wheeled Cooler. As the name suggests, this ice chest includes wheels that are oriented long-wise instead of short-wise (a unique twist), dual access lid, integrated cup holders, front-access drain plug, and rotating side handles. This is another extremely mobile product. And with both the wheels and drain plug oriented 90 degrees around, it provides a unique user experience that we really enjoy.
Last but certainly not least in the journey to find the best cooler for the money is the metric of the price. Even if a cooler knocks it out of the park in every other category, if it is too expensive then it cannot be considered for this competition.
However, at the same time, it is important to remember that high-end coolers are not cheap and, despite the high asking price, are well worth the money due to their superior performance and durability.
In determining which coolers make the cut here, we looked at everything they have to offer in other categories and then compared this to asking prices. For example, a cooler that only does a little bit better than a competitor but is twice as expensive would not fare well here.
On the contrary, a cooler that has a few hours of lower ice life but is 30% of the cost of another ice chest will shine here. It is also important to compare coolers that are relatively the same size. It isn’t fair to compare the asking price of a small 15-quart cooler to a huge 120-quart cooler. Instead, we try to find coolers of very similar (if not identical) storage sizes and look at the asking prices for each.
Premium Price Tier
As you might have expected, there are plenty of premium-priced coolers to choose from on the market. Competitors include Engel, Grizzly, Igloo, K2, Kysek, Mammoth, Pelican, Yeti, RTIC, and much more. After extensive research, we have found three choices that are able to exhibit the features and performance we like in a premium cooler but at the most competitive price point.
Top Choice: Engel High-Performance Cooler
First up is the Engel High-Performance Cooler. Compared to most of the other competition, it is one of the most affordable coolers while still having great features and ice life. There are also various shapes and sizes to choose from, all of which do a very good job of staying competitive in the asking price. The “bang for your buck” is strong here.
Second Choice: Mammoth Series Cooler
Next is the Mammoth Series Cooler. The Mammoth line isn’t quite as impressive in terms of maximum ice life and there are some notable features that are missing. But the price is extremely competitive and among the most affordable you will find in this tier. Because of this, we are able to overlook a few of its shortcomings.
Third Choice: Igloo Yukon Cold Locker Cooler
The final selection was tough but we are going to have to go with the Igloo Yukon Cold Locker Cooler. Many people initially wouldn’t put Igloo in the same category as Yeti, Pelican, K2, etc., but the Cold Locker is their premium offering and keeps up with the best no problem. And, despite this, the Cold Locker is still able to maintain some of Igloo’s reasonable price points that are common on its lower-tier models.
Mid Price Tier
The mid-price tier is also loaded with competition that varies greatly in size, performance, build quality, and features. While it does mean there are a lot of products to sort through, it also helps to establish some clear-cut favorites that stand out in price while still offering up a viable product.
Top Choice: Coleman Gott Marine Cooler
The first product we will list is the Coleman Gott Marine Cooler. We have mentioned our praises of this ice chest above in other categories. It also shines in its relative price compared to its competitors. It comes in plenty of large sizes that give great storage capacity for a very reasonable price.
Second Choice: Igloo Super Tough STX Cooler
Next up is the Igloo Super Tough STX Cooler. This is another example of a product that “plays out of its league” in regards to toughness and ice life but is still very reasonably priced similarly to its lower-end siblings. Many premium features are present in this unit that you are typically only used to seeing on much more expensive brands. This cooler will be as tough as some of the premium coolers but at a much cheaper price.
Third Choice: Igloo MaxCold Cooler
Finally, we have the Igloo MaxCold Cooler. Simple, proven, and affordable. This is a great mid-level cooler for someone who isn’t looking for a ton of bells and whistles. Instead, they simply want an ice chest that does its primary intention well (keeping ice cold) and does so for a reasonable price.
Budget Price Tier
Obviously, the budget price tier already prioritizes low asking prices. Because of this, finding products that stand out really boils down to finding the best-performing products in other categories since the variance in asking prices is relatively small. Remember: just because it is a budget cooler doesn’t mean that it has to make huge sacrifices on performance. There are still plenty of great coolers in this price tier so keep your expectations high.
Top Choice: Igloo Ice Cube Cooler
Our first choice is the Igloo Ice Cube Cooler. This is one of the oldest and most established coolers in the industry and it has stuck around for such a long time for good reason. It is incredibly resilient for its price and the ice life is long enough for many people’s needs.
Second Choice: Coleman Chest Cooler
Second is the Coleman Chest Cooler. Similar to the Igloo Ice Cube Cooler, this ice chest prefers a very straightforward approach that doesn’t offer up tons of features or accessories. But it does give you a solid cooler for a very low asking price. This is the type of ice chest you can throw around and leave places without worrying about it being stolen.
Third Choice: Igloo Legend Cooler
Finally, we have chosen the Igloo Legend Cooler. This is probably the oldest cooler style we have reviewed and it has been around for longer than most people have been alive! The first thing you will notice is how simple the design is. This simple design makes it a very affordable product. It also means that there are fewer areas for things to go wrong. It is a great little chest for those on a tight budget but still wanting quality.
The Best Cooler for the Money: Our Top Choices for Each Price Tier
In choosing what the best cooler for the money is, we chose three coolers from each category (premium, mid, and budget) that performed the best in 4 different criteria: Cooling Ability, Life Expectancy, Features, and Price. We believe that all four of these metrics play a vital role in determining good coolers for the money and it allowed us to narrow down the competition.
The method used in choosing the top choice for each category is quite simple. We tallied up how many points each selected cooler received and picked the cooler with the most points. Each metric counts as a single point so the math is fairly straightforward.
Premium Price Tier
The coolers that received points in the premium price tier are as follows:
Pelican Elite Cooler
Igloo Yukon Cold Locker Cooler
K2 Summit Cooler
As you can see, the Grizzly Cooler lineup is our top choice in the premium price tier for the best cooler for the money. The combination of amazing ice life, plenty of helpful features, and extra tough build quality mean that this cooler is designed to last and perform up to spec for a very long period of time. While it isn’t the most affordable in this tier, the great product you get justifies the slightly higher asking price.
Mid Price Tier
The coolers that achieved points in this tier appear as so:
Rubbermaid Gott Marine Cooler
Igloo Super Tough STX Cooler
Igloo Maxcold Cooler
Igloo All Terrain Cooler
Igloo Party Bar Cooler
Rubbermaid Gott Marine Cooler
This was really a 2-cooler race between the Rubbermaid Gott Marine Cooler and the Igloo Super Tough STX Cooler. Both of these products emboss a lot of the ideals that we look for in much more expensive coolers but do so at a more reasonable price. The metric that broke the tie was that the Gott Cooler has a few extra features that we like to see compared to the Super Tough STX Cooler. However, either product is a great choice for someone on somewhat of a budget but still wanting quality.
Budget Price Tier
The top coolers that received points in this final category are as follows:
Coleman Ice Chest
Coleman Xtreme Cooler
Igloo Ice Cube Cooler
Rubbermaid Durachill Cooler
Igloo Quick and Cool Cooler
Igloo Marine Ultra Cooler
Igloo Legend Cooler
Coleman Ice Chest
The competition for budget-priced coolers was another close race with the Coleman Ice Chest Cooler coming out on top. As alluded to above, many of these products already perform well in the price category since they are already budget-oriented, to begin with. Because of this, finding a well-rounded cooler in the other metrics is what would help to stand out here.
The Coleman ice chest takes a very simple and straightforward approach that results in a potent little cooler than has surprising ice life and toughness. It doesn’t have as many features as some other products but it does its core intentions very well and because of that it is our top choice for the best cooler for the money in the budget category.