What are the Best Budget Coolers?
There are a lot of different variables that people will consider when shopping for their next cooler: factors such as ice retention, storage size, durability, mobility, accessories, and many others come into play. However, one thing that can trump all and be a deciding factor in which product you go with is the asking price. People will generally have a set budget and will have to be willing to compromise on other features or performance to meet their budget needs.
Because of this, we feel it is very important to provide some of our recommendations for what we feel are the best budget coolers. “Budget” can be a bit subjective since there can be a huge variance in the size of a cooler. Obviously, a small personal cooler will likely be cheaper than a huge plastic cooler that can fit 120 cans but does that automatically mean that the personal cooler is budget and the large ice chest is not? We don’t believe it does. Therefore, we analyze items based on how much it costs per quart of storage size. This allows us to more easily directly compare two products of vastly different size and application.
Before we get into the more thorough breakdown of our best budget coolers we have included a table that lists our top choices. If you wish to read up on our more thorough analysis hop below the table!
Our Top Rated Budget Coolers
|Igloo Ice Cube||Coleman Chest||Rubbermaid DuraChill Wheeled|
|Price by Volume (Amazon)||$||$||$|
|Ice Life||2-3 days||3-4 days||5-6 days|
|Our Full Review||Link||Link||Link|
Definition of a Budget Cooler
We define “budget” as being a product that is typically found in the lower third tier of online prices. Since prices on a specific price can vary based on availability, location, shipping, etc., we tend to avoid mention specific prices. However, all of these products will be good targets for those who are wanting to minimize the impact on their wallet. They should fall into just about everyone’s price range even if they are a bit strapped for cash.
Common Features of Budget Offerings: What are We Giving Up to Save Some Money?
We want to emphasize that there are still A LOT of great products out there that are in the budget cooler category, many of which can have very long ice life and be quite durable. However, we have seen common trends that the more affordable products tend to share. Even with these common themes, we encourage you to do individual research to find what product fits best for your needs. Remember: no two coolers are exactly alike!
Lack of Premium Materials
Most of your budget coolers in this price tier will almost be exclusively made of plastic, rubber, or a form of fabric. Most of the hardware will be plastic instead of metal and the fabric being used won’t be of as high quality. For many this won’t be a big issue but on some of the coolers that might be exposed to more extreme environments having plastic hardware and hinges might be a potential weak point in the future. This could limit the life of the cooler so you might have to break down and purchase another product quicker than you had hoped.
While there are still many ice chests that can last a few days with ice, you will notice an overall decline in how long items stay cold when compared to higher-end offerings. This is due to a number of things: lower-quality materials, shortcuts in build construction, weaker seals, etc. For someone that is only needing a product to keep items cool for a day or two this shouldn’t be an issue but if someone needing a week’s worth of performance it might make them heavily consider looking at some more expensive offerings. However, even in budget coolers there is a significant range of ice life from the best performing to the worst performing so performing due diligence is definitely necessary.
Shortcuts in Build Construction
Many of these will be subtle, such as less intricate stitching, more “play” in the lid, looser hinges, etc. These shortcuts can affect both product life as well as cooling performance. You will typically not find roto-molded construction in budget coolers, which is a very common selling point in a lot of the premium coolers that we have reviewed. That isn’t to say that a cooler can’t still be tough without being roto-molded but there is definitely a direct connection.
Many of the higher-end products come with various extra features that can really help them to stand out. Things such as modular ice trays, various external storage options, easy-access drain plugs, multiple ergonomic carrying methods, bottle openers, and even included silverware! To some these may be things that are sorely missed in cheaper products and to others, they may be nothing more than a gimmick. It will be up to you to decide what are the core features you are looking for in a cooler.
Typically the most expensive products will last a lot longer. Obviously, this will vary quite a bit on what sort of environment you expose them to, but to some buying one of the premium coolers that can cost several hundreds of dollars is seen as an investment in something that they plan to last for many years. Unfortunately, some budget coolers may only last a season or two and then begin to fall apart. Think about how you plan on using the cooler and whether you are ok buying a new cooler every couple of years to save a few dollars.
These are just a few factors to consider when looking at budget coolers. Having said that, here are a few of our top choices for affordable ice chests.
Igloo Ice Cube
This is one of our favorite budget coolers. It has a great price and more than adequate cooling life. It is also very mobile, constructed quite well, and comes in a wide range of colors.
Pros: Easy to transport, very durable, wheeled options available, many different color choices, great price
Cons: Not quite as long of cooling time as advertised, handle is somewhat prone to break
Rubbermaid DuraChill Wheeled
One of our favorite budget ice chests that come with wheels. The build quality is much better than expected and there are some nice features considering the price.
Pros: Nice insulation, solid construction, impressive looks, good price
Cons: Too many leak paths, hinges are a bit too weak
Another great, simple, and effective cooler that is very affordable. It is perfect for someone needing something for a day picnic or something else that won’t need to rely on several days of ice retention.
Pros: Built tough, strong handles, great price
Cons: Underwhelming ice life, lid won’t stay open, plain design
Sacko Insulated Cooler Bag
A top choice for people in the market for a soft-sided cooler instead of hard plastic. The ice life is quite good and the mobility is very handy. All of this is available for a very reasonable cost.
Pros: Great price, high-quality insulation, large enough for most applications, quick-access Velcro hatch
Cons: Wish it was a little bit tougher