Planning on taking your quad or UTV off-road? Or are you like me and take it anywhere, but also like to beat the crud out of it (and maybe overheat once in a blue moon)? You need a cooler. I’ve compiled this list for those who know the basics about coolers because if you need this article, you’re probably looking for the best cooler not the how-to’s and tips (for those, Google is your friend).
Let’s start with what kind of off-roading do you plan on doing. If it’s rock crawling, dunes at slow speeds, or mud bogging without much hill-climbing power required then a pretty standard cooler will do. But if you plan on doing some hill climbing or high-speed off-roading, then it’s best to get a larger capacity (more volume) cooler that can keep up with the demands of your machine. I know for sure everyone wants an option under $100, but if you’re spending over $200 don’t even bother looking at the over $100 options because you can get a cooler double the size and triple strength for way cheaper than $200.
What sizes? Everyone always talks about the size of their cooler in quarts or gallons, but if you’re buying a standard cooler from Walmart or Autozone, you’ll probably end up with a smaller cooler. The reason is that they’re measured in liquid quarts (and gallons), which is the amount of liquid the cooler can hold inside its walls at 8 PSI (pressure). However, most people don’t realize that when buying an extra-large cooler like the Igloo Yukon 80 Qt. Wheeled Cooler, which can hold up to 90 quarts at 8 PSI, the actual volume is much lower than allows for more ice and less air inside. So a better way of measuring these large coolers is in dry/solid cubic feet (a common unit of volume). The larger the cooler, the harder it is to move, but the more you can pack the better it will perform because it doesn’t need as much ice.
A quick note on how much weight your cooler can hold, please do not exceed the maximum load rating of your cooler. Most high-end coolers are built with thick material and are reinforced in heavier areas like where the handles, hinges, and latches are to ensure they do not fail. But because the manufacturers must warn consumers about the possible danger of overloading their equipment, they usually put a “maximum load rating” footnote somewhere on or in your cooler (the most commonplace is the back). Make sure you know what this load rating is before loading it down with more ice and weight than it can handle. My Igloo Yukon 80 holds 90 quarts of ice and stuff, but its maximum load rating is 500 lbs. Do not exceed the limit!
These are the types of coolers you’ll run into while shopping around:
- Standard coolers have single walls that are cooler insulated, but as you can expect, less ice will stay cold and also more likely to crack or dent under heavyweight. These are the most common you’ll see at places like Walmart, Harbor Freight Tools, etc. These usually come in small sizes that hold 1-10 quarts of ice max. Some coolers come with rope handles that aren’t reinforced, but most high-end ones have strong handles that are either rubber coated or made of metal. There is also no reinforcement on the hinges and latches which means they won’t last as long as other coolers if it’s put under heavy use. Rubbermaid is probably one of the best brands for these types of coolers.
- Standard coolers with wheels are the same thing as standard coolers, but they have swivel wheels attached to the corners. These tend to be pretty weak and most high-end ones don’t even come with these because manufacturers assume you’ll want something more heavy-duty (like an Igloo or Yeti). The only reason you’d want a cooler with swivel wheels is to save time during transport, but it’s not worth the hassle or risk of breaking.
- High-end coolers typically have thick walls and insulation that will insulate ice for multiple days. These are popular among hunters, fishers, campers, construction workers, etc. Usually come in sizes of 20-200 quarts and has a thin stainless steel handle wrapped in high-quality rubber or thick cold-rolled steel construction. A heavy-duty lid latch with a plastic grip is included. These lids are pretty much bulletproof but can be hard to open if they get even slightly iced up. The hinges on the most cooler of this class are reinforced with rivets and stainless steel construction. These also come with rope handles that can be tied down to your truck, boat, vehicle, or ATV.
- Come in a variety of sizes and qualities ranging from $30-$900+.
- Waterproof/sealed coolers function the same as high-end coolers. The only real difference is they’re 100% waterproof and can be submerged underwater for hours without leaking or becoming damaged like high-end coolers with drain plugs (if it has one, some do not). Some models may even float on the surface of the water. They also come in a variety of sizes and qualities ranging from $30-$900+.
- Insulated coolers are high-end coolers without a lid latch. These are usually used to hold pails of water, food, or even ice cream. Some people may use these for drinks too if they want to save money by freezing their containers instead of buying pre-frozen ones.
- Mostly used around boats, campers, construction sites, weddings, graduation parties, restaurants that serve buffet-style foods & drinks.
- Tailgating coolers are very similar to high-end coolers with the only difference being they’re made of steel mesh on the outside for holding charcoal or wood chunks while grilling. Sometimes they don’t even come with a lid latch. They’re there for decoration and they usually don’t last very long if it’s put under heavy use. Most tailgating coolers are made of plastic or thin metal mesh which means they’ll dent & crack super easy if it’s dropped or has something heavy placed on top of them. The only reason you’d want to buy one of these is if you just want it for decoration, but even then it’s not very safe because the lid may fly open and someone could get hurt.
- Pelican Coolers are resealable coolers that work by creating a vacuum seal between their lid & walls which means you’ll have to roll down the top several times & press the latches down for it to seal. This can be a huge hassle when you’re trying to transport or store your cooler which is why most people don’t like them. They also come in a variety of sizes and qualities ranging from $30-$900+.
- Igloo Marine coolers are pretty much marine grade coolers with a few differences. The main difference being they have a drain plug, but the rubber coating easily separates from the plastic after repeated use so you’ll have to replace them often to keep your cooler looking nice and clean. They also come in 40-100 quart sizes which are enough for most people’s needs unless you’re hosting big parties or you go fishing/hunting often.
- Rubbermaid coolers were originally designed for hunters and fishers, but their fairly large sizes (50-200 quarts) make them perfect for parties and other large gatherings. Their latches can be a bit iffy though so they usually come with rope handles instead of the traditional plastic grips.
- YETI coolers are heavy-duty Rubbermaid coolers with the same quality as high-end coolers. The only difference is they come in 5 sizes ranging from 30 quarts to 250 quarts which give you plenty of options for whatever your needs may be. Also, Yeti comes with a 90-day warranty against any manufacturer defects.
- Samsonite coolers are high-end quality coolers at a cheap price. They come in 30-100 quart sizes, have stainless steel hinges & latches, and have very thick insulation so they can keep ice frozen for days with minimal effort. The drawback to these is their outer shell is made of plastic which can crack or chip if dropped on hard surfaces too many times.
- Gracie Oaks coolers are high-quality yeti knock-offs that come in 30, 50, 60-quart sizes with the only difference being they have thicker insulation than most other coolers which means it will take longer for your ice to melt. The drawback to these is their lids, but it’s usually not a huge issue with them either.
- Turtleback coolers are made of thick plastic with a removable hard shell at the bottom which you can use to store dry ice or other similar products that require colder temperatures with less effort. They come in 30 quarts and 60 quarts sizes. The drawback to these is their hard shell can easily pop off of the cooler if it’s not properly secured which means you have an open cooler with little or no security.
- RTIC coolers are high-end yetis that come in similar sizes as Yeti, but they’re a bit cheaper and still offer great insulation & ice retention. The drawback to these is they don’t come with a warranty which means you’ll have to pay for another one if the manufacturer’s defects are too much. They’re also made in China instead of America like Yeti is.
- Tepui coolers are mini high-end coolers that can fit between 18 quarts and 90 quarts of ice which means they’re the perfect size for your favorite drinks, but if you want ice in them too it’ll take a pretty long time. The drawback to these is their outer shell is made of rubber which can easily crack or chip if dropped on hard surfaces too many times.
- Orca coolers are very high-quality coolers with minimal or moderate insulation. The only difference is they don’t have drain plugs which means you’ll have to take it apart to drain any excess water. They come in 80, 120, 220 quarts sizes which are perfect for large parties and gatherings.
- Coleman coolers were originally designed as a cheaper alternative for people who couldn’t afford high-end coolers, but they have since evolved into something just as good. They now come in 40 quarts, 50 quarts, 70 quarts, 90 quarts, and 150 quarts sizes which makes them perfect for any occasion or usage. The drawback to these is their lids are usually not very sturdy & their outer shell can easily crack or chip if dropped on hard surfaces too many times. Also, they’re made in China rather than America like Yeti is.
- Everest coolers are mid-quality coolers with large sizes and great insulation. The only difference is the latches aren’t very secure which means you’ll have to be careful with them. They come in 30, 50, and 80-quart sizes which make them perfect for whatever occasion you’re using them for.
Even though some coolers may be cheaper, you get what you pay for. It’s better to spend a little extra money on a high-end cooler so you won’t have to buy another one anytime soon. If it’s a cheap cooler that gets broken easily then it’ll end up costing you more in the long run after your ice melts or it’s exposed to the elements. Therefore, if you truly want something that will last more than 10 years, get a high-end cooler like Tepui which is made in America rather than China like most of the others are.