This guide to the best rugged coolers of 2018 provides 14 awesome coolers to keep your beer and food cold and also offers tips and advice to know before you buy.

Table of Contents
Introduction
What Is a Rotomolded Cooler?
How To Pick the Right Size For You
How To Get the Most Out of Your Cooler
How To Pack Your Cooler Correctly

Best Rugged Coolers of 2018
Best Soft Coolers

  • Editor’s Pick: Orca Podster
  • Hydro Flask Unbound
  • OtterBox Trooper
  • Yeti Hopper Flip
  • IceMule Coolers Boss
  • Corkcicle Ivanhoe Duffle
  • Pelican Soft Cooler

Best Hard Coolers

  • Editor’s Pick: Yeti Tundra Haul
  • Orca Classic
  • RovR RollR
  • Bison GEN2
  • Igloo Sportsman
  • OtterBox Venture
  • Pelican Cooler

Editor’s Pick Best Soft Cooler: Orca Podster


In truth, Orca’s Podster is a bit of an odd ball in the soft coolers category. It’s an unconventional shape, and though it has backpack straps, its bulk does little in terms of a spacious interior. That said, all of that foam keeps everything you toss in it cold right up there with the other coolers on this list. The body is constructed using the same RF welding that’s used in whitewater rafts, it’s FDA food-grade safe and it features an ultra-durable and ultra-waterproof TIZIP zipper.

It also comes in a variety of colorways including the Coral/Gray pictured here. Unlike Orca’s other coolers, this one isn’t made in the USA, but it still lives up to the brand’s performance and reputation. — AJ Powell

Sizes available: 14.25 quarts

Editor’s Pick Best Hard Cooler: Yeti Tundra Haul


In testing the Yeti Tundra Haul cooler, I was impressed by Yeti’s attention to detail (but then again I shouldn’t be surprised after putting the Hondo camp chair through a thorough test). Yeti could have simply slapped wheels on a Tundra and called it a day. But it didn’t. Yeti agonized over every aspect of how the wheels and handle would integrate into the design to the point that I was asking myself “Is all of this really necessary?” But it is necessary, because that’s who Yeti is. In fact, the handle was designed so that it doesn’t slam against the hard plastic if you drop it. And the wheels roll so quietly and smoothly that you’ll wonder why you ever used any other cooler.

Perhaps the most impressive feature (and of course the most important), is how Yeti integrated the wheels into the design. It managed to retain all space on the interior of the cooler without too many awkward bumps. Other wheeled coolers on the market fail to do this as sleekly as Yeti did. At the end of the day, the Tundra Haul was a no-brainer for Yeti. It was only a matter of time before the brand launched a wheeled cooler, and we’re glad that it’s finally here. — AJ Powell

Sizes available: 45 cans of beer or 55 pounds of ice.

Introduction

Outdoor coolers have the same adventurous spirit as those who carry them. They’re designed to be dropped, beaten, submerged and even attacked by wild animals, all while keeping their contents intact and cold for days. Whether you’re planning on taking one deep-sea fishing, big game hunting, paddling down some Class-5 rapids or simply going to a tailgate, one of these coolers is worthy of the adventure.

What Is a Rotomolded Cooler?

There’s a reason why so many of the coolers created today are tougher, heavier and more expensive than the Igloo Playmate you may have carried around in years past. The update is primarily due to a manufacturing process called rotational molding, or more commonly, rotomolding.

In rotomolding, a heated mold is filled with powdered plastic material. The mold rotates on two axes as it heats the plastic until it is completely melted and fills every cavity within the hollow mold. The constant rotation helps the plastic resin spread evenly and consistently throughout. The result is a single a single-piece plastic cast of the desired shape that’s free of any imperfections. Rotomolding contributes to all of the traits that represent the current level of quality in today’s coolers, most importantly rugged durability, and superior ice retention.

How To Pick the Right Size For You

20, 30, 40-quart — knowing what each size cooler can hold is a tricky one. While the shape of it makes a difference, especially in the soft-sided coolers, here’s what we tended to see. 70 quart tends to be the most family-friendly, and the smaller soft-sided coolers are perhaps better for a tailgate or drinks for a group. Keep in mind, the larger the cooler the heavier it will be, especially when filled with food and drink. If you’re traveling with friends or family, that’s not a problem. Here’s what we gathered as a general guideline after our research. Most of the brands measured the capacity at a two to one ratio, meaning two parts ice, one part can, but some don’t do this. So take measurements with a grain of salt.

20 Quart: holds roughly 16 cans or 20 pounds of ice
35 Quart: holds roughly 21 cans or 26 pounds of ice
50 Quart: holds roughly 35 cans or 43 pounds of ice; ideal for two people for a few days
75 Quart: holds roughly 57 cans or 70 pounds of ice; ideal for two people for a week-long trip, or a family weekend trip

How To Get the Most Out of Your Cooler

In order to get the most out of your cooler, it is recommended that you pre-chill your cooler for 24-hours before you pack it up and head out. Pre-chilling involves adding ice to your cooler to bring the internal temperature of the cooler down. When you’re ready to pack the cooler the following day, dump the ice you added for pre-chill and add new ice to the cooler. The new ice will stay frozen longer and will give you extended performance in the realm of cold-retention.

How To Pack Your Cooler Correctly

The truth is, you can pack these coolers in virtually any configuration and they will all still perform far and above what you’ve used up to this point. But in order to get the best ice retention out of your cooler, there are a few easy tips and tricks to keep in mind.

Line the bottom of your cooler with ice. Putting a layer of ice on the bottom of your cooler will help to keep the ice colder longer and also keeps it away from the least-insulated part of the cooler, the lid.

Fill your cooler with solid blocks of ice if possible. Solid blocks of ice stay frozen longer than ice cubes.

Fill the gaps with ice cubes. Pour a bag’s worth of ice cubes on top of your ice blocks to fill any gaps or holes.

Add your food, beer or both. Lay out your supplies in a manner that makes sense. In other words, don’t just toss everything in. Keep your morning meals on one side and your evening meals on the other side. This will ensure that you spend minimal time with the cooler open (allowing hot air inside).

Fill the rest of the cooler with ice cubes or ice packs. Top off with some additional ice and you’re good to go. Only open the cooler when absolutely necessary to get the most out of the performance of the cooler,

Buying Guide

Best Rugged Coolers of 2018
Best Soft Coolers

  • Editor’s Pick: Orca Podster
  • Hydro Flask Unbound
  • OtterBox Trooper
  • Yeti Hopper Flip
  • IceMule Coolers Boss
  • Corkcicle Ivanhoe Duffle
  • Pelican Soft Cooler

Best Hard Coolers

  • Editor’s Pick: Yeti Tundra Haul
  • Orca Classic
  • RovR RollR
  • Bison GEN2
  • Igloo Sportsman
  • OtterBox Venture
  • Pelican Cooler


Best Rugged Soft Coolers of 2018

Editor’s Pick: Orca Podster


In truth, Orca’s Podster is a bit of an odd ball in the soft coolers category. It’s an unconventional shape, and though it has backpack straps, its bulk does little in terms of a spacious interior. That said, all of that foam keeps everything you toss in it cold right up there with the other coolers on this list. The body is constructed using the same RF welding that’s used in whitewater rafts, it’s FDA food-grade safe and it features an ultra-durable and ultra-waterproof TIZIP zipper.

It also comes in a variety of colorways including the Coral/Gray pictured here. Unlike Orca’s other coolers, this one isn’t made in the USA, but it still lives up to the brand’s performance and reputation. — AJ Powell

Sizes available: 14.25 quarts

Hydro Flask Unbound Cooler Pack


Hydro Flask’s success in creating insulated water bottles that look great and work to keep beverages cold (or hot) for extended periods of time signals that the brand has a particular knack for insulation. Getting into the cooler category was a logical next step, and its Unbound Series matches its drinking vessels in both style and function.

Hydro Flask’s Cooler Pack is, without question, the prettiest soft cooler of the group that we tested. It’s sleek, with exterior pockets for things like keys or a wallet that don’t impede its design or add unneeded bulk. The cooler uses a watertight construction that keeps water in and out with an Aquaseal zipper and is equipped with an FDA-approved, food-grade liner and enough soft insulation to keeps contents cool for up to 48 hours. It has a 22-liter capacity, or enough space for 24 cans.

Because it’s a backpack, the Unbound can’t merely look good; it has to be comfortable enough to wear, fully-loaded, on jaunts that are too long to haul something bigger. We found this to be the case, though you won’t want to wear it on extra-long treks; stick to trips to the beach and park or shorter hikes. – Tanner Bowden

Sizes available: 22 liters

OtterBox Trooper


Once OtterBox made the jump from rugged phone cases to rugged coolers, it was only a matter of time before the Colorado-based company introduced a line of soft coolers. It did precisely that at the start of this year with the Trooper series.

The Trooper series includes two soft-sided coolers. Both are IP-65-rated, which means they’ll keep out dust and the inadvertent splash of water. The Trooper coolers feature wide-mouth, one-handed-access openings made of plastic and exterior shells made of durable nylon that is resistant to water, UV damage, chemicals and punctures. The bases are laminated to be abrasion-resistant. Inside, the liners are food-grade.

The bigger Trooper 30 comes with backpack straps, which we felt provided the most comfortable carry of any of the soft coolers we tested. Another note to make regarding the Trooper is that its clamshell opening is the widest, and provides the most access, of all the soft coolers — no pulling stuff out to get to the last La Croix at the bottom. The Trooper’s plastic opening does seem like it might be prone to breaking, but we honestly haven’t beaten it up enough to tell if this is true or not. As far as keeping contents cold though, the Trooper was one of the best performers in our ice test.
Tanner Bowden

Sizes available: 20, 30 quarts

Yeti Hopper Flip


Yeti is the king of rugged coolers, and when the brand launched the Hopper Flip 8 in July of 2016, it brought that title to a new category: lunchboxes. There simply isn’t a more over-built, rugged, lunch-worthy lunchbox out there. Sure, it may be a bit excessive to spend $200 on a lunch box, but considering it will last you upwards of ten years (that’s no exaggeration), it’s definitely worth it. And it can do more than just hold your lunch too. The Hopper Flip is a great size to bring fly fishing, and can keep both your beer and your catch plenty cold. One Gear Patrol editor has even been known to bring one on backpacking trips to keep perishables cold in the backcountry. You take a weight penalty, but it’s well worth it. — AJ Powell

Sizes available: 8, 12, 18

IceMule Coolers Boss


Weighing in at 7.5 pounds, this cooler is disguised as a backpack, with plenty of storage to go with it. The cooler performs surprisingly well thanks to a three-centimeter closed-cell PolarLayer XT insulation foam. The suspension system used to carry it makes it a comfortable backpack whether you’re hiking into the perfect camp spot, or just going from the house to your car. Reviewers love the waterproof pockets and the semi-unlimited amount of food this backpack can handle. Price point wise, it’s right in the middle of Hydroflask and Yeti’s soft side coolers, and performs on par with those heavy hitters. — Meg Lappe

Sizes available:
IceMule Classic: 10, 15 and 20L
IceMule Pro: 20, 33 and 40L

Corkcicle Ivanhoe Duffle


Wrapped in Cordura, this duffle bag disguises the fact that it’s a cooler. It can hold up to 48 cans of beer, or 24 cans of beer plus four bottles of wine or cider. Corkcicle is relatively new to the cooler market, but we were pleasantly surprised by how cold our beers stayed for almost 12 hours. The interior is coated with a TPU food-safe liner, so you can stuff as much produce and groceries as you want. Take your cooler with you to Costco, then hit the road for that weekend trip. Offered in black and grey, the removable strap is one of our favorite features — it makes it easy to lug around the insulated cooler from car to boat to beach. — Meg Lappe

Sizes available:
Tote: Holds 16 cans and 2 wine bottles
Bucket Bag: Holds 8 cans and 2 wine bottles
Duffle: holds 24 cans and 4 wine bottles

Pelican Soft Cooler


Pelican’s aptly named Soft Cooler looks similar to RTIC’s SoftPak coolers, but perform better and seem to be made of more premium materials. For instance, the zipper on the Pelican is a well-regarded TIZIP zipper, which is used on every from dry bags to hazmat suits. The zipper on the RTIC, on the other hand, is a less-durable generic waterproof zipper. The Pelican also features a slip-resistant compression molded base. In other words, you don’t have to worry as much about a catastrophic spill when your cooler is open and perched precariously on a rock or truck bed.

Lastly, as if all of those features weren’t enough, the Pelican also comes with two compression strap buckles the tighten over the lid. So if you did happen to somehow manage to bust the zipper, you still have those to fall back on. — AJ Powell

Sizes available: 12, 24, 48

Best Rugged Hard Coolers of 2018

Editor’s Pick Best Hard Cooler: Yeti Tundra Haul


In testing the Yeti Tundra Haul cooler, I was impressed by Yeti’s attention to detail (but then again I shouldn’t be surprised after putting the Hondo camp chair through a thorough test). Yeti could have simply slapped wheels on a Tundra and called it a day. But it didn’t. Yeti agonized over every aspect of how the wheels and handle would integrate into the design to the point that I was asking myself “Is all of this really necessary?” But it is necessary, because that’s who Yeti is. In fact, the handle was designed so that it doesn’t slam against the hard plastic if you drop it. And the wheels roll so quietly and smoothly that you’ll wonder why you ever used any other cooler.

Perhaps the most impressive feature (and of course the most important), is how Yeti integrated the wheels into the design. It managed to retain all space on the interior of the cooler without too many awkward bumps. Other wheeled coolers on the market fail to do this as sleekly as Yeti did. At the end of the day, the Tundra Haul was a no-brainer for Yeti. It was only a matter of time before the brand launched a wheeled cooler, and we’re glad that it’s finally here.” — AJ Powell

Sizes available: 45 cans of beer or 55 pounds of ice.

Orca Classic


If Yeti has any serious competitor in the hard cooler space, it’s Orca. The Nashville, Tennessee-based brand makes all of its hard-sided coolers in the US and that quality shines through. The Orca Classic coolers are incredibly well made down to every last detail — including the rubber tabs that secure the lid of the cooler closed. Said tabs are shaped like whale tails, harkening back to the brand’s name and logo. They’re made from a roto-molded construction, like others on this list, and feature a lid gasket that seals out heat and locks in water and cold. The handles are by no means the best we tested, but they’re serviceable and are made from nylon webbing with rubber grips. A drainage spout at the bottom makes it easy to clean and drain after the ice has melted — but that might be a while. — AJ Powell

Sizes available: 20, 26, 40, 58, 75, 140 quarts

RovR RollR Coolers


Last year, when RovR brought its RollR coolers to Kickstarter, it promised: “the most feature-packed cooler ever!” Thanks to the 580 backers who funded the project more than $100k beyond its asking goal, the RollR is now here.

While many of the other hard coolers on this list all seem to be emulating Yeti (and each other), the RollR is unique. Its shape is boxier, its finish is shinier and its interior is wholly novel. Its interior is stepped to accommodate the axle supporting its built-in wheels, but RovR has worked that potential flaw into the design, using the cavity to create a slot for its removable dry storage container. It claims to keep ice frozen for ten days, a duration that has become industry standard, with a roto-molded construction.

The RollR, like OtterBox’s Venture, earns much of its rank due to its potential for customization. The dry storage already mentioned above is a great organization feature that makes packing for a multi-day camping trip compact and organized. The RollR also can hold a prep board, cup holder and other small accessories. One unique add-on is a collapsible bin that sits on top of the cooler when closed, which can hold things like beach towels, clothing or any other supplies that are easier rolled than carried. The RollR also can rig up behind a bicycle with an extra attachment.

Those looking for specific use options will probably opt for less customization, more space and a lighter package — the RollR is comparatively heavy. But it’s also a great cooler that opts for fun instead of intensity, and stands up to the rest of this list all the same. — Tanner Bowden

Sizes available: 60, 80, 85 quarts

Bison GEN2 Hard Cooler Line


Made in America, this heavy-duty roto-molded cooler has pressure-injected insulated walls to keep ice crispy for days. It’s an upgrade from the original Gen1, and features a double-walled silicone gasket. The two drain plugs are larger — roughly the same size as the ones found on an Orca cooler, and bigger than the one found on a Yeti. Clean up is a breeze with a drain plug on either end of the cooler. The hefty latches are bigger than past models and super secure. Plus, each Bison cooler comes with a five-year warranty. Bring this fishing or boating and you’re sure to keep the day’s catch on ice. — Meg Lappe

Sizes available:
25 quart, $229
50 quart, $329
75 quart, $379

Igloo Sportsman 20 QT Cooler


This is the smallest hard-sided cooler we looked at, but definitely don’t let the size of it dissuade you. The 20-quart capacity cooler comes with anti-skid feet, and two self-draining cup holders on top, so it moonlights as a dining room table for the great outdoors. It’s roto-molded with a corrosion-resistant aluminum three point grab handle. A highlight on this one is the huge drain plug — easily double the size of the Orca, Bison and Yeti drain plugs. You can pack it with 30 cans — enough for a backyard gathering with a few friends or few day trip with a buddy. — Meg Lappe

Sizes available:
20 quart, $240
40 quart, $310
70 quart, $390

OtterBox Venture Cooler


OtterBox’s move into the cooler category began last summer with the release of the Venture series. It came as a surprise to those who recognize the brand from its domination of Best Buy’s phone case racks, but among the company’s first products were protective dry boxes.

But does tech protection translate into making coolers? As it turns out, it does. OtterBox integrated rugged injection-molding and high-grade cooling technologies into its first cooler and brought the Venture straight to the front of the crowd. The Venture comes in 25-, 45- and 65-quart sizes and is rated to hold ice for up to two weeks. More minute details include anti-slip rubber feet and a bottom that’s slanted just slightly enough to make draining easier. And, as you’d expect from OtterBox, this thing has been dropped from every angle and on every side to ensure that it can’t be damaged, empty or full.

The Venture separates itself from the rest with an array of customizable, modular attachments. Its front has two clips that can hold a bottle opener, cup holder or one of those dry boxes I mentioned earlier. Inside, the cooler can be arranged with separators to create compartments for wet and dry goods, and it can also take on a cutting board and side table. This system sets up the Venture for future success by allowing OtterBox to continue to release components that will increase its utility. OtterBox recently revealed its All-Terrain Wheels, which make the Venture immediately portable without forcing buyers into a choice between wheels or no wheels — for this, customization is key. The Venture may be slightly less sleek than some of the other hard coolers on this list, but it stands up to all the standards of rugged durability and of course, keeping things cold. — Tanner Bowden

Sizes available:
25 quart, $250
45 quart, $350
65 quart, $400

Pelican 50 QT Cooler – Limited Edition


This limited edition cooler doesn’t get much more American. Stash fish, meat, water or beer in the elite cooler that holds three to five days worth of food and drink. It’s lightweight and features the same latch design that Pelican uses on its heavy-duty camera cases. There’s also a built-in bottle opener along the lid-lining. Plus, four molded-in can holders give you the perfect spot to rest your drink if you have to man the grill or grab a line. It’s also guaranteed for life, so it’ll be the last cooler you ever buy. — Meg Lappe

Sizes available:
20 quart, $150
30 quart, $225
50 quart, $300
Editor’s Note: If you’ve been paying attention to the rugged cooler space, you’ll notice that there is a notable omission to this list. RTIC failed to respond to our requests for samples to include in our testing. If you’re interested in an RTIC cooler, you can shop its products here, but we cannot speak for how they compare to the other coolers recommended on our list.

Now, Fill Them With Some Beer

Craft beer has never been more political, exciting or delicious – these are the breweries responsible. Read the Story

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.