For Comparison's Sake: Coolers | Boating Magazine

For Comparison's Sake: Coolers

We conduct the ultimate cooler test.

You did not want to be a cooler during this two-day test. We scorched four of the best in 116-degree heat, and in appreciation for their service we proceeded to sit on them and dump them out the back of a moving pickup truck. You can see the video here, but for now, here’s how they withstood the heat.

Cabela’s Steel-Belted Cooler
**$129; cabelas.com
**Coolest Points:
has a hardy retro look, and is up to the most basic abuse. The sidewalls are relatively narrow, so the available volume is as deep as the 54-quart capacity touts. A steel latch locks down the lid — both it and the handle are easy to use. Still had remnants of our original ice after 24 hours.

Lukewarm: Metal painted green practically turns red-hot in direct sun — don’t touch! Not a ton of insulation, so the ice was totally gone by noon on day two. Keep in mind that we let it sit in direct sun, where the ground temperature reached 116 degrees, all day.

Tip: Cover it with a beach towel to prevent heat buildup.

To see the coolers go head-to-head check out our video.

Engel 35-Quart Ice Box
$239; amazon.com
Coolest Points: It’s rotomolded and packed with two inches of polyurethane insulation. After 26 hours, the temp inside was still 39 degrees, easily the coldest reading. The big drain plug works well because of the cooler’s slope. Circular rubber “feet” under each corner kept the cooler from sliding around the truck. ****

Lukewarm: The drawbacks of insulation are weight (the cooler weighs 22 pounds when empty) and the loss of interior volume. No sliding in the truck bed and on deck also means no cheating when hefting the cooler around. ****

Tip: Use the latches — they’ll keep kids from opening the lid for no reason.

To see the coolers go head-to-head check out our video.

Coleman 50-Can Wheeled Soft-Sided Cooler
$39.99; coleman.com
Coolest Points: The soft top and sides are easy to squish when you need to manipulate the cooler into tight storage spots (impossible with hard-sided models). It was the easiest to move around because of the retractable handle and wheels. Mesh pockets and bungee cords were handy for holding protein bars, napkins and paper plates. ****

Lukewarm: We think 50 cans and 10 pounds of ice is a bit of a stretch. By the 24-hour mark our ice had turned to bath water, and it leaked out the zipper when the cooler tipped over. Don’t stow anything heavy on top. ****

Tip: Instead of cubed ice, use three frozen 16-ounce water bottles. Consider using this setup for refrigerated food or short duty cycles.

To see the coolers go head-to-head check out our video.

Styrofoam Cooler
$5.99; off the grocery-store shelf
Coolest Points: The big surprise of the test. This cheapie kept its cool on par with the competitors through the first day. We don’t have to tell you how light it is. If one should blow away (or, in the case our durability tests, get blown away ... twice), you buy another one for six bucks. ****

Lukewarm: Cold, yes. Sturdy, nope. We used two of these styrofoam boxes and at the end of the day had nothing left but foam confetti — they did not pass our sit-down or durability tests. There’s no drain, so you have to tip it carefully to get rid of excess water without causing a soda-can avalanche. ****

Tip: Write “not a seat!” on the lid.

To see the coolers go head-to-head check out our video.

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