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BoatingLAB Tests: Top-Shelf Coolers
We put seven coolers to the test and award them points in six categories. Scroll through the gallery to see how they stack up, and read our full breakdown here.
At first there were Coleman and Igloo. Then the roto-molded ’tweeners came along, led by Icey-Tek, Yeti, Engel and others. They bridged the gap to gelcoated makes like Frigid Rigid. A combination of tough construction and rugged good looks put Yeti coolers on the tips of boaters’ tongues. Now, maybe a dozen brands play in this middle field. We took seven of them to the task of proving their mettle in a head-to-head cooler test that found us backing up to the Reddy Ice loading dock and stuffing a pallet of 20-pound bags into our test field.
Ice Retention: All coolers were filled to capacity — a level that just barely let us close the lid with a slight crunching of ice. Then we set them where the sun hit them equally most of the day. Then we watched them thaw. (Exciting!) We drained them twice daily and then measured the remaining ice at the end of this weeklong test.
Quarts per Cubic Foot: Space is at a premium on boats, so we also compared each cooler’s size with its capacity. The calculation gave quarts (interior) per cubic foot (exterior).
Nonskid Feet: We gave coolers with tough, nonskid, nonmarring rubber “feet” a 3, and those with slippery or no feet scored a 0. If you drag your cooler a lot, don’t. It wears out the bottom.
Drainage: A cooler should drain when you pull the plug. Most never do completely. We filled each with water and let it drain from a level position. Then we measured the remaining water.
Leakage: One cooler leaked through the drain-bung plumbing. It scored a 1. Coolers that did not leak scored a 3. One was eliminated from the test.
Cleanup: We evaluated coolers on ease of cleanup by dabbing some swampy muck on the lids and letting it dry before we hosed them off. If they hosed off easily with a light brushing, they got a 3; if they required detergent also, a 2; if they required bleach, a 1.
Lockability: This can be a priority for boaters who leave a cooler full of bait on the deck during a tournament. And, if you camp, lockable coolers are more bear-resistant.
Hinges: We did not try to break the hinges but did prefer the integrated-molded hinges with stainless-steel hinge pins. These oversized hinges result in no extension past the box, conserve space, and won’t scratch boats and crew.
Handles: Some of the coolers had molded handles tucked into the box. Some molded ones protruded. Bolt-ons were less desirable. Rope and molded handles provided good carrying options, though we removed our rope handles because we did not like them flapping in the wind.