Points of Evaluation
Calculated Capacity Cubic Feet/Liquid Quarts: In the past, the cooler’s capacity included in its model name was more or less relative, so we measured the interior volume, accounting for irregularities in the interior surfaces and reducing interior headroom by how far the lid tucked into the box. We first calculated cubic inches and then liquid quarts from that figure, using an app-based conversion calculator.
Ice Retention: All coolers were filled to capacity — a level that just barely let us close the lid while slightly crunching the ice. Then we set the coolers where the sun hit them equally most of the day and watched them thaw for four days (exciting). We drained them daily and noted the remaining ice as a percentage of its original volume.
Quarts Per Cubic Foot: Space is at a premium on boats, so we compared each cooler’s exterior footprint with its capacity. The calculation provided the quarts (interior measurement) per cubic foot (exterior measurement). A higher percentage means more capacity per footprint. More is better.
Drain Height: A cooler should drain when you pull the plug; however, most never do completely. We measured the distance between the bottom of the bunghole and the interior drain-height well — every cooler had a built-in funnel to channel water out.
Weight: Let’s face it, these heavyweights are … heavy. The only thing portable about these coolers is they aren’t nailed down. We divided the cooler’s weight by its capacity to calculate the pounds or fraction of a pound per quart. Less weight per quart is handier to move about, but keep an eye on ice-retention efficiency — some lighter coolers thawed more quickly.
Lockability: This can be a priority for boaters who leave a cooler full of bait on the deck during a tournament. Also, if you camp, lockable coolers are more bear-resistant.
Gaskets: Every cooler had silicone gaskets of one shape or another, and they all sealed well enough that the bung gurgled when draining if you didn’t open the lid.
Engel Deep Blue 50
Engel Deep Blue 50, $329.99; engel-usa.com
Certified bear-resistant by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, it boasted the easiest-to-operate latches, which fit flush and are mounted with stainless-steel backing plates. Lockable, it has tie-down points for onboard security. Integrated hinges have stainless-steel pins, and nonmarring rubber feet kept the cooler in place. The pitched floor self-drained fully, and it was easy to clean. Handles and latches are recessed for easy storage.
Calculated Capacity: 50 quarts
Exterior Dimensions/Cubic Feet: 24" x 17" x 18.5"/4.4
Interior Cubic Feet/Quarts: 1.6/50
Weight: 24 lb.
Warranty: 3 years
Ice Retention: 37 percent
Drain Height: 0.13"
Pounds Per Quart Capacity: 0.48
Quarts Per Exterior Cubic Foot: 11.36
Yeti Tundra 50, $379.99
This brand is the Xerox, Kleenex and Coke of supercoolers. No one who has one says, “The beer is in the cooler.” It’s always in the Yeti. Our tan-colored model stayed warmer on the outside than the white Engel — in fact, all the colored coolers were warmer to touch — but still held its own in maintaining its cool. If anybody figures out how to wreck one, Yeti parts are always available, from latches to hinge pins to drain plugs — everything but the box. Nonskid on the top makes Yeti coolers popular to stand on for casting, rope handles make carrying easy with a buddy, and recessed handles are tucked out of the way for carrying solo.
Calculated Capacity: 52.4 quarts
Exterior Dimensions/Cubic Feet: 24" x 17" x 18"/4.3
Interior Cubic Feet/Quarts: 1.8/52.4
Warranty: 5 years
Weight: 30 lb.
Ice Retention: 38 percent
Drain Height: ¼”
Pounds Per Quart Capacity: 0.58
Quarts Per Exterior Cubic Foot: 12.19
Orca 40 $349.99
These are newer players on the ice block and good-looking too. Whale-tail latches maintain the Orca theme, and a mesh pouch on the front makes a good spot to stash small gear, charts or bottle openers. We tested a green and a white model to note any difference in ice retention and found the white model stayed cooler longer. However, if you are a fashionista, green was still a top contender in cool.
Calculated Capacity: 40 quarts
Exterior Dimensions/Cubic Feet: 25.5" x 18" x 17.5"/120
Interior Cubic Feet/Quarts: 1.4/40
Weight: 24 lb.
Ice Retention (Green): 36 percent
Ice Retention (White): 44 percent
Drain Height: 0.13"
Pounds Per Quart Capacity: 0.83
Quarts Per Exterior Cubic Foot: 8.69
Igloo Sportsman 40 $219.99
This is Igloo’s latest iteration of bear-proof coolers and one of the best available. The new compact design gives a much better return in capacity for the footprint than Igloo’s super-cold Kodiak series, and it kept nearly one-third of its ice after our four-day test. That’s good for a khaki-colored exterior, which is noticeably warmer than white models. Its molded hinges are secured with hidden pins, and water drip drains when the oversize bung is loosened or drains quickly when the bung is removed.
Calculated Capacity: 42 quarts
Insulation: 2" (lid); 1.5" to 2" (body)
Exterior Dimensions/Cubic Feet: 23.5" x 17" x 16"/3.7
Interior Cubic Feet/Quarts: 1.4/42
Weight: 26 lb.
Warranty: 5 years
Ice Retention: 28 percent
Drain Height: 0.31"
Pounds Per Quart Capacity: .619
Quarts Per Exterior Cubic Foot: 11.35
Siberian 40, $249; siberiancoolers.com
This was the most compact of our rugged premium coolers and a popular choice of many boaters thanks to its relatively diminutive weight, which comes from thinner walls and less insulation, For a four-day trip, the compromise in insulation was offset by the weight loss. Its easy-to-clean surface was smooth, and nonskid feet kept it in place. It boasts rope handles for carrying with a buddy and also molded-in recessed handles for transporting solo.
Calculated Capacity: 41 quarts
Exterior Dimensions/Cubic Feet: 24" x 13" x 14.75"/2.7
Interior Cubic Feet/Quarts: 1.4/41
Weight: 19 lb.
Ice Retention: 12 percent
Drain Deficit: 0.38"
Pounds Per Quart Capacity: 0.46
Quarts Per Exterior Cubic Foot: 15.19
Pelican 45QT Wheeled Elite Tan, $379.95
The exterior footprint of this bear-resistant cooler was the largest of our tests, but it was a worthy compromise for the 2 inches of insulation, pull handle and large “off-road” wheels that made transporting this cooler down the pier far easier. All hardware is stainless steel, including a molded-in clasp ideal for locking to your boat. Latches are spring-activated for easy opening, and they latch easily with a foolproof snap.
Calculated Capacity: 45 liquid quarts
Exterior Dimensions/Cubic Feet: 29" x 20" x 19"/6.4
Interior Cubic Feet/Quarts: 1.5/45
Weight: 37 lb. 4 oz.
Ice Retention: 29 percent
Drain Deficit: 0.25"
Pounds Per Quart Capacity: 0.82
Quarts Per Exterior Cubic Foot: 7.03