BoatingLAB Tests: Top-Shelf Coolers
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.
Yeti Tundra YT65
One of the oldest and most well-known brands in durable premium roto-molded coolers, Yeti has tough nonskid rubber feet fit within molded sockets so they won’t come out. Rope handles and double-lip grips offer options for carrying solo or with a friend. Also molded in are tie-down-strap slots. The hinge pin runs the full length of the cooler and lid. The ColdLock gasketed lid is held airtight by T-Rex latch handles.
Actual Capacity: 60.8 quarts
*Ice Retention: 43 percent
Exterior Dimensions: 30.5″ x 17.375″ x 16″
Weight: 27 lb.
Coleman 58-Quart Xtreme 6
Light construction and a low price do not stop it from keeping its cool. Insulation is made with ozone-friendly chemicals. Molded drink holders retain water and dirt. The flip-up handles are convenient Coleman trademarks. The gray shell heated up but did not seem to transfer that heat to the interior. It is advertised to keep ice for six days at 90 degrees and did. The drain leaked but is easily repairable.
Actual Capacity: 52.2 quarts
*Ice Retention: 56 percent
Exterior Dimensions: 29″ x 14″ x 18″
Weight: 14.5 lb.
Engel DeepBlue 65
Certified bear-resistant by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, it boasts 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. Nonmarring rubber feet keep it in place. Pitched floor self-drains fully, and it was easy to clean. Handles and latches are recessed for easy stowage.
Actual Capacity: 51.1 quarts
*Ice Retention: 47 percent
Exterior Dimensions: 29.9″ x 16.8″ x 16.5″
Weight: 28 lb.
EvaKool Ice Mate IMO64
This one comes with a removable basket. Molded handles won’t fail but offer fewer grip options. Thick skid feet are molded in, but the poly material is slippery on fiberglass decks. Hinge pins unsnap, allowing the lid to be stored separately for safety. Positive silicone rubber latches and gasketed lid give a secure seal. The latches were secure and tight and comparable to Engel and K2 for ease of use.
Actual Capacity: 56.9 quarts
*Ice Retention: 40 percent
Exterior Dimensions: 25.6″ x 17.5″ x 18.5″
Weight: 18 lb.
We liked its A-grade polyethylene external skin with a nonstaining, non-odor-absorbing, impact-resistant, food-grade interior liner. It features self-stopping hinges, which won’t let the lid flop all the way back, making the contents easy to access. A foam-sealed lid and pressure-injected insulation help it keep its cool. Drains on both ends were handy but positioned too high to fully drain — it holds 14 cups of water.
Actual Capacity: 60.9 quarts
*Ice Retention: 43 percent
Exterior Dimensions: 31.5″ x 16.25″ x 16″
Weight: 23 lb.
Igloo Yukon Cold Locker 50
Handles molded into its sides are strong and handy but add to this cooler’s footprint, reducing its quart per cubic foot capacity ratio. Locking hasps are stainless steel, and lid hinges are molded in with stainless-steel pins. Its oversized 2-inch drain attaches with a stainless-steel bead chain but lets ice fall out when open. An accurate ruler and a textured surface are handy features. It looks cool and keeps its cool too.
Actual Capacity: 55.4 quarts
*Ice Retention: 49 percent
Exterior Dimensions: 33.6″ x 17″ x 17.6″
Weight: 32 lb.
Lockable: Yes with stainless-steel hasps
K2 Cube 55
One of the most efficient coolers in our test, it also sports a convenient capacity per cubic foot. Its cubic shape provides boaters with additional stowage options. Its rope handles drape over the top of the molded handles — like the Icey-Tek’s — and we wondered why. The cooler cleans quickly thanks to its smooth surface. Nonskid feet might have been a nice addition, but after-market additions would have to do.
Actual Capacity: 52.4 quarts
*Ice Retention: 52 percent
Exterior Dimensions: 22.25″ x 19.2″ x 16.75″
Weight: 22 lb.
Warranty: 3-year limited