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Five Expensive Coolers Tested and Compared

A variety of cooler types from leading makers are tested.

March 21, 2020
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Every challenge needs a superhero, and every superhero has unique superpowers—and their kryptonite. Coolers are that way. We tested some unique coolers to gauge their superpowers and their kryptonite.

How We Tested

These coolers aren’t comparable, except for their given task of keeping things cold. Their capacities and construction offered different cooling capabilities, carrying characteristics and different applications. So, we didn’t rank them in terms of ice or temperature retention, even though we did load them all to half-capacity and measured their ice retention as a way for you to gauge the value of their capabilities for your application.

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What Mattered to Us

Super Cold: Most cooler users don’t need to keep stuff cold for a week. A day or two usually does it. So we loaded 40 pounds of ice in the large cooler and 10 pounds in the rest and measured the ice 48 hours later.

Carrying Method: Straps, grab handles and rope handles all offer unique powers but have their -kryptonite drawbacks.

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Special Accessories: Bottle openers, wine-key pockets and ice pouches are all useful accessories for coolers, and we noted our favorites.

Frabill Magnum Bait Station 19 cooler
The injection-molded shell has 1 inch of insulation on the sides, bottom and top. Garrett Cortese

Frabill Magnum Bait Station 19

$99.99; basspro.com

Capacity: 19 quarts Dimensions: 19.5-by-17.75-by-13.8 in. Weight: 11.9 lb.

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The injection-molded shell has 1 inch of insulation on the sides, bottom and top. An injection-molded bail handle and a nylon web strap offer two easy carrying options. A D-cell-powered aeration pump is embedded in the lid, and it can alternatively be powered with an optional AC/DC adapter or standard 12-volt adapter. A mesh-net liner with a frame and web handle makes transferring bait to the boat’s livewell easy, so it’s a good choice for anglers who fish live bait.

Superpowers: With only the flip of a switch, the Frabill Magnum Bait Station becomes an aerated livewell that, in our tests, kept three dozen shrimp alive in full sun with hot weather for two days. The pump is streamlined into the lid, and an aeration tube with a bubble stone fits through a grommet on the lid. A removable wire-framed mesh net fits perfectly in the box—lift it by the handle to grab a bait without submerging your hands.

Super Cold: It retained 16 ounces of its load.

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Carrying Method: It comes with a web shoulder strap for shoulder carrying—though, we found that awkward. It also has a solid bail handle that swings out of the way when not in use.

Kryptonite: It needs a compartment to stow the 12-volt adapter when it’s not in use. We’ve already misplaced ours. The shoulder strap is awkward—we discarded it.

Frabill Magnum Bait Station 19 aeration pump
Aeration pump nests in the top and the aeration line feeds through the lid. Garrett Cortese

Special Accessories: Included is a mesh-net liner for easy bait selection. It comes in 19- and 30-quart models.

We Marvel: Frabill built the pump streamlined into the lid instead of protruding from the top, where it could be knocked off. It’s ability to morph from cooler to baitwell is marvel-ous. It is solid enough for seating and well-insulated to keep bait or drinks (depending on how you use it) cold. The latches snapped down the case lid for a tight seal. They were easy to operate.

Otterbox Trooper LT 20- and 30-Quart Coolers
Storage compartment and bottle-opener mounts are handy, as is a zippered pouch. Garrett Cortese

Otterbox Trooper LT 20- and 30-Quart Coolers

$299, Realtree Edge Camo $349.99; otterbox.com

Capacity: 30 quarts

Dimensions: 21-by-17-by-11 in.

Weight: 6.7 lb. (approx.)

LT stands for large top—we thought it should have been called big mouth, but the initials didn’t work. It’s unique top opens like jaws that spread out and stay open, creating a large ice bucket for easy access. The lid is watertight when clamped shut. Its 30-quart-capacity interior is of food-grade vinyl and cleans easily. There are no recessed seams to hold dirt or mold. A zippered bellows pouch outside can hold granola bars, and a near-full-width zippered pouch can hold flatter, wider gear such as books, a towel or iPad.

Superpowers: Its wide mouth can swallow a watermelon or give party-bucket access to drinks. It opens easily and stays open, until you want to quickly snap it closed.

Super Cold: In our test, 6 ounces of ice remained, making it the second-coldest soft cooler.

Carrying Method: It comes with a convenient shoulder strap, integrated backpack straps (the most comfortable way to carry it for a long distance), and a suitcase-style handle on one side.

Special Accessories: Two accessory mounts allow the use of cup holders, utility boxes or bottle openers.

Kryptonite: The latch is made of strong plastic, but it could be cracked or otherwise damaged if dropped or gear is dropped on it. Its jaws close to a peaked roof design that won’t allow topping off with ice to block air.

We Marvel: At its wide-open maw, ideal for pool and dock parties, and we appreciate both the fixed and carabiner bottle openers.

Yeti Hopper M30 cooler
Rare Earth magnetic strips seal the Yeti Hopper shut. Garrett Cortese

Yeti Hopper M30

$299.99; basspro.com

Capacity: 30 quarts

Dimensions: 25-by-12-by-17.5 in.

Weight: 7 lb.

Rare Earth magnetic strips seal the Yeti Hopper shut, eliminating the uncomfortable, wrist-scratching zipper closure that was objectionable in earlier models. The magnetic-closure strips practically seal themselves. To keep it from bursting open in a fall or if something falls on it, buckles fold the magnetic strips over to resist opening. The all-welded interior is tough and smooth, and resists mildew and cleans easily.

Superpowers: Rare Earth magnetic seals are always closed, preventing air leakage that could cause the cooler to lose its cool. The magnetic closure is smooth and does not irritate the skin when reaching in.

Super Cold: All ice melted in 48 hours, but the water was frigid.

Carrying Method: The wide shoulder strap has a well-padded shoulder pad that stays put when carrying. Double handle straps allow it to be carried like a suitcase.

Yeti Hopper M30 magnetic seal
Magnetic seal automatically closes when released. Buckled web straps add security. Garrett Cortese

Kryptonite: If you have a pacemaker, the magnetic strips may actually be your kryptonite, since magnets are known interrupters of the life-saving features of pacemakers. It’s not a deal breaker if you have a porter to carry and hand you beer. The magnetic closure won’t stay open without being held open, which requires three hands, or for you to prop it between your knees and squeeze it open like an old coin purse. In short, you can slide a hand through it without irritation, but you can’t see what you’re grabbing because it closes around your arm.

We Marvel: You can manage the closure issues, but it would be wise to select another cooler if you have a pacemaker. It would also be wise to notify anyone nearby who has one.

West Marine 70-Quart Premium Marine Cooler
Nonskid and nonmarring feet keep it from sliding on the deck. Garrett Cortese

West Marine 70-Quart Premium Marine Cooler

$299.99; westmarine.com

Capacity: 70 quarts

Dimensions: 33.5-by-19-by-18.25 in.

Weight: 34 lb.

This is the only hard-sided cooler in this test and the largest we have tested for BoatingLAB or Boating. Nonskid and nonmarring feet keep it from sliding on the deck. It’s tough enough to stand or sit on, and large enough to be used as a fly-casting platform for added visibility.

Superpowers: We loved the latches. A rubber ball and molded socket latch have a scissor hinge to leverage the latch in place and securely close the cooler for optimum cooling with minimal finger strength. The hardware is all stainless steel, and the drain plug is tethered to the cooler to avoid losing it.

Super Cold: We had 24 of 40 pounds of ice remain after two days.

Carrying Method: At 37 pounds empty, it’s not the heaviest cooler we’ve handled, but it’s a doozy when loaded. You’ll need a stout person on each end, using the rope and dowel handles for transport. A refrigerator gasket seals in the cold. The top is nonskid for secure footing. All hardware is bright, 316 stainless steel.

West Marine 70-Quart Premium Marine Cooler leveraged latches
Leveraged latches make a cool-saving tight seal that is easy on the hands. Garrett Cortese

Kryptonite: Superman couldn’t move it once it’s loaded with ice and drinks—he’ll need a fork lift.

Special Accessories: Two bottle openers are built into the cooler. We’d add a custom snap-on seat cushion for convenience. A fish ruler is embossed on the lid.

Read Next: More Coolers Tested by BoatingLab

We Marvel: It looks great on deck and absolutely stays in place in all but the roughest deck motion. It has 316 stainless hardware, an embossed tape measure on the lid, a tethered drain plug and lockable lid, and includes two bottle openers, two tie-down slots and a refrigerator-quality gasket.

Engel HD 30L Soft-Side Cooler
Closed-cell foam insulation prevents air from passing through it and improves cooling. Garrett Cortese

Engel HD 30L Soft-Side Cooler

$239.99; engelcoolers.com

Capacity: 32 quarts

Dimensions: 16-by-20-by-10 in.

Weight: 5 lb. 4 oz.

Welded seams and a near-watertight zipper exclude warm air, increasing the life of the ice and preventing leaks. Engel reports drinks will stay cold for four and a half days in 90-degree temps. The outer shell, composed of thermal-plastic urethane-coated 840 denier fibers, is strong and abrasion-resistant. Closed-cell foam insulation prevents air from passing through it and improves cooling.

Superpowers: A patent-pending vacuum valve allows the user to suck out cooler-killing excess air in the sidewalls before the first use for optimum performance.

Super Cold: We had 5 pounds of ice remain with side walls in vacuum. Only 3 ounces survived the 48-hour test period without vacuum.

Carrying Method: Dual tote handles and a single padded strap offer comfortable carrying options, and the soft sides mold to the hip, easing carriage.

Engel HD 30L Soft-Side Cooler vacuum opening
Extracting air from the shell increased ice retention from 3 ounces to 5 pounds. Garrett Cortese

Kryptonite: The bottom panel is tough but slick, meaning the cooler can slide around on deck.

Special Accessories: A stainless-steel bottle opener is attached, and a water-resistant front zippered pouch can hold snacks or small gear.

We Marvel: At its easy carriage; it hugs the body using shoulder- strap hangers on the side closest to the body instead of side panels.

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