Companies often measure their coolers with a dubious metric called “ice retention.” That’s the number of days that ice stays intact inside the insulated cavity. But there are so many factors: What was the outside temp during the test? Was the box pre-cooled to keep ice cold for the longest time?
Why would you buy a cooler with anything but the longest ice retention time? Price, convenience, and weight. Our lighter picks go anywhere and some pack down flat when you’re done. The heavily insulated units weigh up to four times more—over 25 pounds for a small chest. But, then again, they are bear-proof and can keep your catch cool for up to two weeks while you’re at the off-grid cabin.
Best Coolers for the Outdoors: Cabela's Alaskan Guide 150-Quart Cooler
The team effort by Cabela’s and Grizzly produced a double-walled cooler certified to keep bears out of your provisions. Its hinges are molded into the box and set with stainless-steel pins while the brass latching system takes shackle padlocks. The companies estimate that a full chest of ice would take over 11 days to melt in 80-degree temperatures. The critter-proof case also holds over a hundred 12-ounce cans, which is good if you're worried about bears going after your brew.
Ice Retention: Excellent
Dimensions: 48.5” x 22.5” x 20.5”
Volume: 150 quarts
Weight: 54 pounds
Best Coolers for the Outdoors: Coleman 50-Quart Xtreme 5 Wheeled Cooler
The lightweight Xtreme is Coleman’s most insulated line, rated at five days of cold in outside temps of up to 90 degrees. It’s also loaded with creature comforts: a telescoping handle makes it so easy to wheel that even kids can deliver it to the beach. And once you get there, it’s tall enough to hold 2-liter bottles upright.
Ice Retention: Good
Dimensions: 22.6" x 17.6" x 17.7"
Volume: 50 quarts
Weight: 12.2 pounds
Best Coolers for the Outdoors: Kelty Folding Cooler
The Folding Cooler may only be good for a day or two, but it’s the lightest, most packable ice chest you can get for stashing in the car or canoe. The semi-rigid shape squashes down from 13 inches high to 6 inches wide when you’re ready to load out, and the reinforced bottom and feet help it make the most use of its insulation by raising it off the ground.
Ice Retention: Fair
Dimensions: 13.0” x 23.0” x 14.5”
Volume: 58 quarts
Weight: 5.5 pounds
Best Coolers for the Outdoors: YETI Tundra 65 Cooler
No list of ice chests is complete without Yeti. These pricy coolers offer fat two-inch walls and a gasket around the lid’s perimeter to keep ice cold through your entire trip. The latches keep things sealed tight when you’re not browsing, while the sturdy padlock slots keep any woodland critters from browsing.
Ice Retention: Excellent
Volume: 57.2 quarts
Dimensions: 30.5” x 17.4” x 16.0”
Weight: 27 pounds