Cooler Ice 'Death Match' Challenges with 90-Degree Heat

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August was a scorcher here at GearJunkie HQ, with temps in the 90s and the humidity running high. We used the ambient heat last month as a gauntlet of sorts for three cooler models in a head-to-head ice death match — the cooler to keep its ice longest would win, straight up.

After a summer of using these three models on camping trips, for backyard BBQs, and other adventures, we wanted a final showdown. It was two high-end coolers up against an affordable option, all with pros and cons depending on the venue and food or drink type and quantity needing to be cool.

The contenders were a soft-side model from Kelty, the affordable and highly portable Folding Cooler (58 quarts, $45.95); a pricey “pro-level” icebox from Yeti, the Tundra 45 model (45 quarts, $329); and a massive tank made by Igloo, the Yukon 70 (70 quarts, $389.99), which touts “Keeps Cold For 7 Days” right on its lid.

Seven Days? Not in our test. In the August heat no cooler lasted for more than four days. We stocked 10 pounds of ice in each and let the sun and hot air do its worst. In direct sunlight for three days the coolers took a beating.

Once a day we cracked the lid to look inside at the ice and beverage cans. Below is a breakdown of what happened and how each cooler held up to the heat. —Amy Oberbroeckling

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Lined up in the heat, the Kelty, Yeti, and Igloo prepare for the “ice death match” challenge

Zero Hour:

Kelty — Lid open, we dump the ice inside. It fills about halfway up a wall in the 58-quart cooler. Zip ‘er closed and step back.

Igloo — 10 pounds of ice doesn’t go far in this behemoth. More than three-quarters of the inside area is empty still and gleaming white from the thick plastic walls.

Yeti — Pop the brown lid, dump in the frozen cubes. At 45 quarts, this is about the right amount of ice for this size case and some beverages to fit inside.

24 Hours:

Kelty — The soft-side model is struggling already to keep up with the high-end models sitting by its side. A lot of meltwater, but there’s still some ice left after a day in the 90-degree heat. Respectable.

Igloo — Cold inside. Mostly solid ice, but there is a little standing water underneath.

Yeti — Surprised to see that almost no noticeable change has occurred. A very small amount of water at the bottom is the only sign of melting. The cubes remain fused together and very frozen.

48 Hours:

Kelty — Throw in the towel. This lightweight unit put up a valiant effort but just couldn’t handle the heat.

Igloo — A little more standing water today. The giant ice chunk of fused cubes is beginning to break apart.

Yeti — Taking the lead! There is more standing water today, but it’s not as melted as the Igloo. Looks like we’ll know our winner tomorrow.

72 Hours:

Kelty — Down for the count.

Igloo — Our biggest contender put up a fight. But all of the ice inside has melted. The Yeti takes the win.

Yeti — With about half of its ice left, the Yeti looks like it could stay cold for another day or two, but we’re getting thirsty and that Hamms beer looks good.

Our conclusions after the “Ice Death Match” on page 2 of this post…

Posted by Barnaby Nygren - 09/13/2013 08:44 AM

Might have been interesting to compare the high end ones to something from Walmart. $300 is a lot to pay!

Posted by Joe B. - 09/13/2013 09:00 AM

Speaking of Craig’s List, I posted a WANTED ad for a used Yeti, and had multiple takers within 3 days. Took a 65 qt. Tundra for $250.

Love the cooler. Pre-chilling food/drinks goes a long way, and ice longevity is extended by utilizing larger ice chunks or even a few small pieces of dry ice.

@JoeBancks

Posted by Mark - 09/13/2013 09:02 AM

This way of testing the coolers seems really illogical. The Yukon can hold 70 quarts and the Yeti can hold somewhere around 35 (the numbers they use are not the quart sizes, but you can find a chart hidden on the website here: http://store.yeticoolers.com/yeti-tundra-45-1/), but you used the same amount of ice for each. In order to maximize ice retention a cooler needs to be as full as possible…so you were basically handing the victory over to the Yeti by filling it up almost completely and keeping the Yukon full of almost all air… seems like one of two things happened here. 1) You rigged it. or 2) You don’t know much about how coolers work…

Posted by wyomingowen - 09/13/2013 09:14 AM

LEAVE IT”
Full disclosure, I own a 50qt Yeti-awesome product.
I appreciate the “backyard tests” and at least yes you identified some of your limitations but c’mon really? can’t you get a little more “apples to apples?” When you open the cooler up what is the volume of hot air exchanged/replaced for the same volume of ice? hmmm….please try harder. You appear to knock igloo unjustly about their claim

Posted by Mark - 09/13/2013 10:08 AM

@MichaelLargent – Even Yeti’s website disagrees with what you just said.

From YetiCoolers.com “The amount of ice is important. We recommend filling the cooler with as much ice as possible to keep the air space to a minimum. Large areas of air will cause ice to melt faster. A small bag of ice in a large cooler will melt faster than if the same amount of ice were in a small cooler; however, a large cooler filled with ice will keep ice longer than a small cooler filled with ice. In summary, the more ice the better; however, if weight is a concern, you can use other materials, such as towels or crumpled newspaper to fill the air space voids.”

That being said. If each cooler were filled up half way that could be an acceptable “real life” test, but since the Yukon is over twice the quart size of the Yeti and has the exact same amount of ice, both coolers are not filled up half way full.

On the same token, if both the Yeti and the Yukon had been filled completely to their capcities it may not have been fair to the Yeti since it is a smaller cooler.

The only fair and true test would be for GearJunkie to test coolers with the same quart size or at least marginally close.

I am just tired of seeing these tests that make no sense out here. I mean lets use some common sense here people.

I’m going to assume that Igloo and Yeti and Kelty submitted these products to gearjunkie for testing purposes… but no one thought to research how coolers work, or how the coolers were orginally tested, or ask any questions to these companies who are cooler experts that they have at their disposal?

I mean I just went to Yeti’s and Igloo’s pages and found a ton of information on ice retention from both websites.

If you’re going to be a writer, do your research.

Posted by Desert Steve - 09/13/2013 10:48 AM

You can make any cooler go far longer by using block ice rather than cubes…AND making an inexpensive, bottomless slide-over reflective cover using that silver-covered bubble wrap duct insulation and its matching metallic tape. The cover alone will add at least two days to your ice.

Posted by Jen - 09/15/2013 06:28 PM

These coolers are not even in the same tier or size. Would love to see an Engel vs Yeti comparison though.

Posted by Dennis - 09/16/2013 01:29 PM

Wow. If this your idea of an “experiment”, please don’t try one again. Three coolers that have nothing in common, and throw in a few more variables to make it even more useless? My 6yo niece could design a better experiment.

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