The Best Coolers of 2021

It’s hot, it’s summer, and it’s high time we all got outside. Don’t miss our picks for the best hard coolers of 2021.

Whether you’re packing for a midday family picnic or a multiday camping trip, finding the best cooler will make your trip that much more enjoyable.

We spent the summer testing dozens of coolers to help you find the right pick. This article focuses specifically on hard coolers, but if you’re looking for something else, check out our reviews of the Best Soft Coolers of 2021 and the Best Backpack Coolers of 2021.

Scroll through to see all of our recommended buys or jump to the category you’re looking for:

The Best Coolers of 2021

Best Overall: RTIC 45-Quart

RTIC 45

If you’re considering dropping some cash on a rotomolded cooler (maybe a YETI), there’s no good reason not to consider an RTIC as well. This 45-Quart RTIC cooler ($199 on sale) performed fantastic in testing, is easy to transport (as long as you’ve got two people), and has not one but two drain plugs for efficient draining.

What we liked in terms of function: the textured grips on the rope handles are comfortable and provide a good grip when hauling a full cooler, and the drain plugs on each side are fantastic if your cooler ends up on a slight slope at a campsite.

In terms of ice retention, the RTIC was hard to beat. It lasted for 9 full days, putting the insulation, thickness, and design of this cooler pretty top of mind for us.

This cooler is also advertised as bear-resistant, and it has built-in tie-down points and molded latches to lock up your cooler contents. Overall, we really enjoyed both using and testing this cooler — any larger volume, though, and we’d want it to have wheels.

Despite no wheels, the RTIC won out for us over the YETI because of its great ice retention, lighter weight, array of features, and the fact it’s half the price at just $200.

  • Tested in temps up to 97 degrees
  • Capacity: 45 qt. (36 cans)
  • Weight: 25 lb.
  • Ice retention grade: 5/5
  • Usability grade: 4/5
  • Overall grade: 10/10
  • Letter grade: Our staff gave the RTIC an A+.

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at RTIC

Runner-Up: YETI Tundra Haul Wheeled Cooler

YETI Tundra Haul 45 Hard Cooler

You were probably all expecting this: a YETI to top our cooler review. And it came close, with the YETI ranking as a staff favorite and holding out for 10 full days in our ice retention test. But we can’t claim it will keep contents cold for any amount of time — or at least the brand won’t offer any claim to ice retention (all the other cooler brands we tested do).

The YETI Tundra Wheeled cooler ($399) has all the features you could want: a great design, great construction, high-quality materials, versatile volume, and more.

The YETI Tundra is a tried and tested favorite. If you spend much of your time outside, especially for long periods of time, it’s a fantastic cooler to consider. But at $400, it will cost a pretty penny. As one of our editors put it, “You get what you pay for, and with YETI you get all that with extra price.”

  • Tested in temps up to 97 degrees
  • Capacity: 45 qt. (45 cans with ice)
  • Weight: 37 lb.
  • Ice retention grade: 5/5
  • Usability grade: 5/5
  • Overall grade: 10/10
  • Letter grade: Our staff gave the YETI an A.

Check Price at YETICheck Price at REI

Best Budget: Coleman 70-Quart

coleman 316 series navy blue 70 quart cooler

A 70-quart cooler for under 50 bucks? Oh yeah, Coleman’s got it. The newer Coleman 316 Series is home to 52-, 62-, 65-, 70-, and 100-quart coolers (some are wheeled options). We tested the 70-quart, and it made the top of our list for the best budget cooler.

The Coleman 316 70-Quart ($48) has foam insulation, a drain plug, and two carry handles. It’s got a spacious capacity (note: heavy when full). And it’s simple and effective for keeping a haul of perishables cold for shorter-length excursions.

In testing, the Coleman hit the brand’s claimed ice retention mark exactly, staying iced for 5 days before fully melting. That said, it’s not as long as other coolers on this list.

We noticed some gaps/cracks/imperfections in the construction. The plastic hinges also aren’t our favorite in terms of quality, so you’ll want to be more careful in terms of usage to keep it in working shape. But for $48 and a 70-quart volume, this cooler can’t be beat.

  • Tested in temps up to 97 degrees
  • Capacity: 70 qt. (100 cans)
  • Weight: 12.5 lb.
  • Ice retention grade: 4/5
  • Usability grade: 4/5
  • Overall grade: 8/10
  • Letter grade: Our staff gave the Coleman a C.

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at Walmart

Longest Ice Retention: Orca 40-Quart Cooler

ORCA 40 quart

While the Orca didn’t win overall, it does deserve accolades high up on our list because it performed the best in testing when it came to keeping ice iced — in other words, keeping contents cold.

Out of 10 coolers, only four in testing made it to 9 days outside, and just two still with ice on day 10. The Orca 40-Quart ($319) ultimately won out over the YETI. Its ice was fully melted on day 11 at 10 a.m. (meaning it stayed iced for 10 full days). Ice in the YETI melted around 6 a.m. on day 11, so a pretty marginal difference.

Superior ice retention aside, the Orca is a solid cooler. The flex-grip handles are comfortable and make for an easy carry. Our tester likes that there’s a cargo net accessory, which gives extra space to carry small items on the outside. And the brand delivered on non-standard design elements like 11 fun, bold colors (blaze orange, lime, and sea foam, to name a few) to choose from.

And unlike most coolers, they’re made in the U.S. Bonus points for Orca!

  • Tested in temps up to 85 degrees
  • Capacity: 40 qt. (48 cans)
  • Weight: 30 lb.
  • Ice retention grade: 5/5
  • Usability grade: 4/5
  • Overall grade: 9/10
  • Letter grade: Our staff gave the Orca an A.

Check Price at Bass ProCheck Price at Orca Coolers

Best Sustainable Material: Taiga Terra 27

taiga hemp

It’s hard not to like everything about the Taiga Terra ($199). It’s packable, it’s comparable to the big boys of brand-name coolers, and it’s sustainable. How? Taiga’s coolers are unique in that all the insulation is made from hemp.

Specifically made with hemp-filled polypropylene, the construction of the Taiga cuts back on petroleum plastic without compromising on performance. This has become a go-to cooler for weekend trips, hunt camp, fishing trips, and more. It’s rated to keep ice-cold for up to 7 days. And at just $200, it’s pretty dang affordable.

Like Orcas, Taigas are also American-made. And each cooler travels less than 200 miles while being made, cutting way down on the carbon consumption usually needed to make an injection-molded cooler. Sustainability aside, our staff tester would still rate the Taiga as a nice competitor to the YETI.

All the way around, the Taiga Cooler encompasses a lot of our favorite things upfront. And when it comes to utility, it stays out front. This is a great cooler.

  • Tested in temps up to 80 degrees
  • Capacity: 27 qt. (up to 24 cans)
  • Weight: N/A
  • Ice retention grade: 5/5
  • Usability grade: 4.5/5
  • Overall grade: 9.5/10
  • Letter grade: Our staff gave the Taiga an A.

Check Price at Taiga Coolers

Best of the Rest

ROVR RollR 60-Quart

ROVR RollR wheeled cooler with bike hitch attachment and pull handle

If anyone does wheeled coolers best, it might be RovR. The RollR 60-Quart ($449) — an apt name — has really nice, solid all-terrain wheels joined by a 12.5mm steel axle. The RovR brand also offers lots of add-ons and accessories (like cargo mesh attachments, and insulated storage bags) to up its versatility for different types of adventures.

The RovR is also Certified Bear Proof from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, putting it high up on the list of suitable coolers if you spent a lot of time deep in the backcountry.

  • Tested in temps up to 85 degrees
  • Capacity: 60 qt. (40-60 cans)
  • Weight: 40 lb.

Check Price at REICheck Price at Evo

Stanley Adventure Cooler 30-Quart

stanley 30

Stanley’s 30-quart cooler ($165) was a bit of a dark horse in testing that exceeded expectations. Taller than most coolers (21 inches tall by 18.5 inches wide), the 30-quart cooler is designed to be compact yet accommodate 2L bottles, wine bottles, and longnecks.

This Stanley cooler lasted nearly two times longer than the brand’s claimed ice retention rate of 4 days in testing. This really impressed us, especially given its volume is on the smaller side. We also noticed the seal on the lid was high-quality, which may be a factor in its ice retention powers.

It keeps things really cold, and it’s leakproof, compact, and versatile. If you’re only using your cooler for one or two people, this one is a great buy.

  • Tested in temps up to 85 degrees
  • Capacity: 28-30 qt. (40 cans)
  • Weight: 13.5 lb.

Check Price at BackcountryCheck Price at Stanley

Igloo 25-Quart Picnic Cooler

igloo retro cooler with red body and watermelon handles and lid

No drain plug, but the smaller yet capable 25-quart size makes that OK. This Igloo Picnic cooler ($49) is not only a decades-old classic (now out in new “retro” colors), but it’s also a great size for day-trip outings like excursions to the park, city trailhead, or your favorite lake.

At a park picnic, I was able to fit bottles, cans, and flasks as well as boxes, bins, and bags of snacks galore. (If you aren’t packing food for snacking, it can hold 36 cans.)

We used it for day trips and car camping and liked its size (it can fit in your passenger seat area), capacity, and convenience for a few days’ worth of food and drink.

In testing, this cooler kept contents cold for 3 full days, and this was with us periodically opening on occasion to check ice retention. (Igloo claims retention for this cooler at 1-3 days.) Given all that, we give this cooler an A+ for not only living up to specs but being a perfect, totable, budget-friendly option for shorter-length trips outdoors.

  • Tested in temps up to 85 degrees
  • Capacity: 25 qt. (36 cans)
  • Weight: 5.5 lb.

Check Price at Igloo CoolersCheck Price at Walmart

Pelican 45-Quart Elite Wheeled Cooler

pelican cooler

Weighing in at 37 pounds and measuring 19 x 12 x 12 inches on the interior, the Pelican 45-Quart Elite cooler ($390) offers a nice volume and heavy-duty hauling powers. What we liked: it’s heavy-duty and durable. It’s also got a fair amount of features: dual latches, a bearproof design (that’s actually Certified Bear Proof from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee), and more.

Of all the coolers I lugged in and out of my car (and up to my sixth-floor condo), this one was the clunkiest. I didn’t like the handle at all or the angle when towing, though the wheels are bigger than the ones on other coolers and more easily traveled over gravel and uneven trails.

If you’re putting a premium on durability and have garage space, the Pelican Wheeled 45-Quart is still a good option worth considering.

  • Tested in temps up to 97 degrees
  • Capacity: 45 qt. (28 cans with ice)
  • Weight: 37 lb.

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at Walmart

GOAT HUB 70 Cooler

goat 70 hub

The Goat Hub is one of the best ideas in the cooler market at the moment. This high-grade cooler system pairs a full modular organization system with a high-performing cooler. Four separate in-cooler compartments provide storage, and a net provides a spot to stash gear like coats or dry snacks. Goat Hub boasts a plethora of themed and co-branded canisters as well, ranging from first aid kits to cooking kits to shelter kits.

Here’s the rub: The Goat Hub 70 ($499) is a big cooler. With the canisters coming off at the corners and the non-rectangular shape, it takes up a lot of space in the back of a truck or SUV. And it can get very heavy when loaded down with food and filled canisters.

In our testing, it didn’t make sense to bring it on most trips, which pulled its usability score down a bit. It just took up too much space.

So, who’s the Goat Hub good for? In our opinion, this is an excellent option for folks who aren’t moving coolers around a ton or have a lot of hands on deck to help out. Summer camps, front-country hunting camps or cabins, bigger fishing boats — these all come to mind as the perfect home for a Goat Hub.

  • Tested in temps up to 80 degrees
  • Capacity: 45 qt.
  • Weight: 42 lb. (that’s empty!)

Check Price at GOAT Coolers

Cooler Comparisons: Ice Retention, Functionality, and More

cooler igloo 25 quart hardsided cooler

How cold your ice or cooler contents stay is pretty important, but it’s not the whole picture. In addition to ice retention, we also looked at each cooler’s usability and functionality (does it have wheels or a carry handle, and is it durable?), as well as other features (is it designed to fit tall bottles like wine, and can it lock?)

We then gave each cooler a grade on ice retention, usability, and overall as well as a letter grade. These grades aren’t meant to say one cooler is better than another (all the coolers that made our list were the best of the best) but to give you a better idea of why we liked each cooler.

A Note on Testing

all coolers in testing

Given how wildly ice retention rates can fluctuate, we wanted to take a minute to explain our cooler testing criteria and methods.

Variables that can affect ice retention include the ice quantity, outside environment and temp, exposure/amount of sunlight, type of ice (crushed, block, cube, dry), airspace, and more.

For our head-to-head test, we filled all the coolers up with the same type of cubed ReddyIce to their listed volume and placed them outside in areas with mostly sun, in conditions between 70 and 100 degrees. We checked each cooler’s ice retention/melt rate three times a day and recorded the time and temp for each one. We also noted the time once each cooler’s ice was fully melted.

This test was not meant to be purely scientific, but rather reflect realistic use of a cooler outdoors and accurately compare cooler performance (though we did make sure all coolers were subjected to the same variables and criteria as much as possible).

Also, we did not include soft coolers, backpack coolers, or electric coolers in this test.

Buyer’s Guide

Type of Insulation

With the exception of the Taiga hemp cooler we tested, cooler insulation hasn’t really evolved much over the years. Coolers use a few different sorts of foam or petroleum-based insulation, typically double-walled. Where each cooler on this varies is the thickness of the cooler itself.

Size and Volume

The sweet spot volume of all the coolers we tested was a 40-45 quart cooler. In terms of the different sizes we noticed that each brand offers, 30- and 60-quarts are also popular.

You’ll want to consider not only how much cooler space you may want for different adventures, but perhaps the most important factor — a cooler’s dimensions. You don’t want to buy the perfect cooler only to find out that it doesn’t fit in your car when packed, or in a spot on your storage shelf.

It’s also a good idea to think about the items you’ll be keeping cool, and make sure those (maybe a coffee press for camping, or wine bottles) fit the internal dimensions too.

Handles or Wheels?

Some would say this is personal preference, but in my opinion, it all comes down to your cooler volume and what you’re hauling. So, if you are leaning toward a 20-40-quart cooler, realize that you don’t really need wheels.

If you are going to invest in a 60, 70, 100+ quart cooler, definitely consider one with wheels, or at least one with a few different carry options (tow handles, grips, two-person carry, etc.)

If you are frequently loading up on ice and filling that bad boy with cans, you may want something with wheels. Or maybe not, if you plan on rolling that cooler over rugged terrain. But, if you know you’ll be hauling your cooler around with family or friends, a two-handled one may work just fine.

I also really appreciate when wheeled coolers have handles that are wide enough so you can roll the cooler alongside you, instead of tripping over it (or your own feet).

FAQ

What Is the Best Hard Cooler?

There is no single best cooler. Really, what’s most important is what you’ll be using the cooler for and how often. If you plan on taking it out every week, a more durable cooler is probably the best pick. If your cooler price range is limited, go with our budget pick.

We’ve listed the best cooler (based on our feedback and testing) but also the second best, best sustainable material, and a few others for you to choose from.

What Is the Most Durable Cooler?

The most durable cooler in our testing was a tie between the YETI and the Pelican 45-Quart Elite cooler.

What Is the Best Cooler For the Money?

Out of the coolers we tested, you really can’t go wrong with Igloo or Coleman coolers. Both are great quality for the price.

Conversely, most people wonder if YETI is worth that high price tag. The answer is yes, but it’s also overkill for many people — do you really need a cooler to keep ice cold for 10 days? Are you beating up a cooler enough that you need rotomolded construction? Most of us aren’t off the grid into rugged environments for that long or very often.

cooler yeti rtic
YETI vs. RTIC: Rotomolded Cooler Breakdown

YETI and RTIC have some of the most durable coolers around with surprisingly long-lasting ice life. We take a look at the pros and cons of each brand and compare a couple of the brand's best sellers. Read more…

What Is the Best Type of Cooler to Buy?

If you’re looking for the best cooler to keep contents cold, a hardside cooler is much better than a softside one. They are also more durable.

But really, the answer to this question is so personal. What’s the best type of cooler for you? If you need help answering that question or narrowing down your choices, we’d recommend comparing our best picks.

Are Hard Coolers Better Than Soft?

Hard coolers usually offer more insulation and much more protection (both inside the cooler and on the exterior). They also offer features soft coolers can’t, like drainage plugs and wheels for easy transport. Many are even equipped with latches and locks to be bear-resistant so you don’t have to worry about leaving them outside at camp.

If you need a cooler that will live in your garage or vehicle and you can also take to the field, beach, or camp, a hard cooler is better. But if you’re concerned about carrying it longer distances or care about weight, a soft cooler might be better. The best option: get one of each!


camp stoves lined up on a table outside
The Best Camping Stoves of 2021

We tested the best camping stoves from Coleman, Camp Chef, Kovea, Snow Peak, and more for this review. Check it out to see how each performs and which stove came out on top. Read more…

best camping chairs of 2021
The Best Camping Chairs of 2021

Whether car camping or hiking in to your favorite lakeside campsite, we found and tested the best camping chairs for every use and budget. Read more…