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Buying a cooler can be an important investment since a cooler or ice chest can last you for many years to come and especially, keep your things cold as an igloo for even a few days. It is very less likely that you will opt to replace a cooler if you already have a great one. Therefore, it can be beneficial to research your needs and preferences properly to make an informed choice between so many cooler brands and models, since you don’t want to end up with a cooler without the features you need or end up compromising on quality because of a price tag. You will need to consider a lot of variables if you wish to buy the perfect one for yourself.
Whether you want to buy a simple cooler for your workplace lunch needs, or you need a bigger plastic premium cooler, you will need to look online and make your choice amongst a wide variety of options available to you. Some types of coolers keep your items cold for merely a few hours, whereas some others can keep them cool for a week or even more.
There are also additional features you will need to explore if you wish to buy a cooler. These include whether or not you need additional storage that comes with the cooler, if you wanted to be soft sided, shoulder straps for your adventures, whether you need an easy-to-access lid if you are going to carry the cooler with a handle, wheels or any other method. Another feature to look into is whether or not the cooler is waterproof in case you get caught in the rain while out on a vacation.
This is obviously not all. The list is naturally very long and you will want certain preferences for features. This is something you will have to look into, but to be sure that you are making an informed choice, we have compiled a list of features here and we are here to help you make the right choice. Let’s first go over a general summary of all the features you will have to consider before you make your choice. This will lay out in a clear and concise way what the common and recommended considerations are when you research a cooler. If you have a better idea of what to look for, you can have a much better and easier buying experience and save money and effort in the process as well, since you will be able to naturally filter out all the options you do not want.
See all you need to know about keeping your food cold as an igloo in this RTIC vs Yeti cooler buyer’s guide.
This is the primary consideration and the most straightforward one as well. However, even within size itself, you will have to make the choice on the basis of two metrics to consider. Firstly, you will need to pick from the size in relation to the storage capacity. And secondly, you will also have to look for the right overall dimensions that the cooler itself is made up of, in case you need to fit it in your car or vehicle for your road trips, or if you want to carry it like a backpack with some shoulder straps.
Firstly, let’s look at the storage capacity of the cooler you need. How many cans or items do you need to keep cold? This is calculated on the basis of the volume you need. You will need to ensure of the right volume that will fit your needs, and measure according to the inside of the compartment as the insulation barrier can take up a significant amount of the storage area and volume. In other words, just because a cooler claims to be able to store 50 quarts of volume, does not mean it can store that much amount of volume of items that require to be cold. In soft-sided coolers especially, it is common to have two separate compartments within the coolers where you carry chilled and non-chilled items. This is not necessarily a bad thing, if you need to carry items that do not require refrigeration of any kind, the other compartment can be useful for you. However, if you need a cooler exclusively for carrying perishable items, then it is useful to look up exactly how much the capacity is and whether all of it applies to the chilled area.
One more issue that you might run into is the actual shape of the insides of the storage container. For example, if you want maximized space in your cooler, but the shape of the container inside itself is a random shape like a hexagon, then you will not be able to use the cooler to your advantage. If, say, you want to carry along item and your cooler is shaped to be square and does not allow the long item to fit inside comfortable because of its dimensions, then that is not the right choice for you. This is something you will have to look into depending on the type of items you are carrying and make sure that the ice chest you are looking at will be able to hold the items comfortably without any kind of contorting.
Also, another aspect of a size that you will have to consider is to weigh in the space that ice packs themselves will take up. You will, after all, need to pack in ice packs along with your items to carry with you to keep the items cool, and this will help you maximize the cooler’s life, however, this ice will take up a significant amount of the insulated volume from the inside container. This means that you will need to plan ahead and figure out which kinds of items you will need to carry, and how much you need to maximize your cooler’s life accordingly so that you can have the best possible results. We would recommend going for one size too big rather than having to compromise with your requirements at the last minute. This might also mean that carrying around a bigger compartment will be a bit inconvenient, but that is a much better deal than having no space for the things you need.
The other aspect of size is how big the cooler itself is, and whether or not it will fit into the vehicle that you need to transport it in during your road trips. Coolers come in all sorts of sizes making their transportation and storage quite cumbersome. Make sure you are buying the right size for your needs, as buying a cooler that is too large may create space concerns if it cannot fit in your car, tent, yacht, or whichever vehicle you use. The more durable the cooler, and the longer it promises to preserve cold your perishable items, the thicker its walls will be. That combined with the required space you need to accommodate all your perishable items as well as some leeway for the ice packs that you will need to include will result in quite a huge cooler. This is why you need to make sure that the place you will be carrying or storing your cooler in has adequate space to fit it. Another benefit is that you will not have to lug around a cooler that is the wrong size for you since it isn’t fitting in your vehicle itself.
One solution to this problem can be soft sided coolers whose shape can contort to fit your requirements easily, so it can take up less space when you don’t need to fit too many items in it. By the time you near the end of your vacation days, the container will become empty enough that you can simply push it away so that they aren’t taking any space at all. On the other hand, if you opt for hard-sided coolers, you will have to accommodate for their volume irrespective of the number of items you have in it.
Coolers come in a wide variety of materials that you can choose from, like plastic or even stainless steel. These days, there are far more options because of the online market and technological advancements in preservations that even within each type of material, there are different subcategories from which you can make your choice. However, since this is a summary post, we will go over some of the main materials that are used in manufacturing coolers.
Firstly, let’s look at the most common material used to make coolers, plastic. It is the unanimous universally preferred choice for hard-sided coolers. It is tough, it is lightweight, it is cheap and it is definitely waterproof. In addition to that, it does a great job at insulation, far better than other variants. What’s not to like? All these features of plastic make it the go-to choice for coolers. There are many manufacturing processes that produce different types of plastics that can affect the kind of insulation you get, the budget as well as the weight, however. The most premium coolers will advertise that they are constructed in their rotomolded method. This is a method through which a singular piece of plastic is molded into the preferred shape, as opposed to attaching different pieces of plastics together. This results in a waterproof, seal-proof cooler that does not have any weak points or stress areas where it could potentially break. This is the highest quality of plastic coolers you will get in the market, as this is the stronger and better-performing device, this is why many cooler brands use it. If we see this in an RTIC vs YETI perspective, both coolers have this feature making them both the superior performers in the cooler market.
In addition, many of the plastic coolers that are cheaper will come with plastic hardware and hinges instead of a stronger material. This can sometimes cause issues as they are not as strong as metals. All this is determined by what life you want from your cooler and what are you looking for in a price tag.
Stainless Steel Metal is another type of cooler material, but it is significantly less common than its plastic counterpart. Usually, you will get metals in the hinges, latches, handles and other hardware used with the cooler. You can have a metal zipper that can be pulled back or metal handles. However, metal is quite an expensive material to use and so you will generally only find it in the higher end cooler brands. The price increase, however, is quite justifiable since most people look for durability as an important criterion for buying a cooler. In addition, metal hardware is also far more aesthetically appealing than its plastic counterpart.
Now let’s explore the materials used in soft sided coolers. One of the most common materials is rubber, which is implemented by most soft sided coolers in their design. However, most of the times it is only implemented in the most strategic areas. For example, rubber seals can help create far stronger insulation and an air-tight barrier between the insides of the box and the outside. Rubber is also used to assist in gripping or to create slip-resistant handles for easier access, rubber wheels if your cooler comes with wheels, and also rubber plugs if your cooler has a drain underneath. Generally, however, rubber is seen as an accessorizing material and won’t be used to make the larger box itself.
Fabric is the most popular soft-sided cooler material, and coolers of this sort are made of several types of fabrics on the outside of the box. Fabrics differ greatly in each kind of criteria such as strength (some people need it to be bear proof, for example), waterproofing ability, insulation ability, and other criteria like the warranty. You might have already seen fabric insulation on the cheap lunch tote bags or coffee bags that you get for just a few bucks, however, these will have fabrics that will break easily through wear-and-tear and also offer mediocre insulation. However, some high-quality fabrics will offer the kind of strength that is comparable to even rubber. This is because they often come with stronger types of textiles interwoven into them, such as nylon and other plastic blends, which can also provide great insulation. The choice, in the end, is entirely up to you depending on your requirements and preferences.
Carrying a cooler from one place to another is no easy feat, especially when it’s full. Often, you will need another person to grab the other end so you can carry it to wherever you need it. This is both because of how many pounds the cooler weight itself as well as the sheer size of it making it cumbersome to use. Some of the largest sizes of coolers can be as big as several feet, which is why it is necessary to look into the types of handles that it offers that will make carrying it easier for you.
The most common types of handles, for example, side handles or rope handles that can be carried by two people at a time. These are usually added for bigger containers and simply put, are handles placed on either side of the longer ends of coolers to allow one or more people to carry it. Smaller coolers can easily be carried by only one person, but with larger coolers, it is helpful to take help from another person to carry the cooler. These side handles are attached to the container with pivoting handles, built-in cavities that are molded into the plastic itself on the sides, or sometimes even ropes with plastic grips.
A lid handle is another type of handle on the top of the cooler where the lid is closed that is meant for only one person to carry. This is usually used for smaller coolers and is useful since it allows the user to leave one hand free and carry it along with their side instead of in front which can make carrying it easier. However, the single handle is not as failproof or as strong as other methods, which means it is restricted to smaller coolers and comes with coolers than insist on lightweight containment only.
Some shoulder straps can be an extremely convenient way to carry a cooler especially while hiking or camping during your road trips, which allows the user to be completely hands-free. This can be great for someone who wants to carry multiple items but does not want to make several trips back and forth. In addition, your hands will not get tired and you will not have to switch between each hand to ease the fatigue. This option is usually available with the soft-sided smaller coolers.
Wheels are another way to ease carrying the cooler around. Most of the large hard-sided coolers come with wheel configurations that are optional to use. This can be very useful to prevent fatigue from carrying an extremely heavy and large cooler by hand and allows for a large cooler to be transported by only one person. This way you can simply push or pull the cooler, making heavy ice chests very easy to transport. This, however, can prove to be a problem on rough terrains, or even in sands, as wet sand can get lodged in the wheels and prevent them from working properly.
This is perhaps the most important criterion to consider since this is the main reason you would even use a cooler – to keep your things cool! While it can be great to opt for a cooler that keeps things as cool as possible for as long as possible, you don’t need to invest in a cooler that keeps things cool for a week if you only need it for a short day trip to the beach.
You will need to determine how long you need to keep your items cool and make your selection of coolers according to your requirements. Once you make sure of how long you need your items to be cool, you can filter out the coolers with the unnecessary or inadequate features and make the right choice for you.
With coolers that keep your stuff cool for a few hours, you will likely not need to carry any ice, so this is a good thing to take into consideration while opting for coolers according to size. Aside from the cheap and soft-sided tote bag kind of coolers, most coolers should manage to keep your perishable items cool for about a day.
Only the best coolers will be able to keep your perishables cool for more than a few days. Most of these will be constructed from high-quality materials, have rotomolded manufacture, and have metal hardware, rubber insulation, and other high-performing features.
This is an important criterion to nail down before you buy your cooler as most coolers are simply not waterproof. You do not want to end up in the downpour in the middle of your camping trip or trip to the beach and end up finding out that all your perishables are drenched in water. If the ice inside melts, will it soak up your belongings completely or will it hold the water inside? Most hard-sided coolers do not have a problem with this, but especially rotomolded coolers like the RTIC and YETI coolers should be 100% waterproof.
This is probably the most subjective criteria that may or may not matter to you. Some people might prefer a very aesthetically cool looking cooler, while some others are more than willing to forego looks for utility. There is, however, a wide variety of choices for you to choose from if looks are an important criterion you need in your cooler. They may come in a wide variety of colors and designs, and some may even come in your favorite team colors! If you are looking for a stylish and fashionable tote cooler to carry with you to work that will match your attire, then this is a consideration you need to keep in mind.
There are a lot of completely arbitrary features that you probably don’t need, but would be nice to have with your new cooler and would improve your experience of it by a small margin. Also, it is nice to show off new features to your friends that they might not have seen before in coolers. These include fishing equipment like rulers to measure your caught fish, detachable water bottles, cup holders, built-in can openers and bottle openers, lights, drain plugs, cutting boards on top of the lids, base risers, grooved slots to stick in your ice packs, free included silverware with silverware slots, and so on. The list of features that comes with your cooler is endless and the more money you spend on your cooler, the more varied and interesting features you will get with your cooler.
This is arguably a big giant in the cooler line in the industry. Yeti offers a wide variety of coolers and ice chests in different size and shapes, both in soft-shelled and hard-shelled varieties.
The YETI Roadie series is designed for smaller trips where mobility and weight is a more important priority than storage size and maximizing cooling. The YETI Tundra is the bigger model designed for longer trips with larger coolers, with a broad range in sizes from very small (size Yeti 50) to enormous (size Yeti 350).
Yeti’s soft-sided coolers are called the Hoppers. Since they don’t have plastic hard walls, the Hoppers are much more compact, lightweight and convenient to use than the traditional harder ones. However, you will also get a reduced ice life and reduced durability with soft-sided models as well, so you will have to figure out which ones are better according to your needs.
Compared to YETI, RTIC is a much newer company that has only been established in 2014. However, don’t underestimate them as in such a short period of time, they have established themselves as a formidable opponent to the YETI Coolers. They compete on the basis of the budget which has helped them consolidate a large market.
RTIC hard-sided coolers are simply called Rotomolded coolers, and they come in 5 sizes, from the portable 20-liter size all the way to the 145-liter size. Their soft-sided coolers are called SoftPak coolers and come in sizes that directly compete with the YETI soft-sided coolers.
Choosing a better company for coolers between both these formidable opponents is nearly impossible. Both companies bring a lot to the table and have a wide variety of closely competing for features. Because of this, both companies end up giving the consumer the best features available in the market at great prices, which is great for you. Let’s go over a quick summary of what we found researching about both these companies in the various criteria that we have talked about above.
This one was also too close for the call, but YETI takes this one by a short margin in online reviews. RTIC’s coolers, however, do not allow for more storage in the size department, because of which we would like to give YETI this advantage in this criteria.
While Yeti made a great showing with ice life, RTIC’s increased storage size has allowed for more ice to be fitted in with the container, leading to increased ice life. This added to the similar build quality and insulation in both of them means that we found that RTIC edged out YETI by a very thin margin.
When we talk about durability, we are talking about the cooler’s ability to perform its job when it is exposed to challenging or uncertain environments, as well as how well it lasts with the occasional drop or trauma to the material while outside in rough terrains.
This one was found to be a total tie in the durability department. Both the companies have very similar results from reviews online, as they have similar components and materials in their build. RTIC does have a few additional features in the build quality, but this does not translate well enough to be able to overtake the YETI with respect to durability.
You would be surprised to know just how expensive a premium cooler can be. Some of them go up to several hundred dollars, and some can even go up to a thousand dollars, making this a very important factor to take into consideration while measuring up these companies.
RTIC sells its products directly from an online site which makes a difference in the consistency of the price, and up until recently, the price differences were extreme considering RTIC did not have to pay expenses to keep any stores running.
RTIC is the clear winner in this criterion, as their fantastic prices are simply too low for YETI to come even remotely close. In a lot of the price takedown, we found large gaps in the prices, which makes a lot of difference for someone looking for the best set of features in a given budget.
As we explored above, looks do play a part in deciding which company’s cooler you would like to go for, particularly when you are paying the sky-high price to obtain a premium cooler that will last you many years. This is, however, a difficult criterion to make an objective choice in since multiple people will have a different opinion of what is aesthetically appealing. Personally, for example, I do not think sports team logos are a great idea to go on a cooler, but I’m sure many people would disagree with me.
For people who care about this slightly subjective criterion, YETI is the clear winner here. Because it has so many years of experience over RTIC, it offers a broad range of colors and patterns to choose from which is a category where RTIC falls way behind. YETI offers products where you can even find your favorite team’s logo stamped on them. This is simply not available in the RTIC category, which makes them a clear loser here. Aside from this specialty too, they have a wide variety of colors and designs available to you while RTIC simply doesn’t, with its sole color being the quintessential white and tan. How boring!
One important feature that we have not yet talked about is the company reputation. This may be a wide metric but is extremely important irrespective. With this, YETI is just about the best you can get with customer service and company reputation. They have simply been around for far too long and established themselves as a consumer-oriented company in the while. RTIC, on the other hand, relies heavily on word-of-mouth and does not spend much money on its marketing and advertising department, and this clearly shows. They may have made great strides in the short amount of time they have been in the cooler industry, but this difference clearly shows making YETI the clear winner in this category.
Customer service can be a complicated and subjective thing with no clear answers. However, it appears that again, YETI with its much longer base has an established customer service center with far more help available to anyone who needs it. This makes a difference as people have mentioned online that RTIC seems to have gotten smug with its recent and quick success and customer service is failing as a result. It appears too, that RTIC is not able to keep up with its sudden industry demand and provide products in stock for its customers. Whether this is a temporary issue or not is up for the time to show, but in the meanwhile, we would like to give YETI the clear winner’s position for this category as well.
Ultimately, no matter which company has your personal brand loyalty, we would say that both of the companies competing in this article are quite close and should give you an excellent high-performing cooler that should last you many years. These coolers are well worth the investment and can deliver the ultimate outdoor food lover experience.
Do you agree with our list?
Which cooler would you like to go for? We would love to know your opinion on this, so please let us know below!
Ben Holt is a real-life adventurer having traveled across the United States living in an RV, living his best life as a certified personal trainer. On his many travels, Ben has tried, tested, and discovered his favorite outdoors gear and lives to help others discover the go-to gear that keeps him going. He is also a seasoned writer and asks all the right questions so you can all make a smarter buying decision!