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id="article-body" class="row" section="article-body"> Now playing: Watch this: 12 coolers tested: Which ones are worth the cash? 3:23 From tailgating to summer barbecues, a dependable, portable cooler that isn't a pain to lug around is an awfully nice thing to have on hand -- and these days, you've got more options than ever. That's largely thanks to the rise of "rotomolded" heavy-duty coolers that promise significantly better insulation than traditional coolers, albeit at a much higher price than you're probably used to paying -- typically, hundreds of dollars.

2 years agoSo are they worth their asking prices? And can any of the cheaper ones keep up? That's what I wanted to know, so I turned to the usual suspects -- Igloo, Coleman, Rubbermaid -- and lugged their most popular models into the CNET Appliances test lab, where we pitted them against the rotomolded likes of coolers from Yeti, Orca, Rovr, Pelican, RTIC, Cabela's and more. Our mission? Find the best coolers of the bunch, and figure out if the rotomolded, hard-sided coolers are worth the cold, hard cash. 

Read: The best outdoor tech of 2019  

After several weeks of hands-on testing and countless ambient temperature readings, we were ready to separate the winners from the also-rans. Here's everything I learned, starting with the coolers I think you should rush out and buy before it gets any hotter out.

Disclosure: CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page. The products featured were chosen independently by CNET editors.      

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Best rotomolded cooler Cabela's Polar Cap Equalizer Cooler $300 at Cabela's

Best value pick Igloo MaxCold Cooler $61 on Amazon

Best rotomolded value pick RTIC 65 Cooler $231 on Amazon

Best performance Yeti Tundra 45 $300 on Amazon

Best design Lifetime High Performance Cooler $97 at Walmart

Best mobility Rovr Rollr 60 Cooler $400 at Amazon

Best cooler for cheapskates Igloo Recool Biodegradable Cooler $10 at REI

Enlarge Image Tyler Lizenby/CNET Best rotomolded coolers
Cabela's Polar Cap Equalizer Cooler, $300  
Orca Classic Cooler, $300


Enlarge ImageCabela's cooler finished in a dead heat with last year's rotomolded champ, the Orca Classic Cooler, which also costs $300. I say take your pick between them.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET Rotomolding is short for rotational molding, a manufacturing technique that literally spins the mold as the plastic is poured in. The result: plastic that's more durable, more uniform in density and, most importantly in the case of coolers, better at insulation.

Rotomolded coolers don't come cheap, but they're demonstrably better than the competition at keeping things cold. The best we've seen from a pure performance standpoint comes from Yeti -- but the extra-thick walls of that heavy-duty cooler mean that you're getting seriously shortchanged on inches and capacity (more on that in just a bit).

Out of the rest of the rotomolded field, our top performers were the Orca Classic Cooler and the Cabela's Polar Cap Equalizer Cooler, which each cost $300. They essentially tied in my performance tests, so picking between them really comes down to taste. The Cabela's cooler offers slightly more space inside (about 3 quarts' worth), and it includes clever bottle opener openers built into the rubber latches. Meanwhile, the Orca cooler comes in better-looking colors, and it's a bit more comfortable to carry since it doesn't have rigid molded handles that jut out over top of the roped handles.

Available at Cabela's
Read the full Orca Classic Cooler review

Available at AmazonEnlarge Image Tyler Lizenby/CNET Best value picks
Igloo MaxCold Cooler, $45
RTIC 65 Cooler, $231

Enlarge ImageThe rotomolded RTIC 65 didn't perform as well as the Yeti, Cabela's or Orca models, but with roughly a 73-quart capacity, it also had a bigger job on its hands than those three. Currently available for $230, it's about as close to a value pick as you'll find among rotomolded coolers.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET If you just want a dependable cooler that's not too expensive, put the Igloo MaxCold at the top of your list. Prices vary based on where and when you buy, but I scored mine on sale last year for $45. That makes it the only cooler available for less than $50 that remains in the top five of my performance tests, a list that now includes two years' worth of contenders. In fact, it finished in fourth. Only the Yeti, Cabela's and Orca managed to outperform it -- and again, each of those costs $300.

The MaxCold's plasticky build and dated design aren't anything fancy to look at, but it covers the basics by including a drainage spout and a latch for the lid (not every cooler in this price range does). Plus, it's sturdy enough to sit on, which could come in handy during your next camping trip. All of that adds up to a lot of value -- enough so that the MaxCold earned an overall score of 8.2 here on CNET, higher than any other cooler I've reviewed.


Read the full Igloo MaxCold Cooler review

Available at AmazonLooking for a rotomolded value? Check out the RTIC 65. It's a large cooler that'll hold about twice as many cans as the Yeti, but it currently costs about 25% less. The 1-year warranty is shorter than you'll get with most other rotomolded options, but if you just want a budget pick, it fits the bill.

Available at AmazonEnlarge Image Tyler Lizenby/CNET Best performance
Yeti Tundra 45 Cooler, $300

I told you a couple of paragraphs ago that the $300 Yeti Tundra 45 was our top-performing cooler, but I should also add that it really wasn't close. With walls that are about 2.75 inches thick, it's insulated better than any other cooler that I've tested to date, which is key for performance.

Lots of insulation means that the Yeti can do more with less. With just 3 pounds of ice -- not even enough to fully cover the bottom of the cooler -- the Yeti was able to pull its internal ambient temperature down by almost 25 degrees, the second biggest temperature drop of the group. The cooler from Cabela's hit a minimum temperature that was about 1 degree lower, but unlike the Yeti, it wasn't able to hold that minimum for very long. In fact, after 24 hours in a climate-controlled room set to 70 degrees, the Yeti was the only cooler that still had ice in it. After 48 hours, it was the only cooler that still hadn't returned to room temperature.

You'll want to check out my full review of the Tundra 45 to get a better sense of just how badly it smoked the competition, but a good analogy would be a horse that separates itself from the pack early on and wins its race in a breakaway finish. I wish the Tundra 45 offered more capacity for the price, but if you just want the cooler that'll keep your ice frozen the longest, this is the one.


Read the full Yeti Tundra 45 Cooler review

Available at AmazonEnlarge Image Tyler Lizenby/CNET Best design
Lifetime High Performance Cooler, $97

Enlarge ImagePelican's rotomolded coolers come in a wide range of great-looking colors, and each comes with a lifetime warranty -- they're worth a look if you just want something eye-catching.

Pelican If you want a cooler that feels modern and fancy, but you aren't ready to dish out hundreds of dollars for a rotomolded model, consider the Lifetime High Performance Cooler, which I found on sale at Walmart for $97. It was a top-five performer in my tests, essentially tying the excellent Igloo MaxCold while also offering a significant step up in build quality.

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