Coolers have come a long way in the past decade, primarily driven by some of the brands featured below. Some of my best childhood memories involve family day trips to the beach and Saturdays spent at the local ballfield. The family cooler was a centerpiece for both of those experiences, but sadly, the cooler didn’t get the job done.
It’s much more satisfying to pull lunch out of well-organized ice than it is to pull lunch out of a cold tub of water, but that is what I mostly remember happening. Iced turned to water, and the contents became awkwardly soggy, more wet than cold.
YETI vs. RTIC vs. Pelican vs. GOAT Cooler Comparison
Today’s coolers are built to make sure that never happens, and today’s coolers are built to withstand much more adventure than a tame trip to the beach or ballpark. But which cooler is the best? Check out the side-by-side comparison, or read the detailed brand reviews below.
What Should You Consider When Buying a Cooler?
In decades gone by, buying a new cooler wasn’t that big of a deal. Families bought the same Coleman-type cooler that every other family bought. They kept everything cold for a little while, but they just don’t compare to modern versions of this basic yet technologically driven family mainstay. Still, if you are in the market for a new cooler for the first time in a while, you might be caught off guard by the number of options and prices.
Modern coolers are a worthy investment, but it is essential to think through what is important in making your decision. When we completed our reviews, these were some of the things we considered:
- Quality Construction - Will the cooler be durable, and is it made with modern technology? Does the cooler use effective insulation?
- Innovation - Does the cooler offer anything new or unique to the market?
- Intended Use - How versatile is the cooler? Can it be used for multiple purposes, or would the user need to buy additional coolers for general purposes?
- Value - Does the cooler offer a reasonable value proposition to the user? Do innovation and design choices justify the price?
YETI Coolers Review
If it weren’t for YETI, I probably wouldn’t be writing this article right now. YETI built a better mousetrap, and turned a niche industry into a lifestyle industry. Just as our grandfathers divided their loyalties between Ford and Chevy, there are now people who divide their loyalties between YETI and RTIC or other competitors.
That type of loyalty isn’t something you might expect from the cooler segment, but that says everything you need to know about the quality and innovation YETIYETI introduced to the marketplace. Nowadays, when you buy a cooler, you might be tempted to buy a matching hat and t-shirt as a proud token of your ownership, and that would be completely understandable. YETI turned the cooler business into a lifestyle brand that was entirely representative of our favorite memories and dreams.
YETI is best known for its rotomolded construction hard coolers, designed to keep ice cold for days. Literally. It will keep ice cold for days. Beyond the innovative, rotomolded constructions, its coolers come equipped with heavy-duty hinges, latches, and handles because any good product is only as good as its weakest link.
YETI Coolers - Product Portfolio
If it weren’t enough for YETI to be the innovator in the cooler space, they’ve also developed over 20 variations of coolers so that you can find the exact cooler perfect for your needs. Whether you are taking a day hike or hitting the open seas looking for your next big catch, YETI sells a premium cooler for your adventure. Here is an overview of Yet’s line-up:YETI Roadie Hard CoolerYETI Roadie Hard Cooler - YETI’s Roadie Hard Cooler is designed to slide behind the driver’s seat or passenger seat as the perfect road-trip companion. While slim enough to fit behind your seat, it is also tall enough to hold a wine bottle, perfect for a day excursion to and picnic at your favorite remote location. The Roadie is compatible with a dry basket if there are snacks or other goodies you want to keep out of the ice and compatible with a seat cushion if you think you might need to rest your feet.
YETI Tundra Hard CoolersYETI Tundra Hard Coolers - The YETI Tundra Hard Cooler comes in a hard-to-believe twelve variations and sizes. The smallest Tundra, the YETI Tundra 35 Hard Cooler, is small enough to fit inside an inner tube if you are looking to float down the river with some cold beverages and snacks but still boasts up to three inches of YETI’s PermaFrost insulation.
On the other end of the spectrum, the YETIYETI Tundra 350 Hard Cooler is massive. If you need a good cooler to manage your latest catch or kill, or perhaps if you are eyeing a more industrial use such as large event management or catering, this is the cooler for you. At well over $1,000, this is a very serious cooler equipped with freezer quality gasket circles and an interlocking lid that provides a form-fitting barrier to protect outside temperatures from impacting internal temperatures.
With twelve hard cooler variations, YETI has a cooler to meet every possible need between the Tundra 35 and the Tundra 350, including one of our personal favorites, the Tundra Haul Hard Cooler, which adds wheels and a pull handle to the Tundra series’ legendary quality. This is the perfect cooler for family outings, where parents are wrangling both kids and gear. My big question about this model was the wheels, but the Tundra Haul Cooler sports single-piece construction tires that are impact-resistant and puncture-resistant.YETI Soft CoolersYETI Soft Coolers - YETI sells seven different soft coolers, ranging from the Daytrip Lunch Bag to another one of our personal favorites, the Hopper Backflip Soft Cooler. The Hopper Backflip Soft Cooler is engineered as a backpack, complete with a chest strap and belt most frequently found on hiking packs. The cooler is equipped with a 100% leakproof zipper and is ready for a trip into the wild or a family beach trip.
YETI’s soft coolers feature a closed-cell rubber foam known to provide superior insulation to old-school soft coolers, particularly whatever soft cooler you might have picked up at the local grocery store in years past.Other Unique YETI CoolersOther Unique YETI Coolers - As the industry leader in outdoor coolers, YETI has a few coolers that don’t fit into traditional categories, and they are worth mentioning.
For instance, be sure to check out the YETI V Series Hard Cooler, which looks retro because of its stainless steel exterior but is as innovative as any cooler YETI has ever made. While having a retro feel to it, the V Series is YETI’s fusion of their ever-so-popular Rambler and their legendary Tundra coolers.
Speaking of those Ramblers, they don’t fit into the cooler category, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention they are the best drinkware, bar none, anywhere on the planet. I don’t even know how many Ramblers I have in my house, but it’s a lot.
YETI also makes ice buckets, which are insulated and perfect for keeping beverages cool during a backyard party or while tailgating; and water coolers, which are perfect for keeping your little leaguers, big leaguers, or construction crews cool and hydrated.
YETI Coolers Review - The Verdict
If you want to buy the best quality cooler on the market, perfectly designed to meet your specific need, YETI is the obvious choice. There is a reason you see random people in the grocery store wearing YETI hats and t-shirts. It isn’t because YETI’s logo is so incredible or because they have trend-setting t-shirts; it’s because YETIYETI make premium products that are representative of the adventurous lifestyles, so many of us want to live.
If you plan on spending any time at all outside, chances are YETIYETI has gear and equipment that will improve your life, and the coolers are second-to-none.SUMMARY PROS
- Industry-pioneering innovation
- Premium pricing
- Industry-leading quality
- More than 20 coolers to choose from
- Accessories enable you to build your perfect cooler
- Superior Insulation
- Lifestyle gear available
RTIC Coolers Review
If RTIC coolers look a lot like YETI coolers, that’s because they do. In fact, in 2017, RTIC had to make a financial payment to YETI and agree to redesign some of their product portfolios. They look so much like YETI coolers that sometimes people ask if they are made by the same company, which they are not.
Both companies were founded by brothers in Texas, which sometimes adds to the confusion. John and Jim Jacobsen founded RTIC in 2015, following Roy and Ryan Seiders establishing YETI in 2006. So yes, the companies are very similar, but they are not the same company. The most significant difference between YETI and RTIC is that RTIC is a direct-to-consumer retailer, meaning you can only buy their products online.
The benefit of RTIC’s model is that they don’t have to build retailer mark-up and other expenses into their pricing, so some of their products are a little bit more affordable. Their website claims that RTIC customers can save up to 35% versus “the competition,” and their slogan is “Overbuilt. Not Overpriced.” So what does all of that mean? RTIC offers a very similar product portfolio as YETI but usually sells its products at a lower price point.
So we know that RTIC is frequently more affordable than the competition, but does the quality hold-up? Both YETI and RTIC coolers use a rotomolded construction to keep ice frozen for days when adequately sealed. The differences between the two brands are much more subtle design features. We prefer YETI, but for someone looking to save a little money, RTIC is a reasonable alternative.
RTIC Coolers - Product Portfolio
Like YETI before, RTIC’s bread and butter product is the rotomolded hard cooler, but they have various coolers to meet your needs. They have also ventured into other camp and cookout equipment, such as a propane campfire grill, but we will focus on their cooler-like portfolio here.RTIC Hard CoolersRTIC Hard Coolers - RTIC currently sells their RTIC Hard Cooler in five sizes ranging from 20 quarts capacity up to 145 quarts capacity. We like that the smallest cooler, the RTIC 20 Quart Hard Cooler, has a sturdy metal handlebar with comfort grip handle. It's big enough for about 24 cans, plus ice, so this is a very practical cooler you could use for a family beach trip or head into the woods in the early morning.
On the larger end of the spectrum, the RTIC 145 Quart Hard Cooler is a big boy that will keep you supplied for days if needed. It is large enough for 155 lbs of ice, or over 36 gallons of water.RTIC Soft CoolersRTIC Soft Coolers - RTIC primary Soft Pack Can Cooler comes in 4 different sizes. It sports 2 inches of closed-cell foam insulation, so like Yeti, this is a way better product than any cooler you might have purchased at the local grocery store in the past. It also is 100% leakproof, and we like that it has an antimicrobial lining to combat mildew, which is sometimes a problem with soft coolers in particular.
In addition to the RTIC Soft Pack Can Cooler, RTIC sells five other coolers in their soft cooler line-up, including a backpack similar to Yeti’s Backflip model. Our favorite RTIC soft cooler product is the RTIC Day Cooler Insulated Tote Bag. Tote bags are easy to carry and work exceptionally well for family day trips. The RTIC Day Cooler Insulated Tote Bag comes equipped with a zippered pocket on the inside of the bag and the same mildew resistant properties mentioned earlier.
RTIC Coolers Review - The Verdict
RTIC coolers are functional and affordable alternatives to the industry leaders, YETI. While we prefer YETI coolers stylistically, RTIC coolers will get the job done at a lower price. YETI has more options and higher quality from top to bottom, but RTIC might be the right choice if you infrequently use your cooler. And by the way, if you are trying to figure out what RTIC stands for, it’s pronounced more like “Arctic.” Makes more sense now, right?SUMMARY PROS
- Direct-to-consumer model
- Not much effort given to differentiate product from first-movers
Pelican Coolers Review
When you look at an RTIC cooler, the first thing you might think is that it looks just like a YETI. On the other hand, a Pelican cooler looks distinctly like a Pelican cooler, and in our minds, it says something about a company that they will put original thought and design into their product.
And in fact, Pelican is innovative in its own right. They sell a lot more than just coolers, including everything from BioThermal cases to iPhone cases, so the company has a lot of experience and know-how that they put into making top-tier coolers.
Do you know how Pelican got started? Dave Parker designed a floating bob in his garage to mark where divers were under the water. He named the device the “Pelican Float,” which was the beginning of years of innovation. The best part of the story is that the original Pelican Float was made from twine, a hockey stick, and a metal weight.
Dave’s next product was a durably-cased first aid kit for divers. That durable casing was famous for protecting personal items, not just first-aid items; it became the foundation of what Pelican’s business looks like today. Decades of innovation are now evident in their line-up of coolers.
Pelican Coolers - Product Portfolio
While Pelican’s cooler line-up is a little more streamlined than the competition, they seem to focus on providing performance products to serious customers. There are no cheaply made lunch containers added to the line-up just so they can throw their logo on yet another product, but if you are looking for heavy equipment that gets the job done, Pelican might be for you.Pelican Hard CoolersPelican Hard Coolers - The smallest Pelican hard cooler is the 14QT Personal Cooler, designed as a dry box to keep your personal belongings from getting wet. That might be confusing if your first thought is that ice turns to liquid, but the 14QT Personal Cooler is probably best used with Pelican Ice Blocks. The personal cooler is equipped with straps to hold utensils and small snacks like granola bars, as well as a tray for larger snacks you want to keep above the ice. Of course, the built-in bottle opener might be the most frequently used feature.
Pelican coolers range from the 14QT Personal Cooler up to the massive 150QT Elite Cooler. The 150QT Elite cooler is perfect for taking on the open seas and even has an integrated fish scale on the lid’s topside. This premium cooler has various premium features that again highlight Pelican’s dedication to innovation and thoughtfulness.
Consider the sloped drain and threaded plug you might choose to attach a garden hose to, or consider the wide latches designed to be opened easily even when you are wearing gloves. Pelican truly designs top-notch equipment, and it is so durable the Elite Series coolers are guaranteed for life.
Mentioning that the Elite Series coolers are guaranteed for life might be underselling their durability. How so? Pelican’s Elite Series coolers are certified as BEAR RESISTANT by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. Dang. That’s the coolest certification I didn’t even know my cooler needed, but it shows Pelican Elite Coolers are of the highest quality.Pelican Soft CoolersPelican Soft Coolers - Pelican only offers two soft coolers, but they might be the most functional soft coolers on the market. These aren’t made for keeping your lunch cold or for a picnic at the park. Pelican’s soft coolers are made for adventure.
The Pelican Dayventure Backpack has a two-compartment design, with the bottom compartment large enough to fit six cans, plus Pelican’s ice packs. The top container then can be used for additional cold storage or as a dry compartment to keep food or personal belongings protected from the elements. This extreme backpack also has an exterior pocket that you can use to keep personal belongings secure.
Pelican’s other soft cooler is Dayventure Sling Cooler, and to our knowledge, it is the only sling cooler on the market designed to be worn like a sling. While the Dayventure Sling Cooler is big enough for 12 cans or multiple bottles of wine, the slender design makes it perfect for stowing in the bow of a kayak or behind the seat in your vehicle. This long design is much less awkward than the boxy nature of most competitor soft coolers, so there is a good chance this turns into one of your favorite belongings.Pelican Wheeled CoolersPelican Wheeled Coolers - Premium coolers don’t often have wheels, but Pelican it is worth mentioning that Pelican offers two coolers with wheels. YETI just recently added a wheeled version of their Tundra cooler, so this puts Pelican’s two models in rare company. The wheeled coolers come in 45QT and 80QT sizes, offering an option perfect for any adventure. Both coolers have up to 10 days of ice retention, a built-in bottle opener, and a trolley pull-handle. It’s everything you could want in a cooler, plus wheels!
Pelican Coolers Review - The Verdict
We have a lot of respect for Pelican coolers. The company stands on its design and innovation, and its elite cooler series is considered bear-resistant. Pelican also makes the toughest cooler with wheels and the best designed soft coolers among competitors.SUMMARY PROS
- Original design
- Premium pricing
- Soft coolers built for adventure
GOAT Coolers Review
We love companies that think differently and try to make something unique and innovative for the marketplace, and GOAT is nothing if it is not uncommon and creative. GOAT doesn’t just make a cooler; they make an entire adventure system based around a cooler.
A GOAT cooler isn’t your average cooler, and if we are honest, the 70QT cooler is almost an accessory to the storage system. Still, if you live parts of your life off the grid, exploring, fishing, or hunting, then the overall GOATGOAT system might be a game-changer for you. Heck, if you often tailgate, this system might be a game-changer.
GOAT Coolers - Product Portfolio
Since GOAT Box Co. is relatively new, and since customers are purchasing a storage system as much as they are buying a cooler, we will explain the entire storage system. It’s a little different than what we have done for the competitor brands, but we think it will be helpful given GOAT’s unique positioning in the market.GOAT Box Co.’s HUBGOAT Box Co.’s HUB - GOAT Box Co.’s HUB is a 70-quart, rotomolded cooler similar to the others we have reviewed. For now, the HUB only comes in one size, but 70 quarts is close to the perfect cooler size for most activities. It's big enough to keep you fed and hydrated, but not so big you could cater an entire party from the contents of one cooler.
The cooler is built for durability and performance. That is probably all you need to know about the GOAT’s construction because the real differentiator is that each of the four corners is designed as a housing system for GOAT’s CAN system, which we will explain more about shortly.
While the awkward shape may take a little getting used to, the system is designed to make your adventures more organized, and function and GOAT Box Co. succeeds in this goal. The cooler’s front also has a stash net built to compliment the front turrets perfectly, which provides another convenient location to store less sensitive goods.GOAT Box Co.’s CANGOAT Box Co.’s CAN - While the HUB is a modular store system built around a cooler, GOAT Box Co.’s CAN is the innovative foundation of that modular storage system. The CANs fit perfectly in the HUB’s four turrets and can be purchased empty or pre-filled for specific purposes by GOAT.
The CAN itself is built to last, using the same polycarbonate that NASA uses. It has a waterproof gasket that will protect and preserve each CAN’s contents and is BPA free if you plan on loading up a can with some beef jerky or another favorite snack.
But what would you use the CANs for? Glad you asked. GOAT Box Co. sells several pre-filled bundles that give you a better idea of their intended use. The Pandemic CAN includes 5 KN95 masks, five nitrile gloves, and five hand sanitizer packets. The Basic First Aid CAN includes a Hiker Med Pack, Burn Med Pack, CPR Med Pack, Upset Stomach Med Pack, Allergies Med Pack, Cold & Flu Med Pack, and Headache Med Pack.
You can use the CAN system, empty or pre-filled, to prepare for any and every situation. Of course, not every situation is so dire. Suppose you plan on using your GOAT Box Co. system for tailgating. In that case, you might opt for the Favorite Flavors CAN, which includes the ROLL, a Dizzy Pig Favorites Sampler, Tabasco sauce, Cholula sauce, Twang Beverage Rim Beer Salts and Twangers, and Pendery’s Black Pepper Salt.
This is just a sample of some of their pre-filled cans, which hopefully help illustrate the GOAT Box Co. system’s endless possibilities.GOAT Box Co.’s RACKGOAT Box Co.’s RACK - Think you might need to keep more than 4 CANs, so you are ready for any situation. GOAT’s RACK solves this problem. The RACK is intended to be left at home, in a garage or mudroom, and is designed to store up to 8 CANs. When you head out on your adventure, grab the CANs you need from the RACK, and hit the road, ready for a zombie apocalypse or a weekend in the woods.
GOAT Coolers Review - The Verdict
The truth is that the GOAT system isn’t for everyone. Some people just need a family cooler that will get them to the local ball field and back. On the other hand, if you are an adventurer at heart, then the GOATGOAT cooler might be the cooler and modular storage system you never knew you needed. It might be the perfect solution for your tailgating routine, for your next camping trip, or your next off-the-grid excursion.SUMMARY PROS
- Forward-thinking design
- Awkward shape
- Functional storage system
- Overbuilt for some users
- One-of-a-kind product
- Quality construction
- Pre-filled cans offer convenience
Our Recommended Cooler
There is one cooler brand that many other brands have tried to mimic, and there is one brand so reputable that followers wear logo clothing as a symbol of their identity. That brand is YETIYETI. Sure, they make much more than coolers these days, but premium coolers are the foundation of what the brand would become and what other brands would eventually try to copy.
If you are in the market for a cooler, we recommend you purchase a YETI. Their rotomolded, pressure-injected insulation design changed the industry, and with more than 20 coolers to choose from, they have the perfect cooler for your needs.
Our favorite YETI cooler is the Tundra Hard Haul CoolerTundra Hard Haul Cooler with wheels. It’s the perfect cooler for everyday exploration. You can easily pull it to the local ball field or take it to the local tailgate, and if you have something more serious in mind, the Tundra Hard Haul Cooler is tough as nails and will get the job done.
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