For people who take extended off-grid trips like whitewater rafters, backcountry hunters, and overlanders, how long a cooler holds ice is far more important than its bells and whistles.
The same might be said for the frequent cooler-opening types such as boaters, anglers, and camping families.
You know those snack-foraging kids are as certain to leave the ice chest lid open on a campout as they are to leave the back door open at home when the AC is running. So you need all the help you can get keeping the cold inside!
If ice retention is the most important thing to you as you shop for a new cooler, then you’ve come to the right place.
We acquired 28 medium to large sized coolers of various types of construction and from a variety of manufacturers. Then we bought a load of ice that filled an SUV (1200 pounds) and we put them to the test.
Well, ice cold beverage seekers, it’s time to get down to the business of which coolers are indeed the coolest. Be sure to stick around long enough to find out how we went about our experiment to identify the best coolers for ice retention.
Recommendations at a Glance
The Cabela’s Polar Cap Equalizer and the Orion Core coolers retain ice and food safe temperatures the longest. While these were among the bulkiest coolers tested, the extra mass enabled them to hold ice for just over nine whole days outdoors in 90-100 degree daytime temperatures.
Here are our top picks for coolers that hold ice the longest:
- Best Overall: Orion Core 65
- Also Great: Cabela’s Polar Cap Equalizer 60 Quart
- Best of the Rest: ORCA 58 Quart Hard Side
- Best with Wheels: YETI Tundra Haul
- Best for the Money: Coleman 70 Quart Xtreme Marine
Best Coolers for Ice Retention: Outdoor Empire Reviews
We researched intensely to ensure that the coolers we actually purchased were high quality products to begin with. And it turns out that they were. We were impressed by how many coolers held ice for a full week in record-breaking Idaho heat.
Hands-on testing of these high-caliber coolers enabled us to really help you find the gems that shine brighter than the rest.
These are the best coolers for ice retention based on real-world testing.
1. Best Overall: Orion Core 65
- Ice challenge points: 36
- Ice challenge rank: 1
- Full days with ice: 9
- MSRP: $335
PROS: Best of class ice retention, versatile accessory options especially for anglers, cool colors, 10-year warranty
CONS: No recessed grab point to open lid, hard to open and close one-handed
Jackson Kayak is well-revered for making awesome kayaks for fishing, whitewater, and recreation. But did you know they make coolers too? Orion Core coolers are made by Jackson and as it turns out they are amazing. They use similar manufacturing processes on their coolers as they do their boats. And in our testing the Orion Core held ice longer than 26 other ice chests. If you’re an angler, you’ll love the accessories available for this from pads to rod holders to gear tracks. Four bottle openers might be a bit overkill, but put this on your fishing boat or camp trailer and you’ll have cold drinks for days.
2. Also Great: Cabela’s Polar Cap Equalizer 60
- Ice challenge points: 36
- Ice challenge rank: 1
- Full days with ice: 9
- MSRP: $300
PROS: Thick insulation, excellent portability, multiple security options, best ice retention
CONS: Bulky, prone to leaks, not the best latches
The Cabela’s Polar Cap Equalizer 60 is thick! And that extra insulation compared to its peers clearly contributes to better ice retention. This is one of the bulkier coolers we tested, which would make it less ideal for loading into a passenger car or SUV. But it has some nice features like a pressure equalizer button and big molded handles that make it easy to carry or lock down to a truck bed with a cable. You’ve got to screw the drain plug in extra tight and we noticed it can leak water out of under the lid if it sloshes around. But even with that it was a clear leader throughout our ice challenge, and it’s one you can rely on for excellent ice retention.
3. Best of the Rest: ORCA 58
- Ice challenge points: 33
- Ice challenge rank: 3
- Full days with ice: 8
- MSRP: $360
PROS: Highly durable, useful accessory pouch attached, airtight seal
CONS: Heavy, hard-to-open lid latches
ORCA has been making their rotomolded hard coolers in the USA now for over ten years. Their super rugged ice chests are shaped slightly more square than most. That shape might work better than the more elongated YETIs or RTICs depending on where you want to put it. The ORCA makes an excellent fishing platform and the accessory pouch on the back is a useful touch. The whale tail handles stand out, but are harder to open than other coolers in its class. But most importantly, ORCA coolers hold ice for a crazy long time.
4. Best with Wheels: YETI Tundra Haul
- Ice challenge points: 30
- Ice challenge rank: 7
- Full days with ice: 7
- MSRP: $400
PROS: Wheels make it easier to move around, reputable brand, not overly bulky
CONS: High price, a bit bulky and awkward to load in and out of vehicles
The YETI Tundra Haul is a spinoff of the classic YETI Tundra, but it has built-in wheels. Loaded up with ice and food, these robust coolers are super heavy. The tow handle and wheels definitely make the Tundra Haul easier to move from one place to another, especially if you’re by yourself. While you can buy add-on wheel kits for our top two picks, the built-in convenience of the YETI Tundra Haul made it the best wheeled cooler for ice retention. Out of eight wheeled coolers we tested, three made it to seven days. The YETI had the beefiest wheels and is more rugged than the others. But if you want to save a good chunk of change, the Lifetime High Performance held ice just as well for a lot less money.
5. Best Budget Pick: Coleman Xtreme Marine 70
- Ice challenge points: 29
- Ice challenge rank: 12
- Full days with ice: 7
- MSRP: $90
PROS: Excellent price, ice retention on par with coolers 4x more expensive
CONS: Not rugged, lid doesn’t latch down
The fact that the Coleman Xtreme Marine 70 quart cooler still had ice cubes in it after a full week blew our minds. It is hands down the best cooler for ice retention for the money! Despite a less durable type of construction, it held its own with coolers that cost more than four times as much. The lid doesn’t latch down and it won’t keep a bear out, but it will keep your ice cold for at least five days as advertised. Holding ice for a full week, it really outdid itself in our experience. It even wields cup holders and rulers, fine touches for boaters and fishermen. For well under $100, this well-insulated ice chest is easily the best bang for your buck when it comes to coolers that hold ice the longest.
- Ice challenge points: 32
- Ice challenge rank: 4
- Full days with ice: 8
- MSRP: $350
PROS: Top-notch ice retention, lots of accessory options
CONS: Limited size options, drain valve prone to damage
OtterBox is known for making air and watertight cases of all sorts and the OtterBox Venture cooler has tons of accessory options to dress it up. The Venture we used was a 65-quart version we’ve had for a couple years. At the time of writing, OtterBox’s customer service confirmed that the Venture 65 has been discontinued, but that the 25 or 45-quart sizes are still in production. You can count on these holding ice longer than most coolers in their class.
7. RTIC 65
- Ice challenge points: 31
- Ice challenge rank: 5
- Full days with ice: 7
- MSRP: $250
PROS: Reasonable price for performance, big drain valve and small drain/pressure relief valve
CONS: Hard to move around by yourself, only 1 year warranty
The RTIC hard coolers get you all the benefits of the YETI Tundra for 35% less money. They are durable and they hold ice for a long time. Even after the ice is gone they stay cold for another day at least if you leave them closed. While they aren’t the most original design, they make a great backcountry hunting or whitewater rafting cooler.
- Ice challenge points: 31
- Ice challenge rank: 5
- Full days with ice: 7
- MSRP: $375
PROS: Proven product, reliable ice retention, effective latches that aren’t too hard to open
CONS: More expensive than alternatives, prone to warping over time
The YETI Tundra is perhaps the first cooler that people thought of as cool. Before that coolers may as well have been called lamers. YETI has been rotomolding coolers since 2006 and the Tundra sets a benchmark for today’s ice chests. However, you do want to be careful about how you store them. My sister has had one for about five years and the lid has warped over time from being in the hot sun a lot and then on her back porch during the cold of winter. While the YETI Tundra has been bested when it comes to ice retention, it’s still at the top of the chart. And it’s a safe choice if you’re willing to spend the cash.
How Long Do You Need Ice to Last?
Of the 28 coolers we tested, 15 of them still had at least some ice after a full week. We consider this to be pretty awesome and good enough for most folks.
Of those 15, only four made it to eight days, and only two made it to more than 9 days with ice.
The actual ice retention times may vary for you based on the conditions in which you use your cooler and how much you open and close it. You may find it lasts longer on a fall hunt or shorter on a Florida off-shore fishing trip. But here is a run down of how long different coolers we tested held ice.
As Long as Possible (9+ days)
These still had substantial ice when others, including those from big names like YETI, were on their last few cubes. Even after the ice was gone, they held cold air longer to where you could probably squeak out an extra day before you get too worried about food starting to spoil.
- Cabela’s Polar Cap Equalizer 60-Quart
- Orion Core 65
When we took daily temperatures inside the cooler, the Orca was often one of the coldest. The OtterBox may have lasted longer than it did if it didn’t have a leaky valve.
This group consists of almost all rotomolded coolers except for the Coleman and the Pelican. The latter barely made it to seven days with only a few cubes left.
The RTIC and YETI Tundra not only appear nearly identical in construction, but they scored exactly the same in our ice retention challenge. And even though the ice was gone on the morning of day eight, the meat was still at a safe temperature in these two, which can’t be said for the others on this list.
- RTIC 65
- YETI Tundra 65
- YETI Tundra Haul
- Lifetime 65 Quart High Performance
- Xspec 60
- Canyon Outfitter 55
- Pure Outdoor Wheeled Emperor 50
- Coleman 70 Xtreme Marine
- Guide Gear 60
- Engel 65 High-Performance
- Pelican Elite 50QT
To be honest, we were surprised that this many coolers made it to six days. I guess our pre-game research was solid in that most all of these are good options.
One trend was clear by day six, which is that smaller coolers of the same construction type don’t tend to hold ice as long. The Cordova Basecamp, RovR Rollr, and Pelican Elite wheeled coolers we had were all under 50 quarts, and they dropped out sooner than their rotomolded peers. We suspect that coolers from these same brands in a larger size would make it an extra day or so, all else being equal.
- RTIC 52 QT Ultra-Light
- Igloo BMX 52 Quart
- Coho 55
- RovR Rollr 45
- Pelican Elite 45QW
- Cordova 48 Basecamp
- Coleman 316 Series Hard Cooler 70
- Coleman Rolling Cooler 62 Xtreme
While the Igloos we tested underperformed other brands, they all held ice for at least as long as advertised. The Trailmate claimed four days and it held on until day five.
Meanwhile Grandpa’s Old Igloo is not a model name, it is simply my Grandfather’s old Igloo cooler that I found in his workshop. I’m pretty sure he got it a few decades back when he was taking me fishing as a boy. I thought it would act as a good control, and it proved that even old coolers can hold their own.
- Igloo Trailmate 70
- Grandpa’s Old Igloo
While these coolers made it four full days with ice outdoors on hot summer days in our test, we wouldn’t count on that in the real world.
We only opened these ice chests up once per day which allowed them to conserve cool air. They also have no little (Igloo) to no (Coleman) insulation in the lids, so there’s quite a thermal bridge that lets heat gush in.
That said, you get what you pay for and these are inexpensive options that’ll do for a day trip or even a weekend campout.
This little guy doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the herd, but it looked like too much fun not to try. Don’t count on this one for keeping meat cold for even an overnighter. But when I go float the Boise River in an innertube, this little dude will be tagging along behind me.
How We Tested Ice Retention
We wanted to do a “real-world” test for ice retention that would simulate what it’s like when you take them camping or on a backcountry trip.
This meant the coolers would stay outside the whole time and we mainly wanted to ensure they were keeping drinks cold and meat safe to eat.
Here is how we tested and compared ice retention of 28 coolers over the course of almost two weeks.
The night before the ice retention challenge kickoff I brought all 28 coolers inside my house from my garage and left the lids open.
It’s no commercial refrigerator, but that’s what I do the day before I go camping, so that’s what I did here. This way, all the coolers were starting out at the same temperature. It took my whole living and dining room.
The next morning I drove my Honda Pilot to the ice company and bought 1,200 pounds of crushed ice in 20 lb bags. With the seats laid down, it filled the thing up.
I turned on the A/C full blast and drove home.
We moved all the coolers to the backyard and started filling them up. While it was impossible to fill them and close them all at the same moment, they were all done within an hour or two.
We filled each cooler about 80-90% full of ice. We also added five cans of soda and a single hot dog to each ice chest. When you pack a cooler you want it to be as full as possible for the best performance, and this simulated that.
Next, we moved the coolers into the shade under trees in my backyard. This is what I would do if I were camping, so it only seemed fitting to do the same thing while testing. Each cooler got around an hour or less of filtered sunlight throughout the day.
Starting that first afternoon I visited my cooler friends daily and recorded a set of observations in a detailed spreadsheet. The plan was for this to continue until all the coolers were out of ice whether it took seven days or 21. Ten days later the test concluded.
We recorded four different tests per cooler, per day. Each test was pass or fail. Coolers received one point for each passed test and zero points for a failed test.
At the end of the experiment, the cooler with the most points wins.
The four tests or observations we recorded each day were:
1. Internal temperature
This was measured with an infrared thermometer aimed at the center of the inside of the lid and the temperature limit was set to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
While the air inside was likely cooler than the lid itself, this was a consistent location where the temperature could be measured on each different ice chest. And it was a decent indicator of when the temperature was insufficient to keep drinks cool and slow bacteria growth.
This was generally the last test to fail on any given ice chest because the best coolers would remain quite cold inside for as much as a day and a half beyond when the ice melted. This was particularly noticeable on the Cabela’s, Orion, Orca, YETI, and RTIC coolers.
2. Meat temperature
We measured the temperature of the hot dog in each cooler with an instant-read meat thermometer. If it was 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below the cooler passed. If it was warmer than that it failed, though we allowed for a degree or two of error.
According to the American Meat Science Association, raw meat is considered safe when stored at or below 40 degrees. Above that food begins to spoil and at 50 degrees bacteria begin to grow rapidly.
Most ice chests failed this test just before or after ice was no longer present. The best insulated and most airtight coolers like the YETI and RTIC kept the hot dogs at a safe temperature for more than a full day after the ice was gone.
3. Surface tension
If there was enough ice in a cooler to hold a few cans of soda on top, it passed the test. But once there was more water than ice, cans submerged or bobbed around. This isn’t necessarily problematic but indicates the rate at which the ice was melting.
This was usually the first test to fail on a given cooler and was a pretty good indicator of which ones were going to drop out of the challenge first.
However, a few of the coolers had loose or leaking drain valves. In some cases, like with the Coho, Engel, and Cabela’s there was nothing wrong with the drain plug, it just needed to be tightened more than it was on day one. This was a quick fix.
Our OtterBox Venture, however, is one we have had for a couple years. Somewhere along the way the drain plug got damaged or the seal is missing, so it leaked the whole time. But this is an anomaly.
4. Ice presence
Ice or no ice? This was a simple visual observation of whether or not solid ice was still present.
Once the ice was gone, we noted how many total days the cooler retained ice. But even after the ice had melted, many coolers still scored one or more points for maintaining cold temperatures for another day or so.
All observations were recorded in a spreadsheet. Once every cooler had four zeros for a day, the ice retention challenge was over. The points were tallied, and the high scores won. The chart below displays the results.
Things happened fast at the end, but an impressive number of coolers made it for a week or longer, despite the record summer temps recorded in Idaho at the time.
If you need things to stay cold for a long time, or you are using a cooler in extremely hot temperatures, you will surely benefit from a rotomolded cooler versus a classic blow-molded or even an injection molded cooler. They tend to cost a lot more, but they simply hold ice longer. As you can see 13 of the 15 coolers that lasted a week or more with ice were rotomolded.
However, that Coleman Xtreme Marine hung in there as long as coolers that cost almost five times as much!
Many of us don’t actually need a cooler that holds ice for a full week or more because we don’t spend that much time outdoors in one go. In that case there may be other features you are more interested in and you should check out our article on the best coolers overall.
Cooler Ice Retention FAQs
1. How do you increase ice retention?
No matter the cooler you have, there are things you can do to retain ice as long as possible. Here are some quick tips:
- Pre-chill the cooler by putting ice in the night before you pack it to go on your trip. Drain excess water the next morning before you pack it up.
- Pack it full with your stuff and ice. Air heats up the fastest, so fill ‘er up.
- Use block ice in the bottom and pour crushed ice over top of your food and drinks.
- Consider dry ice for even longer ice retention.
- Use a foam layer (like a cheap camp sleeping pad) as an insulating layer between your ice and meat on the bottom and other food items on top.
- Don’t drain the water from melted ice.
- Keep your cooler in the shade as much as possible.
- Open the cooler as little as possible. And when you do, be quick about it.
2. Do bigger coolers keep ice longer?
Larger coolers do tend to retain ice longer than smaller ice chests. More volume allows for more ice, and when you combine that ice with the larger cooler itself you have more mass overall. Objects with more mass take longer to heat up or cool down.
In our testing we observed that the medium sized coolers that ranged from 35-54 quarts tended to drop out of the ice retention challenge earlier than coolers with a higher capacity. Only two “medium” sized coolers made it to a full week with ice and they were the Pelican Elite 50 and the Pure Outdoor 50. The two winners were 60 and 65 quarts large.
We estimate that coolers like the Cordova Basecamp (48 qt) and the RovR Rollr (45 qt) in larger sizes would hold ice for an additional day or so, which would be more on par with the rest of the rotomolded pack.
3. Does the color of a cooler affect ice retention?
Barely. Color may have a minor effect on ice retention, if at all. All else the same, you may see a few extra hours of ice retention, but not days. In our testing, white coolers did not perform noticeably better than those of darker colors.
However, a darker cooler in direct sunlight might get hotter to the touch on the outside. So if you plan on sitting on that cooler on a boat or a fishing kayak, a lighter color might suit you better. However, white coolers show stains more than darker colors.
4. Is it better to drain water from a cooler?
We recommend that you not drain the water from a cooler until you can replace that volume with fresh ice or food. The ice water will keep the cooler and its contents cold longer than if you drain it. Draining it leaves more air in the cooler, which heats up more quickly and will reduce overall ice retention.
We observed this in some of the coolers we tested where the valves were loose or leaking the first few days. That accelerated ice melt.
5. How long will ice stay frozen in a YETI cooler?
Based on real world testing, a YETI Tundra 65 or a YETI Tundra Haul cooler will retain ice for just over seven full days in the heat of summer, so long as it is kept in the shade and opened infrequently.
In use on a family camping trip with the kids getting into it all the time, I would expect to make it five full days comfortably.
As long as the ice chests are packed full of ice, food, and drinks, expect a couple days less for smaller YETI coolers below 60 quarts. And for larger ones, perhaps a couple days more.
6. How long does ice last in a RTIC cooler?
RTIC hard coolers retain ice as long as YETI coolers. When tested, the RTIC 65 made it just past seven days with ice remaining when it was kept in the shade during the heat of summer and opened infrequently. It then stayed cool for another day after that when left closed.
The RTIC Ultralight 52 quart cooler doesn’t hold ice for quite as long, however. In our testing, it lasted six days with ice, then warmed more rapidly once it was out compared to the standard RTIC hard cooler.
Why Trust Us?
We actually handled, used, and thought a lot about coolers in preparation for this article.
We know it’s hard to find gear advice you can trust. At Outdoor Empire we aim to provide honest, objective, hands-on reviews rather than just regurgitating information found somewhere else on the internet. Our process is continuously evolving and improving.
Here are a few reasons you can trust our advice in this article:
- We actually acquired every product mentioned in this article.
- We objectively tested and ranked each product listed here.
- Besides “testing”, we use this gear in real life over time.
- We spent our own money on products and expenses related to this article.
- While we occasionally accept product samples or discounts to help stretch our gear budget further so we can produce more gear guides, we do not accept paid or sponsored reviews.
- The opinions, experiences, and results expressed in this article are our own, authentic, and unbiased. Nobody paid us for our favorable opinion.
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