The cooler market has really expanded in recent years. With so many different brands and models, you may find that some coolers come with a higher price tag than others.
But are the expensive coolers like Yeti actually worth the insane costs they come with?
Expensive coolers are definitely worth the extra cost if you are looking for better ice retention, longevity, and durability. If you’re looking for light coolers and are only using them for short periods, then you're probably better off with a cheaper model.
After having owned expensive coolers like Yeti, Engel and Pelican as well as cheaper imitation coolers like RTIC and Lifetime coolers plus super cheap Coleman coolers I know what makes a high-end cooler worth the extra cost and when it's better to go with a cheaper alternative.
Are Expensive Coolers Worth The Extra Cost?
In all honesty, this answer will depend on your own needs and wants. If you’re not planning on using your cooler for extended periods of time and you don't need high-end durability and ice retention then it probably doesn’t make sense to spend your money on a high-end cooler.
However, there are a lot of advantages of high-end coolers over regular coolers that do make them worth the insane prices for some people.
Each person will have different expectations of their coolers, so it is important to keep those in mind when you are purchasing your new cooler.
Here are some examples of when expensive coolers are worth the cost.
Expensive Coolers Are Worth It When…
There are certain times when buying the expensive cooler over the cheaper one is worth it.
Here are some examples of when buying an expensive cooler is worth the extra cost.
One of the biggest advantages of a high end cooler is its far superior ice retention. High-end coolers can hold ice for 3-7+ days whereas cheap coolers ice is likely to only last 1-2 days in warm weather.
If you are looking for a cooler with better and longer ice retention, then you will have to spend more money on a higher-end cooler.
High-end coolers with excellent ice retention are perfect for those who enjoy going on long road trips and camping trips.
The reason why expensive coolers have better ice retention is that, generally, they are made with better quality materials and have thicker walls which are better for insulation. Learn more about what coolers are made from.
Not every high end cooler is created equal and some coolers perform much better and hold ice longer than others. While Yeti coolers is often seen as one of the best coolers for ice retention it actually ranks #10 on the list of the best coolers for ice retention.
One of the best coolers for ice retention is the Orca Cooler. It's made in the USA and backed by a lifetime warranty but also holds ice longer than almost any other cooler out there.
Orca Coolers have some of the best ice retention of any cooler on the market, are made locally in the USA, feature a lifetime warranty and have lots of colors to choose from.
That being said, there are different tricks to try and make ice last longer in your cooler, even if you have a cheaper cooler. Check out my article about how to make the ice last longer in your cooler if you want to really increase your ice retention.
Longevity Of The Cooler
One of the most important things that many people look for when buying coolers is how long the cooler will last and when it comes to longevity, the lower-end cooler falls short.
Yeti coolers are one of the brands whose coolers really set the bar way up there when it comes to longevity and their coolers.
If you want first-hand proof, I’ve had the same Yeti cooler for 6 years that still looks and works great and has little to no visible damage on the cooler other than a few scuffs and scratches.
The plastic still looks brand new despite being stored outside in the sun for years and it still works great. Compare that to my Coleman Xtreme cooler which is one of the better low-end coolers.
The hinges are rusted and nearly broken, the drainage cap broke off and the plastic has shown serious deterioration from UV exposure and now has multiple cracks in it. It still works fine, but it's on it's last legs and I wouldn't be surprised if it fully broke soon. It just doesn't compare to the quality of the Yeti after the same time period.
Many of the higher-end coolers are made using a process called roto-molding, which is a longer process than blow molding and creates a thicker exterior but also a more UV resistant exterior.
While a high-end cooler will cost you more upfront. If you use it often and plan on keeping it for years like I did then it'll pay for itself as the years (and decades) pass and you still have a great cooler. More on whether or not Yeti coolers scratch or damage easily.
The Durability of The Cooler
Higher-end coolers that are made using the roto-molded process are made from thicker more durable plastics that are built to resist bashing, bumping and even beat attacks.
Which is why they last longer and are worth the extra cost.
While I am not a hunter putting my coolers through intense wilderness abuse I am an avid camper and vanlifer and have used my cooler for years. My cooler was also inside my van during a major crash at 70 miles per hour (110 km/h).
Despite the van rolling over and everything being thrown about (including the cooler) it was absolutely fine (other than a few scratches).
To be fair though my Coleman Xtreme cooler was also in the van during this crash and it too survived.
Regardless, the hard Yeti, RTIC and other roto-molded coolers are about as indestructible as coolers can be. This is thanks to their hard shells and thick walls.
In fact, Yeti has a cooler that is marketed as being bear-proof, and if you don’t know, bears have pretty sharp claws and jaws!
Cheaper coolers find themselves lacking when it comes to durability, and they are easier to break than the more expensive coolers. Since the van crash my Coleman Xtreme cooler now has cracks in it's exterior and with other cheaper coolers falls and hard impacts can break the exterior, but this doesn't happen with high-end coolers.
If you're going to be putting your cooler through the ringer and exposing it to a lot of abuse then a high-end cooler won't break and so will be well worth the extra cost.
Cheap Low-End Coolers Are Worth It When…
Sometimes spending all your money on the more expensive cooler may not actually be worth it for you, especially if you’re not even using it for what it was designed for.
Here are some examples of where cheaper coolers are worth it.
Using The Cooler For Short Stints
If you’re not someone who spends much time outdoors, camping, or going on road trips, then buying the most expensive cooler on the market is likely a waste of your money.
If you're only using your cooler once per year then spending an extra $200 so you can save on 2-3 bags of ice over a week (which might only cost you $5-$10) doesn't really make economical sense.
Also if you're using your cooler for one off occasions like parties and BBQs then a cheaper cooler is more than adequate for the job.
For example, if you’re hosting a party and are only using the cooler to store drinks for that one night, a cheaper cooler will definitely work.
If you’re using your cooler to carry around your lunch for the day or to take to work, why not buy a cooler lunch bag? These are light, durable, effective, and a much cheaper option.
You Want a Lighter Cooler
If you’re looking for a light cooler that is easy to move around, then you may want to avoid buying expensive hard coolers.
While the more expensive coolers do have better ice retention, they are A LOT heavier than your lower-end coolers. Check out the weight of Yeti coolers. These high-end coolers are back breaking even when empty…don't get me started on carrying them by yourself when they are full!
This is thanks to all the extra gadgets, safety locks, and anti-bear protection.
Buying a slightly cheaper cooler that you don’t have to sweat your way through carrying is a better option, as there are ways to work around ice retention.
Brands like Coleman Xtreme make excellent coolers that are considered cheap coolers that still perform fairly well in terms of ice retention.
They are nowhere near as heavy as the Yeti or RTIC heavy-duty coolers.
Insulated lid and extra wall insulation makes this the best cheap cooler for ice retention.
Can hold up to 84 cans, has heavy duty wheels for easy transport and the closed lid has 4 inbuilt cup holders and can hold up to 250 lbs - making it perfect for a seat.
The Climate You Live In
The type of climate that you live in can also determine your cooler needs. Many of the expensive coolers are made to withstand “desert” conditions while you’re out in the rugged wild.
But if you’re going on camping trips into the forest and you live in a climate where it is cold and icy all year round, you don’t need to splurge on the most expensive cooler for ice retention.
Below you can see my Coleman Xtreme ice retention test that I did in the cooler months of the year keeping the cooler in the shade. This $40-$50 cooler kept ice for 10+ days and outperformed even some of the high end coolers.
This likely wouldn't perform as well in extreme heat, but if you're in a cooler climate then a cheap cooler might do the job fairly well.
Cheaper High-end Coolers As An Alternative
If you’re not wanting to spend a lot of money on a cooler but still want a good quality cooler, you can look at some of the in-between alternatives.
Some of the best cheaper high-end coolers:
- Lifetime coolers
- Coleman coolers. Specifically the Xtreme series
- Igloo coolers. Specifically, the Maxcold (which is the best cheapest cooler like Yeti)
In my opinion, Lifetime coolers are a great alternative, you can read my review of them to see for yourself.
Lifetime coolers are THE BEST value for money cooler on the market. They are made in the USA, bear proof, backed by a 5 year warranty and can hold ice for up to 7+ days.
If you want a premium cooler on a budget this is one of the best coolers you can get.