Steel Coolers vs Plastic Coolers: Price and Features Comparison

Steel vs Plastic Coolers

Steel coolers, like the Corona Steel series, look pretty cool. But how do they stack up when compared to cheaper plastic coolers?

Stainless steel coolers are more durable than plastic coolers and can take more heavy wear and tear. The lid has a locking mechanism, which very few plastic coolers have, but they use similar insulation and thus have similar ice retention to plastic coolers. However, they are more expensive than plastic coolers coming in at around $180 vs plastic coolers which will likely cost in the $30-$70 range.

Roto-moulded coolers like Yeti have far superior ice retention as well as superior build quality. If you are looking for the most durable, hard hitting cooler then you'll definitely want to go for a roto-moulded cooler.

Steel Cooler Price Comparison

Steel coolers are more expensive than your standard plastic coolers, by a fair margin. However, they are cheaper than similar sized roto-moulded coolers like Yeti.

Let's have a look at the most popular steel coolers on Amazon and compare their pricing to plastic and roto-moulded coolers.

The pricing should update directly from Amazon, if it doesn't say a price simple click the link to see the price. The below links are affiliate links so if you use them to buy a steel cooler I appreciate it.

STEEL COOLERS

Corona 54-Quart Steel Cooler:

Igloo 54-Quart Steel Cooler:

Coleman 54-Quart Steel Cooler:

Coleman 54-Quart Steel Belted Cooler:

PLASTIC COOLERS

Coleman Xtreme 50-Quart Plastic Cooler:

Coleman Regular Plastic Cooler:

Yeti 65 (57-Quart) Roto-moulded Cooler:

What Exactly Are Steel Coolers Made Of?

Steel coolers are made of a combination of plastic, insulating foam and stainless steel.

The insulating foam is the same as that used in your standard plastic cooler as is the food grade plastic interior.

Where it stands out from a standard plastic cooler is in the exterior. Steel coolers are covered in (you guessed it) steel. A brushed stainless steel to be exact.

While plastic is prone to cracking and breaking, especially when struck, stainless steel is less likely to break and more likely to dent. Check out the dents in this video about Corona steel coolers.

Steel coolers also have steel hinges, which are more durable than plastic ones, and they have stainless steel swing up handles which can easily handle the weight of a fully filled cooler.

Steel coolers actually have a raised plastic base, why exactly I'm not sure. My best theory is that metal conducts heat so having a metal base touching the hot ground would compromise ice retention.

Something that sets steel coolers apart from plastic ones is they use a solid latch design on the lid. Plastic coolers use friction to keep the lid shut whereas steel coolers use a latch which provides a better and tighter seal.

Steel coolers have a triple snap, leak resistant drainage plug.

Corona coolers are by far the most popular steel coolers and they have the final added addition of an external bottle opener, which you are going to need for those backyard BBQs or that day at the beach.

What Is The Ice Retention of a Steel Cooler?

Given that most steel coolers cost around $180 you would expect superior ice retention to a regular plastic cooler. Unfortunately this appears to not be the case.

The fact that is uses similar insulating foam to a regular plastic cooler and the fact that metal retains heat would likely explain why the ice retention isn't much better.

You would likely expect ice retention of 1-3 days for a steel cooler depending on how hot it is as well as how frequently the cooler is used. A plastic cooler would keep ice for a similar amount of time while a roto-moulded cooler will likely keep ice 5-10 days.

Roto-moulded coolers like the Yeti or Pelican will keep ice much longer than a steel cooler, but they are more expensive again. So it's up to you whether or not the extra cost is worth it.

Check out the quick video below that shows the ice retention of a Coleman Steel belted cooler to a soft cooler, styrofoam cooler as well as some popular brand roto-moulded coolers.

Why Buy a Steel Cooler?

So what is the point in buying a steel cooler if the ice retention isn't any better than that of a regular cooler. There are 3 reasons I can think of:

Novelty (Corona)

The most popular steel cooler is by far the Corona licensed steel cooler with that big beautiful Corona logo on it.

In this case you're less buying it for the ice retention or even durability but more so buying it for the novelty factor. Who doesn't love Corona beers and how trendy and cooler is it to have a metal Corona cooler when all your mates have a crappy plastic cooler.

Durability

Steel coolers are more durable than plastic coolers and thus will last longer as they are less likely to break.

I have heard of families owning their steel coolers for over 20 years and they still hold up, so definitely more durable than your standard plastic.

However they are unlikely to be as durable as a roto-moulded cooler which is basically indestructible. Heck one brand Orca has a lifetime warranty on their roto-moudled coolers because they are just that durable.

Look and Vibe

Part of the joy of drinking a nice cold beer is the relaxing vibe it brings. Whether it is a backyard BBQ, a day at the beach or a camping trip it just feels good to relax with a beer in hand.

It's hard to put a price on the ambience a Corona steel cooler brings. For younger people especially this cooler just feels “cool” in a way that no other cooler does.

If I was younger and didn't have 3 kids and was instead going for a weekend away with some girls and guys I would love to bring this cooler with me. I would sacrifice ice retention for the sheer cool factor.

Are Steel Coolers Worth It?

Steel coolers can be great, but they aren't the most durable nor the most affordable option out there.

Steel Coolers Are Fun Coolers

However, if you want a cooler that is fun, feels cool but that can also take a beating and keep on kicking then a steel cooler (especially a Corona) cooler would be a great choice for you.

Click the link below if you want to go ahead and purchase a Corona steel cooler. I'm sure you're going to love it.

Corona 54-Quart Steel Cooler:

The Best Budget Cooler

Coleman Xtreme 50: Budget Cooler Like Yeti

If you are buying a cooler and you specifically want the best cooler for the cheapest price then a steel cooler probably isn't worth it.

The best cooler on a budget is by far the Coleman Xtreme 5-Day cooler which can keep ice 5-10 days and comes with built in wheels.

This cooler is great value for money. It generally sells for under $50 on Amazon and has really good ice retention for the money. It's fairly durable and also comes with built in wheels as well as a suitcase style handle for easy carrying.

If you want a budget cooler check out the Coleman using the link below:

Coleman Xtreme 50-Quart Wheeled Cooler:

Roto-Moulded Coolers Are The Most Durable Coolers

Yeti Tundra 45

If you specifically want the most durable cooler that keeps ice the longest then again a steel cooler isn't the best option. You're better off going with almost any roto-moulded cooler but the most popular model is the Yeti Tundra series.

If you want a durable cooler that keeps ice 7-10 days check out the popular Yeti sizes using the links below:

Yeti Roadie 20 (20-Quart):

Yeti 45 (37-Quart):

Yeti 65 (57-Quart):

Yeti are the most popular roto-moulded coolers on the market and are really great products. I own one and love it.

But if they seem a bit out of your price range check out this guide on coolers like Yeti but cheaper and find an option in there that suits you.