Roto-molded coolers have revolutionized the cooler industry and offer users products that are more durable, retain ice longer, and are heavier duty than ever before. Early on, shopping for a roto-molded cooler was easy since there were only a few models available.
Now, almost every manufacturer has entered the market, and new makers are popping up every day.
Let us help you navigate the growing selection as we share our own research and reviews into which are the best overall, best for the money, and even what is available for the penny-pinching outdoorsman. Plus, we will offer tips concerning what to look for in a roto-molded cooler so you can do your own shopping with confidence.
The 6 Best Rotomolded Coolers: Outdoor Empire Reviews
- Best Cheap #1: Pure Outdoor Emperor Cooler
- Best Cheap #2: Pelican ProGear Elite
- Best for the Money #1: RTIC
- Best for the Money #2: Engel Coolers High-Performance ENG65
- Best on the Market #1: YETI Tundra
- Best on the Market #2: ORCA Extra Heavy Duty
|Category||Best cheap||Best for the money||Best overall|
|Product|| || |
|Capacity||30 QT/ 23 cans||65 QT/ 64 cans||45 QT/ 26 cans|
|Insulation Thickness||2.10 in||3 in||3 in|
|Weight||21.67 lbs||36.5 lbs||22 lbs|
|Ice Retention||10 days||Up to 10 days||10 days|
|Interior Dimensions||14.60 in x 10.20 in x 11 in||26 in x 12 in x 13 in||25.75 in x 16.13 in x 15.4 in|
|Cost||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price|
1. Best Cheap Roto-molded Cooler #1: Pure Outdoor Emperor Cooler
Buying a roto-molded cooler is likely to cost more than some of the other designs available, but that does not mean it has to cost more than most of your other outdoor gear combined. Pure Outdoor offers a line of top-quality roto-molded coolers with many of the features competitors are famous for, but at a fraction of the price.
Extra-thick walls constructed of pressure-injected, commercial-grade polyurethane foam and thick rubber seals keep items cold for up to 150 hours.
Steel-reinforced corners, lockable padlock slots, and heavy-duty rubber latches will keep items secure both from curious campers and wildlife. There is even a convenient bottle opener included.
- Designed for extreme temperature, both hot and cold
- Lockable steel reinforced corners
- Tie-down points for secure transportation in a boat or vehicle
- Lifetime warranty
- Very thick wall design equals less storage space vs. overall size
- Other than the bottle opener, there are not accessories available
2. Best Cheap #2: Pelican ProGear Elite
The Pelican ProGear Elite is doing something many of its higher-priced competitors have been trying to do for many years—giving YETI a run for the money but doing it on the cheap.
It is one of the most affordable alternatives on the market and is reported to outperform many of the more expensive models when it comes to ice retention. Plus, it comes with some nice accessories.
Aside from the thick, insulating roto-molded walls, there are twin handles, both molded and fold out, for easy carrying alone or with a partner. It also has a push button that clicks to lock latches, and they are so secure that they are bear resistant even without the use of additional padlocks.
Repeated tests have found that ice retention equals or exceeds that of the YETI.
- Rugged, bear-resistant construction
- Economical entry into rotomold cooler ownership
- Molded cup holders, something many similar models lack
- Dual handles for easy transport alone or with a partner
- Although latches are very secure, they can be very difficult to operate as well
- Industrial design: great for camping with the boys, but not as attractive on the family get away
3. Best Roto-molded Cooler for the Money #1: RTIC
If the YETI is the benchmark of roto-molded coolers, then RTIC is the benchmark of those competing with YETI. The RTIC slogan is “Overbuilt, not overpriced,” and their coolers are specifically designed to provide the best value for the money without sacrificing quality.
Not only does the RTIC line cost less than their YETI counterparts, they actually exceed YETI in two vital areas. First, they meet or exceed the YETI in terms of ice retention, something confirmed by many tests both in the field and laboratory. Second, they offer more storage space.
While many advertise a specific storage capacity, say 45 quarts, they fall short by a few quarts. Not the RTIC. Each cooler offers exactly the storage advertised.
- Offers all the features of higher-priced competitors at a discounted price
- Meets or exceeds other models in terms of ice retention
- Provides true advertised storage area
- Rope and plastic handles are not as durable as molded or fold out options
- Do not offer a great deal of accessories
Compare prices at: Walmart
4. Best for the Money #2: Engel Coolers High-Performance ENG65
Engel is not yet a widely recognized name in coolers, but it is only a matter of time. If you are a serious camper, you owe it to yourself to pick one up before they become so popular that they are hard to find and difficult to afford.
While they are making a name for themselves is a perfect time to purchase a cooler with many features at a fraction of the price.
The ENG65T offers 65 quarts of storage in a single-piece, roto-mold design with 2 inches of high-density closed-cell polyurethane insulation. Thanks to the airtight silicone gasket and adjustable marine-grade compression latches, you receive not only the highest overall performance but also a bear-resistant unit.
It is also dry ice compatible and backed by a 10-year warranty.
- Lightest cooler in its class, weighing only 11.38 pounds
- With 1-inch thin walls, it over greater storage space vs. overall size
- Bear resistant, IGBC certified
- Does not come with any accessories
- Does not have molded cup holders
Compare prices at: Cabela’s
5. Best on the Market #1: YETI Tundra
YETI has established itself as the premier maker of high-end, heavy-duty coolers. Once marketed to the hardcore fishing community, they have now become a favorite among a wide range of sportsmen and the benchmark by which other coolers are measured.
The Tundra offers all the features YETI in known for—thick polyurethane walls, all-around brim seal, heavy-duty rubber latches, and dual interlocking hinges.
The Tundra is guaranteed to provide days of cold ice and years of faithful service. The rugged design can withstand anything you can throw at it in camp, on the boat, or bouncing around the back of the truck. This cooler was built to be your best outdoor partner.
- Superior insulation and brim seal for maximum cold retention
- Heavy-duty construction for years of hassle-free use
- Now available in a variety of colors and sizes
- No cup holders
Compare prices at: Sportsman’s Guide, Sportsman’s Warehouse, Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops
6. Best Roto-molded Cooler on the Market #2: ORCA Extra Heavy Duty
OCRA is quickly becoming one of the leading names in roto-molded coolers, and this cooler is one of the reasons. It offers the perfect combination of strength, durability, insulating ability, and ease of use. Once you have it you will want to take it on every adventure.
The single-piece, molded design makes this cooler nearly indestructible. With easy-to-use whale tale latches, flow-through drain, and ergonomic handles, it is perfect for the user who wants and engineered cooler but don’t want to be an engineer to use it.
The advanced insulation technology and gasket lid seal will retain ice for up to 10 days. It is available in a variety of sizes, so there is sure to be one that meets your needs and budget.
- Extremely durable roto-molded construction with few parts that can break or malfunction
- Designed for maximum ice retention with minimal pre-use prep
- Available in a variety of sizes and prices
- Made in the USA with a lifetime warranty
- Very thick walls mean less-than-ideal storage space vs. overall size
- Does not include many of the accessories available with other models
Compare prices at: Walmart, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s
What is Roto-Molded Cooler?
While roto-molded coolers have taken the industry by storm, many owners and potential buyers are still in the dark when it comes to what they actually are and what makes them so different from traditional coolers. The key is the manufacturing process: rotational molding.
Poly-based powders are placed in a mold and heated, and as they melt, the mold is rotated. This process allows the plastic to fill every void, creating a single piece construction without seams or opening of any kind.
Not only is the end product free of imperfections or seams through which air (and cold) can escape, it is also extremely thick and durable. The end product provides superior insulation and the ability to withstand heavy loads and impact from dropping, banging, and even being used as a seat.
In many cases, the poly-resin material is also UV resistant, which prevents sun damage and increased interior temperatures when left exposed. Some are also specifically designed to withstand attacks by curious wild animals, although the ability to withstand a prolonged attack often depends on the use of secondary locks.
Although not a direct result of the roto-molding process, the majority of these coolers also feature heavy-duty seals of rubber or neoprene, strong rubber latches, and even rubber feet. These combined features allow for airtight conditions for better insulation, increased durability, and better protection.
But the real question is, how do they compare to traditional coolers?
Airtight conditions and extra thick walls coupled with heavy-duty seals result in the ability to retain cold temperatures for longer periods of time. Most traditional coolers will keep ice for one or maybe two days at most. Roto-molded coolers have the ability to retain ice for several days, even as many as 6 or 10 days.
One of the first roto coolers was not built specifically to hold ice for extended periods; rather, its purpose was to provide a tough cooler rugged enough to withstand the demands of extreme outdoor adventures.
Due to the poly-resin make up, it is not only rugged enough to withstand bumps, drops, and even being thrown, it is also resistant to UV rays and does not become brittle or warped over time.
Although the larger models can still be heavy, they are nothing compared to a traditional cooler of the same size. This is due mainly to the fact that the use of metal is not necessary to obtain the desired strength.
At first, the higher cost was chalked up to being new or in high demand. However, as time passed, it became obvious to users that molded coolers where simply more expensive to produce.
Although there are quality designs that sell for far less than earlier models, a roto-molded cooler will still cost significantly more than a similarly sized traditional cooler.
Decreased Storage Space
While it is true that you can buy very large roto-molded coolers, even large enough for several days’ worth of food and drink, they do suffer from decreased usable storage space. Due to the extra-thick walls, a roto-molded cooler with have slightly less interior space, as much as several quarts, than a traditional cooler of the same size.
It is possible to purchase a traditional cooler in almost any shape, size, or color your heart desires. Roto-molded cooler offer far fewer choices.
The typical roto-molded cooler will be a basic box shape, available in 20 quarts or larger, and primarily white, tan, or light blue. Although additional colors are becoming available, most are still a single solid color.
Why are They So Expensive?
Cost is a matter of both production cost and demand. The process of producing a roto-molded cooler is more expensive than that used for traditional coolers, requiring more costly equipment and supplies.
Thus, the base cost is increased. Next, there is an increased cost in terms of production due to the superior attention to detail. Most companies are targeting the high-end fishing and hunting communities, so they strive to produce a more reliable, and thus more expensive, end product.
Finally, there is the matter of supply and demand. Although the production cost was very high in the beginning and continues to be higher than that of traditional coolers, it has decreased over time.
However, demand continues to be high. Sportsmen have come to recognize the value of these coolers, especially if they spend a lot of time in the field and rely on their coolers to protect their supplies and catch. The end result is that the price often reflects what the market can bare.
Are They Worth It?
Whether or not a roto-molded cooler is worth the cost is a personal decision. If you are an occasional angler or hunter looking for a cooler for the back deck when friends or family visit, then the cost is probably not worth it.
Having a YETI or Grizzly sitting next to the sliding door is more a matter of status than need. However, if you spend more time in the field than behind a desk and rely on your cooler for cold, safe provisions for days on end, then cost is matter of what your food, catch, and even health is worth.
Asking if the price of a roto-molded cooler is worth it is like asking if the Penn reel is worth the difference in cost when you could buy a knock off for half the price. If you rely on it and use it heavily, the cost is more like an investment.
While you could buy a cheaper cooler for a fraction of the price, it is unlikely it will survive under harsh conditions or extreme abuse. In the end, you are faced with the possibility of spending $400 up front or $100 four times over the next few years.
How to Choose
How will it be Used?
If you are searching for a roto-molded cooler, there is a good chance you will be using it in extreme conditions—exposure to high or low temperatures, harsh adventures that threaten it with damage from drops, bumps and tumbles that would ruin other designs, and repeated use that would test any piece of gear.
This is what roto-molded coolers are designed for. But not all coolers are created equal, and that applies to roto-molded coolers as well.
The benefits of a roto-molded cooler are not truly experienced until it is put to the extreme. Hunting, fishing, boating, camping, and even tailgating are what they were built for.
As stated before, those who will place the cooler on the back deck, invite friends over, and sit by it while watching the sunset can still benefit from its advantages, but they are buying name or trademark, not an ability to perform.
Many manufacturers follow a similar path when it comes to design. Regardless of maker, these coolers look similar and can often be confused if the logo is not visible. However, there are some differences that impact overall quality and others that impact performance under specific extreme conditions.
Thick walls are standard features in roto-molded coolers. They are a product of the molding process and impact the overall temperature retention rate as well as bulk. Look for a design that maximizes insulation capability while keeping walls from being overly thick.
You will also need to balance wall thickness and the associated loss of interior space with the overall size of the cooler
Latches, Seals, and the Ability to be Locked
Aside from providing increased insulation, quality latches, seals, and aftermarket locks increase a cooler’s ability to withstand wild animal damage. This is especially important when adventuring in remote bear country where protecting your supplies from attack is an everyday concern.
Due to their size and weight, roto-molded coolers can be bulky and difficult to carry or transport. This makes the need for quality handles a must, and some are better than others.
Molded handles provide a superior handhold, especially when being moved solo. Rope handles, which usually include a rubber or plastic hand piece, are more suited for larger coolers moved by more than one person. Retractable handles can be both comfortable and easy to use but are more prone to damage.
The ability to wheel you cooler into place can make the difference between a short trip and an adventure you will remember for a lifetime. Of course, if you are to benefit from having wheeled cooler, you need to ensure they are constructed of quality materials and have a design that will allows for reliable, easy use on uneven terrain.
Otherwise, you will end up carrying the cooler (and wheels) anyway. You will also want to ensure the wheels are paired with a suitable handle that is long enough to allow for a natural posture and that is strong enough to withstand pulling the weight of a fully loaded cooler on rough terrain.
There are times when a basic cooler is not enough. Having accessories available, or having the ability to add accessories later, can be the tiebreaker when comparing one cooler against another. Popular accessories include:
Exterior Storage – This allows you to store dry goods and non-food items without sacrificing valuable cold storage space.
Cup Holders – Although once a staple on coolers, many designers have decided to forego their inclusion. This is a shame. Having a cup holder molded into the top of the lid means you always have somewhere to place a cold one.
Dry Storage – Aside from exterior storage, you may also want to have dry storage available, a tray or partition that will protect specific items from direct contact with ice or water that forms when it eventually starts to melt.
Ability to be Locked – Reinforced corners and the ability to place a padlock serves two purposes. First, it protects your goods and food stores from curious onlookers, both human and from the wild kingdom. Second, they allow you to push your cooler harder when traveling. You can store gear and valuables inside while en route and then replace them with food at the last minute.
You might also want to check our article, Types of Coolers: 4 Kinds of Coolers & What They’re Good For.
If you want to get the most from your cooler, there are some simple tips that you can follow both before hitting the trail and while enjoying an extended trip:
Bigger is Better
If you are unsure of what size cooler you need, always err on the side of bigger than you think you might need. Having a larger cooler with additional storage space will allow for additional ice storage and increased ice retention. It will also allow for more flexibility when it comes to how the cooler may be used.
Related: How To Pack a Cooler Properly (Drinks, Camping, Day Trips, Meat)
Avoid Opening More than Necessary
Remember when Mom would yell at you for opening the refrigerator, claiming you would let the cold air out? The same holds true for your cooler. The more you open it and expose the contents to outside temperatures, the less likely it is to withstand the loss of ice over an extended period.
Pre-Cool for Better Ice Retention
Pre-cooling the intended contents, or even the cooler itself, will increase the life of any ice you add since it will need to work less to achieve the same results. Frozen meats will last longer, and cold drinks will stay cold longer. If the cooler itself is chilled prior to the placement of ice, there will be less loss due to contact with warm surfaces.
You can also check our other buying guide, Best Cooler for Ice Retention (We Tested 28 to Find Out).
There was a time when roto-molded coolers were so sought after that finding one was more important than what it would cost. Although they are still extremely popular, they are more readily available than ever, so supply and demand are in the buyer’s favor.
Shopping around can often allow you to save money without selecting a lower quality product.
Although your cooler may be resistant to sun damage and can withstand extreme temperatures, this does not mean it should be stored next to the garage and exposed unnecessarily. Clean your cooler when you are done using it, and store it in a protected, dry location until your next adventure, and it will last you a lifetime.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Do roto-molded coolers float?
Yes, most roto-molded coolers will float. Not only do the thick polyurethane walls provide natural flotation properties, many of these coolers are also airtight and waterproof. This combination of properties adds to the polyurethane’s own ability to float by trapping air in the main compartment and keeping water out.
If you will be using your cooler in a marine environment and are concerned about its ability to float, consult the manufacturer’s specific product information for specific instructions.
Of course, even the highest-quality cooler will sink if water is allowed to enter the main compartment. It is important to ensure that all valves, drains, and lids are closed and that latches are secured if there is any possibility the cooler will fall overboard.
Roto-molded coolers too expensive? Maybe you can find a better option from these 8 coolers we reviewed.
How to Properly Clean and Maintain a Cooler (Even Stains and Smells)
Great detail! Like seeing these ratings, but you overlooked the two best ice retention rotomold coolers on the market:
Kong & Otterbox.
They have longer ice retention and better features than Yeti. That and Kong is 100% made in the USA unlike some of the competition.
One of the big factors in the higher cost is the time to manufacture is longer due to the cycle required for the rotational molding process. The tooling for these is actually much less expensive than traditional injection molded cooler parts.
Did you test any Yukon’s?