A Cooler Test – Coleman vs. Ozark Trail vs. YETI

And the winner is – YETI! Are you surprised? Me neither. We ended up purchasing a YETI but let me tell you how we got there. We really tried to buy a cheaper cooler but the universe wanted us to buy a YETI. Remember last summer when we spent over $100 on ice for our two week trip to Montana? If you would like to read about how not to pack a cooler click here to read about it. $100+ on ice alone. Plus all the food that we were continually throwing away. It’s such a waste on so many levels.

After our trip last summer, we decided we need to invest in a better cooler if we want to keep taking long road trips. We had heard about a company called RTIC that makes coolers comparable to YETI for only half the price. The downside is they are always on backorder so you have to wait a couple weeks to a couple months for your cooler.

Earlier this year while standing in line at an REI Garage Sale, I was talking to the guy in front of me about coolers. He said his buddy had purchased an Ozark Trail cooler from Walmart and it held ice longer than a YETI. I was rather excited to hear that, as I didn’t want to wait months to try an RTIC.

Several weeks ago we finally purchased an Ozark Trail 52-Quart High-Performance Cooler from Walmart. I was so excited to get it home and run a test to see if it really holds ice longer than my Coleman 60 Quart Performance Wheeled Cooler. We purchased four bags of ice – two for each cooler – and got started. The Ozark Trail held ice one day longer than the Coleman and in general, the cooler felt cooler inside than the Coleman. Unfortunately, the deal breaker is that it intermittently leaked water from the drain spout. Prior to purchasing the cooler I had read several reviews that said this cooler collects condensation around the drain spout. I didn’t think much of the comments until I saw the amount of water leaking from my cooler. I’m not sure if it was condensation or a leak. Either way, that’s not going to work for us. We tightened the spout and it leaked three more times over two days, so the cooler went back to Walmart.

Ozark Trail drain plug leak

Our Coleman has been used and abused and has never leaked. Depending on what you’re using the cooler for, the leaky drain spout might not be a big deal. For us, however, we keep our cooler in our car while traveling and we often camp in bear country. I don’t want any cooler water intermittently leaking and leaving food smells. The other downside to the Ozark Trail cooler is that it weighs 31 pounds empty. It’s definitely heavier than its more expensive friends on the market.

As soon as we realized the Ozark Trail was not going to work I got online and ordered an RTIC. RTIC Coolers can only be purchased from their website, which is why they say their price point is much lower than YETI. I made this purchase nine weeks prior to our vacation and the cooler is scheduled to arrive only days before we leave. That’s a little closer than I’d like but we need a better cooler. Unfortunately, I realized a little too late that I purchased the wrong size and the larger size won’t be available until after we leave for vacation.

So now we’re to the YETI. See, I told you I tried to purchase a cheaper cooler first. REI had a member sale over Memorial Day weekend and we were able to save 20% on our cooler. We still spent more money than I’d like but at least we saved 20%. Just as with the other cooler test, we purchased four bags of ice and put the Coleman and YETI Tundra 65 in a head-to-head test. The result – welcome to the family, YETI.

Here is a summary of our two tests. The first test was Coleman vs. Ozark Trail.

Each cooler started with two 10 lb. bags of ice. The weather was in low 90s during the test, the coolers were in full sun for most of the morning, and we opened them several times throughout the day. The ice melted in the Coleman in 39 hours and the Ozark Trail in 73 hours. The water turned warm in both coolers fairly quickly after the ice melted.

The second test was Coleman vs. YETI.

Each cooler started with two 10 lb. bags of ice and two gallon bottles of water. The weather was in the high 90s during the test, the coolers were in full sun for most of the morning, and we opened them several times throughout the day. The ice melted in the Coleman in 24 hours and the YETI in 48 hours. What I found most fascinating about this test is that the water in the YETI stayed cold for three additional days after the ice melted. The water was cold enough that had the gallon jugs been milk, we would have been able to drink out of them for three days after the ice melted. All-in-all, the YETI lasted for five days and the Coleman for one day.

The majority of coolers on the market claim to hold ice for an extended period of time. The reality is that it is dependent upon so many factors. Temperature, how many times the cooler is opened, whether or not the cooler was pre-cooled, the type of ice being used, the type of insulation in the cooler, ect. If you plan to live out of a cooler for a long period or regularly use it for longer periods, I would suggest investing in a rotomolded cooler like a YETI that is truly made to keep food cold for longer periods of time. If you’re on the fence about spending the money, consider how long you will be gone and what it would cost to add ice to your cooler everyday. For us, while a YETI required a larger initial investment, we will save money (and use less water) over time. Many companies and sporting stores make or sell rotomolded coolers. If you are interested in purchasing one, considering waiting for a sale, like the REI 20% off member sale.

Lastly, here is our list of pros and cons for the three coolers we tested:

Coleman

Pros: Works well for day or weekend trips; has wheels so it’s easy to move around; lightest weight and lowest price point of the three; easy to open and close.

Cons: Ice needs to be replaced daily.

Ozark Trail

Pros: Held ice longer than Coleman; cheapest rotomolded cooler on the market.

Cons: Drain plug either leaks or collects condensation intermittently; heavier than Coleman, Yeti, and other rotomolded coolers; does not have wheels; the latches were tough to open and close.

YETI

Pros: Held ice longer than Coleman and Ozark Trail and stayed cooler inside for significantly longer; latches are fairly easy to open and close; ideal for any length trip.

Cons: Heavier than Coleman; does not have wheels; most expensive of the three tested.

I hope you found this cooler test/review to be helpful. For a long time I have been wanting to know what the YETI fuss is all about and now I know. If you have any cooler tips or recommendations, please free to share in the comments!

**Update 5/27/2019: We’ve had the Yeti now for two years and still love it. At one point I was keeping track of how much ice we were saving to figure out the breakeven but I lost track. I’ve yet to dump out a cooler of food due to water logging so all is well. My only complaint is that the cooler we have does not have wheels. I recently saw that Yeti is making wheeled coolers so if you are in the market definitely check those out.

32 replies
  1. Paula
    Paula says:

    For future information, RTIC Coolers are always on display in large quantities at the Buc-ees Convenience stores in Texas!! No need to special order or wait for delivery.

    Reply
  2. StevenP
    StevenP says:

    Yeti wins? Really??? The Yeti 50 costs $380, while the Ozark 52 (same features, basically same performance if not better, split ‘leak’ seems to be a fluke–have nor experienced this) costs under $130, about ONE-THIRD the price of the Yeti (or, about **$250** less!). For the same performance and features, I’ll take the Ozark. Enjoy your Yeti. For what you paid, I could own an Ozark and have two more to give as gifts to friends.

    Reply
    • India McKinney
      India McKinney says:

      You are actually correct about the Ozark, I have one too. I actually wantes the Yeti fornthe leak proof zipper soft cooler version and it turns out made differently, but accomplishes the exact same thing for totally different prices. I am penny pincher, so if I can get all the cool features of a yeti under someone else’s name for fraction of the price I am not gonna split hairs over what its called. Only what it does ans how much it cost to get it. In my case yeti $250 was the one I wanted, Ozark on clearance for $34 regular $68 is what I bought and it came with all the yeti features just minus the Yeti name. I’m happy!

      Reply
      • Caroline
        Caroline says:

        That’s awesome that you were able to find one on clearance for such a steal! I am glad that it is working out for you. Thanks for sharing your experience.

        Reply
  3. Steve
    Steve says:

    Anyone claiming to be an expert that uses cubed ice should be taken with a grain of salt. But keep the salt away from the ice cubes. And the ice cubes away from the cooler.

    Block ice is the o luck way to go. Worked back in the day and the Iceman came once a week. Keep the cooler well drained and a block will last much longer than cubes. Keeping it plenty cool for more than a week

    Reply
  4. Michael Whitehurst
    Michael Whitehurst says:

    We have RTIC at a farm store called spar in Wildwood Florida. The problem I have is no matter what…if I catch anything over 40″ I have to come off the gulf because even a 75qt roto is so small inside.

    Reply
    • Caroline
      Caroline says:

      I agree – the insides are much smaller. Having to end any trip is never fun but hopefully the catch makes up for it. Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  5. Adam Bright
    Adam Bright says:

    I normally freeze my own block ice in old butter bowls and the like before a trip. I freeze my bottled water also. It helps a lot on ice consumption.

    Reply
  6. Homeless WanderDale Handy
    Homeless WanderDale Handy says:

    Your own Comments…

    Coleman vs. Ozark Trail
    The ice melted in the Coleman in 39 hours and the Ozark Trail in 73 hours.

    Coleman vs. ETI
    The ice melted in the Coleman in 24 hours and the YETI in 48 hours.

    Look at the numbers you reported in your own testing!!!!!!
    Ozark Trail in 73 hours
    YETI in 48 hours
    I think you just wanted a Yeti and it didn’t make a difference as to what your test results were.

    Reply
    • Caroline
      Caroline says:

      You are correct about the numbers but I think there are a couple important clarifying factors to be taken into account. The weather was in the low 90s when the Ozark was tested and in the high 90s when the Yeti was tested. While the Yeti ice melted in two days, the water remained cold for an additional three days, cold enough for food storage, where the water in the Ozark went warm right away. So in the end, the Yeti was colder two days longer than the Ozark. After using the Yeti for one year we have been really impressed with how cold it stays. We’ve been able to cut down on ice and trips to the store for more ice while out camping.

      Reply
  7. April
    April says:

    I was actually taking this post pretty seriously until I got to the Coleman vs. Yeti comparison. What happened to the control? The other tests were the same but when you got to the Yeti you added jugs of water and threw the control out the window. From what I can tell the Ozark Trail still had ice at 39 hours and the Yeti had the same amount of ice at 35 hours with jugs of frozen water.

    Reply
    • Caroline
      Caroline says:

      Hi April. Thanks for the question. The tests were conducted two weeks apart and when I started the Yeti test I thought I should put something in the cooler to simulate a real camping experience. I wish I would have thought about that when I tested the Ozark. You are correct about the numbers but I think there are a couple important clarifying factors to be taken into account. The weather was in the low 90s when the Ozark was tested and in the high 90s when the Yeti was tested. While the Yeti ice melted in two days, the water remained cold for an additional three days, cold enough for food storage, where the water in the Ozark went warm right away. So in the end, the Yeti was colder two days longer than the Ozark. After using the Yeti for one year we have been really impressed with how cold it stays. We’ve been able to cut down on ice and trips to the store for more ice while out camping. Sorry my control is off. Science experiments are not my area of expertise. 🙂

      Reply
  8. Jon
    Jon says:

    Freeze 1/2 gallon or gallon jugs of water. Lasts longer than cubed ice and when the ice melts, you have drinking, cooking or washing water. Duh 🙂

    Reply
    • Caroline
      Caroline says:

      That’s a great suggestion for the start of the trip! Thanks for sharing. I’ll try that next time we head out.

      Reply
  9. Christopher Keeton
    Christopher Keeton says:

    Well done, now you just need to get a RTIC to put up against the Yeti and you’ll have answered all my questions 🙂

    Reply
  10. David Buist
    David Buist says:

    Am I crazy, your numbers say the the Ozark held ice for 73 hours vs 48 for the yeti, yet you declare yeti the winner?

    Reply
    • Caroline
      Caroline says:

      Hi David. Thanks for the clarifying question. You are correct about the numbers but I think there are a couple important clarifying factors to be taken into account. The weather was in the low 90s when the Ozark was tested and in the high 90s when the Yeti was tested. While the Yeti ice melted in two days, the water remained cold for an additional three days, cold enough for food storage, where the water in the Ozark went warm right away. So in the end, the Yeti was colder two days longer than the Ozark. After using the Yeti for one year we have been really impressed with how cold it stays. We’ve been able to cut down on ice and trips to the store for more ice while out camping.

      Reply
  11. Ryan
    Ryan says:

    The Ozark has poor construction and won’t last as long, so keep that in mind. If money is all that matters buy Ozark. If you want keep it for longer buy Orca, yeti etc, used 2-3 times a year then …Ozark. I source products from Asia and have seen the same factories making all these items ( similar brands), plus the cups. You can say all you want and testing conditions vary, but Ozark uses cheaper material, so therefore a cheaper cooler. Some of the cost of quality brands is supporting jobs at retailers and the actual companies, not Walmart who just poorly copies products and puts some companies out of business daily. This review is pretty pointless, in the end you get what you pay for.

    One reason not to support Yeti is that they do not support the second amendment or free speech. .

    Reply
  12. markparis
    markparis says:

    I know this is an old post, but I just found it while looking at coolers. I wanted to mention something about using block ice versus ice cubes. A cooler works essentially by melting ice. If everything else is constant (same cooler, same outside conditions, same volume of ice all at the same initial temperature, same food inside the cooler), the cooler with the ice that melts the fastest keeps the food inside at a lower temperature. That might seem counterintuitive, but that’s the way it has to work. It’s a simple matter of heat going into the cooler and that heat being used to melt ice. If the heat doesn’t melt the ice, it has to go somewhere, and that “somewhere” is to the interior of the cooler, including any food you have in it. There are some complicating factors, but in the long term, I think the faster the ice melts compared to other forms of ice in the same cooler, the lower the temperature will be. I don’t know what the temperature difference would be; maybe it’s negligible. It would be possible to calculate it, but I’m not sure it’s worth doing.

    Also, the suggestion about draining the water out is probably not good for keeping the interior of the cooler at the lowest temperature. What you are draining away is cold water, which, if you kept it in the cooler, would absorb heat. Remove the water and, again, the heat that would have gone into raising the temperature of the water has to go somewhere else. Of course, there may well be other reasons to drain water from your cooler, like keeping it from soaking into a loaf of bread, but it won’t help make the temperature lower inside the cooler.

    Reply
  13. Primal Banker
    Primal Banker says:

    Thank you for taking the time to post the test and your results. Maybe the people jumping down your throat don’t realize you’re talking about coolers not running for office. Appreciate you sharing your test with us.

    Reply
  14. Charles Borner
    Charles Borner says:

    For the last 16 years, I’ve been hauling coolers to a couple gaming conventions a year to support several gaming groups.
    We’ve made do with the Coleman 5 day rollers for most of 10 years or so.
    However, after 10 years, they simply didn’t hold ice anymore. Especially with people going in and out of them all day.
    Pre-chilling helped a little. Freezing a case for each also helped. But not enough.
    And they were a bit too small for the groups they were meant to support.

    So we ditched them at the end of last year.

    While I’d LOVE to spend $4-600 on brand new Yetis, and I have no doubt my partners would probably pony up, I simply can’t justify 3 coolers at that price. Especially when they’re going to be larger and non-portable.

    So we’re going to be going with 3x the Ozark Trail 73’s and adding on their wheel kit to all of them.
    Going to prechill and freeze a case or so per cooler.

    If we start running low on ice, we may just pick up a cheapie 50 quart roller to act as an ice caddy.
    Remember that ice retention does drop if you’re regularly accessing the cooler dozens of times a day.

    If we run into a drippy drain plug, well, we have hand towels.

    Reply
    • Caroline
      Caroline says:

      I would imagine the Ozarks will do just fine indoors. Prechilling definitely makes a difference and as long as you watch the drain plug you should be set. The one thing I wish my Yeti has is wheels. Hope you enjoy your new set up!

      Reply

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