Looking for the best YETI cooler of 2021, but don’t know where to start? Our team has investigated 35 of the best camping coolers of the year, comparing by capacity, insulation, & durability, and now we’re doing a side-by-side comparison of the 6 best coolers of them all.
And surprise, surprise, they’re all made by the folks over at YETI. As you might already know, this is a company that has built a reputation on crafting some of the best coolers on the market in terms of performance. There is perhaps no other brand that can match YETI on insulation capability, meaning that it is finally possible to keep all of your goods as cold as they need to be.
Stick around after the comparison, as we are then going to take a deeper look into precisely what makes these coolers tick.
Best Portable YETI Cooler for Camping – YETI Hopper Backflip 24 Soft Sided Cooler/Backpack
|Can capacity||20 w/ 2:1 ice ratio|
|Interior dimensions||12 5/8” x 6 ½” x 15”|
|Materials||dryhide shell w/ foam|
|Best feature||ease of carry|
While there is no doubt in our minds that the invention of the insulated cooler changed the way the world did picnics and camping, there is one significant design flaw that has always made the cooler feel just a little bit wanting. For us, that flaw is that most coolers are nearly impossible to carry by yourself, especially for distances of more than a few feet. This makes some campsites just a bit too far out of range to have your trusty cooler with you.
YETI’s solution to this problem is the HOPPER BACKFLIP, one of the most clever and comfortable portable coolers that we have seen yet. By utilizing a simplistic and yet expertly designed backpack-style construction, YETI has managed to make a cooler that will have no problem following you to the most distant of campsites, all while providing the same high-performance insulation that you have come to expect from the brand.
But the HOPPER BACKFLIP isn’t perfect. For one, it suffers from the same problem that we have seen on other ‘soft’ YETI products: the zipper is simply too reluctant or ‘sticky’ to perform the way that you want it to. Our first inclination was to give it a quick shot of WD-40, but we thought twice after realizing that it’s the same bag we keep our fresh fruit in.
Also, why could YETI not add a few exterior pockets to this thing? Apart from the main compartment, there is nothing. Even a small pocket for storage of keys and cell phone would be enough. But perhaps we are being too particular.
The insulation here is good, but not at the same level of YETI’s hard shell coolers. That is simply the drawback of a portable cooler that is this comfortable. Just don’t expect it to keep ice for more than 24 hours.
Best Portable YETI Cooler for Camping – YETI ROADIE 20 Cooler
|Can capacity||14 w/ 2:1 ice ratio|
|Interior dimensions||19” x 13 ¾” x 14 3/8”|
|Best feature||fatwall bear resistant insulation|
We’ve reviewed enough travel coolers to tell you that nearly all of them suffer from the same fatal flaw of being too flimsy to stand up to even the tamest of adventures. And with that flimsiness comes a reduction in insulation capability, which is the absolute last thing that you want in a good travel cooler. While YETI did a pretty good job with their HOPPER BACKFLIP soft cooler, it can’t hold a candle to the ROADIE 20 in terms of both insulation and durability.
In terms of a BYOB cooler, this one has got you totally covered. It has a slightly reduced can capacity due to the thicker walls (14 as opposed to the Backflip’s 20) but the added insulation capabilities is more than worth the sacrifice of a few cans, especially if you simply add new cans to the cooler to replace the ones you are taking out. If that’s not enough, the rotomolded plastic (YETI’s signature material) also features what they are humorously calling FatWall construction, which also makes it bear proof. And anyone who has had a little visit from Yogi in the night knows how heartbreaking it can be to lose a whole pack of hotdogs to a misbehaving bear.
Our biggest qualm with the ROADIE cooler is that it weighs in at a bulky 15 pounds, which is perhaps the heaviest travel cooler that we have ever seen. Sure, you’re getting YETI’s rotomolded plastic, which is about as strong as a kayak and could probably be used as a boat itself, but considering the size of this thing, you’d think it might be a little bit lighter to allow for easier travel.
As far as insulation and ice retention, it’s not quite up to par with some of the larger models from this manufacturer, but it’s still lightyears ahead of those Styrofoam travel coolers you find at the store.
Best Wheeled YETI Travel Cooler – YETI Tundra HAUL Portable Wheeled Cooler
|Can capacity||30 w/ 2:1 ice ratio|
|Interior dimensions||28 ¼” x 18.5” x 19 ½”|
|Best feature||wheeled carry|
If you’ve never experienced the remarkable ice-retention capabilities of the TUNDRA, what could perhaps be YETI’s most popular and highest selling model of camping cooler, then friend-o, you haven’t experienced camping. The TUNDRA HAUL takes all the best elements from that model and slaps a pair of puncture-proof wheels on the back, allowing you to roll around your chilled goods in style.
It might be surprising, but this is actually the first wheeled cooler that YETI has made. And it’s a good thing too; at a whopping 32 LBS, this is almost twice as heavy as the ROADIE. That’s empty weight, too. When you fill it with cans and ice you are looking at some serious weight. That’s probably why they added the wheels, and we’ve got to admit that we think it was probably a good idea.
Rotomolded plastic gives the TUNDRA HAUL its durability and strength, but the real secret sauce so to speak is going to be the permafrost insulation. This is commercial-grade, pressure-injected polyurethane foam walls, including the lid, and it is how these “higher end” of YETI coolers manage to keep their cool, so to speak. In fact, the manufacturer themselves advertise a stunning 7 days of ice retention.
But how well did the actual cooler hold up to the claim? We couldn’t help but put it to the test. We got about 5.5 days before the ice began to melt, and after that, the melting started to speed up considerably. Of course there are ways to speed up ice retention, such as not opening the cooler at all. But let’s be honest … if you are going to be out in the wilderness for 7 days with a YETI cooler, you are going to be opening it up. Like, a lot.
Don’t get us wrong. It’s pretty great performance for a smaller size cooler … far better than most of its competitors. But YETI as usual may have been a bit too eager with their own assessment of this cooler’s assets.
Best Deal on a YETI Cooler – YETI Hopper FLIP Portable Cooler
|Can capacity||6 w/ 2:1 ice ratio|
|Interior dimensions||7 ½” x 9 ¾”|
|Materials||dryhide shell w/ foam|
|Best feature||very lightweight|
In case you are one of those skimmers who doesn’t read the article all the way through (it’s okay, we’re the same way more of the time) then you should stop for a minute and go back to check out our review of the HOPPER BACKFLIP, YETI’s backpack-style travel cooler. The FLIP can be considered the little brother to the BACKFLIP, as it is slightly less than half the size of the bigger version and considerably lighter. This really is more of a one-day picnic cooler than a camping cooler, as you will be hard pressed to fit more than six cans in this thing unless you want to forego the ice. (And you never forgo the ice).
Let’s talk about the hydrolock zipper. This is a pretty handy little feature for a travel cooler, as it creates a completely waterproof seal behind the zipper. So if you take a bit too harsh of a turn in the adventuremobile and the cooler spills over, you aren’t going to have an icy, sloppy mess to clean up in the back of the car.
The hitchpoint grid is what they are calling those little straps along the outside of this cooler. They do make it pretty easy to attach all sorts of things to the cooler, but unfortunately, the only thing we want to attach is an external dry pocket, and that is something that we think should have been included from the get go.
We got about 4.5 days of ice retention out of this puppy, and even by then it had started to melt. Now this is actually a very impressive amount of insulation for a little soft cooler like this, but considering the price, it feels like it should be better. There are other less expensive soft coolers out there that perform just as well, so it kind of feels like you are just paying for the brand with this one.
However all-around portability, durability, and performance has made this our favorite cooler for disc-golf. Now all they need to do is add a disc-golf pocket.
Best Ice Retention in a YETI Cooler – YETI TUNDRA 65 Cooler
|Can capacity||40 w/ 2:1 ice ratio|
|Interior dimensions||24” x 12” x 10 ½”|
|Best feature||best ice retention|
Now we come to the main event, so to speak. The YETI TUNDRA is the flagship model for the cooler manufacturer, providing the very best that they have to offer both in terms of insulation and indestructibility. You might think that we would save this particular cooler for very last considering how highly we think of it, but we might have one more trick up our sleeve before we sign off for the evening.
This is THE cooler by YETI, the one that started the whole rotomolded craze that countless of other cooler manufacturers have been trying to emulate since its initial release a few years back. The ice retention is absolutely unmatched, however as always it is important to note that YETI’s estimate for how long the TUNDRA can keep ice is probably a bit inflated. You see, their tests are most likely done in a controlled environment, which means that the cooler isn’t being opened a whole lot and there is no direct sunlight to change things. Our team’s testing, which includes both sunlight and semi-frequent opening and closing, kept the ice from melting for about 5.5 days. Believe us when we say that this is as good as you are going to get.
29 pounds is heavy for a cooler, we’ll give you that. But this massive 65L cooler is still a few pounds lighter than the smaller TUNDRA HAUL. But let’s be honest. If you’re buying a YETI, it most likely isn’t because you are looking for a cooler that you can take on a long distance hiking trip. It’s because you want the kind of high performance that this company is known for.
But check this out: we decided to test the actual interior capacity of the TUNDRA, and we found that it was actually closer to 55 quarts than it is to the advertised 65. While 55 quarts is plenty big for a camping cooler, we are somewhat irked about the false advertising. Other than that, you aren’t going to find a cooler more durable and long-lasting than this one.
Best Portable YETI Cooler for Hiking Trips – YETI Hopper TWO Portable Cooler
|Can capacity||6 w/ 2:1 ice ratio|
|Interior dimensions||22” x 10” x 16.5|
|Materials||dryhide shell w/ foam|
|Best feature||tapered body for comfort|
Of all the coolers that we looked at here, this one is by far the most stylish. Now, we are talking about the Field Tan & Orange color variety. It is also available in Grey & Blue, but something about the field tan color made us feel nostalgic … somehow immediately connected to this one.
What sets this portable cooler apart from products like the ROADIE or FLIP? The main difference is in the shape. The HOPPER TWO features a nice tapered style construction, which makes it infinitely more comfortable than either of those two portable coolers that we looked at. The most obvious benefit of this design is that it is way more suited to longer distance travel than any of the other products we looked at. Because it starts narrow and gets thicker, it sits quite easily on the back or hip. Actually, even when full it carries more like a messenger bag that it does a cooler.
But there are some significant flaws that need to be mentioned. Well, at least one. The ice retention on the HOPPER TWO is simply not up to the standards that we would expect from YETI. We don’t know if it is the shape or the relatively low price, but this cooler can’t hold a candle to the other models that we reviewed. We started noticing ice melt after about 14 hours, which is noticeably less than the other models.
While this reduced insulation does not disqualify the HOPPER TWO from being your next day-trip camping cooler, you should know that you won’t be able to bring your ice cream with you, and if you have any soda pop in the bag, you are going to want to drink it in the first day unless you like warm cola.
Having said all that, there is a certain charm to this little bag that we simply can’t resist. We are going to hang on to this one for shorter car trips and day picnics, where the ice retention isn’t as big of a deal.
Choosing the best YETI cooler isn’t too hard once you put a little bit of forethought into it. For instance, if you are more of the weekend warrior type traveler who likes to hop in the car for a scenic weekend in the mountains, you probably aren’t going to need a cooler much bigger than the YETI ROADIE. It has all the same great construction points as the bigger models, but isn’t going to be too bulky to fit into the car.
But honestly, if you are going to drop the cash for a new yeti cooler, why not go a bit bigger? The TUNDRA is simply one of the best camping coolers of 2021, and for that matter, of the last decade. And honestly it is not that much more expensive than the ROADIE.
Whatever choice you make, you can rest easy that with YETI you will always be staying cool.
What makes YETI coolers so special anyway?
If you are any kind of regular visitor to our site, then you have no doubt heard us gush quite endlessly about the cooler manufacturer YETI. Simply put, we believe that they make some of the best coolers that money can buy. Maybe this is due to the rotomolded construction, which incorporated plastics that are so dense and durable that you might expect them to be what boats are made of (& in fact, it is what most modern-day kayaks are made of).
YETI was founded in 2006, which doesn’t seem all that long ago. They began with the simple mission of keeping your food and drinks so cold that you could use their coolers every day if you had to. So far, it looks like they are achieving that goal.
It’s not all about insulation, either. There were a whole host of other factors that played into the founding of the company. For instance, what was it about camping coolers that always made their handles weak and likely to break? Or the lids cave in? The inferior durability of the modern camping cooler is what called the folks over at YETI into action.
Today, YETI Coolers still prides themselves on being a company dedicated to performance over market research.
How to Choose the Best YETI Cooler on the Market
We’ve provided you with a list of the 6 best YETI coolers, and still it is difficult to make a decision? Fear not. We’ve put together a handy little guide that explains the metrics that we used to make our review. With any luck, it can show how to choose which YETI cooler is best for you, so you can get back out in the wild where you belong.
1.) Insulation / Ice Retention
Seeing as how the whole point of owning a cooler is to keep things cold, we are confident in saying that insulation is perhaps the most important factor in choosing your next camping cooler. The fact that you are already interested in YETI specifically as a brand speaks volumes about your instinct. You must be a consumer of great taste.
YETI was founded with insulation in mind, and they have managed to follow through on that 100%. While the rotomolded plastic plays a big role in how long these coolers can keep ice from melting, it is not the only factor. Another trick that YETI uses is actually pretty clever. For their soft coolers, they are using the same materials that you might find in a HAZMAT suit. This should show you are serious they are about keeping things cold.
A Note about Ice Retention: So you’re shopping for the best YETI cooler of the season. You are scouring the interwebs, pouring through reviews, trying to discern which cooler is going to keep your ice for the longest. Well, there is something you should know.
Cooler makers like YETI are pretty much obligated by their marketing departments to oversell the amount of time that the cooler is going to keep ice from melting. And the reason is simple. The ice retention times that you see advertised with the product is based on closed-room tests, where direct sunlight is not a factor. In addition, the cooler lid is not being opened nearly as often as it would be with a real camping trip or BBQ.
To sum it up, you are never going to keep ice frozen as long as the product description says you will be able to. That’s just one of the unfortunate truths of shopping for a cooler. Sorry to break it to you! But rest assured that when you are buying YETI, you are getting the absolute best ice retention possible. We can vouch for that.
What? You’ve never heard of ROTOMOLDING? Actually we aren’t that surprised. It isn’t a very common term for most people. But it is the secret to the construction of all hard YETI coolers. Not only that, but it is also the preferred manufacturing method of most canoes and kayaks. It works differently than most traditional manufacturing methods because it creates no seam, which means insulation for coolers, and water-tightness for kayaks and boats.
ROTOMOLDING (short for “rotational molding” used a heated hollow mold that is then filled with the plastic material and slowly rotated. The plastic material disperses evenly and sticks to the side of the mold, creating a seam-free construction that is far more durable than traditional methods.
The only other major difference between all the models of YETI cooler that we looked at in this review is how much they can carry. And it is not all about size; you don’t always need to keep a hundred beers cold at the time. Sometimes all you need is enough to carry a few sandwiches and a couple of sodas for a luncheon in the park. That’s why YETI came out with models like the FLIP and the HOPPER TWO. These are lightweight (well, lighter weight) coolers that are designed for shorter trips. They can also be carried much, much easier, making them more ideal for overnight camping trips.
What Size YETI Cooler Should I buy?
While YETI started out with only one size with their classic TUNDRA model, the company has swiftly (& smartly) added a whole host of new sizes to their repertoire. If you are having trouble deciding which size cooler to buy, hop on over to YouTube where Embers Fireplace & Outdoor Living has their full video guide.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are a couple things that make YETI coolers stand out from the competition, but it basically comes down to construction materials. YETI utilized rotomolded plastic in all of their hard coolers, which is denser and more insulating than traditional cooler plastic. It also allows the cooler to be formed in a single piece, as opposed to older style coolers that will usually have a seam.
Probably, at least for a time. If you are wanting to keep ice cream completely frozen inside a YETI cooler then we would recommend adding some dry ice. No matter what, though, the ice cream will likely start to melt within the first two days, especially if there isn’t much else in the cooler.
To put it simply, very briefly. We recommend putting the ice cream inside of a separate soft cooler and then putting that whole thing inside the YETI. You might be able to get a few extra days of freeze time with this method.