Shopping for the best cooler of 2020 might sound like an easy task. After all, just about anyone you talk to is going to recommended getting a YETI cooler, considering their reputation for making some of the strongest and most well insulated coolers that you can get anywhere.
But before you spend the extra money, it might be worth it to take a look at one of YETI’s chief competitors. While many companies have stepped up to the plate in an attempt to recreate YETI’s signature rotomolded construction and impressive ice retention times, very few have come as close as RTIC.
The RTIC 45 quart cooler represents the flagship product from this relatively new company, so we decided to give it an in-depth review. We’re putting it side-by-side with some of its top competitors to see just how well it performs against what’s already on the market.
RTIC 45 Review: Basic Overview
Can capacity: 35 W/ 2:1 Ice Ratio
Interior dimensions: 13” X 24 ¾” x 11 ¾”
Exterior dimensions: 18 ½” X 12 ¾” X 30 5/8”
Weight: 30.4 LBS
Materials: Rotomolded plastic
Best feature: Non-slip legs; Price
Ice retention time: 3-4 Days (shade) 2 Days (sun)
The 45 quart cooler is one of the most popular sizes of camping cooler according to online sales, and it is easy to see why. It’s small enough to take along on a long drive through the countryside, but big enough to accommodate and entire weekend of outdoor activities if need be. This balance of capacity, weight, and overall size puts it at the top of the list of best car camping coolers.
The construction is solid. Like, really solid. RTIC is one of the first cooler manufacturers to really nail the rotomolded construction that made YETI coolers so popular. What is rotomolding? This is a process that allows a hard plastic material to be applied to a cooler in one continuous layer. By rotating the mold during the application process, the “shell” of the cooler is formed in one piece.
This is in contrast to traditional coolers which simply fused multiple panels together to form the outer shell. Not only is this method less durable, but it can also lead to “breaks” in the cooler surface which will significantly reduce the insulation capabilities of the cooler.
Rotomolding can be more expensive, which is one of the reasons that YETI coolers tend to cost significantly more than standard coolers. RTIC on the other hand has made it their goal to offer pricing for the everyday adventurer, which translates simply to great coolers at a reduced cost. The RTIC 45 is about a hundred bucks cheaper than the YETI counterpart of the same size, and that’s a lot of cheese.
The latching system here is nimble, yet secure. The cooler is advertised as being bear resistant, and while it is certainly built like a tank, we are not totally confident that these latches, which are somewhat small, would stop a full-grown bear if he was really interested.
RTIC 45 vs. YETI TUNDRA 45
It’s no secret that the RTIC 45 cooler is designed to be a direct competitor to the YETI TUNDRA 45. Not only are they the same size but they look almost identical and utilize very similar construction techniques. In this capacity, the RTIC comes very close to replicating YETI’s impressive ice retention times while managing to shave nearly a hundred bucks off the retail price. Even if the ice isn’t staying quite as long, imagine how much camping food you could buy for a cool hundred smackaroos.
All in all it’s a pretty even match up, and might come down to how much value you put on a name brand cooler verses a lesser known company.
RTIC 45 Cooler vs. MILEE 45 QT. Heavy Duty Cooler
The MILEE 45 is one of many competing coolers that have risen up to take on the throne that YETI continues to hold. While the MILEE cooler is about the same price as the RTIC (read: cheaper than YETI) it does utilize a slightly less dense interior foam. The result is a cooler that can’t hold ice as well as the RTIC. The difference is pretty stark, too. It’s about a 2 day difference in total.
But there are a few things about the MILEE that we really like. For one, the drain plug is reliable and has a tight fit, something that is very important for us temperature purists who like to leave a little water inside the cooler to keep things cold. Oh, and the built-in bottle openers are a nice touch indeed.
RTIC 45 Cooler vs. FROSTED FROG 45 Quart Commercial Grade Insulated Cooler
The FROSTED FROG 45 is less expensive than all of the other options that we have discussed, and indeed might be one of the most affordable rotomolded thermoplastic coolers on the market. So naturally we had to do a little digging to see just how they could get by charging this kind of price for a rotomolded cooler. From what we could tell, the Frosted Frog cooler is identical in almost every way to the MILEE 45. Seriously … they look so alike that beyond the color you really can’t tell them apart.
RTIC performs slightly better in ice insulation than the Frosted Frog. Even though it’s a few bucks more, it takes our recommendation in this case.
How to Choose a Cooler: A Brief Buyer’s Guide
Shopping for coolers used to be a simple thing. All you really had to decide on was, “red or blue?”
These days things are different. Coolers not only come in just about every shape and size that you could dream up, but they have become incredibly specialized, lending themselves to a number of different activities from fly-fishing to car camping. Choosing the best cooler for you is all about matching the product specifications with your adventure style to make sure you are getting the kind of performance that you need.
Here’s what to look for when buying a cooler
Insulation & Ice Retention
Staying cool is the number one job of a cooler. I mean, it’s even in the name of the product, so it is perhaps not surprising that insulation is the single-most talked about specification when it comes to coolers. While the plastic, foam-insulated coolers of yesteryear would struggle to keep ice for more than a day, many of the coolers hitting the market today advertise ice retention times of up to seven days. That’s certainly a bit of an upgrade.
So what determines a cooler’s insulation rating? It comes down to a blend of construction materials vs. construction methods. Rotomolded construction is a method perfected by YETI which allows the cooler to be cast out of a single piece as opposed to being sealed together from multiple sections. This allows for thicker walls and fewer break points. Overall, it leads to a denser, more sealed insulation.
Anytime you see a cooler online, it will most likely be listed with a number beside it (RTIC 45, RTIC 65, etc.) These are not product numbers but rather a measure of the coolers interior capacity in liters. In other words, these numbers are able to tell you exactly how much volume there is inside the cooler (whereas the exterior dimensions cannot provide this information due to the fact that the wall thickness varies from cooler to cooler.
|Size||Capacity (Q)||Perfect For:|
|PERSONAL||1-16||Day hikes, picnics|
|LARGE||60-99||Weekend Camping Trip|
|EXTRA LARGE||100+||Large Gatherings & BBQs|
Additional Features & Upgrades
Because there are so many new product manufacturers out there that are looking to make the next great cooler that everyone is talking about, some companies have wisely decided to differentiate their products from competitors by adding new & unique features.
Here are a few things to look for when assessing the additional features on a cooler:
- Bear Resistant Construction
Bear resistant coolers usually feature thick walls and latchesthat prevent the cooler from opening up when a bear becomes interested in it. This can be helpful in protecting your food, however, it is important to note that this does not mean that does not mean that YOU are safe from the bear.
Pro Tip: When camping in bear country, it is always best to hang your food up in a tree where the bear can’t get at it. For more information, check out Backpacker.Com’s “How to Hang a Bear Bag” to learn more about how to keep your campsite safe from furry intruders.
- Food Baskets & Dividers
Usually sold separately, food baskets and cooler dividers are inexpensive ways to improve the organization of your cooler. This can be particularly helpful when you are on a weekend camping trip and have a lot of different food items to sort through.
Another reason that baskets can be helpful is my keeping certain items out of the ice where the packaging can become compromised and lead to some pretty nasty or even unsanitary results.
RTIC Coolers Company Overview
Over the course of the last decade, we have seen dozens of companies emerging for the singular purpose of taking on YETI for the tile of best cooler of all time. Many of these companies have failed. Some couldn’t figure out the rotomolding … others didn’t even try. However RTIC stands apart from these companies in that it has actually managed to create a product with comparable ice-retaining abilities. It doesn’t hurt that it ends up being a bit cheaper than YETI as well.
The Houston, Texas based cooler manufacturer got their start a few short years ago. Their twofold business plan was quite simple: 1.) produce some of the best-performing cooling gear on the market including coolers, drink cups, & backpacks, and 2.) make sure that these products are priced for the real world, as opposed to some companies whose coolers have become too expensive for the common consumer. While RTIC is still a relatively new company, they seem to have a strong following that is no doubt the result of their good customer service and well-made products. They have quickly become one of the most reputable competitors for YETI, the company that has really become the gold standard for rotomolded coolers.
Frequently Asked Questions
It kind of depends on what criteria that you use to make the judgement, but if you are asking us (and you kind of are by reading this) our answer would be that RTIC is almost as good at ice retention as YETI, though in a side-by-side comparison between the two brands found that YETI did get a little but more ice-saving time.
In terms of construction quality and durability, we found that RTIC was just as good as YETI. When you factor in these things with the considerably reduced price-point of RTIC, we think the choice is pretty clear. After all, why spend all the extra cash if you don’t have to?
Assuming you are using a recommended ice ratio of 2:1, the RTIC 45 can hold about 35 cans of your favorite beverage, and you can be sure that the thermoplastic insulation is going to keep them nice a frosty for the duration of your adventure.
Technically speaking, RTIC coolers are bear resistant, but not bear proof. There is a subtle but important difference between these two classifications. To put it simply, if a bear really wanted to get into your RTIC 45, he probably could, even if you have it latched tight.
Sometimes however a bear will simply flip the cooler over a few times to see if it will open. This might be enough to deter the bear, but more likely, it will just give you more time to scare the bear away.
Please remember to stay safe in bear territory. If you are headed into bear-country for any amount of time, be sure to read up on ways to Stay Safe In Bear Habitat.
While RTIC is based in Texas, their products, like those of most of their competitors, are made in China. Overseas manufacturing allows for them to charge the reduced prices that they do without sacrificing on quality or craftsmanship.