Summer is coming and so are the pool parties, tailgates, bonfires, and really any reason to eat and drink outside. All of these outings are a guaranteed good time as long as you avoid the biggest party fowl: warm drinks. Don’t worry, we did some research to avoid this travesty. We conducted our own little “Cooler Challenge” and compared coolers from Craftsman, Klein, Pelican, RIDGID, DeWALT, and Milwaukee to see how long ice lasts in coolers across different price points and sizes.
Cooler Challenge Sizes and Brands
Large 27 – 48 qt Coolers from Craftsman, Klein, Pelican, and RIDGID
Small “Lunchbox” Coolers from DeWALT and Milwaukee
For storage size comparison, we packed these coolers with as many water bottles as each could hold. For ice retention, we filled the coolers with ice and tested how long the ice lasted over the course of a few days. We also included how much each cooler costs and how many bottles each could hold to help you make a decision on whether or not it’s worth splurging on an expensive brand for your summer gatherings.
Let’s see how the ice held up…
Cooler Challenge: Large 27 – 48 qt Coolers
We tested four large coolers ranging from 27 to 48 qt. capacities across four popular brands. To do so, we packed each cooler with 14 lbs. of ice. These coolers range in price from $80 to $250. We also broke down the real estate of price-per-bottle in each cooler.
Pelican Elite 30 qt. Cooler
- Model #: 30Q-1-DKGRYEGRN
- Price: $249.95 full price, on sale for $218.43
- Dimensions: 25.30″ H x 19.00″ W x 18.50″ D (outside dimensions), 14.60″ H x 10.20″ W x 11.00″ D (inside dimensions)
- Where to Buy: Amazon
- Quart Capacity: 32.95 qt.
- Price-Per-Quart: $7.59 per qt. (full price), $6.63 per qt. (sale price)
- Bottle Capacity: 24 water bottles
- Price-Per-Bottle: $10.41 per water bottle (full price), $9.10 per water bottle (sale price)
- Additional Features: 2 in. foam insulation for “extreme ice retention”, bottle opener, four self-draining cup holders, made in the USA.
Craftsman VERSASTACK Black/Red 30 qt. Cooler
- Model #: 2014164
- Price: $129.00
- Dimensions: 20.3″ H x 17″ W x 15″ D
- Where to Buy: ACE Hardware
- Quart Capacity: 30 qt.
- Price-Per-Quart: $4.30 per qt.
- Bottle Capacity: 20 16.9 fl. oz. water bottles
- Price-Per-Bottle: $6.45 per water bottle
- Additional Features: wheels for portability, retractable handle, part of the Craftsman VERSASTACK modular toolbox system.
Klein TradesmanPro Tough Box 48 qt. Cooler
- Model #: 55650
- Price: $119
- Dimensions: (inside dimensions) 17.6″ H x 25.9″ W x 13.6″ D
- Where to Buy: Amazon
- Quart Capacity: 48 qt.
- Price-Per-Quart: $2.48 per qt.
- Bottle Capacity: 38 water bottles
- Price-Per-Bottle: $3.13 per water bottle
- Additional Features: bottle opener, textured grip fold-down handles, part of Klein TradesmanPro Tough Box modular toolbox system, accessory mount on side for Klein Tools light or speaker.
RIDGID Cold Box 27 qt. Cooler
- Model #: 249843
- Price: $79.97
- Dimensions: 12.44″ x 14.57″ x 25.04″ D
- Where to Buy: The Home Depot
- Quart Capacity: 27 qt.
- Price-Per-Quart: $2.96 per qt.
- Bottle Capacity: 27 water bottles
- Price-Per-Bottle: $2.96 per water bottle
- Additional Features: large fold-down handle, durable and weather-resistant, part of RIDGID Pro Gear modular Toolbox system.
How Long Does the Ice Last in a Large Cooler After…
For our Cooler Challenge, we packed each large cooler with 14 lbs. of ice we, shut the lid, and checked on them once a day over the next three days and documented how much the ice had melted after 24 hours, 36 hours, and 72 hours.
The coolers were kept in our 68? F workshop. None of the coolers were pre-chilled.
Let’s see how long the ice lasted in our large 27 – 48 qt. coolers.
Large Cooler Challenge Results
- Ice retention: The Pelican Elite 30 qt. Cooler had the best ice retention with the Craftsman VERSASTACK 30 qt. Cooler trailing close behind.
- Capacity: The Klein TradesmanPro Tough Box 48 qt. Cooler had the best storage capacity with 38 16.9 fl. oz. water bottles. This was NINE MORE than our second-place competitor, which held 27 (RIDGID).
- Most Affordable Overall: Not only was The RIDGID Cold Box 27 qt. Cooler our only cooler under $100, it’s priced very fairly at $79.97
- Most Affordable Price-Per-Bottle: The RIDGID Cold Box 27 qt. Cooler was also the most affordable cooler with each bottle taking up only $2.96 of real estate. However, the Klein TradesmanPro Tough Box 48 qt. comes in at a close second with each bottle costing $3.13 in real estate. The Klein had a similar performance but can hold NINE more water bottles. So, if quantity is important to you the Klein cooler offers a comparable value.
- Special Mention: The Craftsman VERSASTACK 30 qt. Cooler was the only one with wheels and pull handle. Coolers of this size can be awkward to carry and are heavy when filled with drinks and ice. So, we appreciate any feature that makes it easier to move a cooler around.
Cooler Challenge: Small “Lunchbox” Coolers
We repeated the process with the smaller lunchbox coolers: Filled the coolers with 7 lbs. of ice, shut the lid and kept them in our 68? F workshop. We then documented how much the ice had melted after 24 hours, 36 hours, and 72 hours. None of the coolers were pre-chilled.
We tested two lunchbox-sized coolers.
DeWALT Insulated Lunchbox 10 qt. Cooler
- Model #: DXC10QT
- Price: $99.99
- Dimensions: 16.93″ H x 11.18″ W x 11.1″ D
- Where to Buy: Amazon
- Quart Capacity: 10 qt.
- Price-Per-Quart: $10.00 per qt.
- Bottle Capacity: 8 water bottles
- Price-Per-Bottle: $12.50 per water bottle
- Additional Features: reinforced design with durable metal handle, integrated ice pack area.
Milwaukee PACKOUT Compact 16 qt. Cooler
- Model #: 48-22-8460
- Price: $155.99 (full price), $129.00 (sale price)
- Dimensions: 20″ H x 17″ W x 13″ D
- Where to Buy: Amazon
- Quart Capacity: 16 qt.
- Price-Per-Quart: $9.75 (full price), $8.06 (sale price)
- Bottle Capacity: 14 water bottles
- Price-Per-Bottle: $11.14 per water bottle (full price), $9.21 (sale price)
- Additional Features: removable storage tray, part of Milwaukee PACKOUT modular toolbox system
How Long Does the Ice Last in a Small Cooler After…
Small Cooler Challenge Results
- Ice Retention: The two coolers performed similarly, with a good amount of ice remaining after 24 hours, a water/ice mix after 48 hours, and all the ice melted after 72 hours. While each of these coolers perform well as a daily lunchbox cooler, neither retained a cold temperature as well as the large 27 – 48 qt. coolers.
- Capacity: The Milwaukee PACKOUT 16 qt. Cooler was our winner with being able to hold 14 16.9 fl. oz. water bottles, the DeWALT Lunchbox 10 qt. Cooler only held 10.
- Most Affordable Overall: The DeWALT Lunchbox 10 qt. Cooler full price is $30 less than the sale price of the Milwaukee PACKOUT 16 qt. Cooler.
- Most Affordable Price-Per-Bottle: However, the Milwaukee PACKOUT 16 qt. Cooler has a cheaper price-per-bottle. At full-price each water bottle costs only $11.14 in real estate to stock. Meanwhile, to fill the DeWALT each water bottle costs $12.50 in real estate. We noticed the price-per-bottle rate for the smaller coolers was much higher than the large coolers.
3 Tips for Making Ice Last Longer in a Cooler
Filling a hot cooler that has been cooking in the garage will waste a significant amount of ice right from the start. Instead:
- Pull your cooler out a day before you use it. Place it in a cool area and open the lid so all trapped heat can escape.
- Pre-cool it with ice the night before.
- Refill it early before the heat can warm it up and keep your cooler in a shady area throughout the day.
These tips are a guaranteed way to make ice last longer in a cooler whether your cooler is a budget or premiere model. However, a cooled-down premiere cooler will outperform most budget brands and models.
Cooler Challenge Wrap-up
An easy-to-spot takeaway is that small coolers have a much higher price-per-bottle rate than larger coolers. However, don’t be discouraged if you’re small cooler shopping. The value of a small cooler also comes from its frequency of use. Both the DeWALT and Milwaukee coolers are well-designed for heavy-duty, repeated use.
On the plus side, it was refreshing to see that large coolers, which are a large initial investment, tend to have a great price-per-bottle capacity. That being said, our larger coolers with lower overall capacity actually had better ice retention.
So, should you prioritize ice retention or capacity? Here’s our tip to help you decide.
You Need a Cooler with Good…
- Ice Retention if you are away from basic amenities, cannot easily restock with ice, or not in control of shading your cooler (ex: camping, fishing)?
- Capacity if you are catering to large crowds, able to regularly restock on drinks and ice, or can fairly easily move your cooler to shady and/or cool areas (ex: house parties, tailgates, bonfires, etc.)
Well, I hope this has helped you narrow down the right cooler for you. If you’re still undecided, feel free to check out more of TIA Cooler Reviews.