Engel, Yeti, Igloo, Frigid Rigid, and Coleman all make marine coolers, but which one is the best? You’ve almost certainly used Igloos and Colemans in the past, since these two brands account for the vast majority of all marine coolers sold in the country. They’re also the least expensive of this crowd, by a long shot. But, is it worth the extra bucks to buy one of these other brands?
As usual, you get what you pay for. All of the others listed above are built tougher and hold ice better then the common Igloos and Colemans. And you’re surely familiar with the broken hinges that plague these common brands (be happy if two seasons go by, without one or more breaking) and the cheap, sub-standard cushions that snap on top of them for seating (and are built so poorly that the straps often rip free on their first use).
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to check out an Engel, the one brand listed above I didn’t have any experience with, and it was pretty darn solid. The Engel, Frigid Rigid, and Yeti coolers are all built at least twice as tough, with parts of a far higher quality. If I had unlimited funds, I’m sure I’d choose to buy one. But… let’s do a quick price comparison: A Coleman or Igloo in the 100 quart range lists for under $200; a Yeti costs closer to $260, an Engle 120 is more like $350, and a Frigid Rigid tops the charts at $685 for a 105 quart model. That’s quite a price difference between these brands. And while one can imagine spending a bit more for the better construction of the Yeti, could it be worth nearly twice the price for the Engel, much less six or seven times the price for the Frigid Rigid?
I don’t know about you, but before I’d drop this much cash for the “better” marine coolers, I’d look back at the common ones and review their high points: the shell of these coolers lasts more or less forever, those crappy hinges can be replaced for under $20, and you can purchase the replacement parts just about anywhere. It would seem that considering these facts (and assuming you don’t care if a pound of ice melts in 10 hours versus 12 hours), the cheaper cooler may actually be the smarter choice. Wait a sec – visit your average mega-box discount store, like Sam’s or BJ’s, and you can sometimes find the big Colemans or Igloos at reduced prices. In fact, this spring I spotted a 100 quart model for about a hundred bucks. So the price difference is even more dramatic then it seems, if you shop around a bit.
There’s one glaring exception: if you’re in bear country. The Engel guys made sure to mention the fact that an average sized bear can rip a common cooler to shreds, and when they find a camper’s food stash, they often do. Some more expensive coolers, the Engle included, are officially bear-proof. Then again, I can’t remember the last time I went boating in bear country…
NEW ENTRY: Pelican has come out with a new line of super-coolers; see Pelican ProGear Elite Coolers: So Rugged They’re Bear-Proof to read our review. Your boat has integrated fishboxes? Read “In Search of the Perfect Fishbox” to find out what makes for the best onboard fishboxes.