We don’t know about you, but we’ve literally got a stack of coolers and we don’t use most of them. Why? Because we are really good at finding things wrong with coolers after we’ve bought them. Let’s face it, as Jeepers and off-road enthusiasts, an ordinary cooler that is good enough for camping or tailgating might not be good enough for our special use. Over the years and miles we have accumulated a list of pet peeves and likes when it comes to coolers, fridges, and insulated bottles. It seems as if every company has its own special tape measures. From things we buy at actual stores to coolers we’ve mail ordered, sometimes they don’t fit in the Jeep where they are supposed to. So, we took an actual tape measure marked in actual inches and actually measured our coolers to give you a real idea of what fits and what hits. And, true to Jp form, we personally took an interest in taking these things for a long test drive. We wheeled with them, camped with them, heck, even slept next to a few of them. We weren’t particularly nice to any of them, either. We decided to take our pile of coolers and our years of experience with them off-road and put the proverbial pen to paper to help you with your next chilling purchase.
The Big Picture
We put together this simple chart both so you can see how we decide what items are important to us in a cooler and how they stack up against one another.
Lids: Whether you are flopping your Jeep or blasting down a washboard road, the lid should stay closed. We’ve lost entire weekends of food not to mention various beverages from lids unintentionally opening.
Abuse: We aren’t going to molly coddle our equipment. It just isn’t how we are built. We want whatever we use to take the same abuse we take and not worry about it. If we haven’t managed to break or damage it, it gets the Jp stamp of approval.
Security: If you leave your Jeep in unattended with thirsty and hungry “friends” will your food be there when you get back? Sometimes locking it up is important too.
Tie down: It’s a fact of Jeeping that you need to tie your stuff down. You can tie anything down if you are motivated enough, but you want to get into coolers as well as have them secure. So, does the design include a way to tie it down and still open the lid?
Food Tray: There is nothing worse after a long day of Jeeping to find your food has fallen off your drinks into the melted water and is now soggy or inedible. Does the cooler include a food tray?
|Product||Lid Latch||Abuse||Security||Tie Down||Food Tray|
|Igloo Ice Cube||No||No||No||No||No|
|ARB Fridge/Freeze (new)||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||N/A|
Over the Counter
If you are like us, you see coolers at stores and often wonder how it might work for you. Every once in a while some new advertising slogan proves to be too much to resist and we take the plunge. Here is how a couple of those chain-store models stack up.
Coleman Stainless Steel Belted
The Coleman Stainless Steel Belted cooler is a throwback to the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, when extremely durable steel coolers were the norm. It features stainless steel hinges, handles, and a latch that are similar to the old-style Coleman coolers. Ours did not include a food tray to keep items dry so we pilfered one from another cooler we had on hand. The Coleman is a great alternative for anyone who is tired of the plastic cooler hinges that break over time. It will keep your stuff cold for several days, even in triple-digit temps. The stainless belt does get beat up a bit and can get dented if you are really rough with it, however few coolers can withstand ratchet-strap tie downs like the Coleman. Ham-fisted users that overfill the cooler and crush the contents with the lid will be rewarded with bent hinges. It doesn’t make the cooler unusable, but it should be avoided to maintain a good seal on the lid. The Coleman Stainless Steel Belted cooler is only available in brushed stainless, but there are painted-steel versions in red and green.
Size (WxDxH, inches): 23.5x16x16.5 (including handles and latches)
Capacity: 54 quarts
• Can keep ice for 3-4 days with regular openings in 80-90-degree temps
• You can tie it down tight
• Solid steel handles, hinges, and latch
• 54 quarts seems kinda small
• Abuse will bend hinges
• No food tray
Igloo Ice Cube The Igloo Ice Cube was the first cooler we had with a hinge that didn’t rip, and its thickness told us it would outperform all the coolers that came before. It has kept ice for four days with temps in the mid-90s while sitting in the sun. Then it kept our food and the melted ice cold enough for another two days that we weren’t concerned about spoilage. We’ve used this cooler for about six years over numerous camping and wheeling trips, and it is still very serviceable. The wheels don’t roll as freely as they once did and are showing their mileage, and the extendable handle is sticky thanks to a healthy diet of dirt.
Size (WxDxH, inches): 20x19x24
Capacity: 70 quarts
• Keeps ice cold for a long time
• Wheels make moving easy
• Thick lid resists heat transfer
• Can’t sit on lid and no latch on lid
• Can’t handle lots of dirt
• Weird shape doesn’t lend itself well to small Jeeps
They’re soft-sided coolers designed to fit the space behind the back seat of a YJ, TJ, or JK Wrangler. The 56-quart Coolers are essentially two 28-quart Coolers sewn together and will fill the entire cargo area. The 28-quart Coolers are (obviously) half as wide. We’ve been using them for camping, Jeeping, boating, and just plain day-tripping. They feature nice external zippered pockets, mesh bungee straps for holding jackets or whatever on top, a removable inner liner, and a very handy nylon bag. Our buddy who runs one calls it the water maker. Admittedly, they don’t seem to keep ice as long as a hard-shell cooler. But for us, we’ve really come to appreciate their Jeep-specific sizing. On a hot day in a boat or Jeep without A/C, they’ll keep ice for the better part of a day. However, we mostly use them to keep dry goods like snacks or sandwiches cool and chuck the drinks into a hard-sided cooler if we’re out for more than 12-24 hours.
Size (WxDxH, inches): 28-quart: 16x7x15 56-quart: 33x7x15
Capacity: 28 quarts; 56 quarts
Price: $39.95 (28-quart); $59.95 (56-quart)
• Perfect size for Jeep use
• Surprisingly versatile and handy
• Extras like mesh webbing, pockets nice extras
• Don’t keep cool as long as hard-sided cooler
• Can’t stack heavy stuff on top
• 56-quart model can a bit unwieldy