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The best roto-molded coolers for the money

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Whether it’s picnicking, barbecuing, or a day at the beach, spending time outside is good for you. In fact, researchers have found that being outdoors can lower stress levels, reduce anxiety, and bolster things like memory, creativity, and problem-solving skills. However, if you plan to spend quality time with Mother Nature, you’ll need a good cooler — and the ones that are roto-molded tend to offer the longest chilling times. That said, this technology can be pretty pricey. But the best roto-molded coolers for the money offer superior insulation without the luxury price tag.

Before getting into which coolers deliver the most bang for your buck, it’s helpful to understand what exactly “roto-molded” means. For the uninitiated, this is a process by which the cooler is shaped from one large block of plastic. This method prevents any seams or cracks that would allow warm air to seep in, keeping your food and drinks cold for longer periods of time. You can often recognize a roto-molded cooler by its smooth surface and curved edges.

Given the wide range in pricing, I set out to determine which coolers are actually worth the money — and whether some of the more affordable options can do the job just as well. Below is my final list of the best roto-molded coolers for the money — many of which I’ve personally tested out myself. I've broken them down by price, so you can easily find the best fit for your next adventure (and your wallet).

The best coolers under $200

No roto-molded cooler roundup is complete without a mention of YETI, a brand that's well-known for this technology and for how long their coolers keep beverages cold. Yeti is also known for being expensive; however, this small hardshell cooler offers incredible value at a midrange price tag — at least, as far as roto-molded coolers go. At 24 quarts in size, it offers enough space to hold 18 cans of soda or beer — even with a two-to-one ice-to-beverage ratio.

The quick-latch handles are easy to access and they do an excellent job of locking in cold air. The cooler's sleek design keeps it lightweight and it has an easy-carrying strap, too. I tried this cooler myself and I personally loved the cool basket accessory you can purchase that lets you place food items in one section and beverages in another. (This is one of several features that makes it perfect for small picnics or other single-day activities). I was also a big fan of the wine-friendly design that's tall enough to carry a bottle of rosé upright.

This EchoSmile roto-molded cooler is ever-so-slightly bigger than the previous YETI pick (at 25 quarts versus 24 quarts), but eschewing the prestige brand name saves you more than $70. The tough roto-molded plastic keeps food and beverages cold for hours while also making for a durable cooler. Reviewers on Amazon have vouched that it's similar to the name brands like YETI. With a polyurethane mid-layer that locks in the insulation, the brand boasts that it keeps ice cold for three days, even in 100-degree temperatures. On top of that, it features silicone seals that are molded in the lid to keep it airtight. All in all, it's an excellent cooler for the price.

With a super strong roto-molded design, this iSmart Ice Chest is one of the best coolers you'll find for under $150. The freezer-grade seal combined with its extra tough walls make for superior temperature retention, keeping food and drinks chilled for up to five days (an exceptional timeframe given the price). At 26 quarts, it's also slightly bigger than the YETI option and around $60 cheaper. It doesn't have the YETI add-ons like wine-friendly sizing (it's only 13.3 inches tall) or the option to add a basket; however, it does boast heavy-duty latches, self-draining cup holders, and a convenient measuring board on the lid (which is great for fishing trips). Amazon reviewers have commented that it is a "fantastic," "high-performance" cooler that's easy to handle.

The best coolers under $400

Constructed with heavy-duty roto-molded plastic, this beast of a cooler is capable of keeping your beverages cold for up to 10 days (a metric I can personally vouch for). It features soft, flex-grip handles and cool whale-shaped latches that lock down securely. The lid's gasket helps hold in the chilled air, and there's a convenient drainage spout to get rid of melted ice. Best of all, this cooler boasts a unique LED feature that automatically lights up the interior when you open the lid. That means if you're digging through your cooler after dark, you never have to find a flashlight. The cooler runs on four AA batteries and it has a handy cargo net for additional storage. You pay a bit more for the extra bells and whistles; however, it still offers great value for what you get — and it remains one of my all-time favorites.

This 50-quart roto-molded cooler, which is made from ultra-durable plastic, is one of the best medium to large-sized coolers on the market. Like the Orca option above, it can keep your ice cold for up to 10 days, and it has handles that flip up for easy access. The lid has several clever features, one of which is that it stays upright on its own when you open it. On top of that, if you have the cooler packed flush against a wall or backed into a tight space, the lid's slanted design allows you to still open it up to a 45-degree angle. (I personally found this feature handy during a road trip where I was able to easily access sodas and snacks).

The roomy 50-quart size is perfect for all-day or weekend events (please read: lots of beer and soda storage) and it's not too heavy given the size and sturdiness. What's more, it has a wide range of accessories available to deck it out including a bottle opener that attaches to the outside, a custom-fit cutting board (which doubles as an interior lid), and drink dividers. Just note that some of the add-ons require special mounts so make sure you get everything you need if you buy the accessories.

This robust roto-molded plastic cooler is made by RTIC, a brand that's renowned for developing coolers that are like YETI but cheaper. This option is even larger than the Kong, making it a great selection for long weekend camping trips or other multi-day events, like fishing, rafting, sailing, or road tripping. Reviewers claimed it can keep food cold for seven to eight days at a time. It has a durable, "bear-proof" exterior with 3-inch insulated walls, a freezer-grade gasket, and convenient side handles. "Best cooler I’ve ever owned," wrote one Amazon customer. "Very well built. I’ve used mine for week long trips to camp in the summer. With temps from 70* to in the 90’s I’m never disappointed."

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