The Pros and Cons of Rotomolded, Steel Belted, and Soft Sided Coolers

If you spend any time in the outdoors, a good cooler is one of the best investments you can own.

Keeping drinks cold and food fresh is a distinct challenge when it comes to most outdoor activities, especially in hot weather. Having a cooler on hand that takes care of those jobs so you can concentrate on having fun can make any outing more enjoyable. Unfortunately, the incredible selection of coolers and cooler types available to adventurists can be mind-boggling, but there are three types of coolers that are most popular with outdoors aficionados. Whether you need a rotomolded, steel belted, or soft sided cooler depends largely on how and where you will be using it.


This hi-tech model keeps ice frozen and items cold for days and is also bear-resistant. YETI

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Newer, high-tech rotomolded coolers were designed solely for keeping items inside cold longer, and they’re great at that job. Constructed with what is called rotationally molded plastic, the manufacturing process helps increase the insulation power since it leaves no air between thick layers of interior and exterior plastic. Because of the construction, they are also quite sturdy and can handle rough treatment better than some other cooler types. These coolers are the best at keeping ice frozen and food cold for the longest periods of time, but they are also quite expensive. If you’re traveling where ice is readily available and don’t mind frequently changing it out, you might want to opt for a less expensive cooler.

For Big Gatherings

Can hold a whopping 85 cans. Coleman

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A steel belted model might look like the coolers your dad used when he took you camping as a kid and the ice melted in just a few hours, but they have greatly improved since then. In fact, they are quite efficient and often cost less than half the price of a similar sized rotomolded cooler. Many models will keep ice frozen for three to four days, even in warm weather. If you don’t want to pay the high price of a rotomolded cooler but still want something that will keep food cold and sturdy enough to keep your eggs from breaking and milk jug from getting smashed, a steel belted cooler is your best bet. They’re also lighter than their rotomolded counterparts, so loading and carrying them is less cumbersome.

Soft Sided

This option is light, leakproof and can keep ice frozen for days. YETI

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Soft sided coolers have grown in popularity the past few years, mainly because they are so light and handy. Even if you already have a hard cooler, you’ll likely need a soft sided cooler for some occasion. The main advantage of soft sided coolers is how easy they are to transport. Not only are they lighter to load, unload and carry, but when empty they can be folded away and stowed between other gear, taking up a fraction of the space a hard cooler requires. Recent improvements in soft coolers, like leakproof zippers that don’t let cold escape, make it possible to have a handy, easy-to-tote cooler that still does a great job of keeping ice frozen and food cold. In fact, some models keep ice frozen for up to four days.