- Buyer's Guide
Road Tests :: YETI Tundra 50 Cooler
Over the past few years I’ve had dozens of people tell me that “YETIs are the best coolers on the planet…they keep ice for days, even up to a week“. Do I agree? Or were these claims just hype? Let’s see.
I’ve wanted a YETI Cooler since 2009, the very moment I first discovered the product’s existence. Hook, line and sinker, I had my next big gear purchase zeroed in. The cost was the only thing holding me back. Was it really worth it? At $379.99 USD, you can see why I was a bit hesitant to jump into the frigid ice water. Some of these models even range up to a painful $1399, like the Tundra 420 (when our buddies from Huckberry came to Austin, we visited the YETI headquarters and were actually able to lay inside of this massive model). Spending over a thousand bucks on a cooler might sound nuts, but do understand these are used for professionals for serious use.
Most of us mortal folks are used to Igloo cooler prices at Walmart, coming in between $30-$60. I was no different, but I like to think I have an eye for quality. And I could see that these coolers were in a league of their own. Or at least I had hoped they were. Through a bit of serendipity, my girlfriend and I were given a YETI as a gift from a family member…without them even knowing we were interested in these coolers, or knowing that they gifted us the exact model we were interested in (even down to the color). What an awesome gift and great luck. Well, we’ve been using this YETI Tundra 50 Cooler (11.8 gallons / 44.7 liters) for over two years now. Let the Road Test begin.
Let’s focus on the Tundra series of YETI coolers. Not to be confused with their Roadie collection (very similar, smaller, less volume, more transportable, etc). YETI’s Tundra coolers are made from a single piece of rotationally-molded food grade plastic that is nearly bulletproof. Fortunately the plastic is highly UV-resistant, which is incredibly important. Here in Texas, the sun is the enemy. I’ve seen standard-issue Igloo coolers completely cracked, shattered and broken apart after only one year due to exposure to the sun’s harmful rays. Not going to happen here with the YETI. Some info on roto-molding…it is a way to seamlessly construct a complex 3D form in an extremely durable manner, ensuring an even wall thickness throughout. You can learn more about roto-molding here.
The super thick FatWall walls and lid are filled with YETI’s PermaFrost insulation foam (up to 2 inches in thickness vs most coolers that use 1/2 inch), which is the main reason this cooler can keep the heat out and the cold in. Yes, these walls are thick. You’ll see YETI goes to extremes when it comes to the build and performance of the coolers throughout this review. The YETI folks wanted to provide enough insulation for even the most demanding professional deep-sea fishermen, who need their catch to stay frosty while out on the ocean for multiple days on end and without access to ice at the corner store. All this extra thickness does make it considerably heavier than most other coolers though, coming in at 25 lbs…empty.
Fortunately, even full, one person can carry this cooler around because of its user-friendly and comfortable DoubleHall handles, made from squishy textured foam and marine-grade rope. There are also two handles molded into the sides as well, so you have two carry options. YETI does claim the Tundra 50 can hold up to 32 cans. So I will admit, when stocked full with ice and cans, it can be a bear to lift. More on that bear comment here shortly.
The Vortex drain system is a gasketed screw-in drain plug that does its job well. It keeps the water in (which you should do, since that water is cold) without leaking and then lets it out when you’re done with it. Though I do fear I may completely unscrew it and misplace it. Hasn’t happened yet, but it could. It would be pretty nice if they added a strap to prevent loss, similar to a Nalgene cap.
The BearFoot non-marking feet grip to surfaces snugly, keeping the cooler where you place it. Those with pickup trucks will appreciate that. It also helps keep the cooler up and off of the hot ground. Speaking of trucks, there are also built-in BullDog strap guides that allow you to strap down the cooler without fear of it getting knocked off. Dry ice compatible? Yep. They can handle the -109°F temperatures, where other coolers will become brittle and crack. Simply pick up some dry ice at the local grocer, wrap it in some paper towels, toss it in, and then cover with regular ice. As a result, on a blisteringly hot 108+ degree Fahrenheit summer day, the internal temperature of the cooler was almost too cold to the touch. Ice was refreezing to itself around the contents…no kidding!
The rear NeverFail hinge is made from a one-piece thick stainless steel rod running through molded-in beefy plastic hinges, unlike other coolers who use injection molded flimsy plastic bits or live hinges which are attached on. The front two T-Rex rubber lid latches are also molded into the design so they can’t be ripped out or knocked off.
This closure method is pretty trick, almost fun. Very easy to grab with two fingers, stretch down and release from the channel. Just as easy to close. And they really keep that lid down tight. Airtight in fact, thanks to the ColdLock gasket rimming the lid, also aiding in keeping any rogue temperature escapes completely at bay.
I have to mention the made-from-steel dry goods basket; though simple, it works. We all hate soggy dripping wet ham sandwiches. This solves that issue, keeping your items up and off of the ice. The basket comes included with the cooler at purchase so you won’t have to dish out any extra cash. However, there are a range of accessories from YETI, all of which are fairly reasonably priced and seem to be quite functional.
Add all the features together with the two integrated padlock ports and Tundra is officially certified Bear Proof by the IGBC (the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee…for those of you who don’t immediately recognize this obvious acronym), “in both controlled simulations and with wild grizzly bears“.
For individuals who have been camping in areas where bears are present (and I have), this is one comforting feature. All your 3 days’ worth of sustenance being liberated by a bear who was rude enough to only leave you bits and pieces of your once-cooler as leftovers is no happy scenario.
It can also take on a 500 lb man.
A friend keeps asking to drive his massive 6,000+lbs Ford 3500HD truck on top of it. I’m tempted to let him, as I think it would likely hold up. But I probably won’t.
Yes, this cooler easily keeps ice for days. While camping out in July in the Texas inferno, the YETI would still have its original ice intact after 3+ days of friends opening and closing it regularly (both to grab beverages and to marvel at its awesome performance). There has been more than one occasion when the YETI still had its original ice after 6-8 days after filling it and ignoring it. Mind-boggling when compared to your average $20 bargain cooler that I’ve been used to my whole life. While there is no specific international test to determine “how well a cooler can keep ice”, you can be sure, nothing beats a YETI.
Does this high performance make it a worthy purchase? Maybe. Maybe not. $359 is no impulse buy. But your purchase shouldn’t be made based off of the numbers alone. While the numbers are a great starting point, also consider the premium quality and list of functional features on this tank. Another attractive selling point is the YETI ‘Don’t Worry’ 5-year warranty which covers anything and everything that could possibly go wrong with the cooler. If something breaks, they’ll fix it, no question. On the other hand, Igloo offers a 1-year warranty against manufacturing defects (in other words, if something breaks…tough luck). With that kind of warranty, you can see YETI believes in this product, and for good reason. The YETI Tundra is an excellent example of a no-compromise product, clearly developed by a team of talented designers and engineers who are paying attention to the details as well as the big picture. This cooler is hands down better than other coolers in every aspect…except for maybe weight (which is a trade-off for its performance) and cost (also a trade-off for its quality). Sure, you might not need it. It is a bit of an extreme, which is precisely what makes the product so fantastic.
Personally, this is on my shortlist of all-time favorite products that I own. If you want a bulletproof (and certified Grizzly bear-proof) cooler that will last for an entire lifetime while keeping your contents colder than a naked Jötunheimr in a snowstorm at Vostok Station, then the YETI is absolutely worth the investment.
Best paired with: just-caught thinly-sliced raw Bigeye Tuna, 6-pack of Lonestar tallboy beers, and one (original flavor) Klondike bar.