Thermos Classic Soft Cooler, $17.99 On the upside, the Thermos is easy to store and comes with a handy shoulder strap. On the downside, it doesn't keep things cool as long as you might hope. Which, for a cooler, is a pretty big flaw.
In fairness to the Thermos, the tag says it's good for 18 hours and that's how long it lasted (though the melting had definitely begun—about a third of the ice was already gone). And it boasts a Velcro "quick access panel," which is convenient for car use. For a picnic in the park, the Thermos might suit your needs fine. It didn't pass the beach test, however: After about four hours, I had nothing but cold water. And a nasty-smelling turkey sandwich.
One last beef: It claims to be 100 percent leak-proof, but the zippered lid has no seal. Consequently, if it tips to one side, any water inside spills out (I know; I tried it). So how is that 100 percent leak-proof? Answer: It's not.
Chill Factor: 2
Ease of Use: 6
Total: 8 (out of 20 possible)
Rubbermaid Endurance Cooler, $42.99 I'm torn on this one. It performed excellently, staying very cool for two full days. By day three, my beer was still reasonably chilled. Not bad at all. But the Rubbermaid has one enormous, crucial, deal-breaking drawback: The lid. You can't open it. Well, you can, but it's a struggle, because there's no place to grip. I thought there was some trick to it, but it's just terribly designed. It will annoy you every single time you try to open it. It will make you curse loudly and creatively. It will slightly but noticeably lessen the pleasure of being alive.
Chill Factor: 7
Ease of Use: 3
Igloo Cool Fusion, $54.99 Nice wheels, a retractable handle, side mesh pockets that could accommodate a sandwich or a bottle opener, cup holders in the lid—this is one pimped-out cooler. But despite all these extras, it does only a so-so job. Most of the ice melted after 36 hours. (After two days, it was totally melted.) Also, someone at Igloo forgot to stick a drain on this baby. (They must have been too busy coming up with silly stuff I don't need—side mesh pockets, anyone?) And, not to pile on, but you can't sit on the lid. I know this because it says so in all caps right on the top. When camping or tailgating, the extra seat created by the cooler is a fringe benefit, no?
Chill Factor: 5
Ease of Use: 6
Polar Bear Soft Side Cooler, $49.95 While it couldn't compete with its hard-sided brethren, the Polar Bear outlasted the Thermos by a full day. It has a removable lining, making it easy to clean. It rolls up, so it's compact for travel. One thoughtful feature: It features a bottle opener attached to the lid—now you won't have to go hunting for one! Or accuse your wife of losing it! (Hypothetically speaking, of course.) The model I tested was bright red, but the Polar Bear is also available in camouflage. Perfect for the drunken hunter on your shopping list.
Chill Factor: 4
Ease of Use: 8
Coleman Steel Cooler, $99.99 Everyone loves this cooler. And by "everyone," I mean the people who have visited my back yard recently. It has a pleasing, old-fashioned design. The steel exterior makes it seem considerably classier than your average plastic cooler. It has a metal latch that is more for show than security—you can pop it open without unlocking it. But it stays closed fairly well, so I won't count that against it. Most important, the beer stayed cold a full three days. If you can get past the price, this is a great cooler, second only to …
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