Bootleg Yeti Cooler vs Factory Engel Cooler

Marine Cooler DIY Face-Off: Bootleg Yeti Cooler vs Factory Engel Cooler

So, earlier this month I had written about upgrading an older beat-up Rubbermaid Marine Cooler. The cooler had been used rough for at least 8 years, either on fishing trips or in a restaurant kitchen. It had been used as a bench, or a step so many times, that the foam in the lid didn’t even make a noise anymore. The hinges were busted, the latch gone, and the drain cap worn through. All these problems were fixed and improved upon when I turned the Rubbermaid into a “Bootleg Yeti.”

While the title of this article says “versus,” honestly this is more of a test to see how well the “bootleg yeti” holds up. I want it to be clear, I know that the Engel will keep the ice longer, but this is to see if the upgrades made any difference in cooler performance. When I stopped using it for fishing trips, I was getting about 3 days of use. After that point, it was just a box of cold water that needed to be drained out. If it was to be holding food, it had to be drained regularly after that first day if I wanted to keep the food from becoming waterlogged. If I can get another day or two of performance out of the “bootleg yeti” compared to how it performed before.

I would call that a success, especially considering how cheap it was to fix up the cooler. The test was done in the back of my pickup truck with both coolers opened multiple times a day. I tried to evenly use the coolers as I transported food around. The two coolers in this test are of comparable volume as well. The Rubbermaid is 150qts to the Engel’s 165qts. The daytime temperature was at least 82f in the shade for the duration with it getting down to the upper 60f at night.


Day 1 

Both the Rubbermaid and Engel were pre-chilled the day before with sacrificial ice. This was to make sure that the difference in mass of the two coolers would not skew the results too much. Both coolers had the same amount of ice added on the morning of the first day from the same ice machine. While there is a 15qt size difference between the coolers the air space seems to be pretty similar between the coolers. This photo was taken in the afternoon of the first day.


Day 2

Both coolers are showing signs of melt. You can see the ice lose the even surface it started with. Both coolers have the ice at the ends of the cooler sinking down first at the edges. If you look at the walls of the coolers you can see that the ice has sunk down at least a few inches from Day 1. There are signs though that the Bootleg Yeti is already losing ground when you look at the top left corner.


Day 3

Bootleg Yeti has lost even more ground on Day 3. There is a noticeable amount of meltwater in it. While the ice is still reaching the bottom of the cooler for the Bootleg Yeti, this is not a good sign for it. Food products still can be placed in the cooler and stay above the water, but this will likely be the last day with that being the case. On a lighter note though, it has already reached the minimum goal of surpassing its stock performance. The Engel is still going strong though. While the ice is still above the meltwater when you dug down a way you would reach the meltwater.


Day 4

The Bootleg Yeti is still holding on with ice still being about 50% of the slush in the cooler, but now the ice cannot keep food products above the water. If I was transporting fresh fish or drinks though, this is still acceptable to use. The slush mix is still incredibly cold. The Engel is now reaching the point where the meltwater is almost to the top of the ice. There is only a couple of inches in height difference.


Day 5

Both coolers now have a good deal of meltwater. The Bootleg Yeti still has ice, but is now more meltwater than ice. Again still ice cold, but this will be over soon. The Engel also is reaching the tipping point for transporting food. The meltwater level is just higher than the ice. So, if anything is placed on top of the ice it will sink into the water slightly. Day 6 will probably be the final day of the test.


Day 6

The test is over, the Bootleg Yeti doesn’t have a single piece of ice left in it. The melt water is still ice cold in the Bootleg Yeti, but I wouldn’t be using it for food transport anymore. The Engel cooler still has a decent amount of ice left in it, but probably will only last a day or two more. Because I don’t have an exact time the Bootleg Yeti lost all it’s ice, I’ll say it lasted 5 1/2 days during this test.

Interpreting the Cooler Results

The Bootleg Yeti honestly did surprisingly well for itself. Considering that before the upgrades the cooler only lasted 3 days, the improved 5 1/2 days is amazing! That is an 83% increase in performance for not much work. All it took was a pack of weather stripping and some new latches and now this old busted cooler is performing better than it had new. I knew from the beginning that the Engel would outperform the Bootleg Yeti, but the fact that a cooler with upgrades included that only cost $130 performed comparably to a $600 cooler is great. While it is not as rugged or as nice as the rotomolded Engel, my Rubbermaid marine cooler aka “Bootleg Yeti” is definitely the better value. If you’re eyeing a new rotomolded cooler, but don’t got the cash right now, maybe look into upgrading your old cooler. It might be just what you need.

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