Re: What's inside a $400 vs $50 Cooler?
FWIW - My 2 cents:
I have a huge 110 qt Canyon Cooler (very similar to Yeti - just a smidge cheaper) that I use for my oar rig (fits in my boat better than Yeti or Engle). If packed correctly, it holds ice and frozen food items for 2 weeks in the hot summer desert. 2weeks in 100F environment with no option to restock ice is where these high end coolers earn their price. Additionally, they meet bear resistant requirements for most river permits. Although the plastic materials are quite tough and resistant, I don't think any of the brands have truly resistant latches, but some have padlock spots to lock the lid to the cooler - if the lid stays closed they are pretty solid against bears (I worry more the bear's claws will slice open the rubber raft). As another post has asked about bear proofing campsites - in this case, its not realistic to hang 2 weeks of food (both dry good and cooler) for 15 people in a tree - especially in the desert rivers where the biggest tree is more likely to be a shrub. In the case of some brands, they have specific features for oar rig or other craft mounting locations, multiple drain plugs for access on different types of set-ups without removal etc. It used to take me a lot of hassle and multiple attempts to get a 300lbs cooler to hang off the oar frame correctly and balanced, top strap it to secure it, remove it every couple days to drain, not too mention the need to use dry ice layered under regular ice etc - and still risk food spoilage after a week. Now they are almost drop and go. For most week long trips - I pack my cooler at home and drive cross-country for a day and launch the next day with no concern and no need to restock. Fast and easy. Just one rule...no beer in the cooler!
Anyway, my point being - I really appreciate the specific functionality of many of these high end coolers. They are worth every penny in those specific applications, but I consider them a very specific, technical piece of equipment for a specialized purpose. Most of the original name brands started for specific purpose of large volume, multi-week wilderness trips. But they have since become common for weekend car camping, afternoon BBQs etc and now we see the design being copied by more generic producers. I won't use my Canyon cooler for car camping (one its too large), but also there is no need. Its easy and functional enough to use a cheap coleman cooler and add a $2 bag of ice every couple days. Plus, with putting beer in it, it doesn't matter what you cooler quality is - no cooler can preserve ice if the lid is opened often (say to get beer out) or warm items are often added (say to replenish beer).
In short - are these coolers worth it? Depends on the application...in some specific cases most definitely yes, but often they may just be a large additional cost for minimal gain. You can buy a lot of bags or blocks of ice for a couple hundred dollars.
1958 Willys Wagon
2010 Tacoma TRD