Field Tested: Rugged Road Ultralight Coolers

I like to think that I’m pretty strong. After all, as a 5.13+ rock climber and competitive ultramarathoner, I’ve worked pretty hard to get that way. I’ve gotten used to the fact that my muscles are usually the first thing people comment on when we meet. Strength is an essential part of my personality, my career, and my goals for the future.

But nothing makes me feel weaker than picking up my cooler.

A good cooler ranks high on the list of travel essentials. Athletes and adventurers of all kinds need to eat a lot to keep up with energy needs day to day, and a diet full of non-perishables gets old fast. A reliable cooler could be the only thing holding you back from a mental breakdown after cracking open your tenth straight can of tuna.

But somehow, even before you fill it up with all the eggs and cheese and milk and other refrigerated delicacies your heart desires, a typical cooler that’s actually powerful enough to stay cold for longer than a day at a time weighs an exorbitant amount. Hoisting a fully loaded one always makes me wonder if I should have warmed up first. I enjoy a good deadlift, but maybe not first thing in the morning on my way out the door.

With a cooler from Rugged Road Outfitters, though, you can save your feats of strength for the gym. These ultralight coolers clock in at far less than 10 pounds, which feels like lifting a feather when you’re expecting the weight of a traditional cooler. I nearly toppled over backward when picking mine up for the first time because I exerted way more force than I needed to. Think about grabbing one of those cheapo disposable styrofoam ones off the shelf of your local Walmart, and that’s about how much effort it takes to lift a Rugged Road cooler.

But weight is just about the only thing these coolers have in common with styrofoam. When it comes to performance, you can plan for more than a week’s worth of ice retention, in line with the top rotomolded coolers on the market. Combine that with the featherlight weight, and Rugged Road starts to look like a pretty compelling alternative.

Rugged Road also offers more room inside for the same amount of space outside. Side by side, the mid-size RR cooler pretty much matches the dimensions of the classic YETI Tundra 45. But once you open them up, it’s clear that the Rugged Road saves precious space in the walls compared to its competition. That’s because these feature an outer coating called Rigorite, a protective spray made from polyurea that’s been used by the military for bombproofing the Pentagon. The same special ingredient that cuts so much weight from these coolers also trims inches on all sides.

For an added bonus that’s done unexpected favors for my sanity, the lid is fully reversible. The cover comes completely off and converts into picnic mode on the other side, complete with a cutting board or eating surface and four incut cupholders. Now I can cross “camp table” off my neverending gear wishlist, too.

And if you need even more incentive to give one a try, every purchase kicks 10 percent back to the Rugged Road Foundation for the sake of building wells for better access to safe drinking water worldwide.

Rugged Road is gearing up to release two new sizes of their ultralight coolers, so you’ll soon have three sizes to choose from: 45-, 65-, and 85-can capacities. Grab one for yourself—if only so you can feel like Popeye as you dangle it from your pinky finger.

$300/65-can size, 45- and 85-can sizes coming late fall 2022

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Lucie is a sport climber, ultrarunner, writer, and mental training consultant based in Eagle, Colorado. She and her partner live part-time out of their converted Honda Element, the “Hotelement,” which supports them on climbing trips all across the country. She’s always on the hunt for new products and ideas that can help them share their small space better and enjoy the little moments in between big adventures. Lucie prioritizes quality over quantity and a less-is-more mindset but knows that the right tools make it easier to focus on the present moment. When she’s not writing or moving, she helps other outdoor athletes dial in their mental strategy in sport to find the crossroads between joy and ambition.