Let’s begin with a caveat. If you prefer to buy a $25 Walmart cooler and make trips to buy more ice, these ice chests are not for you. However, if you’re a hardcore outdoorsperson, hunter, or fisher who ventures to faraway places where convenience stores and ice machines do not exist, you may need one of these to keep your steaks/filets fresh and bait/beverages cool. Here is the challenge of the best of the best, where big names tangle with brands you outta know.
The line-up, left to right: ICEHOLE, Grizzly, Canyon, Mammoth, Orion, Yeti, Orca, Pelican (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
In the running
Pelican latch detail. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
Pelican Elite 30: Assembled in the States with US and foreign components. Advertised 10 day ice retention. Lifetime warranty. Built in bottle opener. Cupholders molded into cover with dual rulers inset in top. Press-and-pull Pelican locking latches like those on their gun cases. Heavy duty center metal-reinforced locking point. Two-tone white exterior with gray trim and interior. Tethered threaded plug that is garden hose attachable. Molded tie downs and stainless steel hardware. Elite models are 30% lighter than standard Pelican coolers. MSRP $274.95
Aesthetics of the ICEHOLE mimic military gear and vehicles and thus named deuce-and-a-half. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
ICEHOLE M35: 100% American Made. Dubbed the “Deuce and Half” model. Lifetime warranty for the original purchaser. Molded lock-points at front corners and strap tie downs on sides. Clean molded branding and serial number plate. ICEHOLE donates a portion of all sales to non-profit organizations supporting veterans. Flush mount, non corrosive hinges. Set off rubber corner covers double as grip feet. Side serial number plate. Oversized removable rubberized drain plug MSRP $399.99
Canyon ice chest, unlatched, showing functionality. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
Canyon Outfitter 35: Lifetime warranty. No clear country of origin. Rubberized marine-grade, EZ-cam locking latches. Dual side tie-down points for 1” straps. Lockable with a long-hasp lock. Grizzly proof sticker. Marine-grade stainless hinges. Stippled color options. Recessed exterior features for easy packing. Advertised to keep ice 5-14 days depending on conditions. MSRP $239.99
Orca, showing included rear storage pouch. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
Orca 40: Made in the USA with a lifetime repair/replace warranty for the original purchaser. Included multi-pocket cargo organizer attaches to the rear of the cooler. Top of the cooler is lightly textured. Lockable front corners can double as tie downs. Many color options, including NRA and NWTF support versions. Grizzly seal certified. Advertised to hold ice up to 10 days. MSRP $349.99
Yet’s rope and rubber handles, standard latches and ubiquity have set the bar for all other coolers. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
Yeti Tundra 45: Five-year warranty. Crap shoot on country of origin: some made in Iowa and Wisconsin; others made in the Philippines. Heavy rubber T-latches. Included metal dry goods basket. Locking molded corners. Strap side tie-downs. Grizzly agency certified. Marine-rope handles with rubberized grips. Non-slip feet. UV-resistant finish. Removable drain plug. Thirteen sizes in multiple colors. MSRP $349.99
Grizzly interior with matching dry basket. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
Grizzly 60: Made in the USA. Lifetime warranty. Molded hinge with stainless pin. Two-inch drain plug and full-length drain channel. Two-inch tie down slots. Molded 28” ruler on lid. Grizzly proof. Included plastic dry goods tray. Rope handle with nylon sleeved rubber grip. Rubber “Bear Claw” latches. Set up for divider, sold separately, which doubles as cutting board. Wide mix of color, size, and custom logo options including camo graphics for hunters. MSRP $389.99
This Orion includes a roomy plastic dry tray. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
Orion 65: Made in the USA by the folks at Jackson Kayaks. Five year warranty to the original owner. Numerous “camo” color options. YakAttack accessory tracks and RAM mount rails on cooler sides for holding everything from fish finders, knives, hatchets, to a sold-separately tailgate table. Built-in corner bottle openers. Sitting/standing pad atop the lid. Included large plastic tray and slots for two dividers. Low-profile metal camming latches. Griz proof. Six metal tie down points and two lock points. Motorcycle-style rubber grip handles. MSRP $499
Top left, clockwise: Canyon, ICEHOLE, Orca and Mammoth ice chests. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
Mammoth Titan 65: Lifetime warranty for original owner. No county of origin designation. Molded lock and tie down corners. Grizzly proof approval. Rubber T-handle latches. One continuous, self-stopping stainless hinge. Non-skid bottom. Advertised up to 10 day ice retention. Integral, attached drain plug. Mammoth debuting two new lines of coolers for 2017, likely discontinuing both the Titan and lower-end Discovery. Retail $360.
What defines the winners
Getting ready for the ice test. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
We broke down our challenge into nine key areas and awarded corresponding points:
Ice, vension and salmon, in place for the ice retention test. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
10 — Ice retention: This is the heart of the matter. How long do these chests hold ice and keep meat cold. Yes, we’re aware they’re not all the same size, and that’s why all coolers were filled with the same quantity of ice per quart size after significant pre-chilling. They were all opened the same number of times. They all spent a few days in part sun, many in the shade of the trees, a few in the garage, and a few in the back of the truck. We threw in packs of venison and/or salmon along with frozen water bottles to keep track.
5 — Warranty: As far as we’re concerned, you can’t beat a lifetime warranty. Period.
5 — Build origin: And we love products made in the USA. Period.
Detail of Grizzly’s molded ruler after some hard use. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
5 — Durability: You pay the money, and you expect a product that will last a lifetime. Many are “certified” as bear proof by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) which proves the product has already passed rigorous testing. As we didn’t have access to a friendly bear willing to toss coolers, we did it ourselves, pitching them down a hill, dropping them from the 2nd story balcony, and treating them roughly.
Unlike many other coolers, the ICEHOLE included both a divider and a basket. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
5 — Features: Cooler function is one thing, but when you shuck out the big bucks for these babies, additional features like trays, dividers, lock points, tie downs, and accessory mounts come into play.
5 — Hardware: Here we look at the handles, latches, and hinges. These hardware pieces are three of the most critical areas on any ice chest.
5 — Drainage: While this may sound like a bad medical problem, buyers would regret overlooking the drain plug design of their cooler. The last thing you want is a leaky drain or a cooler that takes ages to empty.
5 — Style points/Branding: While this does not generally affect function, your uber-expensive cooler might as well look good doing its job. Some set themselves apart with color and size options, designs, and classy branding. If you prefer to fly under the radar, disregard this category.
The Orion is feature rich and “griz proof” but has a serious price tag. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
5 — Value: This is the place where quality and functionality intersect with price. Don’t forget, ice chests don’t “win” by being the cheapest, nor are they automatically the best by being the most expensive.
And at the end of the challenge, we awarded a Best Overall and a Best Bang for the Buck. As we adore quality, the top USA-made products with solid warranties received our Patriot’s Stamp of Approval.
|Ice Retention (10)||Durability (5)||USA Made(5)||Warranty (5)||Features (5)||Hardware (5)||Drain (5)||Style (5)||Value (5)|
Top coolers: Yeti, Pelican, Orion and Grizzly coolers offer superior function but at a hefty price. Photo: Kristin Alberts)
Best overall: Grizzly, with Orion in a very close second
Best bang for the buck: Canyon was the winner here with the most reasonable price-performance ration. Grizzly was not far behind.
Patriot’s stamp of approval: ICEHOLE oozes American pride and quality, as well as Orca, Orion, and Grizzly.
Pelican after testing. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
Pelican: Clean and clear branding and logos. Unique design looks sharp but creates a large exterior footprint for smaller interior space. Drain cap attaches so you can’t lose it, and empties well as long as the lid is open. Latches are easy to use, but one popped open during the drop test. Last bit of ice melted on the morning of the 10th day.
ICEHOLE serial numbered oversized drain and rubber corners. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
ICEHOLE: Ultra-durable cooler in an array of vibrant colors. Included metal divider and tray. M2 Bradley-style rubber latches unique and snug. Grip and rope handles held up well, touted as the same rope provided to Navy Seals. Very aggressive stippled outer surface, but could be more difficult to clean. This is the cooler with an attitude. Lots of love for this Texas company, its military ties, catch-phrases, and products. Held ice through the afternoon of the 10th day.
We loved the Canyon except its handles – undersized, non padded and unprotected knots. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
Canyon: Retention drain plug did not empty as quickly, but also cannot be misplaced. Recessed plug, latches, hinges, and handles eliminate snags and makes this the most packable-friendly of all the coolers. Speckled sandstone finish hides the dirt. Rope handles were not our fave as grip is not padded, knots are visible and unprotected, and ropes show some fraying after use,. This was the only cooler with a gasket that is more foam than rubber. Though we question longevity, it seals super tight; in fact, they advise you may have to loosen the drain plug to break the seal. Ice melted sometime during the 10th night.
Orca’s whale tail latch. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
Orca: Solid American product that is not flashy, but does everything well. Whaletail latches and branding details are thoughtful and attractive. Rear cargo pouch is a great option. Smooth finish cleans up easily. Kudos to the company for supporting causes like the NRA, NWTF, and other wildlife orgs. Ice melted between 9th-10th day.
This Yeti includes a nice dry goods basket. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
Yeti: The brand against which all others have been judged. Track record of success, and the Yeti did everything as advertised or better. Moderately grippy top surface is nice, as is the UV-resistant finish if you intend to leave it in the sun. Has dual hinge pins whereas most other have single piece. Branding is classy and understated. Ice melted between day 9-10.
Grizzly’s huge 2″ drain hole with oversized plug. Note area to use wrench to loosen if overtightened.(Photo: Kristin Alberts)
Grizzly: This cooler excelled in all areas. The only one in the test with a full-length drain channel and by far the largest drain/plug combo. Including both the dry goods tray and the top ruler are nice touches. Moderate texture on top makes ideal work area. Solid price-size-quality ratio. Ice held through evening of the 10th day.
Orion: This one stands out immediately based on wild color blends and exterior accessory rails. The camming latches were the easiest to use. Dense top standing/sitting pad held up well and was a fave. Feature-filled from top to bottom with superior ice retention. Has some of the most comfortable handles in the test. Highest price, but backed up by quality options. Ice melted sometime overnight between 10th-11th day.
The Orion’s dense padded sitting/standing pad was unique among the coolers. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
The Mammoth got dirty during testing, but held up admirably, contributing to its durability score. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
Mammoth: A simple design that does what it claims and is flying under the radar. Would do well to mold in some branding, as they have a neat logo. Very useable longer-flatter interior is ideal for longer contents like salmon or legs of game. Mammoth 65 actually has a 67 quart capacity, which is nice. No notable features to speak of, and short color-size options limit its ceiling. The latches on this one were the least favorite of all testers, as they take two hands and some power to secure, and one popped open during a drop test. Ice melted overnight of the 9th-10th day.
The Chill: What we learned
All contenders in the extreme ice chest challenge. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)
After spending several months beating on these extreme ice chests and putting them to both real-life and exaggerated tests in the field, in a salmon boat, here’s what we learned. All lived up to their ice-keeping claims. No matter what we did, none failed in terms of function. Since they all live up to expectations, the details is where they set themselves apart. So when you’re in the market for a serious ice chest, check out the brands we tested and buy what suits you best. You won’t be disappointed, though you’ll probably have more than a few jealous friends who claim they’d rather buy more ice. I guess they do their adventuring, hunting and fishing within a stone’s throw of an ice machine. As for you, get out there and make some memories in the backcountry with a cooler you can trust, and look cool doing it.