Throughout much of the 1970s and early 1980s, a green, 54-quart Coleman Steel Belted Cooler was the centerpiece of our family camping trips. Mom packed every cubic square inch of it with essential food items. We four kids were rounded up into the International Travelall with the Holiday Travel Trailer in tow for parts unknown, typically someplace close to water with a great view of the stars and far removed from electricity.
Used and abused, that cooler was an under-appreciated fixture that not only kept our food fresh and beverages cold, but also doubled as a bench, table, and step stool. After we graduated from school, the Coleman survived high-school parties, sporting events, and other activities. Battered but never broken, it kept its cool before being retired to a corner of the garage when we kids moved away.
Steel Belted coolers were offered by The Coleman Company from 1954 to 1994 and were the pinnacle of cooler technology. Strong, functional, and durable, many of these original gems are still in use. Coleman has reintroduced the Steel Belted Cooler after a 20-year absence. It's back in black, red, and green color options, as well as stylish stainless-steel. The design has been improved with a stainless steel lid, case, and hardware to ward off rust. Insulation has been upgraded for enhanced performance. Stainless-steel handles with comfortable rubber grips make it easier to carry, as does its relatively lightweight construction.
For those looking to jump to the heavyweight division of coolers, 2006 ushered in an explosion of "extreme" coolers to the market with the advent of high-performance Yeti ice boxes. Because some may say that one rotational-molded cooler looks like all the rest, let's hit on some of the distinguishing features each major brand offers.
Coolers often are taken for granted in outdoor activities, and until recently, they've underachieved to some degree. Today's extreme coolers have raised the bar and ushered in a new era in cooler performance. You can extend that road trip, push deeper into the wilderness, and have confidence that everything's going to be cool.
Tips for Staying Cool Longer
€¢Condition the cooler by chilling the interior for several hours prior to packing.
€¢Cool or freeze the contents prior to packing.
€¢Keep the cooler full and eliminate dead space. Light weight bubble wrap works great as filler.
€¢Use quality clear ice or blocked ice, either alone or with dry ice, and place on top of the contents because cold air sinks.
€¢Keep the lid closed securely and limit visits to the cooler.
€¢Pack contents in chronological order; with items to be use first packed toward the top.
€¢Don't drain meltwater from ice as icy water has the same cooling effect as ice and occupies space that won't require chilling.
€¢Keep the cooler out of direct sunlight.
- Available in sizes from 22- to 125-quart, Canyon Coolers feature a recinforced Outfitter lid that supports huge weights without warping. Latches, handles, and drains are fully recessed for easy storage, better packing, and reduced damage. The UV-resistant polytheylene construction also reduces weight. Outfitters are guaranteed for 4 years, other models for 3 years.
- IRP Outdoors has more than 25 years of experience making coolers, and in 2011 it re-branded itself as Grizzly with new tooling and designs. An Iowa-based company, Grizzly coolers are made entirely in the USA. They feature environmentally friendly Eco-Mate foam and an integrated ruler on the lid for fish measurements. No-skid and non-marking feet keep the cooler in place and won't leave scuff marks. Ice retention varies from 4 to 19 days depending on cooler size and model.
Some of Grizzly's unique features include hardware-less latches, so there's less potential for failure. They have 2-inch drains that won't get clogged with fish scales or other debris. A full-length drain channel allows for complete draining. Models also are available with Mossy Oak, Realtree, and Lost Camo graphics for hunters and those wanting a less intrusive look to their cooler. The 75-quart Grizzly comes with slots molded into its interior to accommodate freezer-pack dividers. Grizzly coolers also are put through extreme tests to ensure they can withstand anything their consumers might dish out, including being dropped off a moving truck at 65 mph, being tossed down a rocky waterfall, and run over by a tractor.
- Lit Coolers may be new to the extreme cooler scene but they made a splash at the 2014 ICAST Show by winning best-in-show in the Fishing Accessory category. They have removable and rechargeable LED lighted liners. Whether the middle of night, in a darkened tent, or buried in the back of a vehicle, cooler contents are easily seen. They have 2.5-inch lids to surpass any cave-in challenge. Oversized rubber feet give them better grip on smooth and wet surfaces and provide ground clearance. Sizes include 22-, 32-, 52-, and 72-quart models.
- Pelican has been making premium waterproof and crush resistant cases for decades. With a tradition of quality, the expansion into coolers was a natural move. Pelican Pro Gear Elite Coolers are available from 20 to 250 quarts and feature 3-inch locking latches for a secure closure. These patented latches hold tight to over 400 pounds of force, yet open with a simple press of a button and pull of a tab. Pelican Coolers have 2.25 to 2.75 inches of uniform insulation depending on the model, and hold 10 percent more content than their rating capacity in the 35-, 45-, and 65-quart sizes. Optional features include lid seat cushions and racks to keep dry items off the bottom of the cooler.
Perfect for day trips, their 20-quart cooler maintains ice for a week, has a convenient bottle opener, four cup holders in the lid, stainless-steel hardware, and two sets of handles for easy carrying. They're backed with a limited lifetime warranty.
Yeti Extreme Soft-Sider
- Yeti has pushed the concept of soft-side coolers with the Hopper 30. Made from high-tenacity 840 denier nylon, the 30-quart Hopper is made from material that's used in high-performance whitewater rafts. The exterior is puncture-, abrasion-, and UV-resistant, while the interior is made of FDA food-grade material that's antimicrobial and mildew-resistant. The heavy-duty EVA constructed bottom increases stability, durability, and cooling properties.
For insulation, the Hopper uses 1.5 inches of closed-cell NBR rubber foam on the bottom and 1 inch on the sides, combined with a tapered body design to minimize cold loss. It has a super-tough Hydrolok zipper (like that found on hazmat and wet suits) and RF-welded seams to insure 100-percent leak-proof performance. The Hopper holds 18 cans (with a 2:1 ice-to-content ratio) and keeps them icy cold.
- Yeti was the creation of brothers Ryan and Roy Seiders from Driftwood, Texas, who saw the need fora better cooler. Their business model didn't involve market research or hitting a preferred price point. Instead, it centered on creating a cooler that satisfied their own fishing, hunting, and outdoor needs without compromise. They now take pride in having created the category of high-end coolers and offer models ranging from the 20-quart Roadie to the massive 420-quart Tundra.
Yetis are made from food-grade UV-resistant polyethylene that's dry-ice compatible. This is important as dry ice keeps contents cold longer than ordinary ice. Yeti's molding process allows for uniform wall thickness with 2-inch premium insulation, plus thicker and stronger corners for added durability. The lids on Yeti's Tundra line have 3 inches of insulation for longer cooling and strength, helpful if you use them as a step or platform. A freezer-grade gasket lining the lid produces a tight seal to lock in the cold. Full-length, molded-in hinges are self-stopping to prevent them from hyper-extending and breaking. The gasketed drain plug is leak-proof and situated in the recessed floor to allow complete draining.
- For ease of transport, the Yukon Roller 50Q from Yukon Cold Locker has integrated wheels on the back side of the cooler and a retractable handle. The Glide 90Q has large wheels incorporated into one side and an extension handle on the opposite one.
Optional lid cushions can be added to Yukon's larger 50- to 250-quart sizes to turn them into comfortable benches. Yukon coolers also use rigid no-swing handles for those who don't prefer rope-style handles. These built in handles also serve as tie-downs for secureness during transport. The reversible Grip 'N Glide Feet on the bottom of the cooler have a slick skid side for sliding across hard surfaces and a non-marking flip-side ideal for boat decks and truck beds. Yukons have rounded freezer-style gaskets that lock out heat and form a leak-proof seal.
- Eskys are USA-made coolers loaded with quality components and built tough for years of service. For superior ice retention, they have 2.5 inches of lid and floor insulation paired with a unique air flow barrier and cork fit lid for a superior seal. Eskys have distinctive catch-free rubber latches that prevent items from getting hung on them. Integrated hinges with a stainless-steel pin add to their toughness. Functional features to the 85Q Esky include a built-in cutting board, fish ruler, and dry-storage basket. Its rope handles have durable soft-touch grips.