By Michael Deming
While looking through the camping aisles at Sportsman’s Warehouse, I overheard a lady asking her husband, “Is that thing really four hundred dollars? Is it made of gold or what?” I just had to get a better look to see what she was talking about. Come to find out, they were looking at one of the many models of “Extreme Coolers”. Sportsman’s Warehouse carries the most diverse line of extreme coolers on the market and making the right choice for your desired needs is a problem this gentleman was having as most of us would. You need to be well informed about a top of the line product like an extreme cooler to make the right choice.
What is an “Extreme Cooler” and why do they cost so much? We decided to do some in depth research on these common questions. For the past two months, the team at Sportsman’s News has taken the top brands on all of our excursions and put them to the test. We can now provide you with the appropriate answers to these questions so you can justify the purchase of one of these top of the line products.
Since nearly everyone has owned a regular cooler at some time, it’s probably easier to show what an extreme cooler isn’t. This will give everyone a basic idea of what we are dealing with. An extreme cooler isn’t something you are going to replace each and every year. These things are built to last. The lid isn’t going to rip off and the latches won’t break after several trips to the woods. You don’t have to worry about standing on top of it and caving it in either. The handles aren’t going to break off when you load a hundred pounds of venison into it and lift it into the bed of your truck. Most importantly, you aren’t going to have to head sixty miles into town for ice every couple of days to insure that your drinks or game stay cold. All of these units are over-insulated and designed to hold ice for extended periods of time.
During our testing period, we utilized the main brands sold at Sportsman’s Warehouse and kept them in the 60-70 quart range which is a common size for nearly everyone to use. Each manufacture was gracious enough to send us a test model. We tested the Pelican ProGear 65QT -Elite Cooler, Grizzly 60QT, Igloo -Yukon 70 Cold Locker and the Engel DeepBlue 65. The Yeti Cooler Company opted not to participate in our testing process, but we borrowed a Yeti Tundra 65 unit for the ice testing process just for our knowledge and to see how they compare.
Pelican ProGear Elite 65 QT
The Pelican company has been making hard core, heavy duty cases for laptops, camera gear and other various protections for many years with great success. It is no surprise that they would be a top performer in the extreme cooler category as well. This 65 quart model has a lot of features the Sportsman’s News team really likes. The dual handle system is awesome. This unit has a molded handle which will allow you to pick up extremely heavy loads without the worry of breaking off a handle. It also has larger handles mounted to the molded handles which will pivot up and out, allowing you to carry loads without banging into your knees or shin. These handles also fold out of the way when not in use.
The press and pull latch system in this cooler was our favorite latching setup. It is super easy to get into and they are extra wide, so even with heavy duty gloves on, gaining access is very easy. The younger children can also gain access into this cooler with ease which isn’t the case with most other models tested. All the attached hardware is made of corrosion resistant stainless steel. The molded-in tie downs on this cooler are well designed and they give you the ability to not only secure your cooler to the bottom of a boat or truck bed, but still gives you the ability to access its contents without undoing your tie downs. It is equipped with non-skid and non-marking raised feet. It also has a molded-in lock hasp. The drain is sloped, which allows you to fully drain unwanted water without having to tip the unit on its end to get all the moisture out. The threaded drain plug allows you to screw on a garden hose and drain to anywhere. This smaller drain plug does drain slower than the other units tested because of the smaller diameter. The construction of this unit is super heavy duty and standing on it and using it as a casting platform or for stepping into a truck is no problem. The lid has an integrated tape measure in both inches and centimeters for measuring your trophy catch. The dry unit tips the scales right at 48 lbs. It is assembled in the USA with U.S. and foreign components and is guaranteed for a lifetime against breakage and workmanship for the cooler itself. This unit isn’t bear certified, but if you won’t be traveling in bear country and need this certification, this is a top notch cooler with great features.
The Sportsman’s News team has been using Grizzly Coolers for many years now, so we have more than our fair share of experience with this brand. I still use the same 150 quart cooler each and every fall for all of my hunting trips, having put it into service eight years ago. It has hauled thousands of pounds of game and fish and has never faltered in any way. We have had a Grizzly 60 in service for two full years now and it has been on nearly every outing as well with the same results. I would consider Grizzly Coolers “A no frills, get it done” piece of equipment that will last you a lifetime. It has super heavy duty molded-in handles which will never break. I utilize these handles to secure my tie-downs too, which allows me to access my cooler’s contents without having to release the tie-downs. The heavy duty non-skid lid provides a great platform for casting, tabletop or a step. It comes with non-skid rubber feet which can also be removed if you want the ability to slide the unit around the bottom of your boat without being forced to lift it up. The 2” drain plug will allow the unwanted water to drain out of the cooler in a matter of seconds, but the last little bit of water will require you to tip the unit on its end to full empty. The heavy duty rubber latches on these coolers are relatively easy for an adult to hook and unhook, but younger children had major problems with this task.
The unit has molded-in locking points which will allow you to put not only one lock, but two. This and the latch system is the reason that the Grizzly 60 has been bear certified. To get bear certified by the IGBC testing facility, a cooler which has been fully loaded with tasty treats must survive a grizzly for one full hour of contact without him gaining access to its contents. This cooler tips the scale empty at 25.75 lbs and is 100% made and assembled in the U.S.A. Your Grizzly Cooler has a lifetime warranty against manufacture defects and workmanship. If you live or spend a lot of time in bear country, there isn’t a better cooler on the market than the Grizzly 60. If a 400 pound grizzly can’t destroy it, you probably can’t either.
Engel DeepBlue 65
Although this was the Sportsman’s News teams first experience with the Engel line of coolers, it must be said that Engel isn’t new to this industry. They have been putting coolers out for a very long time and to the hard core gulf fishermen who spends hundreds of days a year on the water, there is nothing better. These coolers are a staple to this crew and with a well earned top notch reputation. I reached out to some of these long-time professional fisherman to see about durability and longevity and all I heard was the echo of raving fans. I would consider this cooler a no frills get it done type of cooler as well. The latches on this cooler were very easy to access and even the children could knock this out once shown how they operate. The one twist drain plug is a good feature which allows you to drain the water out of this cooler without having to totally remove the plug. It does take several turns to totally remove the plug, but this was a good benefit which the other units tested didn’t offer. The pitched cooler floor allows all of the water to be drained without lifting or tilting the unit. It has non-skid, non-marking feet which also raise the unit off the ground making for easy cleaning of your deck while situated on your boat.
This cooler has molded-in handles as well as rope handles which are integrated into the setup. The rope handles made carrying the fully loaded cooler an easy task, but the molded-in handles were a little hard on the hands when fully loaded. The molded-in tie downs will accommodate nearly every setup and also allows you access to your content without having to remove the tie-downs. It has a very large non-skid lid that makes a great casting platform and has two molded-in padlock holes. This setup allows you to lock the unit and render it bear proof and certified by the IGBC testing facility. Due to the vast marine experience Engel has, they have a good number of accessories dialed in for this cooler as well. Items like bait trays, hanging trays, SeaDek pads, cushions and more. This cooler weighs in at 28 lbs empty. The Engel brand is designed and engineer in Florida, but assembled in Thailand. It comes with a limited warranty for the original owner against defects of material and workmanship.
Igloo Yukon 70 Cold Locker
The Igloo brand doesn’t need any special announcement or introductions on who they are. They have been making coolers since 1947 and I’m sure most of you have owned a few of them yourself. They are currently the #1 cooler manufacturer worldwide and they are manufactured here in the U.S.A. in Katy, Texas. This cooler was the largest capacity cooler we tested and it performed extremely well. The heavy duty molded-in handles will provide for years of faithful service without the worry of them ever breaking off. They also provide a good place to tie-down your cooler in the back of a truck or in your boat. The lid has three full inches of insulation and is plenty heavy duty enough to allow you to stand on as well as use for a casting platform. The lid also has an integrated measuring device which will allow you to measure your catch up to twenty-two inches. The lid is secured with two heavy duty, yet flexible rubber latches. These worked great for the adults, but are nearly impossible for younger children to open. The lid also touts dual locking areas where two padlocks may be attached which will provide security for your contents, and is bear certified to protect your goodies from Yogi. Most coolers have non-skid feet, but the Yukon 70 has reversible feet. One side will allow you to have a non-skid surface, but if you require the use of skidding to move around your boat, one screw for each will allow you to flip them over and skid away. These feet allow for extra height as well, providing good air circulation and the ability to clean under the unit without having to move it. It has an oversized tethered drain plug, allowing for quick draining of the cooler and it require you to lift or tilt the cooler to get all the water out of the unit. The unit weights in right at 36.5 lbs empty. It comes with a five year limited warranty against manufacture defects and workmanship from the original date of purchase.
All of these companies tout their ability to hold ice for a certain number of days and under certain conditions. These extended days equate to money saved on ice and is something we were very concerned with. We wanted to give them a real life test to see exactly how long they would hold ice during our testing.
Our testing would begin in my backyard and specifically on my back deck. It is a west facing deck which gets afternoon sun from about 10 am until the sun sets at approximately 8 pm. The coolers would stay here during the entire testing period. We opened the coolers in the morning and the evening to check the ice melt and to simulate getting in and out of the cooler while on a trip. Since all coolers were not the exact same size, we adjusted the ice in them to make sure they each had the same amount in volume compared to their capacity. So, the Igloo-Yukon 70 had 40 total pounds of ice (37.5 lbs of cubed ice and a 2.5 lb Arctic-Ice Alaskan Series) which equates out to .57 pounds of ice per each quart of capacity. Each cooler got the same amount of ice per quart (.57 lbs) and one Arctic Ice Alaskan Series, which is an ice substitute. Information on this great product can be seen in our Pro’s Picks column in this issue. We had two separate Igloo Yukon 70 coolers, so the second unit got 40 lbs of cubed ice and no Arctic Ice to see how big of a difference the Arctic Ice unit provided as well.
To give the coolers the best results, we left them out the night before the testing started with lids open to chill down with an overnight low of 29° Fahrenheit. At 7 am on day one, I loaded each cooler with the appropriate amount of ice and secured the lids. Over the next thirteen days, the coolers were opened a minimum of twice a day, but as much as five or six times a day. Daytime high temperatures were as high as 86° and as low as 78° over this 13 day period of time and the lows were always in the mid to high 30’s. It took a total of eight days in the sun for the first cooler to sacrifice all of it’s’ ice. It was the Igloo Yukon 70 without the Arctic Ice insert. All of the units with Arctic Ice inserts were still holding strong and had between twenty and forty percent of their original ice. The Yeti Tundra 65 was the next unit to fall on the 10th day. The Igloo Yukon 70 and the Engel DeepBlue 65 both made it to the end of the 11th day before losing all of their ice. The Grizzly 60 and Pelican 65 outlasted the rest and were able to hold ice until the very end of the 13th day of testing.
Overall, I would say that all of the extreme coolers performed extremely well with the ice testing process. If we would have moved the coolers into the shade, I’m sure we could have extended the life of the ice even more. The combination of theses heavy duty coolers and the use of the Arctic Ice Alaskan Freezer Packs definitely will help you get the most out of your coolers.
Comparing these extreme coolers to one of your standard coolers, which will cost you less than a hundred bucks, is like comparing apples to elephants. They aren’t even in the same league. We used one of these coolers in our testing just to see how it compared in ice consumption. We didn’t have a sixth Arctic Ice pack to put in this one, but the 65 quart model got 40 lbs of cubed ice. By the middle of day three, there was nothing but water. Comparing this cooler to the Igloo Yukon 70 without an Arctic Ice pack and the same amount of ice is a good comparison. The non-extreme cooler used two and half times more ice over the same amount of time. Since stores won’t allow you to return un-melted ice, we would have been forced to fill the cooler two additional times to get to our eight days we got out of the extreme cooler. Over $16 in ice cost alone and two trips to civilization with fuel could be as much as $40 to $50. It doesn’t take many of these extended trips to justify the cost of an extreme cooler in your future. This doesn’t even take into consideration that the inexpensive models are going to break and need replacements every few years.
Regardless of the model you choose, an extreme cooler is worth every penny and will save you a lot of money over time. Combine your cooler with a few Arctic Ice containers available at Sportsman’s Warehouse and you have just purchased the last cooler you will ever need.