The trend now is retro, hard-sided coolers with rounded edges and soft colors. That’s fine and all, but you can’t help but miss the old, tactical style coolers of the past with their rugged, military style edges and heavy duty feeling.
Pelican has been around since the 1970s, and they’re still making their same, rugged cooler. These don’t look like they belong on a yacht. They look like they’re meant to be out in the woods or getting thrown around on the back of your (not squeaky clean) truck. These won’t win a beauty contest, but who cares if they keep your fish on ice, right?
Pelican got its start making tactical gear and now offers rugged, hard-sided coolers and a few options for soft sided coolers that resemble something the bad guy in a movie would carry. The cool one. The bad guy you low-key hope wins. Let’s take a look at everything Pelican has to offer in our 2020 Pelican cooler review.
Best Pelican Coolers for Most People
Pelican has a wide range of offerings but here are two of our favorites.
Pelican’s small, hard-sided cooler is perfect for the average person who needs to keep a few things cold but doesn’t want to carry around a massive cooler. It uses roto molded plastic to reduce weak spots within the exterior and to provide a better container for commercial grade insulation.
It’s cumbersome, but it does resist cracking and insulation exposure because of the design. Latches are simple to press and pull style, which locks the gasket style lid in place and prevents leaks. The hinges are reinforced with stainless steel hardware, and the carry handle is the same polypropylene material as the body itself. It fits lunch for two plus four drinks or 15 cans alone.
What Customers Like:
- highly durable
- press and pull latches
- excellent option for two people
- really heavy
- padlock placement is uncomfortable
Pelican Elite Soft Cooler 12 Can
Pelican’s soft-sided coolers don’t look like your standard soft-sided cooler. The body is a double coated, 840 denier TPU material with a compression molded base and a 100% waterproof zipper. It’s meant to strap onto your kayak or boat and never worry about the contents getting wet.
It weighs about 55% less than the hard sided cooler equivalent and comes with a comfortable shoulder strap. The lid is a quick access double lock system that makes it easy to get to all the contents, and it should keep ice cold for about two days.
What Customers Like:
- ultra durable soft-sided material
- tends to tip over
Everything Else: The Entire Pelican Product Line
Pelican offers a range of products to satisfy most adventurous souls. Let’s take a look at everything it has to offer.
Soft Sided Coolers
Most soft-sided coolers resemble lunchboxes, but Pelican’s are a bit more extreme. 840 denier TPU exterior material prevents punctures, leaks, tears, and resists UV damage. It keeps drinks cold for up to two days, something that few soft-sided cooler options can say.
Although the zipper can be challenging, once you get it zipped, your Pelican cooler is entirely waterproof. Tip it off your kayak, accidentally knock it off the dock. It doesn’t matter. The cooler prevents water from entering and also prevents leaks if the cooler tips over accidentally.
It comes in three sizes, a 12-can, 24-can, and 48-can capacity. Each has a small zippered pocket to keep small items in check and a double clip latch with loops for carabiner storage. The shoulder strap is padded and very comfortable.
These are great for anyone doing anything close to the water. You know your contents are safe and you won’t have to tiptoe around your cooler just to have a float down the river.
Hard Sided Coolers
Let’s break down the way Pelican approaches their hard-sided coolers.
Materials and Design
Pelican’s tactical background comes into play here. There are no soft edges or rounded corners, just a rugged exterior meant to stand up to a lot of abuse. The outside material is roto-molded plastic, a method that improves the strength and durability of the cooler. As plastic is poured into the mold, the mold is rotated reducing the number of weak spots and creating a more even pour. It’s stronger and better able to insulate.
Commercial grade insulation makes up about three inches of wall space, and a gasket style lid prevents any leaks. Some similar style coolers have latches that are great at sealing the lid but can be beasts to manipulate, especially if you have any weakness in your hands. These coolers have comfortable press and pull tabs to seal the lid plus reinforced hinges. You can successfully close the lid without aching fingers.
It comes in seven different sizes from a 20 quart all the way up to a massive 250-quart design. They’re all Grizzly proof and comes with built-in bottle openers. On all but the smallest size, there are molded, under-lid hand grips to help with solo carry or tandem carry. They offer seven full days of ice retention, and Pelican backs all their coolers with a lifetime warranty.
Like all roto-molded coolers, the insulation will slowly absorb the ambient temperature of the room. If you store your cooler in the garage, for example, the insulation will retain some of the heat over time. The first time you put ice inside, it will melt much faster until the insulation gets cold again.
To get the most out of the cooler, fill it with cold water and ice and seal the lid. Allow it to sit overnight and dump the unneeded water in the morning. Refill it with ice as needed, and you should be good to go.
One thing Pelican does well is offer plenty of wheeled options. We’ve been complaining for a while now that many competing brands don’t have the wheeled options we’d like to see. With massive, hard-sided coolers, wheels can be a lifesaver.
Pelican’s wheeled options include a 45-quart, 55 quart, and 85-quart option with the same press and pull latches and roto-molded exterior. An extendable trolley handle makes it easy to tow behind you or stow the handle away to carry with the molded hand grips instead. The wheels are a rubber blend that won’t ever go flat and are large enough to roll over uneven terrain.
There are even tie-down notches to prevent the cooler from sliding around when you don’t need it too, and they’re all certified Grizzly proof. Each cooler comes with Pelican’s lifetime warranty as well.
Prep your wheeled cooler in the same way that you would the other hard-sided coolers for maximum ice retention. They hold your ice for up to seven days. Wheeled coolers are great for families and groups who need a little help getting a cooler from one place to another. They’re just as durable, but the wheels help get things rolling (see what we did there?).
Pelican Coupons & Promo Codes for 2020
Pelican doesn’t offer many discounts or promos although it’s possible to catch certified dealers offering deals during the holiday months. Because they offer lifetime warranties on their products, the coolers are already a great deal. Check with individual dealers for bulk discounts, military discounts, and other types of promotions.
For our individual review, let’s up the ante a bit. The 30-quart cooler offers more space for bigger groups without being unwieldy. Let’s look.
All Pelican hard sided coolers use the same rotomolded method, and the 35 quart is no different. The mold rotates and creates an even pour with fewer weak spots and places where insulation isn’t as thick. Nearly three inches of insulation keeps in cold temperatures.
All the hardware is stainless steel, and the bottom has non-marking, skid-resistant rubber feet. Inside, the insulation is a commercial grade polyurethane that expands to fill every corner, providing consistent insulation against extreme outside temperatures.
The rugged exterior is like Pelican’s entire line. It harkens back to Pelican’s days of creating heavy-duty cases for things like firearms. The gasket style lid holds in the cold while easy pull latches take the work out of getting the lid to seal correctly.
The body itself is built to withstand a lot of abuse. It has hard corners and built-in reinforcements for the sides that translate to a cooler with plenty of durability. It comes in a few different color options, but our favorite is white to reflect the heat.
Molded-in tie-down slots keep it anchored in place without having to MacGuyver something creative. There are molded handles underneath the lid of the cooler, and they’re in a comfortable place to carry solo or tandem carry.
Using The Cooler
Make sure you prep your cooler before you head off so that you can get the full seven-day usage out of the insulation. Once you do that, this cooler is perfect for Saturday soccer tournaments, fishing trips (there’s a built-in measurement tool especially for measuring fish) or tailgating. It’s a bit on the heavy side, but if you’ve got someone who can help you carry it, that may not even be an issue.
There are built-in cup holders on the top and a built-in bottle opener (hello tailgating!) A convenient measuring tool makes it easy to quickly measure each fish without looking around for your ruler, especially convenient if you catch and release. You can also purchase baskets and interior organization options to keep all your stuff organized.
What Customers Are Saying
Pelican has some die-hard fans that follow the company’s unique design through different kinds of products and not just coolers. Many people note their legendary ice retention, for example.
“Good example on their ice holding, went to the Daytona500 last month, loaded up on Friday night, ice was fresh as can be Sunday, a buddy had a cheap cheap cooler, filled with ice in the morning and ice melting by noon.”
It’s also getting customers through some extreme preparations and carrying including hurricane prepping.
“I bought this cooler a few months ago, but it was this week, for Hurricane Irma preparations in Puerto Rico, that I first gave it use. It’s been 3 full days since I placed the ice inside, and I still have tons left. The cooling capacity is great. It is also well built.”
Overall, the brand offers a ruggedness that some comparable brands don’t carry, and customers praise that toughness.
What Customers Like:
- long ice retention
- easy pull latches
Coolers Like Pelican
Pelican has a few areas of competition, so let’s see how they stack up.
Orca is another US manufactured cooler with hard sided and soft sided options. It uses rotomolded plastic for hard-sided coolers and a sturdy, tear-resistant material for soft-sided coolers. One of Orca’s best features is the variety of styles. You can get an Orca hard-sided cooler in just about any color you want including specialty team colors and Greek life.
Pelican has a ruggedness that Orca can’t quite match. It also has an enormous cooler option (250 quarts) whereas the most massive Orca is only 140 quarts. Go with the Pelican if you’re hard on your coolers and need it to last through an earthquake.
Go with Orca for everyday use and for the customizability as gifts. Orca would make a great gift because of the design options.
RTIC is an affordable alternative to many coolers of this kind. It’s a direct to consumer company so you get their coolers at what would be wholesale pricing. They’re a little bit lighter than Pelican, but they won’t hold up to inclement weather.
They both have about the same number of color options, but once again Pelican’s 250-quart option outstrips the largest RTIC choice. Go with Pelican if you’re prepping for a hurricane or you regularly host 100 people. Also, if you need the cooler for big game, small game, or extended, expedition style trips to the great outdoors, Pelican is the answer.
RTIC is excellent if you’re on a budget or you’re looking for a secondary cooler as a backup option. You won’t shell out as much, but you’ll have some overflow if the fishing is good or if you end up with more people at your party than you anticipated.
We give Pelican 4.5 out of 5 because of its sheer toughness. They’re inspired by tactical gear and demonstrate a longevity rare everywhere except in the world of high-end coolers. Easy pull latches and plenty of insulation give you optimal ice retention without fighting with the lid. Built-in tie downs make them easy to secure, and we love the rugged look.
They aren’t cheap, however, so if your budget is top of the list, you could be hemmed in by their options. The flip side is that you often get what you pay for. These are an investment, but with a lifetime warranty, chances are you’ll be passing it down to your children one day.