Pelican advertises up to 10 days ice retention. Is that really possible? Sure, it may be possible tucked away in a cool dark room, but what about under “normal” use? The skeptics in us all imagine this scenario of a cooler under a controlled environment when confronted with such a bold claim. So, we set out to test exactly this…
The short answer is, yes, a Pelican cooler can last up to 10 days. However, to be fair, we must elaborate on this statement further. There are several factors, which play a significant role in obtaining maximum ice retention. After conducting numerous ice retention tests on several different Pelican coolers, we have found some interesting results.
Obtaining Maximum Ice Retention
-Key Factors To Consider-
- External Temperatures
- Cooler Capacity (size)
- Ratio of Ice To Cooler Space
- Exposure To Direct Sunlight
- Number of Cooler Access Points
- Frequency of Cooler Openings
External temperatures coupled with Ice to Space ratio seem to be the biggest contributing factor when considering ice retention. Through several tests we have already proven that a larger cooler, when filled to capacity with ice, will almost always outlast a smaller cooler of similar build quality. We have to say “almost always” because as proven previously in several of our ice challenge videos, this is not always the case. If one cooler of a smaller size is of better build quality it can outlast a larger cooler of inferior build quality. More on that later…
To break it down further, lets consider the same cooler under different external temperatures. Over the course of a year we have exposed a Pelican ProGear Elite 45 Qt Cooler to a multitude of external temperatures. How does this shake out?
Average Afternoon External Temp: 95 Degrees
5.5 Days Ice Retention
Average Afternoon External Temp: 75 Degrees
10 Days Ice Retention
From the [actual example] above you can see an average temperature difference of 20 degrees (Fahrenheit) can affect ice retention rates by nearly 50%. Again, same cooler, same ice capacity, same frequency of opening, same ice source, etc, the only difference, is external temps.
Now, for an important take away for the practical outdoorsmen…
These tests were conducted in central Florida, where humidity ratings in the 90th percentile are all too often a common occurrence. This may not be the case for a vast majority of our readers. Therefore, we like to think that we have presented the most extreme conditions of an extreme summer, mild winter and fall. During the winter months a majority of our readers may even experience ice retention rates greater than 10 days.
As previously mentioned, almost always, a larger cooler when filled to capacity will outlast a smaller cooler of similar build. We have experienced this with seven different cooler manufacturers. That is, the Pelican Elite 50 quart outlasts the 45qt by roughly one day under similar external factors. Similar results were experienced with manufacturers such as Grizzly, Yeti, Engel, Polar Bear, Ice Mule, and Cordova.
And Then There Are The Times They Don’t.....
Ratio Of Ice To Space
What does this mean anyways? Well, let’s say you take a 150qt cooler and match it up against a 20qt cooler, is that fair? Well, as always….. maybe…. (This is for my YouTube Channel Trolls)
In our Five Day Ice Challenge, we had a Canyon Cooler Outfitter Series 35qt cooler outlast a Yeti Tundra 45 (actually 37 qts). Furthermore, in multiple tests we consistently experienced the Pelican ProGear Elite 45Q outlast the Pelican Tailgating cooler 55 qt cooler. (More on this later as well). Lastly, we experienced an Igloo Sportsman 40Qt cooler retain ice at almost the same rate as the EXACT same cooler model but 55qts (the Igloo Sportsman 55qt). As you can see, this is the off chance, but it does happen, and we attribute it to build quality of the coolers.
Considering similar cooler build quality, this would not be fair, as the larger cooler has more ice to begin with. To combat this we tested coolers filled to capacity, tallied their results then directly after (with almost identical external temperatures) tested the same coolers with only 20lbs of ice, regardless of cooler size. That is, a 150 qt cooler got the same amount of ice the 20qt cooler got, 20lbs. Fair right? Again, yes and no…
We did see the smaller coolers perform much better under the 20lb ice challenge compared to the lager coolers. That is mostly due to the fact that 20lbs of ice filled a 20qt cooler to capacity, where as a 58 qt cooler maybe filled only about 25%. From this we can take away that ice retention rates are directly correlated to RATIOS of ice to cooler size, not lbs OR cooler size.
Exposure To Direct Sunlight
This factor is a bit of an animal to tackle. The gut in us all says that exposure to direct sunlight will directly affect ice retention rates. But we have found this to not necessarily be true. What is true is that the color of the cooler, when exposed to direct sunlight, is directly affected by external temperatures. Put another way, the lid of a darker cooler will reach significantly higher temperatures than the exact same cooler in a lighter cooler. Duh!
This is where it gets interesting though… just because the lid or external side(s) of the cooler are at higher temps does not mean it will hold ice for less time than the exact same cooler in a lighter color. Not only did we experience this with roto molded coolers but also with tumblers. We tested a Grizzly 40Q cooler in tan and a Grizzly 40Q in white side by side. In various temperatures, they both retained ice for the exact same time. However, the tan Grizzly regularly reached 20-30 degree hotter than the exact same cooler in white, yet similar ice retention.
Therefore, we come back to cooler build quality yet again. Normally, a cooler exposed to more sunlight and higher external temperatures will hold ice far less than a cooler in the shade or exposed to lower external temps, all things equal.
Remember: Lid/Side cooler temps are NOT the external temps. For a more accurate reading, test the ground, dock, boat deck, surrounding area of the cooler.
Number of Cooler Access Points
This might come as a surprise to many, as most coolers only have two access points, the lid and the drain plug. However, there are several coolers with multiple access points. The Pelican Tailgating cooler is the perfect example.
The Pelican Tailgating cooler, in addition to the standard cooler latch also has a center of lid access point. This is for quick access when tailgating, parties, BBQs etc. With an additional access point comes an additional gasket; or an area in which warm air can be introduced to the cooler. As outlined above, the Pelican ProGear Elite 45 (single lid) regularly outperformed the Pelican 55qt Tailgating cooler (dual lid). With the dual lid or multiple access points you can expect to sacrifice some ice retention time. This is a factor of more exposure to external elements as well as a reduction in lid insulation to accommodate the additional opening(s). However, those that are purchasing a tailgating cooler are likely doing so for a reason….for easy access. After all, what is the point of a tailgating cooler if you can’t (or shy away from) regularly opening the cooler? Having said that, in our test, the Tailgating cooler still went 4+ days under 95 degree external temps. From a practical stance, the cooler is more than likely to be emptied of contents after 4 days of tailgating, BBQ, partying, etc.
Aside from cooler size, this is one of the biggest detriments to ice retentions times. A cooler works by providing a barrier of ice which keep contents cool, separate from warm external temps. Although it seems obvious, all to often, roto molded cooler owners are disappointed with their coolers and can’t figure out why. Although these coolers are high end and do provide days or weeks of ice retention ability, they are not meant to be opened continuously. With each opening, warm air is introduced to a cool environment, disrupting internal temps.
In our testing we open coolers three times a day to simulate actual use. Although this is most likely drastically different from most people, it is a standard we set to regularly introduce warm air. In reality, those that are after maximum ice retention times may go days without opening their cooler, especially when hunting or on overnight fishing trips. On the flip side, others (or those with children) may open their cooler hundreds of times a day, which in turn directly reflects ice retention.
Almost always, a cooler will not be pre-chilled prior to use. We are a society of last minute planning and go, go go, therefore, pre-chilling a cooler is not something we think to do. Most cooler manufacturers suggest that you pre-chill your cooler prior to use, so that the internal temps of the cooler are already brought down. The process of cooling the inside of a cooler is extremely taxing on initial ice levels. In our testing pre-chilling a cooler can often extend ice retention times by up to one full day.
Going Beyond Ice Retention
Many individuals in the market for a cooler want the best. But the best does not necessarily mean the best ice retention times. We have entered a time where a cooler is more than just that. We regularly receive emails from readers who question our opinions on coolers, which “cost twice as much as another brand.”
“Why would you spend an extra XXXX dollars on a cooler just for a name.” If this were the case then other brands wouldn’t exist. Why would anyone drive a Lexus when you can drive an almost identical Toyota? Why drive Lincoln over Ford? Both will get you from point A to B, come from the same parent companies, have similar features, etc. But as many can tell, it goes beyond this. In our experience we see cheaper coolers which experience lids that bubble when exposed to sunlight, use cheaper gasket material, have pitting on the exterior, become filthy/scuffed after minimal use and more. As much as we’d like to refrain from saying, you get what you pay for, it often times is the case when it comes to coolers. It helps to focus less on ice retention and more on intended use. Will this be a beach cooler, hunting, double as a casting platform, and need to be locked in the back of a bed? Among these questions and more will help to lead you to purchasing the correct cooler.
To conclude, high end roto molded coolers do last significantly longer than the run-of-the-mill big box store cooler. We have tested this time and time again, and we don’t mean merely ice retention times. Try to stand on that Styrofoam cooler from the quick-e-mart, or get 10 days ice retention from a similar cooler. It almost always will not happen. With a Pelican for example, it can hold ice for up to 10 days, under moderate use, in moderate temperatures, and hold a 250lb man while functioning as a practical casting platform.