Pelican's been around since 1976, making foam-lined hard plastic cases for photographers, hunters, and anybody else who wanted to lug around a potentially fragile item. They make a lot more than that now, including coolers, which seems like a logical extension of their container expertise.
Given the mania for super-insulated coolers, I decided to test an to see if one of these plastic behemoths can really keep your beer cold until the next solar eclipse. But then I got sort of derailed by a feature I wasn't expecting: a badge proclaiming certification by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. What's that all about? Like, does that mean this thing can survive a bear attack?
That's exactly what it means. At the in West Yellowstone, Montana, the IGBC conducts testing from April 1 to October 31. The IGBC is dedicated to protecting Grizzlies, and part of that mission involves minimizing human-bear encounters, which don't often end well for either party.
To that end, you want to keep bears away from human food sources, so they don't become conditioned to wandering into your back yard looking for a snack. That's why, in 1989, the IGBC developed its first bear-resistant container protocol and it's been refining it ever since.
If a company like Pelican wants to test a cooler and pursue certification, they pay $550 and send a product. Before the test even begins, the IGBC ensures that the cooler won't be dangerous to the bear—no sharp edges, loose parts or super-heavy lids. An attractant (IGBC-speak for food) is placed in the cooler, which is then padlocked shut. And then, "products will be placed inside the bear enclosure and bears will be allowed to interact with the containers. Products may undergo by a number of bears of various sizes and with varying levels of experience with containers."
Containers remain in the enclosure with the bears for an hour of "bear time," which means they bears are actively biting, clawing, smashing and generally going all Grizzly on the thing. Caveats: If the bears lose interest, the test is over. And the clock stops if the bears drag the cooler into the pond. For coolers, a tear of 1/4 inch or less is allowable.
That's the test that the Pelican 80-quart cooler passed to get the bear sticker. Later, I put it to a different sort of test, in that I put it out on the deck during a holiday party and filled it with ice and tasty beverages. I found that the heavy-duty latches were somewhat friend-resistant, in that people seemed to have a hard time flipping them open every time they wanted to rummage around in there. So I just left the latches up with the lid closed, which didn't seem to make a noticeable impact on ice retention.
In fact, one week later I checked back on the Pelican and found that what beers were left were floating in a frigid soup of ice and water. Ice in bags was still intact. So yes, the sticker on the front of the cooler proclaiming eight days of ice retention is totally believable.
Now, do you need eight days of ice retention? That's the question I'd ask before buying this thing, as opposed to one of the more modest soft-sided coolers in the lineup. Because it's huge, weighs nearly 50 pounds is and sort of small inside (62-can capacity), given its exterior dimensions. This is not the cooler you bring to the beach for a few hours. Doing that would be like buying a Ferrari 488 GTB and cruising around your own block all day. No, this is the cooler that's a stand-in for an extra fridge at your house. It's the cooler you bring on your boat when you're beaching on a remote sandbar to go fishing for a few days. This is your, I don't know, organ-transplant-transportation cooler. It's overkill for most circumstances. But's awesome if you're going somewhere where you can appreciate its capabilities.
Like, say, Yellowstone.