That first portable cooler, patented in 1953 by Richard C. Laramy of Joliet, Illinois, was a game-changer for outdoors-minded folks. Extended stays far from the conveniences of modern life could now be toasted with an ice-cold beverage. And while the actual contents of that first cooler’s maiden expedition aren’t known, it’s a safe bet that beer and lunchmeat were in there. Not much has changed when it comes to cooler staples, but the coolers themselves have evolved tremendously.
The days of cheap hinges, every-day ice runs, and crappy drain caps that always broke off and then cramming Walmart bags into the drain hole as what you said would be a temporary but became the permanent solution to the plug problem are long gone. The coolers of today are high-tech beasts built to withstand the teeth and claws of literal beasts. They also offer the opportunity to get lost in the woods or on the water for days on end with no fear of slimed smoked turkey slices or lukewarm IPAs.
These ain’t your grandpa’s coolers.
Among the more brutish brands lording over the cooler universe is Grizzly, manufactured in Iowa. My wife and I recently took a Grizzly 60 (60 quart) cooler as our only cooler on a road-trip/truck-camping expedition through the Smokey Mountains and on to the Outer Banks of North Carolina in pursuit of brookies and then whatever we could catch in the salt.
Big-bear strength and ingenuity
Grizzly coolers are among the new breed of ice boxes made of rotationally molded plastic (rotomolding for short). It’s a process for creating hollow one-piece plastic parts of incredible strength and exceptional consistency. Rounded corners, thoughtful structural support, precision latches/hinges, and strategic placement of hand grabs and textured surfaces are all possible due to rotomolding. As a result, the Grizzly website claims that their coolers are nearly indestructible regardless of whether it’s an actual grizzly bear attempting to swipe your chilled tuna salad or the cooler is run over by an 18-wheeler.
Psyche. No, the Grizzly cooler did not survive 18-wheels, thus leading Grizzly to compose a list of what their coolers cannot withstand with 18-wheelers taking the top spot ahead of bulldozers, nuclear explosions, and Texas Chainsaw massacres.
But the coolers are International Grizzly Bear Committee certified bear-proof. While there are no grizzlies in the Smokies, black bears abound. Disappointingly, though, none attempted a heist so I can’t report on our 60’s bear-proofness. I can say that I dropped the thing while it was loaded with ice and food (and beer, of course) from my Tacoma tailgate and the 60 was none the worse for wear.
There’s a thoughtful side to the Grizzly 60, too. Like the handholds, both roped for help from a buddy and integrated into the cooler’s body for solo lifts. There’s also the silicone gasket lining the lid that seals up quick and tight, the gasketed and burly 2-inch drain plug that never leaked, the dry-goods tray that rides on a lip in the cooler, and the heavy-duty Bearclaw latch system that keeps that lid snugged down.
Another feature that’s so damn good at its job to the point of annoyance is the grip feet. They simply will not slide without maximum effort, which is a very good thing when you’re trucking along those Appalachian hills with the 60 in your bed but a pain in the ass when you want to slide the 60 to a different place in your bed. Thankfully, Grizzly also supplies Slick Feet with its products to cover up those sticky little pads if you prefer a more mobile cooler.
Keeping its cool
You’re probably not the nerd that I am, so you probably don’t know that polar bears are really a subspecies of brown bears and grizzlies are just landlocked browns. So that means polar bears and grizzly bears carry the same genetic blueprints, which means that writing up a review on the Grizzly 60s ice-keeping skills and throwing in some egg-head analogy about bear evolution is still pretty lame.
Remember that rotomolding creates hollow structures, and the hollow structures of a Grizzly cooler are filled with pressure-injected polyurethane foam up to a two-inch thickness. The polyurethane foam blowing agent is Ecomate and according to the Grizzly website: “The outstanding moisture-locking, insulating, structural, and sound abatement benefits of Ecomate®-blown foams are boundless while being 100% eco-friendly and sustainable.” I don’t want to get lost in the weeds here, but as an enviro-aware person, what I read on Ecomate was encouraging.
High temperatures on our trip ranged from the mid-80s to the low-90s and the 60 sat in our camper-shelled truck bed the entire time. We started the trip with 16 pounds of ice (two bags). I drained the water and added an 8-or 10-pound bag nearly every day but likely never met the Grizzly suggested 2 to1 ice/goods ratio. So the Griz 60 was already working with a handicap. We got into the cooler at least half a dozen times daily, often double that, and everything stayed chilled. There was always at least 8-10 inches of ice in the cooler. While this was in no way an extreme test of the 60s ice-retention abilities, we were plenty happy with the performance, and I had no desire to test the limits. I’d also wager that our rather tame experience is representative of other folks who employ a cooler 95 percent of the time.
My only gripe is the weight, which is 30 pounds empty. But, admittedly, I’m comparing the Grizzly 60 to my similar-sized 30-year-old Igloo with the duct-taped lid. And, frankly, there’s just no comparison in performance and (so far) durability. I’ll take the weight, thank you.
The Grizzly 60 lists for $349. Every other rotomolded cooler of similar proportions lists for about the same. Basically, you get what you pay for and with the Grizzly you also get a lifetime warranty. I consider the Grizzly 60 an investment that I’ll one day bequeath to a lucky grandkid.
Our Grizzly cooler kept us fed and happily buzzed for the entirety of our trip with absolutely no concern about food spoilage, warm brews, leaky drain plugs, or anything else. Honestly, I barely thought about it, which might be the highest compliment you can give to any piece of equipment. It did its job and did it well. I figure it’ll be riding in my truck for a few decades more of road trips and truck camps.