Pelican Elite Cooler Review: 13 Months Off Grid In Africa

5.0 rating
Pelican Elite Cooler off grid
They used my Pelican Elite cooler every day for 13 months off grid

It is currently 8 PM As I write this review. The temperature here in the tropics lingers at 98 degrees(37 C.) We haven’t seen a drop of rain in 4 months. West Africa is the perfect crucible to torture test a cooler’s capabilities..

Pelican Elite Coolers carry the same rugged DNA as Pelican’s legendary hard cases. They also outperform competitors like YETI in ice retention tests. Furthermore, Pelican coolers are much less expensive, more durable, have more features, and come with a true lifetime warranty that even covers damage!

I’ve lived with and used my Pelican Elite Cooler 70 Qt here in Benin for two years. I think I feel ready to offer an educated opinion on these coolers now. Two of my colleagues borrowed my cooler for 13 months to use daily for off-grid living. I”ll be sharing their valuable insights also.

Pelican Elite Cooler Price & Features

Pelican Elite 70 Quart cooler
  • Price: ~$350(Check price at Pelican )
  • Capacity: 70qt (57 cans)
  • Available Sizes: from 8Qts to 250Qts
  • Empty Weight: 33.29 lbs
  • Dimensions: 36.00 x 20.30 x 21.00 in
  • Max Ice Retention: ~10 days
  • 4 cup holders: self-draining
  • Drain spigot: with hose attachment
  • Lifetime Warranty: also covers accidental damage
  • Closure: push-button latch system
  • Bottle opener
  • Steel padlock hasps
  • Bear Proof
  • Handles: Molded
  • Feet: rubber non-Skid/non-marking feet
  • Made in the USA

Initial Observations

Pelican Elite Cooler front view
  • It’s heavy: The Pelican Elite 70qt cooler weighs in at 33lbs dry. Fully loaded it’s a two-person lift. Pelican didn’t skip on the heavy-duty shell or the 2 inch thick insulation.
  • Grippy rubber feet: This cooler will not slide around in the truck bed nor will it damage your flooring.
  • Excellent handle: The large molded grips allow a solid purchase unlike competitors with crappy rope handles that swing and pinch your hands when fully loaded.
  • Handles protrude: This uses up space when packing in a vehicle. You’ll need to pack creatively around this cooler.
  • The Push-button latch system is convenient and secure
  • Attention to detail: self-draining cup holders, soft-touch handles, bottle opener, metal padlock hasps, embossed fish ruler on the lid, rubber feet, tethered drain plug, and threaded hose spigot.

Walk Around:


Pelican Elite cooler hasp

In my opinion, the rugged shell material is what makes Pelican coolers tougher than all other premium coolers.

The outer shells of Pelican’s Elite coolers are constructed using the same super-rugged material found on Pelican’s legendary protective cases. These coolers are absolute tanks and come with an insane lifetime warranty that even covers accidental damage!

The single biggest reason to buy a Pelican Elite cooler is that there is no tougher cooler on earth. That said, it also holds ice longer than most premium coolers out there.


Pelican Elite 70qt interior

Similar to other premium coolers, the interior capacity of Pelican coolers is less than what you’d expect compared to lower-end coolers. This is due to the two inches of insulation on all sides. It is worth noting that Pelican coolers are true to their advertised capacity.

The interior of the Pelican cooler features easy-clean surfaces, a sloping drain, a slot for a divider, and a counter-sunk lip to accommodate a wire basket.

Two extrusions on the top corners align and reinforce the lid against impacts and shearing forces from accidental drops or hungry, hungry bears.

These coolers are bear-resistant but only if you padlock them


Pelican 70qt lid

The lid of the Pelican Elite Coolers have a number of features worth noting:

  • 4 self-draining cup holders make spills easy to clean up while preventing rainwater from collecting.
  • Metric and Imperial fish rulers: basically so you and your buddies can settle who got the biggest fish.
Pelican Elite 70Qt bottle opener
  • Padlock hasp/Bottle opener: Lock it down before you leave camp and don’t sweat the bears..they’ll never get in. The steel-steel backed hasp doubles as a bottle opener
Pelican Elite cooler gasket
  • Freezer Grade Gasket: Locks in the cold by engaging a raised extrusion around the perimeter of the cooler.

Latch and Hinges

Pelican Elite cooler latch

No junky plastic hinges here. Pelican coolers have full-length stainless steel hinge pins that will last forever.

The push-button latches are one of my favorite features. They are so much easier to deal with than teh rubber T latches found on virtually all the other premium coolers on the market.

However, if you leave the lid unlocked the latches do protrude 3-4 inches which is a particular hazard to your shins around the campsite. It might be motivation to keep the cooler latched. However, if you prefer to keep the cooler unlatched, place it higher off the ground to prevent accidently bashing your shins against the open latches.


Pelican Elite 75qt handle

This cooler is much easier to carry than rope-handled coolers especially when full. The solid handles are molded right into the body of the cooler. The large circumference rubberized grips distribute the weight without pinching your hands like rope-handled coolers.

Another advantage is that the handles are wide enough for two people to carry the cooler using both hands. Two hands make the job much easier especially when carrying a fully loaded cooler 30 yards from the car to the campsite.

The downside to that the handles protrude and use up space when packing a vehicle. Pelican could improve this by incorporating ruggedized fold-away handles.


Pelican Elite drain hole

The drain hole features a garden hose attachment allowing you to drain melt-water without moving the cooler or making a mess of your campsite.

This feature is particularly handy for longterm off-grid use or extended camps. You can drain the meltwater and replenish ice without lugging the cooler away from camp.

The drain plug is tethered to the cooler so you won’t lose it in the grass like some coolers I know(ahem.. YETI). Details like that matter when camping.


Pelican Elite cooler rubber foot

Not much to say here. The grippy, non-marking rubberized feet do a great job of preventing sliding in transit. It also protects your floor and other surfaces from unwanted floor scratches.

Available Accessories

I highly recommend the Dry Basket. The seat cushion is also a nice addition if you need some extra seating round the camp or boat.

13 Months Off Grid

Picture living in the dusty heat of rural Africa with just enough solar power to charge a laptop and run a few lights. Such is the life of a couple of my hardy colleagues who used my 70 Qt Pelican Elite cooler daily as their off-grid “fridge” for 13 months.

They replenished their ice every few days by traveling into town and bringing back ice in YETI backpack cooler. The Pelican cooler was used non-stop throughout the hot season when temperatures pushed 98 F(40 C) daily. Even in “cool season” daily highs hit 82F (28C).


About a month after they got the cooler my colleagues visited us and shared how the 70Qt Pelican cooler had reduced their trips to town to get ice in half. Despite having limited ice (1/2 liter frozen water bottles), they managed 2-3 days between replenishments compared to the daily ice changes with their old Coleman cooler.

Typically, the cooler was only 3/4 full and they usually didn’t latch it shut. Whenever I traveled to their place I was always greeted with a cold drink of water from the cooler.

The main takeaway: is that the Pelican Elite cooler doubled their ice retention over their standard cooler.

I am certain that ice retention could have been significantly extended if they had more ice available and had kept the cooler lid latched shut.

Why I Selected The Pelican Elite Cooler

As usual, I spent far too much time researching coolers before leaving for Africa. Initially, I assumed YETI coolers would top the list. In actuality, YETI ranked fourth.

It turns out that there are a number of excellent coolers superior to YETI in both cost and performance. You can check Are YETI coolers worth it?” for the full list.

To be clear, I have no “axe to grind” with YETI beyond the fact that they are rather overpriced. I own several of their products including their excellent YETI SILO beverage dispenser(reviewed here.)

YETI does make good coolers, but they are not as good as Pelican in at least 8 regards:

  1. YETI coolers cost approximately 49% more than Pelicans despite having almost identical ice retention performance(Pelican is slightly better). For example, the YETI Tundra 105(72 quart) costs $500 but the Pelican Elite 70 quart costs $350. That’s a $150 price differential!
  2. Warranty: Pelican has a full lifetime warranty that even covers accidental damage. YETI coolers only come with a 5-year warranty against defects and workmanship.
  3. Durability: Pelicans are ridiculously rugged. These coolers use the same engineering found in their legendary protective cases(which I also reviewed here).
  4. Closures: Pelican’s Elite Coolers use push-button latches which are much more convenient and easy to use than the stretchy rubber thingies on YETI coolers.
  5. True Capacity: When Pelican says their cooler holds 70 quarts they actually mean it. YETI doesn’t even tell you their actual volume specs. You have to do the math yourself. For example, the YETI Tundra 75(quart?) is actually only 61 quarts when you measure the inside dimensions: 10 3/4” × 12 7/8” × 25 5/8”) I don’t like that! It feels sneaky.
  6. Drink Holders and bottle opener: These come standard on Pelican Elite coolers which feature 4 self-draining recessed drink holders. YETIs do not.
  7. Solid Molded Handles: Pelicans have large grippy handles molded as a single piece with the cooler. They are way more comfortable than the dinky rubber-covered rope handles on YETIs.
  8. Pelican coolers are made in the USA. YETI now outsources most of the coolers. For many, this is a deciding factor.

Traveling with My Pelican Elite Cooler

Pelican cooler in land cruiser

The primary use for my Pelican cooler was for food transportation over long distances. This included 350 km re-supply runs(6-7 hour drive) to the capital city along the African coast. We occasionally used it for weekend getaways to a cottage not far away.

As expected, all my frozen food supplies remained solidly frozen whether the cooler was in a truck bed in the blazing sun or inside an air-conditioned SUV. In terms of ice retention, the Pelican has world-class performance.

I strongly recommend getting the accessory dry rack basket. This allows you to keep butter, cheeses, and vegetables chilled yet dry. If you prefer a dry cooler, Pelican also offers 1lb, 2lb and 5lb Ice packs that fit the dimensions of their coolers.

In my opinion, the handles are the best and worst part of Pelican Elite coolers:

I love them because, unlike rope-handled competitors, the large molded handles on Pelican coolers offer a secure, stable grip for two hands not just one. This is very helpful for two-person carries.

I don’t like them because they protrude and make it hard to pack around on road trips.


Pelican cooler in land cruiser

I have zero buyer’s remorse with my Pelican cooler. In fact, I would buy another one tomorrow if I needed a cooler. I’m pretty certain my kids will fight over it when I’m dead. Aside from the lack of non-folding handles I have no complaints. These coolers are easily among the top 3 coolers in the world.

Pelicans hold ice longer, have more features, and will last longer than almost any other cooler on Earth. Plus, if you ever break it Pelican Elite cooler they will fix it. This is a true “buy it once, buy it for life” deal.

I rarely do this, but Pelican Elite coolers really do deserve 5 Stars.

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Don Longworth

Don was born and raised in sub-saharan Africa. Now based in Canada, his extensive experience in non-profit work has served him well over multiple deployments in Africa. Don's experiences have made him a practical "to-the-point" type person. He is a no-frills, low-key guy who appreciates quality and simplicity.

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