The Pelican 20 Elite is a tall, skinny cooler that easily accommodates even a tall bottle of champagne for a celebratory excursion. It has some of the easiest latches to use of any cooler we tested. However, it falls far short of the competition when it comes to actual insulation performance, quality design and construction, and overall usability. Even for a personal cooler, we're just not impressed with the portability of this awkwardly tall box that hits uncomfortably in tow and is top-heavy at your destination.
Pelican 20 Elite Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Easy to use latches, fits very tall objects, built-in bottle opener
Cons: Uninspiring insulation, low quality seal, shape difficult to use
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Elite is a non-rotomolded, plastic cooler with a single top handle and a maximum internal height of 14 inches. It features non-skid feet, tie-downs, a built-in bottle opener, and four cupholders in the lid.
Insulation performance is one of the most important categories for any cooler. After all, if it's not keeping your food cold, why lug a bulky cooler around when a backpack (or a soft cooler) is more comfortable? This cooler gave one of the worst insulation performances among the models we tested, holding USDA-recommended food-safe temperatures of below 40°F for a depressing 1.4 days. It only lasted a few hours more keeping beverages chilled below 50°F, providing just 1.7 days of cool beer. That's not even enough to make it through a summer weekend road trip. It also comes in several dark colors that soak up heat from the sun, which doesn't help it keep things cool.
We also aren't impressed with the durability of the Pelican. Though the plastic body and individual components seem sturdy enough, the parts holding them together are mediocre. The seal on our model came permanently bent over in several places. Combined with the fact that a sizeable chunk was missing where the two ends of the seal should have joined together makes this box not airtight. Additionally, the hinge is not integrated, appears thin, and creaks with very little pressure, leaving us with even less confidence in this cooler's ability to withstand years of abuse. Its tall height also makes it a comfortable seat for one - although it's top-heavy enough that you might rethink that after falling over one too many times.
Ease of Use
If you plan to be bringing a bottle of wine or bubbly with you, this cooler is your friend. Its tall, narrow shape makes it ideal for this type of cargo. On the other hand, if you're planning on bringing a bunch of smaller items, that same tall design makes it much harder to dig through and find something on the bottom of the box. The single top handle is quite beefy and has a slight catch at the top that keeps it upright when you set it down. Importantly, it's not nearly as "sticky" as some other personal models that are hard to get the handle away from that upright position without using two hands. Our favorite part of using this cooler is the easy to use latches. A very simple push-pull action (push the button and pull up the latch) makes it easy to do effortlessly with just one hand.
Despite being a personal cooler, we're not particularly impressed with the portability of the Pelican 20. It does have a small indent along the back edge of the lid to rest against your body while you walk. However, unless you've hooked the handle over your elbow (rather than dangling in your hand by your side), this indent isn't enough to accommodate a normal stride, leaving the rest of that rigid back edge to dig into your leg with every step. And unfortunately, the handle is NOT comfortable to carry in the crook of your elbow for even short distances. While this 12.4-pound cooler seems portable compared to some of the other monsters we tested, up against the other personal coolers, it's just not pleasant.
The Pelican does have a few features that come in handy, like a built-in bottle opener tucked under the front of the lid and anti-skid feet to keep it from sliding. Tie-downs can help you secure this top-heavy box in your car to prevent it from tipping over as you turn the corner. It also has four cupholders on the lid, which can come in handy if you're camped out on the beach for the day. However, if you end up with a dark-colored cooler (like the red version we tested), your beverage will warm up pretty quickly in the sun.
We don't think this cooler and its high price tag provides much value for most folks. Perhaps if you're all about bringing the white wine to the party, this tall shape is what you're looking for.
The Pelican 20 Elite is a tall, thin personal cooler that just isn't quite as convenient or insulatory as the competition. Though we love its latches and how it's the perfect height for sitting on, we're less impressed by its performance when it comes to insulation. It might be a niche product for folks who love things that come in tall packages, but we think there are better options for a personal cooler.
— Maggie Brandenburg