The Pelican Elite looks more like something that would be used to transport dinosaur eggs in Jurassic Park rather than just keeping some food and drink cold. Once you get past the imposing exterior the Pelican Elite really lives up to its name, offering top notch insulation performance, incredibly comfortable handles, and very easy to open latches. However, there are some newcomers that challenge the performance of the Pelican Elite that are available at much lower prices, namely the RTIC 65, which lists for only $240 and is nearly as good.
Pelican Elite 70 Review
Cons: Large exterior, heavy, expensive
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Pelican Elite was one of the top performers in our insulation test. It was the penultimate model to break 40˚F in our insulation test, doing so just after the Yeti Tundra and Engel, and about 24 hours prior to the top performing ORCA 58 Quart. This put it at the front of the tight pack of runners-up. It matched the best ice retention mark in our testing with an impressive 7 days. Overall it scored an 8 in our insulation test, tying with the Yeti and Engel and falling one point behind the ORCA. This makes it one of the better scoring high-end models in our test and puts it well ahead of the scores of 3 and 4 earned by the traditional models. The Pelican's insulation ability is more than enough for long weekend trips and, based on our testing, would be able to keep food safe on even longer trips of up to 5 days.
The Pelican Elite has one of the most rugged looking exteriors of the models we tested, making it a cooler that we would not like to meet in a dark alley. Everything on it is hard molded plastic, including the latches and extended handles. The Pelican Elite utilizes an extended drain plug, rather than a plug that screws into the cooler body itself. This gives you the option of attaching a garden hose, but also made it appear somewhat less durable than the rest of the cooler. The drain plug leash on the model we tested was starting to show signs of strain towards the end of our testing. Some water spilled from the lid during our slosh tests, indicating something lacking in the structural integrity of the lid seal. These two things prevented the Pelican Elite from receiving top marks. However, we still feel it has the durability to last a long time, and its score is far superior to the 3's and 4's received by the traditional models we tested.
Ease of Use
The Pelican Elite was one of our testers' favorite models in the ease of use category. It utilizes hard molded plastic latches that release by pushing a button, and engage simply by pushing them down. This makes them quite easy to operate, even from odd angles. Once open, the lid reliably stays up and doesn't come crashing down unexpectedly. The Pelican is the only high-end model we considered that has a small plastic extension on the drain. While this does seem a bit less durable it does minimize splashing and dripping and drains quickly and completely. Our only complaint was that the drain plug leash is just a little too short and can occasionally get in the way of the draining water. The drain is compatible with a garden hose, making it much easier to drain without removing from your car. You will need to connect the hose before you load the cooler and leave it connected for the duration of the trip. Thus you will either need a clamp to keep water from leaking through the hose, or buy a short length of hose that has a cap. The Pelican earned a score of 8 in the ease of use metric, a test which saw scores ranging from 5 to 8. Its shares the top spot with the Igloo Yukon and the Engel 65.
Despite being the heaviest model we tested the Pelican Elite was one of our favorite models to carry. This is thanks to its unique, all hard plastic handles. These completely rigid handles distributed weight more evenly and were more predictable in their direction of pull than the rope handles found on the other high-end models. However, the new 70qt model lacks the extended handles the old 65qt model had, so you have to bend down and do a weighted squat to carry it anywhere. This knocked it off the top of our portability leaderboard, but we still like the handles it does have. Externally the Pelican Elite is also the largest of the mid-sized models we tested, making it the most difficult to pack into a vehicle, and too tall for the smaller Yosemite National Park bear boxes. This combination earned the Pelican a 7 in our portability testing, a top-notch score aside from the personal-sized models we tested.
The Pelican Elite has a ruler built into the lid and a drain plug leash. It also includes all of the construction hallmarks of high-end models with two sets of handles, external latches, and pin hinges. This combination of features earned the Pelican the top score of 7 in our features testing.
The Pelican Elite's list price of $350 is right around average for a high-end cooler. However, some significant changes to the market have shaken things up a bit. The ORCA recently dropped its list price to just $300. True, this cooler is a bit smaller (we measured it at 54 quarts) but did last longer in our insulation test. The RTIC 65 also nearly matches the performance of the Elite and lists for only $240. If you want the most comfortable handles around, the Elite may be worth the extra cost, but you can get comparable insulation performance for less.
The Pelican Elite offers competitive insulation performance and the best handles we tested at close to the lowest price point for a high-end cooler. Some may prefer to spend just a little more to get better insulating performance, but for those in the high-end market that don't mind shaving off a few percentage points in that area, the Pelican Elite is a great choice.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata