AO Coolers 24 Pack Canvas Cooler Review
Cons: Shoulder strap a little short, zipper and exterior fabric are not waterproof, less durable materials
Manufacturer: AO Coolers
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The AO 24 Pack is a messenger style cooler with over-the-shoulder carry and duffel handles that can be bundled together. It's a fairly straightforward design without extra features but great value. It also comes in several other colors and both smaller and larger sizes than the 24 can model we tested.
Though it doesn't look as imposing as many of the hefty laminated soft coolers we tested, the AO still holds its own when it comes to insulation. Just under an inch of polyurethane foam is encased in a waterproof TPU liner covered by heavy-duty polyester. AO claims this bag "is guaranteed to hold ice for 24 hours in 120-degree weather." In our insulation tests, we didn't reach 120ºF, and the AO lasted an impressive 54 hours maintaining USDA recommended food-safe temperatures of 40ºF or less. It then continued to keep temperatures under 50ºF (desirable for many beverages) for an additional 4 hours after that for a total of 58 hours of chilled beverage time. Though this might not sound as impressive as some of the other coolers' performances under the same conditions, for a cooler that's not airtight and lacks a waterproof exterior, this is a solid performance.
While the tag on our cooler claims that it's "guaranteed not to leak", we're pretty sure they're talking about the inner liner, because the zipper is not waterproof. If the AO gets tipped so that meltwater can touch the zipper or set down on a wet surface, the zipper won't stop it from leaking and the exterior won't prevent it from soaking up water. However, if you can avoid tipping the AO, the inner liner is waterproof and won't leave your backseat wet.
While we're pretty impressed by the overall insulation of this unassuming little cooler, we do find it a bit odd that it's only available in medium and dark colors. For something that will probably be used outside and likely will be exposed to sunlight, we'd prefer lighter colors that help reflect that extra heat. All in all, though, we're quite happy with the insulation performance of the AO, which is better than we expected.
Ease of Use
When it comes to packing and unpacking the AO 24 Pack, it's pretty darn easy. Though it isn't quite as gaping on top as a flip-top model, with the ends unclipped, it stays open easily. The inside is one large space. Though the looseness of the inner liner is a bit odd, it doesn't detract from its ability to hold cold items. This is one area where we appreciate the flexibility of the body of the cooler. It comes in handy for being able to easily conform to the shape of whatever we want to bring with - like extra tall champagne bottles and large potluck dishes. And as much as we love watertight zippers, they're a pain in the neck to wrangle. In contrast, the standard zipper of the AO glides easily over its teeth.
This cooler is listed as holding 24 cans and 14lb of ice. We went ahead and measured it, to learn it comfortably carries 39 cans if you don't put anything else in with them, and has a 24 quart (23 liter) capacity. It's a very useful size. The AO also has one large outer pocket, stretching the entire length of half of the bag - from mid-seam on one end, all the way down the long side, to mid-seam on the opposite end. It's not an insulated pocket, but we think this giant option is more useful.
To create a more compact, easy to tote package, the ends buckle down to the sides and the duffel handles can be held together with the attached velcro bundler. The only real knock against this cooler's ease of use is that the baggy internal liner can be harder to wipe clean and takes longer to dry after you're done using it.
Up against small, lunchbox-style models and handy backpack coolers, the messenger-style AO doesn't initially appear all that impressive. Its single-shoulder carry style with a full load is hard to enjoy for long distances. And while our smaller testers can wear the shoulder strap crossbody, most average and up users find the strap to be a little short for their liking. It does feature asymmetrical attachment points for the shoulder strap, helping to keep it from swinging violently as you walk.
For a fairly large messenger bag, it's not totally awful to take to the party. The 24 can size we tested is a pretty excellent capacity to size ratio. That is, it's large enough to be able to bring just about anything we're willing to carry on one shoulder. We also appreciate the long, comfortable duffel handles and their ability to attach together. Without contents, the AO weighs just 2.7 lb, making it one of the lightest coolers we tested. So while we aren't likely to be taking this cooler on a hike anytime soon, we don't mind carrying it a few blocks to the park.
This is another metric whereby the AO seems unimpressive - because we've matched it up against some seriously intense competition. And while it's true that the AO doesn't shine brightly among laminated coolers with waterproof zippers, it's still a pretty solid option. Lack of a waterproof zipper means no lubricant to apply (and reapply…). And its heavy-duty polyester canvas exterior is nothing to scoff at either. Welded seams help reinforce an already strong design, making this cooler a strong contender for years of picnics.
It also comes with instructions for use, care, and storage (as well as best insulation practices). According to its tag, this cooler is tear and heat resistant, UV protective, and anti-mildew. We can't vouch for any of those, though we didn't have any issues with any of these things during our several months of testing. AO Coolers also offers a limited lifetime warranty on the inside liner and top zipper. So though it's not on the same level as some of the more intense coolers we tested that seem almost "bombproof", the AO is a quality piece of gear.
In a sheer breakdown of performance vs. price, the AO Cooler offers exceptionally high value. Sure, it may not be as intense as some of the models we tested that can hold ice for upwards of four days, but for what it brings to the table, it's still a pretty low price. This cooler is good enough for most average users and has a relatively low price, making it a high-value item.
The AO Coolers 24 Pack Canvas Cooler is a competitive cooler that offers good performance at a lower-than-average cost. We appreciate its simple design that's easy to use and just works. If you're after the optimal intersection of performance and price, you can't go wrong with the AO, our Best Buy Award winner.
— Maggie Brandenburg