The 2018 Version of Polar Bear Coolers 24 Pack
The updated version of this cooler features double coated nylon for the interior liner and updated side buckles.
There were no major aesthetic updates; the cooler still looks very similar to the old model. See the new version on the new version on the left and the older model that we reviewed on the right.
Here's a summary of the differences between the new model and the previous version:
- New Liner — The new liner is made of TPU double-coated nylon.
- Updated Buckles — The cooler has been updated with YKK side-release buckles.
While we haven't had a chance to test the new model ourselves, we expect it to perform similarly, if not better, than the model we reviewed here. The text in this review still refers to the older version.
When comparing soft coolers, a few important features come to mind: portability, capacity, and how well they work; meaning how cold will they keep your beverage of choice. To find out our reviewers put a selection of coolers through their paces, carrying them to parties, picnics, campfires, and just out for the day.
Every so often when you are using a piece of gear, you're surprised. The Polar Bear was one of those pieces of gear. It has the same look and basic design as the AO Coolers 24 Pack Canvas Cooler, and at first, glance appears to be like just about any other middle-of-the-road soft cooler. Yet when we compared this cooler side-by-side with significantly higher priced products, it was up to the challenge. With the influx of affordable and well-performing coolers on the market over the past few years, this cooler is no longer our Best Buy award winner, but it's still an exceptional performer. The Polar Bear boasts decent insulation value, solid performance, and a surprisingly durable build; it just might be the right cooler for you!
The Polar Bear 24. The corners clip down for a more secure and compact package.
When testing the Polar Bear, testers expected it to perform like other coolers in its price range and hold ice-cold temperatures for potentially 24-36 hours like the Coleman 16-Can Soft Cooler or the AO Coolers 24 Pack Canvas Cooler. However, we were pleasantly surprised with how well the Polar Bear 24 performed. After three days in an unlit and un-insulated shed, it held onto nine ounces of ice from the starting seven pounds. The high-end, Yeti Hopper Two 30 held onto 14 ounces of ice in the same amount of time. However, the Editors' Choice, Engel HD30 and new Best Buy award winner, Homitt 30 Cans both lasted a full day longer than either the Yeti or Polar Bear. But the Polar Bear kept our drinks and food cold and out-performed our expectations. Even just the feel of the insulation is a step up from many others in the Polar Bear's price range. The insulation is thick, and the internal liner feels much more durable than others of a similar build, size, and shape, like the model from AO Coolers, but not quite as impressive as the insulating value of the Homitt.
The Polar Bear and the Yeti Hopper 30 both held plenty of ice after 72 hours.
Ease of Use
The Polar Bear is simple and utilitarian. It has the standard top zipper and comes with a shoulder strap and handles much like the very similarly constructed AO Coolers 24 Pack. Testers didn't find anything particularly special about it, but this didn't detract from its overall usability. For shorter distances, it is easy to tote around and could indeed carry 24 beers (or your canned beverage of choice) plus ice well. The shoulder strap has a movable pad, as opposed to a rubber piece like the AO, and is overall better constructed.
For longer hauls, it is a little awkward, unlike the Ice Mule Pro with its backpack straps that is super easy and comfortable to carry. This was to be expected, and truly longer carry distances don't seem to be something the Polar Bear is designed for anyway. But much like the AO Coolers 24 Pack and even the Editors' Choice, Engel HD30, there are side buckle straps that allow the cooler to assume a lower profile, boxy shape. This aided in packing it in a car a little better, but made opening and closing the zipper difficult when they were in use. Testers found that the external pocket wasn't big enough to be incredibly useful, much like the pocket on the AO, but that the included bottle opener on the zipper can open a bottle and is super convenient.
The Polar Bear was the underdog in our ice retention test. It has a standard familiar style, a reasonable price, and surprising insulation performance.
Durability was a question. With a nylon canvas exterior, repeated jostling could cause problems. After significant time bouncing around in the back of a truck and being thrown around, it did look a little "well-used" (but still held up well overall). The zipper on the front pocket, which really isn't big enough to be terribly useful, did have some problems. It is a small tooth "sealed" zipper that didn't seem to catch every time. This could be a fluke on our testing model, but that was the only real durability complaint testers had for normal use.
With the standard bag handles and a shoulder strap, the Polar Bear was just as portable as other coolers of its type in this category. When hopping from the car to the beach, or down the street to a potluck, the Polar Bear will suffice. If you are looking for something to take a few miles out or on that moderate to long approach, this may not be your bag. Other options like the Ice Mule Pro can give you that ability with features like backpack straps and a padded and ventilated back panel. Packing the Polar Bear into a car or truck is easy enough, and the ability to clip the corners down and turn it into a rectangular package, rather than an inverted wedge, made it easier to fit into small spaces.
The Polar Bear comes equipped with handles and a shoulder strap.
The Polar Bear is a handy size and carries around much like a duffel bag. This makes it pretty easy to bring along for a lot of different occasions. Though it lacks a bit of durability that some of the other coolers we tested have, the Polar Bear is also a relatively cheap cooler for a surprisingly good amount of insulation! We think this cooler is a great tag-along cooler that you'll find yourself bringing with you to all kinds of things, from an afternoon playing disc golf at the course to bringing your favorite beer with you to your buddy's house (cuz he only keeps the cheap beer!).
This is one of the best parts about the Polar Bear. For a relatively affordable $90, you get reasonably similar insulation value to a competitor nearly four times the price! It doesn't quite have the durable construction of the Yeti Hopper Two 30, but it does keep things cold almost as long. Yet for only $10 more you can get one of the best insulating soft coolers we tested - the Homitt 30 Can, our Best Buy award winner. If you're looking for a more portable model, you can pick up the Ice Mule Pro for just $100, which provides approximately the same insulating value as the Polar Bear. With the Polar Bear, you may not get the same durability as the Engel or Yeti, or the same easy usability and carry-ability of the Ice Mule, but what you do get is an easy to use, basic soft cooler that will keep your stuff cold at an affordable price.
The soft cooler market used to be dominated by big, expensive brands like Yeti. However, as we have found, this is no longer the case. Our testers have found several exciting soft coolers that prove you don't have to spend nearly as much to get an excellent cooler for all your adventures. While the Polar Bear isn't our first choice for insulation power or extreme durability, it's a great little cooler that surprised us with its performance and price. Though it's no longer our Best Buy award winner (that title has been snagged by the Homitt), it's still a decent buy and might be exactly the cooler you've been looking for.