Formerly known as Brute, Bison is one of the most popular cooler manufacturers on the market. In terms of sales, they’re a bit of an underdog. But their fanbase is incredibly loyal. Just take one look on online forums. The Bison Vs Yeti debate is fiery, as if they were defending their favourite sports team.
It’s easy to understand why Yeti is so popular. They were one of the first to market with a 10-day cooler. At the time, what they offered blew everything else out of the water. Today, the market is a little more competitive. You’ve got multi-million dollar companies putting their own twist on the design, targeting specific demographics. Hiking? Fishing? Camping? No matter what your activity of choice is, there is going to be a cooler designed specifically for you.
Bison is playing the game a little differently. They’re not targeting any specific demographic. They don’t have dozens of models available. They’re certainly not playing by the book.
And that’s exactly what people love about them. Bison is the underdog. They’re not a large company. They’re small family run business. They talk to their customers. They use their own products. Their models aren’t cookie-cutter versions of the same design, scaled for capacity. Each one is unique.
The appeal is obvious. Bison makes it clear that when you support them, you’re supporting the American dream. It says a lot about a company when their customers believe in them. But there is one question that we want to answer: How do Bison Coolers perform?
Why Everyone Loves Bison Coolers – Overview
Bison sells three different products. They made their name on coolers, and the same models are still available today. But the coolers are pretty simple. What sets them apart is their line of add-ons. They’re easy to use, affordable, and can completely change how you use their coolers. This is a great way to structure your product line. People that want a certain feature can add it, but nobody is going to end up paying for something they don’t need.
Recently, they’ve launched their third product – the SoftPack. These are portable coolers designed specifically for beer. The design is quite different from any of their other options, so we’re excited to see how it performs.
The Bison Cooler
From looks alone, you get the impression that these coolers are built to last. They’ve got a boxy design with squared off edges and a large X right in the center. Although this is purely cosmetic, the flat shape makes it easy to pack it along with a truck full of stuff, or store it away for the winter. When you are transporting it, you’ll find that it doesn’t bounce around as much as some of the more visually exciting model. The four large rubber feet definitely help in this regard, and it’s clear that build quality was one of the top priorities.
There are five different sizes available, ranging from 25 quarts all the way up to 150 quarts. They are one of the few companies that advertise the exact internal capacity. The “25 quart” model doesn’t hold 23.9 quarts, 22.4 quarts, or 26 quarts. It’s true to its name, at exactly 25 quarts. This might seem obvious, but naming conventions are incredibly inconsistent in this industry, so this does give an air of authenticity to the brand.
Interestingly enough, they used a little less insulation than some of their competitors. 2 inches is the standard, and they use that on the lid. But the sides are only 1 inch and 5/8. We’ve seen noticeable improvements when insulation was added, so we were curious to see if this would affect performance.
Our ice managed to stay frozen for six days. This is pretty consistent with many other coolers on the market. There are a few outliers, such as the Engel or the Pelican models, which lasted upwards of a week. But, 6 days should still be more than enough for an extended camping trip, although there are longer lasting options if you need.
Although these coolers are quite large, almost all of them can be carried by one person. There are two ways you can do this. The first is by grabbing on to the large, oversize rails. These are very solid, and very easy to hold in your hand. Another option is the rope handles. When you’ve got a ton of food loaded up, these things can get quite hefty. In these cases, the rope handles are much easier to grip onto. The grip itself is just a simple tube. It’s very durable, although we have seen more ergonomic ones before.
There are many key features we look for in a high-end cooler, and Bison has all of them. A large rubber lid gasket keeps it air tight, and makes it bear proof. The latches are made from rubber. Rubber won’t break, will last ages and helps to hold the lid on tight.
But there are a few areas where Bison went over and above. If you like to fish, then you’ll be happy to see that there is a ruler integrated into the lid. The second you get your catch in the boat, you’ll know if it’s a legal catch.
Another improvement they made was the drain. Removing liquid from the cooler is important if you want it to stay frozen. When ice is floating in water, it melts faster. Bison installed two drains, so you can drain it from either side if it’s on an angle.
The Softpak is Bison’s latest entrant into the cooler market. It’s quite a bit different than anything we’ve seen before. It’s compact, lightweight, and portable like many affordable coolers on the market. Although the insulation isn’t quite as heavy-duty as their roto-molded coolers, it’s quite a bit beefier than usual.
The SoftPak is designed primarily for drinks. They are available with a capacity ofeither 12 or 24 cans. The insulation is wrapped in durable vinyl, and the quality is beyond anything we’ve seen in this price category. This is one of the only soft coolers still made in the USA, so you’re definitely getting something unique.
Load it up with ice, and you’ll be good for at least 24 hours. In our eyes, this is very impressive. We’re not even sure if we could make our beer last 24 hours, so it will certainly serve it’s purpose.
From a visual standpoint, the SoftPack cooler has more visual appeal than anything we’ve tried before. The vinyl has a very well made appearance to it, and there are several colors to choose from. This is a great add on to your roto-molded ice box, enabling you to throw a few beers in it and hit the lake for a day.
There were a few simple features on the coolers themselves, but nothing game changing. This is where the accessories come in. These add-ons can completely change the way that you use your cooler, and where most of the appeal for these models comes from. Here are some of our favorites:
Being able to keep a weeks worth of food on hand is great. But having to carry it by hand? Not so great. They hauler works just like your red wagon you had as a kid. It’s made from the same rotomolded plastic as the cooler, so it’s surprisingly durable. The oversized wheels allow you to haul it through dirt, over rocks, and down any trail you can comfortably walk. The deck of the cart isn’t lipped, so you’ll want to strap it down if you’re going up steep terrain. For the money, you won’t find an easier way to transport your food.
Bison isn’t the only company that offers a divider, and it’s one of the most popular add ons. It’s very inexpensive, and adds a lot of functionality to the cooler. Due to the way the walls are molded, it’s water tight when inserted. Because Bison is one of the only brands to offer dual drains, this divider becomes much more powerful. You can keep your meats and perishables drained, so the ice lasts longer. But if you’re using one side for drinks, you’ll actually want to keep it flooded. The ice will melt faster, but that’s only because it’s pulling heat from your drinks.
SteelCore Security Strap
This isn’t your old Coleman cooler. If you’re going to toss it in the back of the truck and head out for a little fishing, you want to keep it safe. Rotomolded coolers are pretty easy to spot, and you don’t want any sticky hands walking away with it. The security strap is similar in design to a tie down, except it’s made from metal. From a distance, it just looks like a regular nylon strap. But inside is stainless steel wire that is very difficult to cut, even with bold cutters. The stainless lock is keyed, so you can rest assured that you’ve got the most secure cooler in the parking lot.
We’ve all been short on camping chairs from time to time. I’m sure that many of us, at one point or another, have sat on a cooler when chairs were in short supply. If they weren’t so hard, they’d actually make a pretty decent seat! This is where the cushion comes in. It buckles right to the cooler lid, and adds a two inch layer of medium density foam to the top. The foam is upholstered in vinyl, and feels a lot like a bench seat in a classic car. It’s ideal for a fishing cooler to have on the boat, saving your butt from those bumpy waves.
Want to customize the look of your cooler? There are several graphics available. Some are simple. There are several camo designs available, American flags, fish, and the Texas flag. Bison is adding custom graphics all the time, and you can see them all here.
In many regards, Bison checked off all of our boxes. At no point during our review were we disappointed. Their specifications were accurate, the build quality was top notch, and the ice retention was competitive with other models. If this was the first cooler we looked at, we’d have nothing but good things to say. But the fact is, the cooler has the same features and performance of all the competing models.
When you compare A to B, all of the hype doesn’t seem to make sense. But once you take the accessories into consideration, you realize that Bison offers something that you won’t find anywhere else. This cooler is a platform. If you want something simple, you’ve got it. But if you want multiple storage areas, wheels, straps, or decoration, everything is ready for you.
Our recommendation would be to browse through the accessories. If you want anything they’re offering, then this is the cooler for you. But if you’re happy with just base unit, you may be just as happy with another brand as you are with this one.