Rotomolded coolers are all the rage with soccer moms, frat boys, outdoor enthusiasts, and preppers alike. This is due to the fact that they are practically indestructible, keep ice cold for a long time, and can hold enough beverages to get the entire 1996 Dallas Cowboys team drunk. Hunters and fishermen love these coolers, too, since they're a great place to store meat in remote locations. From an emergency preparedness standpoint, it's wise to have a large cooler on hand to preserve food during a power outage, or transport it to your bug-out location without worrying about spoilage.
These days, it seems like every Tom, Dick, and Harry has come out with their own version of the trendy rotomolded cooler. Names like YETI, RTIC, Engel, Orca, and Pelican have all been emblazoned on white, tan, and coral-colored coolers across the country. These range from less than $100 to more than $1,000 and come in a variety of sizes, but at the end of the day, most of them are relatively minor variations on the same product.
However, even with so many coolers to choose from, if you do your research you can find some that stand out in the crowd. We have used coolers from all of those companies we named, and while they're all respectable choices, we're always on the lookout for new and improved gear. That's when we came across a brand we hadn't heard of previously: Big Frig.
Started in 2016, Big Frig came about by selling tumblers and coolers in bulk to schools, businesses, churches, and other organizations. Once the owner realized he could sell the coolers in quantity at a lower cost than most of the companies on the market, it was gangbusters from there. Now you can find Big Frig coolers in outdoor stores across the country, as well as online and direct from Big Frig. In order to test the company's offerings from an emergency preparedness standpoint, we picked up a 70-qt Denali Pro cooler. This line of coolers comes standard with wheels, a dry goods basket, and a divider that doubles as a cutting board.
Here's a quick overview of the 70-qt Denali Pro specs:
Capacity: 70 quarts / 60 lbs of ice
External Dimensions: 33.5 by 17.5 by 18 inches
Internal Dimensions: 27 by 12 by 13.5 inches
Weight: 37 lbs
Colors: White, Sand, Desert Camo
One of the biggest complaints of some of the larger coolers on the market is a lack of mobility. Having to carry a 100+ pound cooler filled with ice, food, and drinks to and from your campsite, boat, bonfire, or bug-out truck can be a literal pain in the back. This has been such a problem that companies have created optional wheel kits to add to coolers that lack wheels.
Having these included standard on the Big Frig cooler is a fantastic feature. But Big Frig didn't just slap some cheap plastic wheels on their cooler, it used 7.25-inch-diameter rubber tires. This gives nice shock absorption and the ability to cruise across the top of the sand at the beach, as opposed to sinking in. Non-slip rubber feet also help the cooler stay put when it's not rolling.
Another chief complaint about many coolers is how hard they can be to open. On a hot summer day the last thing you want is something standing between you and that icy cold beverage. The reason for this problem is the temperature differential between inside and outside, which causes a pressure differential. While this is more of a nuisance than anything, Big Frig went the extra mile and added a pressure release valve on the front of their coolers. Press this and the pressure inside equalizes with the outside — voila, no more fighting to get at your refreshment of choice.
Big Frig also threw in a few clever added features, such as stainless steel bottle openers integrated into the corners of the cooler, and a ruler on top for measuring fish you catch.
Many of the new-style rotomolded coolers that have popped up in the past few years claim to retain ice for a week or longer. Big Frig says that the 70-quart Pro series cooler will hold 60 pounds of ice and keep it “cold for up to 10 days”. We wanted to test the insulation of this cooler in the real world, so we filled it with ice and checked it daily.
Now, a couple notes about our test. If you want to keep ice for many days, it is important to cool the foam, or core, of the cooler before you fill it with ice. This can be accomplished by leaving it outside if it is cool enough, putting it in a freezer overnight, or putting some sacrificial ice in it to cool it down. Otherwise, any residual warmth retained by the cooler itself will accelerate melting and throw off the results.
For our test, we used the sacrificial ice method and left it overnight. The next day, we filled the cooler with ice and drinks to simulate real-life usage. We opened the cooler once a day to check the ice level. The temperatures were in the low- to mid-70s in the day and 40s at night. After 3 days, the ice was obviously beginning to melt, and its level was receding.
Another key for extended ice retention is keeping the drain plug in place, assuming the cooler's contents are fully waterproof. Even though the cooler was more water than ice by day 6, the water was just above freezing and obviously much cooler than the outside air that would fill the cooler if we were to drain it.
By day 8, the ice in the cooler was fully floating in the water. This lasted for several days as the ice slowly melted in the chilly water. It took 14 days for all the ice in the cooler to melt. And even still, the water could be considered cool with a temperature around 37 degrees.
In the heat of the summer, if you were actually using the cooler and opening it many times a day, you probably wouldn't see 10+ days of ice. However, our real-world test showed that the Big Frig should easily be able to keep its contents ice cold during most camping or hunting trips and short-term emergencies.
Overall, the Big Frig cooler impressed us with its thoughtful features and clever design. While there’s a lot to like about it, we would love to see a better-designed handle on the side opposite the wheels, or even a secondary rigid handle. This would make transport via the wheels easier.
A way to strap the cooler down without interfering with access to its contents would be useful as well. Nobody wants their fully-loaded cooler bouncing around in the bed of their truck — or worse, tumbling out.
Even with those items we would like added, the Big Frig Denali cooler is one of our favorites in its class, and we look forward to seeing how it holds up to use in the years to come. For more information on Big Frig coolers, tumblers, and other products, visit BigFrig.com.