Bison SoftPak Cooler: The Ultimate Insulation, Toughness, and Visual Appeal
In the world of coolers, the Bison Cooler reigns supreme. With its exceptional insulation and extended ice life, it is the go-to choice for those seeking an ice-cold beverage on their outdoor adventures. But it's not just all about functionality - the Bison Cooler also boasts an impressive level of toughness, ensuring it can withstand any rugged terrain. And let's not forget about the wide array of features that come with this cooler, from its visually appealing design to the convenient exterior pocket. However, as with any product, there are some drawbacks to consider. In this article, we will delve into the pros and cons of the Bison Soft Pack Cooler, and also explore some alternative options for those seeking an alternative to the Bison Cooler.
Bison Cooler Lineup
Bison Hard-Sided Coolers
Purchase on Amazon for $349.00
The Bison Hard-Sided Coolers come in four size options: 25, 50, 75, and 125 quarts. While the choices are somewhat limited, they cover a range large enough to meet most people's needs. Each size features a similar design, with the only notable difference being the 125-quart model having three latches instead of two. Typically, larger coolers come with an additional latch.
Bison Soft-Sided Coolers
Purchase on Amazon for $199.99
Bison's Soft-Sided Coolers, known as "SoftPak Cooler Bags," are available in 12-can and 24-can options. In terms of liters, these sizes roughly convert to 18 and 32 liters, respectively. Although there aren't many size options to choose from, the available sizes cater to the most popular sizes that consumers typically desire.
Bison Cooler Insulation/Ice Life
Bison aims to create highly competitive coolers with exceptional ice retention. With the second generation design improvements combined with what they learned from the first generation, Bison hopes to be among the top in the industry.
When evaluating new cooler brands, we often search for their posted ice life on their website. Cooler manufacturers are known for overstating their projected ice life, but Bison's claims appear to be realistic. They state that their hard-sided coolers can achieve over a week of ice retention, while their SoftPak Cooler Bags can retain ice for approximately 24 hours.
However, it's important to note that real-world results may differ due to factors such as exposure to sunlight, regular openings, and the presence of items other than ice in the cooler. These conditions typically result in lower ice retention than best-case scenarios.
Purchase on Amazon for $349.00
Bison's hard-sided coolers feature roto-molded walls, which serve as an essential barrier between the cold internal air and the hot external air. The second generation hard-sided coolers have walls that are 2 inches thick. In our testing, we found that this claim is accurate, although some brands offer even thicker walls, reaching 2.5" or 3". It's important to note that thicker walls add weight and may reduce storage volume.
Double-Wall "Shark Fin" Gasket
We appreciate Bison's clever name for their thick, freezer-grade gasket design called the "shark fin" gasket. However, it is worth noting that many other premium coolers utilize a similar gasket design. This design creates a strong seal, and the thick embedded grooves on the lid allow for easy opening and closing of the latches.
Updated Rubber Latch System
Bison differentiates itself from other brands with its latch design. While most brands use the traditional T-latch design, Bison employs a sturdier cantilever design. This design provides excellent closing force, squeezing the gaskets tightly. The latch design contributes to the cooler's ice retention capabilities.
What about the SoftPaks?
Purchase on Amazon for $199.99
Soft-sided coolers are not typically known for their long-term ice retention. However, Bison aims to change this perception with their SoftPak Cooler Bags. These bags feature an extremely thick vinyl shell, which itself doesn't significantly contribute to ice retention. However, the added .75" insulation proves to be effective. In 120 degrees Fahrenheit heat, Bison SoftPak Cooler Bags can retain ice for approximately 24 hours. While not on par with hard-sided coolers, this ice life is sufficient for various applications.
Bison Cooler Toughness
Bison Coolers, both hard-sided and soft-sided, possess the qualities we look for in a durable and long-lasting cooler.
As previously mentioned, the hard-sided coolers are constructed using roto-molded technology that provides a solid, one-piece structure without weak points often found in multi-piece coolers. The latch system is also impressive, utilizing a thick rubber component similar to competitors. However, Bison's cantilever design increases the number of contact areas on the latches, reducing strain and making them easier to open and close. The latch design contributes to the cooler's toughness and ice retention capabilities.
Bison offers an impressive 5-year warranty on all their hard-sided coolers, demonstrating their confidence in the product's durability and longevity. Regarding the SoftPaks, a 2-year warranty is provided, which is also commendable for this type of cooler.
All Bison products are proudly made in the USA, and their build quality consistently excels. While imported coolers can also boast great quality, there is an undeniable appeal to American-made products, with their high-quality fit, finish, and overall construction.
Bison Cooler Features
The features offered by Bison Coolers may not be as extensive as those of many other premium cooler models, but there are a few notable aspects. The second-generation models have seen the addition of several new features, which is a welcome improvement from the sparser design and feature-set of the first-generation models.
Purchase on Amazon for $349.00
Already mentioned above are the excellent rubber gasket and cantilever latch system. Other notable features include a locking lid with an integrated ruler for measuring, an improved drain plug system (with dual drains on the 125-quart model), full-length self-stopping hinges, and oversized anti-skid rubber feet.
To facilitate carrying, the coolers have side rope handles with rubber grips. Additionally, the molding includes cavities that allow for a secure grip higher up on the cooler, without relying solely on the rope handles.
Bison SoftPaks offer added versatility with side pockets for storing dry items and MOLLE webbing for attaching customized accessories. They also feature a stitched-on overhead carrying handle and a removable shoulder strap, allowing for comfortable carrying and offering space for various items during outdoor activities such as camping or fishing trips.
However, beyond these mentioned features, there aren't many other notable additions. It would be beneficial to see features like built-in cup holders, wheels, pressure release valves, and bottle openers incorporated into Bison Coolers.
Bison Cooler Visual Appeal
One common drawback among smaller cooler brands is their limited color and customization options. Bison has made significant improvements in this aspect with the release of their second-generation models.
The hard-sided coolers now offer an average selection of five color options: white, sand, gray granite, green & sand, and red.
Purchase on Amazon for $349.00
The SoftPak Cooler Bags offer four color options: black, blue, pink, and sand.
Purchase on Amazon for $199.99
While the color options may not be groundbreaking, Bison distinguishes itself through its customization program, allowing customers to have custom lid graphics on their hard-sided coolers, custom embroidery on their SoftPaks, laser engraving on their drinkware, and screen printing on other various products. This customization feature provides customers the freedom to create unique cooler designs, such as incorporating work logos or eye-catching lid designs.
It is worth noting that customization options are limited to these aspects. Custom color choices or two-tone coolers covering both the lid and body are not currently offered. Although other companies specialize in cooler wraps and customization, having the option for in-house customization would be a welcome addition.
In terms of aesthetics, Bison coolers have a simple yet distinctive appearance. The cooler's face features a cool "x" design, and the original latches and the Bison logo inside the lid break away from the standard T latch setup commonly seen in other brands. Consequently, Bison coolers manage to stand out in terms of looks among other premium coolers.
The SoftPaks resemble coolers from brands such as AO and Polar Bear, rather than Yeti and RTIC. We personally prefer the styling of AO and Polar Bear, although it comes at the cost of performance. Aside from the core shape and color choices, there aren't many aesthetic features that differentiate Bison SoftPak Cooler Bags from other products.
Bison Cooler Price
The prices for Bison Coolers vary depending on the size, but they generally fall into the premium price range for hard-sided coolers. Compared to other brands, Bison's prices are between those of lower premium brands like RTIC and Engel, and higher-end brands like Yeti and Orca.
For the SoftPaks, the prices align more closely with AO and Polar Bear coolers, rather than the soft-sided coolers from Yeti and RTIC. The pricing is reasonable given the ice retention capabilities of the SoftPaks, although they may not match the performance of the higher-end offerings.
Our thoughts on this matter are as follows:
While Bison hard-sided coolers may be priced slightly higher, their ice life and available features are average within the premium cooler sector. Therefore, we would expect a more "average," if not budget-friendly, price within this sector.
There are some factors that can justify Bison's pricing. Their products are proudly made in the USA, and they offer an impressive 5-year warranty on hard-sided coolers, one of the longest in the industry. The consistent fit, finish, and quality that come with American-made products are worth the higher price point. Additionally, avoiding the need to ship products overseas for warranty work is an advantage.
However, for those seeking maximum performance at a lower price, the available options might be somewhat underwhelming. Other cooler brands offer better ice retention, more features, and lower prices.
On the other hand, the SoftPak Cooler Bags are priced lower than those from RTIC and Yeti. Although their ice life is lower, the SoftPaks provide suitable cooling capabilities and are priced accordingly, comparable to AO and Polar Bear coolers.
Bison vs. Yeti
A common question we encounter is, "Which is better, Bison Cooler or Yeti Cooler?"
Both brands offer excellent products with surprising similarities. They share characteristics such as exceptional ice retention, high build quality, and both hard-sided and soft-sided options.
Bison is still establishing its reputation and is considered the "new kid on the block" compared to Yeti. Moreover, being a smaller company, Bison's range of accessories and customization options is more limited. However, their ice retention and durability are on par with Yeti's performance.
Yeti, on the other hand, is an experienced brand that has perfected its craft. Many have attempted to imitate Yeti's success but fallen short. Yeti coolers offer excellent ice retention and build quality that rivals any other in the industry. Additionally, Yeti boasts an extensive range of accessories, size choices, and customization options that are unmatched.
In our opinion, if your primary concern is performance and saving money, Bison is the way to go. Their coolers may lack the recognition of Yeti, but in terms of ice retention and durability, they are just as good. However, if you prioritize brand image and want to showcase the pinnacle of cooler quality at your next tailgate or float trip (and are willing to pay a premium for it), Yeti is the answer.
Rest assured that both brands offer long-lasting coolers that consistently perform to your expectations.
Bison Cooler Review
Bison Coolers are the primary ice-storing products offered by Bison. These coolers follow a proven design and size choices, with a few unique twists to make the Bison brand stand out. The key selling points of Bison Coolers are their solid warranty and 100% Made in the USA production. They are available in 5 different color options and offer sizes of 25, 50, 75, and 125 quarts.
Insulation Ability –
Bison's hard-sided coolers have around 2" of polyethylene insulation that is roto-molded into shape. While it may not be the thickest insulation in the industry, it is still impressive. The second-generation models have upgraded gaskets called the "double-wall shark fin gasket," which is essentially the same design used by other successful premium cooler brands.
What sets Bison apart and enhances its performance is the cantilever latches that provide excellent squeeze for the gaskets. Ice life varies depending on the model, ranging from 40 hours in the 25-quart model to 160 hours in the 125-quart model (application dependent). Compared to other premium coolers, this falls within the average range. However, Bison Coolers could potentially improve their ice life by increasing the thickness of the walls.
Mobility and Durability –
The thinner walls of Bison Coolers reduce weight and storage volume requirements while still providing a proven internal storage volume. Although they don't offer wheeled options, Bison Coolers come equipped with rope handles featuring rubber grips and a built-in handle for transportation.
Thanks to their roto-molded construction and premium materials, Bison Coolers exhibit excellent build quality. The fit and finish are exceptional, with no unsightly gaps or nicks commonly found in cheaper coolers. Additionally, Bison stands behind its hard-sided coolers with an impressive 5-year warranty, demonstrating their commitment to their products.
In terms of features, Bison Coolers are slightly lacking compared to other brands. They feature great cantilever latches that provide excellent grip and are easier to open and close than traditional T-latches. Other notable features include an oversized drain spout, built-in ruler, locking lid, self-stopping hinges, and a few others. However, they lack cup holders, pressure release valves, cutting boards, bottle openers, and other unique accessories seen in other cooler brands.
Visual Appeal –
Bison Coolers have a straightforward design that sets them apart from other brands. The coolers feature a distinctive "X" design on the face, along with the Bison logo stamped on the inside of the lid. Currently, there are 5 color choices available: white, sand, gray granite, green & sand, and red.
Bison offers customization options by allowing customers to put their own logo or design on the lid. However, this customization is limited to the lid only. Hopefully, in the future, Bison will expand their customization choices for the rest of the cooler's body or provide better support for cooler wraps that fit.
As expected, Bison Coolers fall into the premium price tier. While roto-molded coolers often come with higher price tags, considering the ice life and features of Bison Coolers, some may find the price to be a bit too high. Yeti, for example, charges more due to their reputation and brand name. Currently, Bison does not have the same level of reputation to justify such a price. The higher price may be attributed to the fact that Bison Coolers are made in the USA. Hopefully, in the future, Bison will consider adding more features, improving ice life, or lowering the price in their future product generations.
Overall Rating –
Our experience with Bison Hard-Sided Coolers left us relatively impressed. We appreciate the fact that these coolers are completely made in the USA and are backed by a generous warranty. The latch design, aesthetic features, and logo customization options are definite highlights. However, the high asking price, coupled with better ice life and more features offered by other coolers in the market, may make it difficult for Bison Coolers to stand out. Nevertheless, for those seeking a durable, American-made product that will last for years and look good, Bison Coolers are a viable option for those willing to invest.
Waterproof Tough Vinyl Exterior
The exterior of the Bison cooler is constructed from heavy-duty 1,000 denier vinyl that is tear resistant up to 375 pounds.
The exterior is also UV protected, ensuring it won't fade when exposed to sunlight.
Notably, the exterior of the cooler is stitched together, distinguishing it from other coolers like Yeti that use RF welding, which offers stronger construction and reduces the likelihood of the cooler breaking.
Some customers have raised concerns about the base of the cooler, as it doesn't appear to be reinforced. As a result, some users have reported leaks after consistent usage.
Wide Open Lid - NOT A Waterproof Zipper
The top zipper of the Bison cooler features a heavy-duty YKK zipper that is unlikely to break and is designed to last for years without any issues.
The top of the cooler overhangs slightly, allowing for a wide opening that provides easy access to the cooler's contents when loading or retrieving items.
The zipper is simple to use, and the wide opening top ensures convenient access to whatever you need from the cooler.
However, it's important to note that the zipper is NOT waterproof. If the cooler tips over or if water inside the cooler moves around, water may leak out through the zipper.
Wide Exterior Pocket
The Bison SoftPak coolers come with a spacious exterior pocket that extends the full width of the cooler.
This pocket is perfect for carrying items that you want to keep dry and separate from the cooler's main compartment.
4 Interesting Colors
You can choose from 4 different colors for your SoftPak cooler:
The blue and pink colors are vibrant options that may appeal to different tastes. However, the black color is a popular choice among customers.
To see all the available color options for Bison SoftPak coolers on Amazon, click here.
Problems With The Bison Soft Pack Cooler
No cooler is perfect, and the Bison Soft Pack Cooler is not exempt from having downsides. Here are some concerns you should be aware of before making a purchase:
Base is NOT Reinforced
The base of the cooler is made from the same fabric as the sides and top, with some minor reinforcement. However, this can be a vulnerability, as the base tends to experience the most wear and tear. Some customers have reported leaks through the base after extended use.
No Backpack Coolers
Unlike many other cooler brands that offer backpack cooler options, Bison only provides duffel-style coolers and does not have a backpack cooler in its lineup.
Ice Retention Isn't the Greatest
While the Bison cooler has decent ice retention of around 24 hours, there are soft-sided coolers in the market that can keep ice for 3-4 days. The Engel HD30 and Polar Bear Deluxe coolers are two highly regarded coolers known for their exceptional ice retention capabilities.
Outperforming Yeti coolers in terms of ice retention, Polar Bear coolers offer a weatherproof zipper and a more affordable price point comparable to Bison coolers. To learn more, you can read my Polar Bear Deluxe cooler review.
The Engel HD30, on the other hand, is considered the best cooler for ice retention. It competes with similar-sized hard-sided coolers, boasting incredible ice retention capabilities. To read my Engel HD30 review and discover how long this cooler can hold ice, click here.
Zipper is Not Leakproof
While the zipper on the Bison cooler is durable and heavy-duty, it is NOT waterproof. If the cooler tips over or if water sloshes around inside while carrying or during transportation, water may leak out through the zipper.
Alternatives to Bison SoftPaks
If you're uncertain about whether Bison coolers are the right choice for you, there are several other soft-sided cooler options worth considering. I have reviewed nearly every soft-sided cooler available and highly recommend the following alternatives:
Polar Bear Coolers: Most Similar in Design
Polar Bear Deluxe coolers share a similar design to Bison coolers, featuring a duffel bag shape and a waterproof exterior. However, Polar Bear coolers surpass Bison coolers in terms of ice retention, and they also come with a weatherproof zipper. In fact, Polar Bear coolers achieve better ice retention than Yeti coolers. To learn more, you can read my Polar Bear vs Yeti soft cooler comparison.
For those seeking affordable coolers with excellent durability and ice retention, Polar Bear coolers are a great option. To see the latest prices of Polar Bear coolers on Amazon, click here.
Yeti Coolers: The Biggest Brand
Yeti coolers, known as the leading brand in the cooler industry, offer soft-sided Hopper coolers that boast exceptional durability and 2-3 days of ice retention. While they come at a higher price point, Yeti coolers are backed by a 3-year warranty and are built to last. The zipper on Yeti coolers is completely waterproof, and customers can choose from three different styles and five different sizes. To explore the latest prices of Yeti soft coolers on Amazon, click here.
Engel HD30: Best Ice Retention
For those seeking a soft-sided cooler with the absolute best ice retention, the Engel HD30 is an excellent choice. It consistently outperforms other coolers in ice retention tests and is made from the same durable fabric as Yeti coolers. The Engel HD30 delivers incredible ice retention that rivals similar-sized hard-sided coolers, making it an exceptional option. To compare the Engel HD30 with the Yeti Hopper and learn more about its ice retention capabilities, click here. To view the latest prices of Engel HD30 coolers on Amazon, click here.
In conclusion, the Bison SoftPak cooler proves to be a worthy competitor in the world of soft-sided coolers. With its exceptional insulation capabilities and impressive ice life, it guarantees that your drinks and snacks will stay cold for longer periods. Moreover, its toughness and durability make it the perfect companion for any outdoor adventure. The wide open lid and exterior pocket add convenience to its functionality, while the range of attractive colors adds a touch of personality. Although it may not be completely waterproof due to the zipper design, the Bison SoftPak cooler still offers reliable protection against splashes and spills. While there may be a few minor drawbacks, the advantages and features of this cooler outweigh them. For those considering alternatives to the Bison SoftPak, you can rest assured that this cooler is a top contender in its class.
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