For anyone who loves travel and the great outdoors, purchasing a high-performance cooler can feel like a passage of rights into adulthood, an emancipation from the pitfalls and shortcomings of lesser cloth or styrofoam vessels. After all, we all deserve to be free of sandwiches made soggy by fast-melting ice, spoiled steaks, and lukewarm beers floating in hotdog tainted water. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably pined over a big ol’ Yeti for years, but could never bring yourself to pull the trigger because you couldn’t afford to miss a month’s mortgage payment.
Recently, my family and I planned a summer trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which, from our home in Michigan, is a bit of a drive. In order to avoid the need to stop for gut-rotting fast food every few hours, we decided to pack our own healthier alternatives. Up until this point, we’d been getting by on a few small coolers we collected over the years: a 14 by 14-inch cloth cooler given to me at my high school graduation 19 years ago; a 12 by 18-inch plastic Igloo that’s probably older than me; and an 8 by 10-inch little guy meant to hold no more than a six-pack. You get the picture: In order to meet our needs, we needed to upgrade.
Finding a cooler a week after the Fourth of July and during one of the hottest weeks of the summer can prove quite difficult. I initially was after a Rtic Cooler. A group of friends and I go backwoods camping every summer and we’ve depended heavily on one guy’s Rtic for the last couple of years. We hit a number of stores, but all we were finding were sparse shelves and the occasional Igloo or Coleman cooler of more traditional design. At our local Walmart, we came across one lone Lifetime cooler, which, at first glance, I thought was the city’s last remaining Rtic cooler. I was disheartened to find it was not and, judging a book by its cover, quickly dismissed it as an inferior brand.
Days later, during thorough cooler research—by my wife, not me (I’m more of a “fly by the seat of your pants” purchaser)—we (she) found a lot of great reviews for Lifetime coolers and with only days remaining before our road trip, we decided to pull the trigger on a Lifetime 77 Quart High Performance Cooler. At just under $200 — a premium price for a relatively premium investment — the cooler arrived the day before our departure. Here’s how it stood up on the road.
The cooler arrived as one would expect of any delivery: in a large cardboard box. Once opened, there were no unnecessary frills and it wasn’t over packed with unnecessary bits of styrofoam padding to break apart and drift for days across our living room like tiny white tumbleweeds. The outside of the cooler was adorned with a few brand stickers, a “Certified Bear Resistant” sticker, and a “Made In The USA” sticker, all of which peeled off easily, leaving no sticky residue to be scrubbed off with rubbing alcohol and obscenities. This was the extent of the packaging and, aside from a small instructional book attached to the padlock eyelet, the cooler was ready for use.
The first thing I noticed about the Lifetime cooler was its firm build. Like its competitors, the Lifetime coolers are built solid and have a comforting weight to them. In the age of lightweight plastics, I’m of the old-school train of thought that weight often speaks to quality and durability. The 77-quart cooler weighs in at 29.95 pounds (empty) and once you’ve loaded it with all your goods, it can be quite the beast to move. With interior dimensions of 23 to 25 inches long by 12 to 14 inches wide to 14.3 inches high, you can certainly pack a lot into this cooler.
Outwardly, the Lifetime cooler has a similar look to its Yeti and Rtic competitors, but Lifetime is, in fact, manufactured differently. Yeti and Rtic coolers are made using a process called “rotomolding” (or rotational molding), which lends to thicker exterior walls without seams. The Lifetime coolers are manufactured using a process called “blow molding,” which produces a thinner exterior wall and is a much more cost-efficient process. The manufacturing style of the Lifetime coolers is one of the key factors in their lower price point and, though you may immediately think this means lower quality, it’s not necessarily true. In comparisons between the rotomolded coolers and blow-molded coolers, the blow-molded coolers have equaled and sometimes surpassed the rotomolded coolers in ice retention. And, though their thinner exterior walls may not be as durable, they are more than strong enough for your typical cooler needs and still “Certified Bear Resistant.” In other words, you may want to opt for the rotomolded coolers if you’re planning on skydiving with your cooler or anticipate it tumbling into rocky gorges.
The Lifetime coolers come equipped with two nylon rope handles, with rubber, diamond-patterned grips. The cooler’s handles feel strong and durable and are long enough to make for a comfortable lift, but not so long as to make carrying the cooler awkward or cumbersome. The rope handles are a desirable feature when performing a two-man carry of the cooler around corners or down a narrow trail, as they allow the carriers to more freely navigate twists and turns without wrenching wrists with fixed plastic handles.
The clasps on the front of the Lifetime cooler are made of a solid molded plastic, unlike the pliable rubber clasps I’ve seen on other brands. Time will tell if this is a benefit, but I’m often leery of the rubber clasps, having experienced products of similar material breaking down or tearing after being subject to extreme weather or continuous moisture. This is not to say the molded plastic will be any different, but I’m cautiously optimistic. The clasps pull the lid down tightly on its interior rubber seal, locking everything in place. The front of the lids is fixed with a stainless steel eyelet, which sits just above a stainless steel bottle opener on the base of the cooler, allowing the user to lock the cooler with a padlock if desired. The bottom of the cooler has an easy-to-grip, screw-off cap, allowing quick drainage of the cooler when necessary. On the bottom of the cooler are rubberized feet, which prevent the cooler from rocketing around the bed of your truck every time you hit the brakes or take a turn.
How we tested the Lifetime 77 Quart High Performance Cooler
Since the cooler arrived the day before our road trip, our first test of the cooler was a trial by fire. We loaded up our sandwiches, fruit, assorted snacks, sodas, and beers, poured two seven-pound bags of ice over the top, and away we went. Because the road trip was not exceptionally long (660 miles over 12 hours) and because we didn’t plan to live entirely out of the cooler, it only ended up being about 50 percent full.
By the time we arrived at our destination, there was a significant ice reduction in the cooler, which at first was disheartening. After some quick research, we realized a number of errors we made, which reduced the overall performance of the cooler. First, we had not prepped the cooler properly. It is recommended with all coolers—not just Lifetime—that you ice down the cooler first before you pack it. This prevents an initial shock-melt while the cooler walls are coming down to its desired temperature and allows for longer ice retention. Second, we only filled the cooler half full, leaving an excess of headspace, which immediately fills with warmer air every time the cooler is opened. This does a lot to reduce the duration of your ice.
Our second test of the cooler, which involved continuous use over a long weekend in the sun, was much more successful. Prior to using it, we threw a few frozen bottles of water into the cooler and let it sit for a few hours. We then doubled the amount of ice we put into the cooler, which, combined with the food and beverages, filled the cooler almost entirely. By taking these two simple steps, we drastically improved the ice retention within the cooler. At the time I’m typing this review, we are two days into the test and have retained about 85 percent of our ice (this is even after removing quite a bit of the food and beverage).
Overall, I’m quite impressed with this second test of the cooler and have full confidence that, when utilized properly, the Lifetime cooler will perform to the same standard as its competition and dramatically outperform any cooler I’ve previously owned.
What we like about the Lifetime 77 Quart High Performance Cooler
The feel: As I mentioned earlier, the Lifetime cooler has a sturdy build and a comforting (but not overbearing) weight. When it comes to products composed mostly of plastics, it’s often easy to tell from the first feel or lift, if the product is of quality construction. The Lifetime cooler has the feel of the high-end performance coolers it was constructed to replicate.
The price: The price point of the Lifetime cooler is much easier to wrap your head around than that of its bigger competitors. The 77 Quart Lifetime cooler came in at under half the price of a Yeti of similar size and $40 less than a Rtic cooler of a smaller size. I’m sure the price difference is largely due to the manufacturing technique (blow molding vs. rotomolding), but so far I have not seen a difference in quality. If you’re not planning an extreme adventure with the potential for major impacts, paying extra for the rotomolding may not be necessary.
The bear video: The cooler is Certified Bear Resistant and the claim is even stamped into the plastic of the inner lid. You may wonder how these things are tested and the people at Lifetime coolers show you just how, with an entertaining video of their coolers being pitted against some persistent and ultimately unsuccessful grizzly bears. For the full video, see here:
What we don’t like about the Lifetime 77 Quart High Performance Cooler
There isn’t much we didn’t like about the Lifetime cooler. Once we figured out the proper way to prep the cooler, the performance seemed to match the claims from the website and reviews. Time will tell if the quality of the blow molding and thermoplastics holds up, but so far, so good. A few reviews on the company website suggest that there may be occasional issues with the cooler’s hinges slipping loose or the lid becoming warped over time, but few of them indicate what conditions the cooler was put in to produce these resulting issues.
If you’re looking for a cooler for everyday use, for average camping excursions, or for long road trips over smooth terrain, the Lifetime cooler is definitely a solid choice. With the Lifetime 77 Quart High Performance Cooler coming in at $209 on their website (sometimes cheaper through places like Walmart), it is less than half the price of Yeti’s cooler of similar size. While you won’t get the admiring stares and campfire groupies that come with Yeti brand recognition, you won’t be left behind in overall performance either. The Lifetime cooler seems sturdy and reliable, and with a five-year warranty, it should be easy to determine if it’s made to last, long before the warranty expires. And if nothing else, at least you know your beers will be safe from those pesky grizzly bears.
FAQs about the Lifetime 77 Quart High Performance Cooler
More questions? Here is Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q. How much does the Lifetime 77 Quart High Performance Cooler cost?
A. On the Lifetime website, the 77 Quart cooler comes in at $209.99 (with free shipping). On Amazon, the same cooler can be found for $168.00, with shipping cost varying by location (my location was only an extra $10).
Q. The 77 Quart cooler is a large cooler. How much does it weigh?
A. The cooler weighs 29.95 pounds while empty. Once you fill it up with food, beverage, and ice, it can be quite a lift and is often a two-person job. If you plan to lug it solo, lift with your legs.
Q. Is there much for color variety in the Lifetime line of coolers?
A. Based on what I’ve seen on their website, a buyer is limited to three color options: gray, white, and a khaki/taupe color. The grey colors are accented with blue latches and handles and a few of the khaki coolers are accented with orange. Aside from that, you’ll have to bedazzle your cooler yourself or wallpaper it with bumper stickers from your many adventures.
Q. Does Lifetime produce other products, or do they specialize mainly in coolers like Yeti and Rtic?
A. Lifetime is a plastics manufacturer, founded in 1986, and boasts a wide array of products from furniture to kayaks to garden sheds to playground equipment. This could be viewed as a positive and a negative, as they may not have the same dedicated attention to cooler technologies as their competitors, but there are probably few cooler companies who can rival in overall plastics manufacturing experience.
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Brett Allen is a humor writer and former U.S. Army Cavalry Officer who served from 2006 to 2010, largely with the 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division. The events of his 2009 deployment to the Logar Province of Afghanistan became the inspiration for his recently published debut novel, Kilroy Was Here, a dark comedy highlighting the absurdities of war. Brett resides in Ada, Michigan with his wife and kids and is currently working on his next novel. He enjoys all things outdoors to include backwoods camping, backwoods cooking, hiking, and boating, but can more regularly be found mowing, weed whacking, or performing some other form of backbreaking yard work.
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