Bison Cooler Review
Updated by Brandon F. on November 7, 2022
Bison Coolers are proudly made in the USA and hope that their quality American craftsmanship and straightforward design approach will win people over in what is a very competitive premium cooler industry. They have a surprisingly diverse lineup of products, ranging from their hard-sided coolers and also a small selection of SoftPak coolers, drinkware, and even hard cases.
We will be focusing on their coolers in this review (both their hard-sided products as well as their soft-sided products).
- 1 Bison Cooler Review
- 1.1 Bison Cooler Lineup
- 1.2 Bison Cooler Insulation/Ice Life
- 1.3 Bison Cooler Ice Life Results
- 1.4 Bison Cooler Toughness
- 1.5 Bison Cooler Features
- 1.6 Bison Cooler Visual Appeal
- 1.7 Bison Cooler Price
- 1.8 Final Thoughts
- 1.9 Bison vs. Yeti
- 1.10 Bison Cooler Review
- 1.11 Bison SoftPak Cooler Bag Review
Bison Cooler Lineup
Bison Hard-Sided Coolers
Buy on Amazon $349.00
The size choices are a bit limited but do span a large enough range to meet most people’s needs. For the hard-sided coolers, Bison offers 25, 50, 75, and 125-quart models. All sizes have a very similar design approach with the biggest difference being with the 125-quart model which contains 3 latches instead of 2. We have seen on many occasions that the larger cooler sizes would come with an additional latch.
Bison Soft-Sided Coolers
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The selection of Bison soft-sided coolers is even smaller. Bison calls their soft-sided coolers “SoftPak Cooler Bags” and has 12-can and 24-can options available. In terms of liters, these convert to roughly 18 and 32 liters, respectively. Again, while there aren’t a ton of product sizes to choose from, the sizes that are available hit the most popular desired sizes that we have seen most consumers looking for.
Bison Cooler Insulation/Ice Life
Bison hopes that what they learned with their generation one design coupled with some helpful new updates in their generation two design will result in an extremely competitive ice-holding machine that will be among the top in the industry.
One of the first things that we like to do with new cooler brands and search their website for posted ice life according to them. As we have made very clear in other reviews on this site, cooler manufacturers are notorious for massively overstating their projected ice life. While we aren’t saying that these companies are lying about their results, their method of testing is typically not very representative of real-world uses.
In the real world, your cooler will be exposed to the hot summer sun, be opened on a regular basis, and not be filled to the brim with just ice. Because of this, your real-world results are always going to be lower than the hypothetical “best case” scenarios.
It was refreshing to see Bison’s claims actually be realistic. They have stated that they have been able to achieve over a week of ice retention in their hard-sided coolers and around 24 hours in their SoftPak Cooler Bags.
We know all of you want to see the results of ice tests but first, let’s go over some of the various features that help Bison Coolers perform at their peak.
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An absolute staple for any premium cooler that hopes to compete, roto-molded walls provide an essential barrier between the cold internal air and the hot external air. Bison claims that their generation two hard-sided coolers enjoy 2-inch thick walls.
In our testing, these claims are very accurate. Compared to other brands in the industry, 2-inch thick is actually a bit on the lower side. We are used to seeing 2.5” and even 3” walls these days. Of course, these thicker walls come at the cost of adding weight and potentially reducing storage volume.
Double-Wall “Shark Fin” Gasket
We really like the clever name that Bison uses for their thick, freezer-grade gasket design. That being said, essentially this same gasket design is currently in most other premium coolers so don’t let the fancy name fool you! This “shark fin” design creates a fantastic seal and you really enjoy some nice rubber squeeze thanks to the thick embedded grooves on the lid of the coolers.
Updated Rubber Latch System
One of the ways that Bison Coolers stand out from the crowd is with their latch design. While most other brands are using the traditional T-latch design, Bison actually uses a sturdier cantilever design that provides an excellent closing force which really helps to squeeze the gaskets. We will go into more detail with the latch design below but it was worth noting the benefits that it brings to the table in regard to ice life.
What about the SoftPaks?
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Typically, people don’t associate soft-sided coolers being long-term ice-holding solutions. Bison hopes to change that with their SoftPak Cooler Bags. Both sizes come with an extremely thick vinyl shell. While this shell itself doesn’t play a huge role in ice retention, the additional .75” of added insulation certainly does!
This is twice the insulation of most other soft-sided coolers on the market which is quite impressive. Bison states that you can expect around 24 hours of ice life in up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit heat. While nowhere near what a hard-sided cooler can provide, this ice life is still long enough to make this soft cooler good for a variety of applications.
Bison Cooler Ice Life Results
Now for the moment of truth: the ice life results!
As we state in all of our ice life tests, there can be a ton of variance with actual ice life. There are dozens of factors at play including the environment that the cooler is in, its contents, how often it is being opened, how much ice is put in the cooler, and more. Because of this, take our results as a rough guide. This is also why we apply a healthy range to the results.
In regards to our typical testing, we will fill a cooler up around halfway with ice. Next, we will leave the cooler outside in the Texas Spring heat and open the cooler once every half an hour or so for a few seconds. We feel that this gives a good representation of the typical usage of a cooler in the real world. If you know for a fact that your application will vary greatly from this, then consider that when analyzing the results below.
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As shown above, the specific results for the Bison Hard-Sided Coolers were as follows:
Bison 25 Quart: 40 to 60 hours
Bison 50 Quart: 60 to 85 hours
Bison 75 Quart: 80 to 125 hours
Bison 125 Quart: 125 to 180 hours
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And as for the Bison soft-sided coolers, the results looked like this:
Bison 12 Can SoftPak: 12 to 16 hours
Bison 24 Can SoftPak: 16 to 24 hours
The first thing that came to mind after analyzing the results was in regards to just how honest and accurate Bison was on their ice life claims pulled from their website. Our real-life results were almost identical to what they stated.
Specifically, they claimed that they enjoyed up to around 7 days of ice life with their hard-sided coolers. Our results from the 125-quart came out to be just around 7 days. Similarly, we found that their 24-hour claim for their soft-sided coolers was very closely aligned with what we saw.
As for how these results compared to other premium cooler competition, they fell about average if not a tad below average. There are plenty of other hard-sided coolers with similar (if not longer) ice life. Also, while their soft-sided coolers may have twice the insulation thickness of most other soft-sided coolers in the industry, they did not perform as well as RTIC and Yeti Cooler Bags.
We can only speculate as to what caused a slight decrease in ice life. For the hard-sided coolers, the gasket and latch relationship was excellent and we don’t feel that it was an issue. However, the 2” thick rotomolded walls are a bit on the thin side compared to many other brands that now boast 2.5”+ thick walls.
As for the soft-sided SoftPaks, the thick insulation certainly helped with the performance but the zipper design and overall shape of the cooler are likely not optimized. With Yeti and RTIC, the zippers are extremely thick and sort of “squeeze” the walls together, forming a bit of a seal. In addition, the overall shape of the cooler is very thin and narrow which reduces how much surface area is exposed on the wall containing the zipper.
That being said, we don’t want you to read this and think that these coolers perform poorly when it came to ice life. On the contrary! They did very well and should keep ice for more than long enough of a period of time to meet most people’s needs. We are simply comparing them to the many other premium brands out there and, in that regard, they are average at best.
Bison Cooler Toughness
Bison Cooler has many of the features that we look for in a tough and long-lasting cooler in both their hard-sided and soft-sided models.
As we discussed above, Bison hard-sided coolers come with durable roto-molded construction which is essentially the staple for all premium coolers in the industry. The thick, one-piece construction means that there aren’t any weak points that can often exist in multi-piece coolers.
That latch system is also quite impressive. While Bison Coolers utilize a thick rubber component very similar to the competition, instead of doing a T-latch design, they have decided to use a cantilever design. This not only increases the number of contact areas on the latches (which puts less strain on them), but it also makes it much easier to open and close the latches.
Also worth noting is there is an impressive 5-year warranty that Bison offers on all of their hard-sided coolers. This is among the longest warranties in the industry and is good proof that Bison stands behind their products. For Bison SoftPak cooler bags, you will enjoy a 2-year warranty (which is still quite good for that type of cooler).
Finally, all Bison products are proudly made in the USA. While we have seen imported coolers that displayed great build quality, there is something special about a USA-made product, and the fit, finish, and overall quality of the product always seem to be higher.
As for the SoftPaks, Bison has a few tricks up its sleeve as well.
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Similar to the hard-sided coolers, Bison proudly states that their soft-sided coolers are the ONLY vinyl soft-sided coolers made in the USA. As for build quality, the outside of SoftPaks comes in a very robust heavy-duty 1000 denier vinyl shell. This shell is actually tear-resistant up to 375 pounds and well as coated with a UV-protected film to help combat fading from the sun.
Bison Cooler Features
The features available on Bison Coolers aren’t as numerous as in many other premium cooler models but they do have a few aspects worth mentioning. Many of the new features have been added to their generation 2 models. We don’t have a lot of experience with their generation 1 models but can tell that they were very Spartan in design and features so we are glad that Bison has made some updates.
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We have already discussed some of the features above including the great rubber gasket as well as cantilever latches. Included in this feature lineup is a locking lid with an integrated ruler, an increased drain plug system (with dual drains on the 125-quart model, full-length self-stopping hinges, and oversized anti-skid rubber feet.
For carrying the cooler, there are side rope handles with rubber grips as well as cavities built into the molding that allows you to get a good grip higher up on the cooler and without utilizing the rope handles.
The Bison SoftPaks have some added versatility by including side pockets for dry items as well as MOLLE webbing for adding customized accessories. There is a stitched-on overhead carrying handle and a removable shoulder strap for carrying. This is great for hanging various items during your next camping or fishing trip.
But beyond these things, you won’t find many other features present here. We would really like to see other features such as built-in cup holders, wheels, pressure release valves, bottle openers, etc.
Bison Cooler Visual Appeal
One common issue that we typically have with smaller cooler brands is their very limited selection of color and customization choices. Bison has historically suffered from this same problem but, with the rollout of their Gen 2 models, has improved dramatically.
Color options are about average now, with 5 color options on their hard-sided coolers and 4 color options on their SoftPak Cooler Bags.
For the hard-sided coolers, you can choose between white, sand, gray granite, green & sand, and red.
Buy on Amazon $349.00
For the Bison SoftPak Cooler Bags, your options include black, blue, pink, and sand.
Buy on Amazon $199.99
While the color choices are nothing groundbreaking, where Bison really stands out from much of the competition in its customization options. They have implemented a customization program that allows for 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 means those people who want to get a custom cooler with their work logo on it or a cool design on the lid of their cooler to make it stand out from the crowd will have the freedom to do just that with Bison Coolers.
That being said, the customizations are limited to that. If you want a custom color or a two-tone cooler that covers not only the lid but the body, you will be out of luck as far as we can tell. There are plenty of cooler wrap brands out there that can help you with that but we prefer to have the option to do so in-house as well.
As for the aesthetics of the coolers themselves, they are simple in appearance but still manage to stand out from many of the other premium coolers out there. This is thanks to the cool “x” design on the face of the cooler as well as the original latches and the Bison logo built into the inside of the lid. We are so used to the standard T latch setup that the latches by themselves help to break the norm.
The SoftPaks more closely resemble AO and Polar Bear coolers than Yeti and RTIC. We actually prefer the styling of the former over the latter but it does come at the cost of performance. But beyond the core shape and color choices, there aren’t a lot of aesthetic features to make Bison SoftPak Cooler Bags stand out.
Bison Cooler Price
Bison’s asking prices obviously vary from size to size but tend to fall well into the premium price range for their hard-sided coolers. Compared to other brands, the prices have been seen to be in between the lower premium brands such as RTIC and Engel, and the higher brands such as Yeti and Orca.
As for their SoftPaks, the asking prices are more in line with Ao and Polar Bear coolers instead of the soft-sided offerings from Yeti and RTIC. This doesn’t surprise us since the shape, features, and performance of Bison SoftPak Cooler Bags are much more similar to Ao and Polar Bear than Yeti and RTIC.
Our thoughts on this are as follows:
We feel that the hard-sided coolers are priced a bit too high. The ice life and available features are average at best in the premium cooler sector and, as such, we would expect a more “average” if not budget asking price within the premium sector.
There are some bright spots that Bison could use to try to justify their asking prices. These products are made in the USA and come with an impressive warranty. This by itself will typically drive up the costs higher than brands that import their coolers from China or India. Also, we do see a more consistent fit and finish and the fact that you don’t have to ship to product across seas for warranty work is worth a bump in the price.
However, for those after the maximum performance for the minimum price, you will be a bit underwhelmed. There are several cooler brands out there that deliver better ice performance, more features, and a lower price.
The Bison SoftPak Cooler Bags, on the other hand, are priced lower than the RTIC and Yeti soft-sided coolers. But they also have lower ice life. As we suspected, the ice life of Bison SoftPak Cooler Bags and much more aligned with AO and Polar Bear soft-sided coolers and their asking prices are also quite similar. So in regards to those, we are relatively content with the costs.
The small but varied lineup of Bison Coolers, Cooler Bags, drinkware, and accessories was a lot of fun to try out and analyze. There are a couple of unique things that Bison brings to the table with their lineup, including the awesome cantilever latches and cool design aesthetics (embedded logo on the lid, custom graphics, and the “X” on the front of the cooler).
Also, these products are made in the USA, they come with good warranties, and the Cooler Bags in particular impressed us with their extremely thick vinyl shell and industry-leading insulation thickness.
That being said, we do feel that the asking price is a bit too high considering the ice life and features you receive. While the performance is more than enough for most people, the premium cooler market is extremely competitive so delivering maximum performance and minimum costs is a surefire way for a brand to stand out.
Bison vs. Yeti
A common question we are asked is what is better? A Bison Cooler or a Yeti Cooler?
Both are great products and have a lot surprisingly in common. Both offer up fantastic ice retention, rock-solid build quality, and have both hard-sided and soft-sided coolers.
Bison is more of a “new kid on the block” and has not yet formed the reputation that Yeti has. Being a smaller company, they also don’t have a huge range of accessories or customization options. But they have extremely similar ice life and their coolers should last for many years (just like Yeti).
Yeti, on the other hand, has many years of experience. They have perfected their craft and many others have tried to copy them and have fallen short. Their ice life and build quality will rival anything in the industry and their host of accessories, size choices, and customization options are unparalleled. But with this comes a huge asking price.
In our opinion, if you are strictly concerned with performance and trying to save some money, go with Bison. Their coolers might not have the recognition of a Yeti but in terms of keeping ice cold and holding up to wear and tear, they are just as good. If you care more about image and showing off the pinnacle of the cooler world at your next tailgate or float trip (and are willing to pay handsomely for it!) then Yeti is your answer.
Either way, rest assured that you will have a long-lasting cooler that will always perform to your expectations.
Bison Cooler Review
Bison Coolers are the primary lineup of ice-storing products offered up by Bison. These coolers take a very proven approach to both design and size choices with a few unique twists along the way to make the Bison name stand out. This is all centered on a solid warranty and products that are 100% made in the USA. You can find 5 different color choices and size options of 25, 50, 75, and 125 quarts.
Insulation Ability –
Within Bison’s hard-sided coolers you will find around 2” of polyethylene that is roto-molded into shape. While this is far from industry-leading in regard to thickness, it is still nothing to scoff at. With the generation 2 model rollouts, Bison has also updated their gaskets to what they call the “double-wall shark fin gasket”. This is a fancy name but is essentially the same proven design that many other popular and successful premium cooler brands have utilized.
The feature that really makes Bison stand out and give it a nice performance boost is its cantilever latches that provide excellent squeeze for the gaskets. Ice life will vary from as low as 40 hours in their 25-quart model and up to 160 hours in the 125-quart model (depending on the application). This falls about average compared to other premium coolers out there. We feel that the biggest thing holding Bison Coolers back from pushing this number higher is the relatively thin walls. Increasing it just another half of an inch or so would likely make some significant improvements.
Mobility and Durability –
One good thing about the thinner walls is reduced weight and storage volume requirements. While still bulky, Bison Coolers offer up a proven internal storage volume but at a smaller outside size than some of the other competition. For transportation, you won’t find any wheeled options but you do have rope handles with rubber grips as well as a built-in handle.
The build quality is very good, thanks to the roto-molded construction, premium materials, and is made in the USA. The fit and finish are quite good and you don’t have to worry about ugly gaps or nicks that are common on cheaper coolers upon arrival. Bison stands behind its hard-sided coolers with an impressive 5-year warranty. This is among the highest in the industry and it really shows us that Bison stands behind its product.
As for features, they are a bit lacking. Leading the way are the great cantilever latches that provide great grip while being much easier to open and close than a traditional T-latch. There is also an oversized drain spout, built-in ruler, locking lid, self-stopping hinges, and a few other items. However, noticeably missing are cup holders, pressure release valves, cutting boards, bottle openers, and any of the other unique accessories that we are seeing on more and more cooler brands these days.
Visual Appeal –
The shape and design of Bison Coolers are very straightforward but still unique enough to stand out from most other brands. There is a really cool “X” design on the face of the cooler as well as the Bison logo stamped on the inside of the lid. As for color choices, you can choose from 5 at the time of this article (white, sand, gray granite, green & sand, and red).
There is also a customization department at Bison that allows for your own logo or design to be put on the lid. That being said, it is limited to the lid only. We hope in the future that there are more customization choices for the rest of the body (or at least improved support for cooler wraps that fit).
As you might expect, asking prices fall into the premium price tier. We are used to higher prices for roto-molded coolers but overall we feel that given the ice life and features, the price is a bit too high. Brands like Yeti charge more because of their reputation and name and Bison might be going for the same thing but, as of right now, their reputation isn’t quite to the level of being able to justify such a price.
We understand that a lot of this likely has to do with the fact that these ice chests are made in the USA. We hope that perhaps in Generation 3, Bison will add some more features, improve ice life, or lower the price some.
Overall Rating –
We came away from our experience with Bison Hard-Sided Coolers relatively impressed. We love that these products are made completely in the USA and that Bison stands behind them with a great warranty. There are also some really good things going on such as the latch design, some of the aesthetic features, and the logo customization options.
However, the asking price is quite high and we feel that there are other coolers that have better ice life and more features for a cheaper price. But for those who want an American-Made product that will last for many years and look good doing so, Bison is a perfectly acceptable choice for those willing to pay.
Bison SoftPak Cooler Bag Review
Bison SoftPak Cooler Bags are Bison’s contribution to the premium soft-sided cooler market. These products have a more traditional bag style that is starkly different than the Yeti and RTIC cooler bags that have become very popular recently. The decision to go with a more traditional design means that they are more affordable but also take a hit in ice life. There are currently 4 color choices and they are available in 12 and 24-can sizes.
Insulation Ability –
In terms of insulation, Bison has upped its game. These SoftPak Cooler Bags have nearly an inch of insulation which, according to Bison, is twice as thick as the average cooler bag. This might be a necessity to improve performance since Bison went away from the new “thin” gasket design that other premium soft-sided coolers have been doing.
The decision to go with a design with a larger face on the zipper means that there is a larger area for cold air to escape so the added insulation was a welcome addition. In terms of performance, you can expect approximately 12 to 16 hours of ice life for the 12-can model and 16 to 24 hours of ice life for the 24-can model. This is a good bit lower than some of the other soft-sided cooler bags we have tested but for this particular shape and design, is quite good.
Mobility and Durability –
The real star here is the outside material. It is made of heavy-duty 1000 denier vinyl which is extremely tough and, according to Bison, is tougher than any other soft-sided cooler. Specifically, you can enjoy tear resistance of up to 375 pounds. The rest of the bag is equally tough. The zippers are thick and robust and all of the exposed stitching is very well done. We also love that these products are made in the USA and come with a 2-year warranty. This is among the longest warranties you will find for a soft-sided cooler and really shows us that Bison knows that they have an item that will last.
As for features, Bison takes a somewhat simplistic approach. You will find exterior pockets for dry items and MOLLE webbing which is good for attaching accessories. For carrying, there will be a permanent overhead carrying handle as well as a shoulder strap that can be removed. But outside of this, the list of features is limited. That being said, this cooler bag is designed to be mobile and it is exactly that. The size options are limited and may be too small for some but for those who can work with it, you will find that these coolers are extremely easy to transport.
Visual Appeal –
We actually prefer the “older” style bags over the “newer” style that Yeti and RTIC have rolled out. The cost for the older style is a hit to the ice life, however. There are 4 color options (black, blue, pink, and sand) and also the ability to apply custom graphics and logos thanks to Bison’s customization department. The overall design of the bag is simple and the color application is solid and without a lot of variance in colors and textures. We hope that Bison will continue to build and add to their color choices in the future.
We feel that given the performance and build quality, Bison’s SoftPak Cooler Bags are very reasonably priced. Compared to their true competition, the asking prices are competitive and align well. The added benefit is the “Made in USA” stamp and the great warranty. But we need to mention that those looking at these bags and expecting 3-day ice life but at a fraction of the price of Yeti and RTIC Cooler Bags will be disappointed. The ice life is not at those levels. But thankfully the build quality is!
Overall Rating –
Bison SoftPak Cooler Bags are a nice addition to the growing population of premium soft-sided coolers on the market. They take a very simple approach to the bright spots being the extra insulation and extremely tough outer fabric used in the construction of their cooler bags. The decision to go with a traditional design and shape does impact ice life, however. Given the asking price, good warranty, and excellent build quality, these are strong recommendations in our book for those who only need a day or two tops of ice life.