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Bison Gen 2 Cooler, 50 quarts review: Killer capacity from Bison's high-quality, high-cost cooler

At 57.6 quarts, the Bison Gen 2 Cooler is 15 percent bigger than advertised (and bigger than the Yeti), but you'll find better performance for the money if you shop around.

Ry Crist Senior Editor / Reviews - Labs
Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a writer, a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, broadband and home networking.
Expertise Smart home technology and wireless connectivity Credentials
  • 10 years product testing experience with the CNET Home team
Ry Crist
3 min read

Did you hear the one about the Bison, the Yeti, and the Orca that squared off in an ice retention competition? It's not a joke -- it's what I've been working on for the past few weeks as I've tested out about a dozen different coolers to see which ones are worth the cold, hard cash.


Bison Gen 2 Cooler, 50 quarts

The Good

With 57.6 quarts of usable capacity, the Bison Gen 2 Cooler is about 15 percent bigger than advertised, and it performs as well as you'd expect from a cooler with a high-end, rotomolded design. Optional extras like a nonslip mat that lets you use the cooler as a casting platform on your next fishing trip help set the Bison apart from the competition.

The Bad

The Bison didn't hold the cold for as long as its top two rotomolded competitors from Yeti and Orca, which each cost about $30 less, and it even got beat by a $45 budget pick from Igloo. The design doesn't do much to distinguish itself, either.

The Bottom Line

This is a high-quality cooler that would make a great upgrade pick for a fishing boat, but you'll find better value if you shop around.

Up at the top of the price spectrum sit fancy, rotomolded designs from names like the trio mentioned above. Short for "rotational molding," rotomolding means that the mold is literally rotated as the plastic is poured in, which makes for more uniform density once the plastic sets. Coolers that take advantage of rotomolding will rightly promise notably better durability and insulation, but none of them will come cheap. Take the Bison Gen 2 Cooler, for instance. At $329, it was the most expensive nonwheeled cooler that I tested, and even more expensive than popular, rotomolded picks from Yeti and Orca.

As expected, the Bison performed very well, but it wasn't able to beat those two top competitors, nor was it able to dominate bargain-priced alternatives from Igloo and Lifetime that can be had for as little as $45. Bison makes up some of the difference with killer capacity that's 15 percent bigger than advertised, along with a slew of optional extra features and customization options that you won't find with other brands. Still, I'd recommend shopping around before you splurge.

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Bison's coolers are aimed at outdoorsy types and built accordingly, with sturdy, rugged designs, and optional extras like camo lid graphics, a divider insert that doubles as a cutting board and nonslip traction pads that let you stand on top to cast a fishing line (the lid doubles as a measuring board for whatever you reel in, too). As far as camping coolers and marine coolers go, Bison's offerings are all legitimate upgrade picks.

As expected, Bison's cooler performed well in my ice retention tests, notching the second lowest minimum temperature from just 3 pounds of ice, but it wasn't able to hold the cold for as long as the $300 coolers I tested from Yeti or Orca. You could even argue that it was outperformed by the bare-bones Igloo MaxCold Cooler, which costs just $45. Bison's cooler is still a very strong choice as far as performance is concerned, but it didn't blow the competition away by as much as you'd expect given the price.

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The Bison Gen 2 Cooler (red) recorded the second lowest minimum temperature during this test, but it wasn't able to hold the cold as long as Orca, Yeti, or even the $45 Igloo MaxCold Cooler.

Ry Crist/CNET

Of course, you have to put performance in context by considering capacity, too. Yes, the Yeti Tundra 45 outperformed the Bison by a considerable margin, but it's also a lot smaller than the name suggests, coming in at just 38 quarts in my capacity tests. As for the Bison, it's actually about 15 percent bigger than advertised, holding 57.6 quarts of water before I wasn't able to close the lid without the water overflowing.

That makes the Yeti about 35 percent smaller than the Bison, which also means that the Yeti had a much easier job on its hands during that ice test. The better comparison would likely be the larger Yeti Tundra 65, which costs $349. Yeti doesn't list its capacity anywhere I could find, but it would probably be somewhere around 55 quarts if the dimensions are roughly in line with the 45.

That moves the needle back in Bison's direction, but there's still one problem: Orca. At $300, its big-as-advertised 58-quart Classic Cooler is slightly bigger than the Bison and a better performer than the Bison, too. If you're shopping on the high end and looking for a good mix of capacity, durability and performance, the Orca seems like the stronger purchase, and it beats Bison's 5-year warranty with a lifetime guarantee, too.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

All comparisons aside, the Bison's strong performance and rugged design make it worthy of the higher-than-average price tag, especially if you're planning on using it as a marine cooler on your fishing boat. But I'd recommend waiting for a sale given the strong competition from coolers that don't cost as much. Until then, you could do a lot worse than the $45 Igloo MaxCold, my top overall value pick in the cooler category.


Bison Gen 2 Cooler, 50 quarts

Score Breakdown

Features 8.5Design 7Performance 8Usability 8