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.
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.
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.