Pelican Elite 20QT Cooler review

When it comes to keeping your beverages ice-cold, the Pelican brand might not be the first to pop into your mind. They make incredibly tough carrying cases for delicate tech gadgets, but they also make one hell of an ice chest. I’ve been using a Pelican Elite 20QT cooler for the better part of the summer and early fall. Here’s the good, the bad, and everything in between when it comes to this little drink chiller.

Pelican Elite 20QT Cooler review

The Pelican Elite 20QT cooler is not only top notch and guaranteed for life, but it’s made in the USA to boot. (photo: Ryan Malavolta/


The 20QT Elite features thick polypropylene insulation, burly latches, and some very handy built in features (a bottle opener and molded drink holders to name a couple). Stainless steel hardware and a beefy handle complete the unit, which weighs in at 12.5 lbs. Pelican says their coolers are built for years of faithful service, and back it up with a lifetime. Impressive when you consider just how much of a beating most of put on these items. And beat it up the Elite I did, from the rocky hills of Flaming Gorge to the gritty sand of the Colorado Plateau.


The Pelican Elite 20QT cooler will fit up to 15 cans of whatever you want to drink (trust me, it WILL NOT fit more, I tried). Thanks to its upright design, it packs easily into your adventure mobile. The cooling powers are legit; this ice chest kept my beers chilly for three day weekends no matter what the temperature was outside. I packed very little ice into the cooler, opting instead for the maximum amount of cans. I was amazed to find that cubed ice stayed whole for a minimum of 24 hours despite the small amounts I used. Overall, you’d be hard pressed to find a more reliable way to keep your drinks cold.

Pelican Elite 20QT Latches

The Pelican Elite 20QT cooler is not only top notch and guaranteed for life, but it’s made in the USA to boot. (photo: Ryan Malavolta/

The big ABS latches are a standout feature on the Pelican Elite series. Easy to operate, they help to create a tight seal inside the cooler. They also help ensure that nosy wildlife won’t be able to easily steal your most precious cargo. Pelican has included a molded lock hasp if you need further protection (for those of you headed into bear country) from would-be thieves. The molded drink holders work just fine, and the Elite 20QT is the perfect height to double as a camp chair. My biggest “love it” on this unit is the curved cutout on the rear- your leg tucks nicely into this area and keeps the cooler from banging against your body when you’re carrying it.


Extended use of the Pelican Elite cooler did reveal some flaws. First of all, the bomber build comes with a steep price: weight. 12.5 lbs is not light for a cooler that fits just over a 12 pack. If you are carrying it a long way, you’ll notice how burdensome the extra weight is. Another issue is the upright design; while it makes loading it into a car easy, it is also prone to tipping over. You’ll want to make sure you are storing the Elite 20QT on relatively flat ground.

Pelican Elite 20QT cooler handle

The curved notch on the rear of the Elite 20QT cooler is a standout feature. No more slamming your legs while walking! (photo: Ryan Malavolta/


You’ll have to decide what you value more: a lightweight cooler or a cooler that will keep your cargo cold for days at a time with very little ice. To me, the field performance of the Pelican Elite series is impressive enough to warrant the extra weight. I simply won’t tote this along with me the next time I’m at an outdoor concert or a friend’s BBQ. If you are a lover of frosty beverages, tailgater, fisher, hunter or any type of sportsman, the Elite series of coolers from Pelican should be on your short list.

The Good: Keeps the payload ice cold for long weekends; bomber build.

The Bad: Heavy and prone to tipping over.

The Verdict: Guaranteed for life and guaranteed to keep your drinks cold, it’s hard to beat this cooler in terms of quality and craftsmanship.

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