Once upon a time, campers and picnickers dragged bags of homemade ice cubes into the wild to keep perishable foods safe and chilled, hoping that the chill would hold for a matter of hours. Then a new-fangled metal tank introduced in 1947 to keep water cool launched an industry.

Richard Laramy invented the Coleman cooler in 1951 and a few years later, the Yeti brand cooler jumped into the fray followed by late-comer Pelican whose first ice chests hit the camping equipment market around 1976.

Today’s top brands do everything but make sandwiches, but for the moment, we’re here to help you choose between Pelican Ice Chest vs Yeti because the two companies appear to be in “hot” competition for the hearts, minds and perishables campers worry about when they set off on day trip or extended camping adventure.

Our hope? By the time you finish reading this, you’re going to feel chill about your choice!

About the Pelican brand

Behind every great cooler is a great thinker and Pelican is no exception. Dave Parker and his wife Arline took an American entrepreneurial approach to advancing their idea of what great outdoor gear should be when they started tinkering around with flashlight ideas in their Torrance, California garage in 1976.

Parker’s first successful products were leak-proof flashlights and cases. By 2004, Pelican diversified into temperature-controlled packing innovations designed to survive the most rugged conditions known to man while keeping contents fresh. Pelican’s propensity for expansion and acquisition has helped it grow into an international powerhouse.

About the Yeti brand

Talk about contrast! Similarities between the start-up stories of the Pelican Ice Chest vs Yeti are evident: Roy and Ryan Seiders, young dudes who never met an outdoor activity they couldn’t adopt, launched their start-up in similar circumstances as did the Parkers: The Seiders kept it all in the family.

As the guys continued to find fault with new cooler products from a growing, competitive market–complaining that handles broke, latches snapped off and lids leaked–they got mad. How mad? The Seiders brothers say that “the Yeti was born out of frustration and molded by experience”.

Yeti-brand products came late to the party (the brand debuted in 2006; 30 years after Pelican), but in terms of quality and innovation, they’re doing more than holding their own, earning customer loyalty to which all entrepreneurs aspire. In sum, the brothers prioritize firsthand experience over market research and data analysis. Yup. They camp.

How do these two brands differ from one another?

Product focus

Perhaps the most noticeable difference between the Pelican Ice Chest vs Yeti products has to do with priorities. The Pelican product menu is so diversified, items in the cooler line get short shrift compared to their cases (computer; phone; devices; guns), luggage offerings and the flashlights that drove the company’s start-up efforts.

Yeti? If it can’t cool stuff, it’s likely not being developed by this company. We give Yeti two thumbs up for sticking to their focus.

Models/choices

Head for the Pelican website and you’ll find around eight models on sale, each of which is fabricated in the easy-to-identify industrial style for which the company is known. After all, they do make those hard-side computer cases. Pelican may come out with a singular design, but it’s more their style to make it in a dozen colors that reinvent the wheel.

On the other side of the coin, Yeti is currently marketing more than 20 sizes and styles of coolers in a variety of shapes including soft-side options. Pelican soft-side choices? A handful. Once again, Yeti gets two thumbs up.

Performance anxiety

When the Cooler on Sale website folks conducted an experiment pitting the Pelican ProGear Elite 45Q against the Yeti Tundra 45, ice was left inside each cooler for five days to see how long it would take to melt.

While commenting that the lighter Pelican outperformed the Yeti, editors found “significantly more ice remaining in the Pelican,” which means one of the main functions of a cooler—-keeping stuff cold—-is so important, the Pelican gets four thumbs up from us!

The bear truth

Savvy campers know that a foolproof latch can mean the difference between a teddy bear picnic and a safe food cache, not to mention the whole safety thing that can be breached if you don’t stow food properly at all times in bear country.

Both Yeti and Pelican have been bear-proofed and swear by that claim, thus both companies get bragging rights. While Yeti coolers extol the virtues of their “Fatwall design” and bear claw-resistant exteriors, we rate that as marketing hype and give two thumbs up to both cooler manufacturers. None for the bears.

Of warranties and budgets

How important is a warranty to you? If you have a history of products that meet with unfortunate accidents, you may wish to opt for a Pelican because they stand behind their motto, “You break it, we replace it…forever.”

The brothers Seiders are only willing to give you 5 years to destroy their coolers, so choose accordingly. While on the topic of truth, price comparisons between Pelican and Yeti won’t make any camper on the planet happy if they are budgeting, so if you find either brand on sale, grab it. We give two thumbs up to Pelican for their long warranty and just one to Yeti.

Construction

Leave it to “Field and Stream” to hold an “Ice Chest Throwdown” where neither brand came out on top after 12 coolers were thrown off the back of a speeding pickup truck last year. But if you’re a stickler for construction detail, you may wish to base your buying decision on these 4 factors:
Hardware: Stainless Steel (Pelican) vs. aluminum (Yeti)
Latches: 3-inch press and pull (Pelican) vs. rubber (Yeti)
Origin: Pelican is made in the U.S. exclusively while some Yeti production is outsourced to the Philippines
Insulation: Both companies use between 2-inches and 2.75-inches of insulation, depending on the model.

Pelican comes out slightly ahead because we’re patriotic: 2 thumbs up for Pelican; 1 for Yeti because they ship part of their operations to Asia but their pricing doesn’t always reflect that.

Love power?

If you’re in the market for a thermoelectric cooler so you can leave your freezer’s ice cube trays intact and forget stopping at gas stations, we’ve got good news and bad news. According to Best Cooler Reviews, both Yeti and Pelican brands lag behind Dometic, Igloo, Coleman and Koolatron when it comes to performance, size range, battery life and popularity.

The Litmus Test? Long-haul truck drivers are harsh critics when it comes to these cooler types, so listen up. They don’t even mention our two brands, so we are removing a thumb up from both of our contenders.

What’s Your CQ?

Picture of Beer Bottles in a bucket with snow ice
Your cooler quotient says lots about you. How you plan to use your product. Whether you worry about longevity. The importance of design and function. Here are some activity-focused picks to help sway you:

For Frequent Campers


According to the website Filter Joe, if you have already scheduled so many camping trips your spouse is unhappy, choose an indestructible Yeti Tundra. This 35-quart chest might not be the cheapest but you get what you pay for. You’re going to have to throw it into ravines to destroy the exterior. These sell fast because they’re so popular.

For Guy trippers


Do you throw tailgate parties? The Pelican Elite Cooler holds 250 quarts of food and drink. Ideal for extended guy getaways, you might even feel comfortable leaving this priced cooler behind when you canoe and kayak. At 111 pounds (empty) it’s too heavy to steal.

For Golfers


The YETI Hopper Flip 12 Portable Cooler could be a golfer’s best friend because even if you have no golf cart, this cooler weighs just 3 pounds. Having generated so many rave reviews since it’s 2015 introduction, a fan club could be on the horizon. With an affordable price range, this soft-side, stylish Yeti features a thick carry strap so getting your Gatorade to the 18th hole is a breeze.

For Hunters


Add the 20-quart Pelican Elite Cooler Outdoor Tan Pelican to your supply list before you load the car and even wily bears won’t spot this camouflage-patterned cooler top. A rare design departure for the brand, this chest weighs a hefty 19 pounds and features Pelican’s extreme ice retention guarantee. If you don’t like hunting, take this sporty cooler hiking and on fishing expeditions.

For Hikers


Yeti calls this the Roadie, but you’ll call it affordable and handy when trekking into deep woods. Price’s okay and you’ll have cash left over to stock it with food and drinks. If you crave the higher-priced Yeti Tundra but your budget says “Whoa!” we’ve got news: The Roadie is based on the original Tundra design. Get history and nostalgia for free.

For Fashionistas


Yes, women go on camping trips and they’ve got the selfies to prove it, so why wouldn’t this sturdy Pelican ProGear 35QT Elite Cooler in Aqua Green with peach, yellow and white logo makes a stylish pick. Limited supplies at popular retailers and websites may be a turn off, but if the color and price are right, this might be worth the wait if it strikes your fancy.

End of the Trail

So, which will it be; Yeti or Pelican? We’ve got to admit that choosing between them was impossible and according to sporting goods editors, retailers, websites and product reviewers, this topic has attracted plenty of conflicted souls who form weird attachments to one brand or another and simply refuse to take sides.

Our unscientific thumbs up rating gives Pelican the edge, so if forced to choose, that’s our recommendation. On the other hand, Yeti fans are so vociferous, we’re pretty sure they would dispute this endlessly.

There’s enough information in this review to get you started on your journey to cooler heaven and only you know exactly which parameters your needs and budget call for, but we leave you with one final thought. Either brand will make you happy because these two companies are like bickering kids: they hold each other to high standards. That’s a good thing. After all, competition is healthy—even when it comes to coolers.