When you hear Otterbox, chances are you think smartphone case. That’s where the company made its name, and Otterbox is now synonymous with rugged, protective cases. But Otterbox also sells outdoor gear, and recently launched a new line of coolers including the Trooper soft coolers. I’ve been testing the smallest, and least expensive of these, the $249.99 Otterbox Trooper 20.
A $250 Soft Cooler?
I’ve been carrying the Trooper 20 around to various events for the past several months. The first thing that surprises people is the Otterbox logo on the cooler. The second thing is the price, and it’s hard to get past this one as a major distinguishing factor. You can pick up a soft sided 20 quart cooler –the same capacity as the Trooper 20– from well known companies like Coleman for $20. In that context, the Trooper 20’s $249.99 price tag definitely raises eyebrows, despite Otterbox’s reputation for premium, rugged construction. And the slightly larger Trooper LT 30 cooler is $50 more…
That being said, there are a few premium coolers like those made by Yeti, that run for similar prices to the Trooper series, if not more. But once the price conversation comes up, it’s hard to get that genie back in the bottle.
So what makes the Otterbox Trooper 20 worth 10x or more what other companies are charging for soft coolers?
Rugged Design and Extra Features
Because it’s an Otterbox, the Trooper 20 offers a rugged approach, and some nice design extras.
The opening is wide, for easy access. It doesn’t take any effort to dump in a bag of ice, or fill the inside to its 20 quart capacity (that works out to around 20 soda cans). It’s also big enough to fit in some food containers, although nothing larger than 6-inches by 8-inches, unless it’s quite narrow. The lid seals securely with a latching system designed for single-handed use and features a watertight gasket. This worked well –in testing, it didn’t leak even when filled with water and turned upside down– although if you’re not familiar with it, the latch mechanism can be a little confusing.
There are several color schemes to choose from (my review unit was an attractive Alpine Ascent green with gray trim and a high contrast orange interior). The coated nylon exterior is tough and durable, making this cooler well suited to outdoor use. Otterbox says it’s puncture, UV, chemical and water resistant, and there’s a heavy duty base for added protection from rough ground. The whole thing is IP65 rated against water. A zippered external pocket is water resistant, for safe storage of valuables. There is an integrated external accessory mounting system (a bottle opener is included and other accessories like a drink holder are sold separately), the carrying strap is well padded and attached by carabiner clips. If you decide to remove the strap, there are woven nylon carrying handles as well. And the cooler is also covered by a limited lifetime warranty.
I should note that after three consecutive days in direct sun and high temperatures, there were several bubbles visible along the edge of the trim piece on the lid (you can see it in some of my photos). However, the trim did not actually peel off and once the cooler had been back indoors for a few hours, they disappeared. I don’t see any signs that the trim is coming loose.
If you want something bigger, the Otterbox Trooper LT30 offers the same features, plus larger (30 quart) capacity, and padded shoulder straps so it can be worn like a backpack.
Does It Deliver 3+ Days of Ice?
Looks, ruggedness and clever design are all nice, but the primary purpose of a cooler is keeping things cold. Otterbox claims the Trooper 20 will keep ice for three or more days. So how did it perform?
Well, that depends.
Through the late winter and spring, I used the Trooper 20 at a number of gatherings. At room temperature (say 70 to 72 degrees or so), I would check in on it in the days after the party and it definitely would keep ice for three and sometimes four days.
We had a heat wave last week, providing the perfect opportunity for an extreme test. I tried to keep the ice to drink ratio close to the 2:1 Otterbox suggests in the cooler manual. I put in six assorted beverages (about 12 oz each for roughly 4 pounds of liquid), along with a 6.6lb bag of ice and a little extra from my freezer. Then I sealed the Trooper 20 and left it on a patio that’s in full sun for about six hours every day. With temperatures in the high 80s and no cloud cover, this was about as punishing as the conditions are going to get where I live.
The cooler remained sealed, except a quick opening every 12 hours to check on the ice status. After 12 hours, the heat was taking its toll with liquid water visible. After 24 hours, there was still ice, but there was a lot of water. At 36 hours, there was no ice remaining. The drinks were still cool despite the heat, but not cold. At 48 hours, the drinks were only slightly cooler than the ambient temperature.
Otterbox recommends pre-cooling the cooler, which I did not do, but I can’t imagine that would have made a day and a half worth of difference. You could also load up more on ice, but more ice means less room for drinks.
So, based on my experience, the Trooper 20 lived up to the claims of 3+ days of ice when used in a comfortable temperature. But when things get hot and it’s left to broil in the sun, I wouldn’t expect much more than a day to a day and a half of cold drinks.
Should You Buy It?
As an avid camper for decades, I have owned many coolers. I’m always looking for a better soft sided cooler because that’s the one I use to take things to the beach, or to transport drinks to a friends’ neighboring campsite. It also does double duty carrying drinks and snacks to parties.
To me, keeping ice for multiple days isn’t that important in a soft sided cooler. I use the big, hard sided coolers that remain at the campsite for that. Instead, the soft sided cooler needs to keep things icy cold for a day. I put more emphasis on ergonomic design, since I’m going to be lugging this thing around.
The Otterbox Trooper 20 may not keep ice for the promised 3+ days (at least in blazing sun), but it still easily exceeds a day of keeping contents cold in tough conditions. And it does deliver that extended performance in more moderate temperatures. It is by far the best designed cooler I’ve used in terms of ergonomics and extras –like the accessory mounting system. The rugged design is effective and seems durable, making it ideal for camping. And lets face it, this cooler also looks “cooler” than most, showing that Otterbox aesthetic.
But I’d have a hard time justifying $249.99 for a cooler, even one that seems designed to last for years. If your budget has room for it, the Otterbox Trooper 20 is a great option –and a definite conversation starter– but for most people it’s probably overkill.
Disclosure: Otterbox provided a cooler for evaluation but had no input into this review.