Camping is a big thing with my family, and coolers are an invaluable part of that. We travel with multiple coolers—one for food and one for drinks. (Our trailer does have a refrigerator, but with frequent trips to bear country, the fridge tends to be used for storage while the coolers can be safely locked in the truck at night.) A good cooler keeps everything cold (naturally), but the better ones cut down on trips to the store for ice, last for more than a season or two, and are durable enough to act as seats if needed. Going into the holiday season, Orca sent me one of their new LiddUp coolers to try out. Not exactly prime outdoor testing conditions, but I gave it a shot.
A Premium Cooler
Orca is an American company that makes a wide range of premium hard and soft-sided coolers, along with accessories like drink holders. The 35-quart Orca LiddUp cooler they sent has almost nothing in common with the coolers we own. There’s a passing visual resemblance and they both serve the same purpose, but the Orca cooler is clearly in a different class (and at $299.99, it should be).
The Orca cooler features rotomolded construction, which makes it very solid (and a bit on the heavy side). However, there are heavy duty, flexible handles to take the weight of the cooler and contents. The hinges are actual hinges, not just bendy plastic that inevitably breaks after a season or two of use. There’s a rubber gasket around the inside of the lid to ensure a tight seal, and Orca says there is also integrated insulation. A cargo net is securely attached to the back of the cooler, offering storage space for accessories like a bottle opener. The drain plug is recessed and threaded, so it doesn’t get in the way and it won’t accidentally pop out.
The lid isn’t just sealed with a gasket, it’s held tightly closed to protect the contents and keep the cold in. Orca uses an interesting method: heavy rubber latches shaped like a whale tail. They work well, but more than one person was puzzled at first in terms of how to actually operate the lid securing system.
I was curious to see if the heavy rubber would become too hard in extreme cold temperature, but I brought the Orca cooler outside to a deep-winter campfire for the better part of an evening and the latches remained functional.
Orca says the LiddUp can keep contents cold for up to 10 days, but I wasn’t able to test that claim effectively. I popped a 12-pack of beer in with two 3-pound bags of ice, and it kept the beer icy cold for about four days at room temperature (72-degrees), which is better than average and that’s without packing all the available space with ice. BTW, that combination didn’t even fill the cooler half-way…
LiddUp Lighting Is More Than a Gimmick
The feature Orca is promoting over its other hard-sided coolers is the LiddUp integrated LED lighting system. There’s a panel on the front of the cooler accessed by removing a screw, and it holds four AA batteries (included) to power bright white LEDs. As the name implies, when you lift the lid up, the LEDs automatically activate and illuminate the interior of the cooler. They’re angled down so they don’t shine in your eyes, and they turn off as soon as the lid is closed.
I thought the LEDs would be kind of a gimmick—I use my smartphone for searching a cooler for drinks in the dark—but it turns out the feature is actually really useful. The lighting is much more effective than a smartphone light and there’s zero risk of accidentally dropping the phone in a bath of ice water.
I really liked the Orca LiddUp cooler, but it’s not a slam dunk choice. At 25 pounds, it’s relatively heavy, and the price tag is steep compared to the $75 or so I’m accustomed to paying for “extreme” coolers of similar capacity at a big box store.
However, with an investment in an Orca LiddUp, cooler replacement may well be a thing of the past which will save money over time. There should be a considerable savings in buying ice as well. And there’s no argument that the integrated LED lighting is really useful.
I usually do a yearly round-up of outdoor gear that made an impression during my summer camping trips (here’s last year’s version). Keep an eye out this year for the Orca LiddUp cooler to make an appearance. I already have a few weeks in August booked and plan to bring the Orca along, so I’ll be able to give a better idea of how well it keeps things cool in summer heat. Orca says the LiddUp cooler is also certified to be bear resistant, but I’ve seen what bears can do to coolers—I don’t think I’ll be testing that…
Disclosure: Orac provided a cooler for evaluation but had no input into this review.