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OR Summer

Gear trend: Rolling coolers stay premium

Many of the leading cooler brands have added wheels to larger sizes, and they each say it's "all about convenience" and "ease of use."

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Right now, coolers are more customizable and personal than ever before.

Most recently, in January 2018, OtterBox launched a wheel set that snaps into place below the brand’s 45-quart and 65-quart coolers.

“Customers can customize their cooler. Some people don’t want wheels at all. Some people don’t like the wheels on when they take the cooler in and out of the car, and then they put on the wheels when they get to the park or the beach,” said Rachel Rodriguez, product line manager at OtterBox. When the brand introduced its cooler collection in fall 2017, the plan included a wheel set. The design was intricate, hence the delay.

“We aren’t seeing an increase in wheeled coolers in the premium product line. There are more lower-end coolers in the $25-$50 price range instead of $200-$400 range—but the competition that’s existed hasn’t grown,” said Rodriguez.

But one of the lead premium brands finally added wheels to it’s lineup: YETI is launching the Tundra Haul—a new iteration of the brand’s 10-year-old, first-ever cooler—with wheels, in response to consumer requests. The never-flat, plastic wheels have zero air. The wheels move independently on their own bearing system, and there’s no axel, which prevents heat from building that would melt ice. The handle is designed so users can’t clip their heels while they’re pulling the load, and it also doesn’t slam down—it retreats slowly back to the ground—which is ideal for sound-sensitive activities like birdwatching and saltwater fly-fishing.

RovR booth at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2018
RovR’s booth at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2018 in the Venture Out area.Morgan Tilton

RovR is also expanding its exiting lineup of coolers-on-wheels with the Rollr 45: a 45-quart cooler with all the bells and whistles of the brand’s established 80- and 60-quart coolers.

Pelican debuted rolling coolers close to four years ago, a couple of years after the brand launched coolers. “The biggest pain point of the super cooler category is weight,” said Jeff Diamond, Pelican director of product management. Read: ’Super cooler’ refers to high-quality coolers that are designed with a craftsmanship focus and functionality. Hence, the brand’s decision to add variations of coolers—quart 45, 55, and 80—with durable wheels for pulling heavy loads across rocks, dirt, and sand.

“Wheels help with weight,” said Alison Rose, of Pelican’s consumer division. Once you add beer, food, soda, and ice, a cooler will be heavy. Wheels offer ease of use.”

By 2020, Pelican plans to transition the manufacturing process for its roller coolers away from rotational molding—which creates a heavier product—and into injection molding. The result will be 30-percent less weight.

Trey Van Buskirk displays the Pelly pelican design on Igloo’s 4-quart cooler.Morgan Tilton

In general, the number one reason why rolling coolers are popular, Diamond said, is that wheels turn a two-person job into a one-person job. A full 80-quart cooler can be pulled by a single user. Plus, the cooler doubles as a trolley. Users can strap chairs, towels, and other gear across the top.

“YETI started in the fishing and hunting space, and coolers were being used in single destinations,” Diamond said. “Wheels weren’t as important. Now, the category of hard-sided, super coolers is more well-known in consumer areas like soccer fields and the beach: those coolers appeal to a wider audience, so designs need to make the coolers easier to move around. The product needs to provide solutions for general applications and an all-around recreational user.”

Any cooler that’s high quality—even those without wheels—is still seen as a competitor, said Diamond. “YETI, OtterBox, Igloo, Coleman, and RovR: I view them as a consumer would, so I consider all of their coolers as competition, and brands in competition share ideas, which is healthy.”