Throwdown: Brute Box Coolers Revisited

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A while back I wrote a comparison piece called Throwdown: Yeti Coolers v. Brute Box Coolers.   That piece was well received and still gets lots of traffic, but it’s now significantly out of date.  Yeti has continued to produce the same cooler designs, but they have updated many of their accessories, and in the mean time Brute Box has undergone an entire line relaunch.

The new Brute Boxes are a significant upgrade on what was already a quality product, mostly in the fit-and-finish sector.  On the original Brute Box, the latch components were similar to the Engel coolers; rubberized grips over a metal undercarriage.  Where Engel has recessed those latches to avoid grabbing line, however, Brute Box’s stuck out.  They were acceptable, sure, but they could be improved upon, and that’s what Brute has done:

25_clasp__37046.1355805200.1280.1280This design eliminates metal altogether.  Although the original latches (like Engel’s) were stainless steel, in a saltwater environment even stainless can rust over time and abuse–especially parts that take a lot of wear and tear.  Brute has also significantly upgraded the actual finish on the cooler.  With the old models, the hard plastic exterior had a porous or even spongy appearance.  Compared to a $40 Coleman they were still exceptionally nice, but over time those pores can pick up dirt and grit which is almost impossible to clean out.  Version 2.0’s shiny, hard finish is much harder to mar and much easier to clean.

Where Brute did not need to make any upgrades was in the performance of the cooler itself.  I did a four-cooler ice retention runoff for an upcoming article in Fly Rod & Reel magazine.  While I won’t reveal the overall results here, I will say that I came away impressed by all rotomolded coolers.  The greatest performance variable between the four coolers was simply the size of the cooler.  We used the same amount of ice for each cooler in order to be fair. Consequently, we found that the more air around the ice, the faster it melted.  But even on the fastest-melting coolers, one bag of ice lasted for more than three days, with no pre-cooling and no special treatment.  Meanwhile, our control cooler (a $40 special) lost its ice in less than 24 hours.

Yeti, Brute Box, Engel, and new competitors like Igloo with their Sportsman rotomolded line, not to mention Pelican, K2, and others, all have near equivalency in performance, fit and finish.  Personally, I find the new model Brute Box to be an exceptionally attractive cooler. It is also made in the USA, which most of its competitors are not. Functionally, I really appreciated the hard plastic handles, which made this cooler easier to carry than any of its competitors.  As a consequence of having a better grip on the box, the cooler felt lighter.  And of course if you’re toting it loaded with a friend, there are still the classic swing handles.

Here’s the old cooler design for comparison, along with a Yeti 45:

What about accessories?  Brute now offers both a camouflage and a white seat cushion, for boat or hunting use.  These coolers are absolutely burly enough to make them a permanent component in a high end watercraft.  If you merely need camouflage but not the cushion, for example for dove hunting, Brute sells a lid graphic in a variety of patterns.  Like Igloo and Engel, Brute is also now offering a vertical interior divider, which is extremely useful from an organizational standpoint.  One great way to use the divider is to also use commercial ice packs instead of water ice.  Use one side of the cooler to keep your drinks cold and the other side as a dry box for a camera bag, cell phone, wallet, keys, or a jacket. On a very hot day, this will actually keep your cell phone from overheating in the sun and thus keep it functional in an emergency.  If you do use water ice, which you will from time to time, you’ll appreciate the Bruce Box’s massive new drain hole.  In addition to draining the cooler faster, this also leaves enough of an air gap to avoid some of the “vacuum lock” problems other coolers can have while they are draining out.

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What all this gets us down to is price.  Brute Box’s 50 qt. is pretty much the standard model cooler.  At $319, it is a touch more expensive than model 1.0, but still significantly less than Yeti’s Tundra 50 at $379.  I strongly suggest comparing these coolers side by side.  This market has become something of a Ford v. Chevy scenario, with a lot of options around a central, highly functional theme.  The best way to make a good decision is to test drive these bad boys yourself, then do what is right for your needs and your budget.

Rating: Five stars out of five.

Purchase: From Brute Outdoors or at your better-quality local outdoor retailer.

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