The ORCA Extra Heavy Duty 58qt came out on top in our insulation tests, both maintaining safe food temperatures and holding ice the longest. It did this despite utilizing a design that reduces bulk and increases ease of transport. While some improvements could be made to make draining easier and ensure the lid doesn’t snap shut during normal camp chores, the ORCA’s dominance in insulating ability and excellence in portability made it our choice for best insulation on a more compact cooler. Most impressively, it competes really well with the Yeti Tundra 65, one of our favorite coolers, and such a great performer that we felt it would never relinquish the crown.
Despite being a serious heavyweight in the cooler category the ORCA doesn’t take itself too seriously: it is available in a variety of funky colors and includes whimsical whale tale shaped latches.
The ORCA dominated the food safety portion of our insulation test. It was able to maintain temperatures below the FDA recommended 40˚F for an impressive six full days. It outlasted the nearest competitor by a full 24 hours. That’s another full day off omelets, cheese, and sausages. It also retained ice for an impressive seven days. That translates to a full week of frosty beers and refreshing beverages. This performance earned the ORCA our top spot on the insulation category. This is particularly impressive considering worst performing model, the Rubbermaid Extreme, scored a 2 on the same test.
The ORCA is the clear choice for anyone looking to push insulation performance on long trips far away from places that sell ice. This insulative dominance may be due, in part, to its unique shape. The ORCA is slightly taller than most of the models we tested, making its shape a bit closer to a perfect cube. This geometry decreases the surface area to volume ratio, meaning heat has fewer surfaces through which to radiate into the Extra Heavy Duty than in other more rectangular models of a similar size. Or it could just be magic, it’s probably more fun to believe it’s magic.
How Tough is the Orca 58?
The ORCA’s design has all the reliable hallmarks of high-end construction. It has pin style hinges that look and feel like they can stand up to loads of abuse. The lid feels solid, and the latches are thick and durable. You have to search far and wide to find any user reviews complaining of durability issues. In testing structural integrity we found the lid seal on the ORCA to be one of the strongest; we couldn’t get any water to leak out no matter how much we knocked it around. All this scored the ORCA great in the durability category. It’s one of the toughest coolers out there, and far better than the worst performing models, which scored 3.
How Easy is It to Use It?
Ease of use is the only area where the Extra Heavy Duty doesn’t shine. It’s a bit below average in our ease of use testing, which saw scores ranging from 5 to 8. This is mostly due to its lid, which, like its namesake predatory whale, has a propensity to snap shut, seemingly in a hungry attempt to bite your hand off. While this can be annoying, and a bit scary if it catches you off guard, it can be dealt with. Just remember to keep one hand on the lid when you’re rummaging for snacks and you’ll be fine. It’s a small price to pay for the overall best performer in our testing.
The drain works well and is unobstructed by the handles, but does create some splashing when first unscrewing the plug and some water does trickle around onto the underside, but to a lesser extent than the Yeti Tundra. This is a problem we encountered, to varying degrees, with most of the high-end models we tested. This is probably due to high-end models generally utilizing plugs that screw into the cooler body rather than an extended spout. So if you’re looking for the increased performance of a high-end model these minor draining issues are hardly a compromise.
We found the latches, which attempt to make up for any shortcomings by being adorably shaped like little whale tails, just slightly harder to use than those on other high-end models. However, once you get used to them they are second nature and are so charming you may just want to give them pet names.
How Compact Is It?
The handles on the 58 Quart were some of the most comfortable we used. The combination of a semi-rigid rubber handle with nylon webbing attachments performed exceptionally well. The handle flexed and moved enough to comfortably distribute weight, but did not flex so much as to allow any pinching or uncomfortable pressure points. It placed second in our carry test just behind the Pelican Progear Elite. The ORCA 58 opts for a more cubic design, resulting in a smaller footprint but taller height than most of the other models. This additional height makes it just too tall for the smaller Yosemite National Park bear boxes. That added height may be an issue if you own a sedan, but we felt that this shape was a more economical use of space when loading up a pickup truck or station wagon. This cubic shape also facilitates an easier single-person carry using the inset handles, as you don’t have to reach your hands as far apart. Although, like all models of this size, we wouldn’t recommend attempting a one person carry with a fully loaded ORCA. The handle design and shape earned the ORCA a 7 in our portability testing. It shares the top spot with the Pelican ProGear Elite. The worst performer in this category was the Grizzly, which scored a 4.
The features on the ORCA 58 include an external mesh pocket, both extended and recessed handles, and pin style hinges.
The ORCA is not the most expensive cooler we tested, it is cheaper than most of the other high-end models, but it certainly occupies the upper end of the price range. If you have already decided that your intended use requires the increased performance of a high-end model, then this represents a great value. More casual users, such as those thinking about one or two long weekend camping trips each year, would probably be better served with our Best Value pick, the Coleman Xtreme 5-Day, which would serve those situations well at a much lower price.
Based on our review, the ORCA delivers best in class insulation capacity in a design that is easy to carry and packs well in most vehicles, which merited our Editor’s Choice Award. Despite a few shortcomings in the ease of use category, we feel the ORCA is the best cooler for those with a big budget looking for maximal performance.
– Matt Baker