During its early stages, AO coolers seemed to be one of the least likely brands to succeed. However, there was one thing about AO that was rather rare. This brand is one of the few out there that spent over 20 years developing and improving soft-sided coolers and you can guess how much progress you can make in two decades.
Accordingly, AO coolers have arguably taken over a large part of the soft-sided market and a step into the hard-sided one & this article will help us understand how. In that respect, the following review will tackle the brand’s variety, design, quality and most importantly insulation and ice retention abilities.
So, let’s get right to it.
Available Sizes & Dimensions
Like most prominent brands, AO managed to extend its branches into both soft and hard-sided streams. However, it is important to note that their soft-sided selection is simply impeccable whereas the hard coolers are still in the early stages.
Consequently, let us initiate this segment by discovering the wide variety of soft-sided coolers the brand has to offer!
Soft-Sided AO Coolers
AO Canvas Series
First selection in line and one of the best sellers is the Canvas Series. Now, in order to attain such popularity, the brand had to inject this series with enough of a variety to appeal to most categories out there. Accordingly, the Canvas comes in a 12, 24, 36 and 48 pack as well as a backpack version.
Accordingly, AO Canvas coolers are highly versatile and that makes them highly practical in multiple situations, including anglers, hunters, campers and overall outdoors lovers who require only 24 hours of ice retention.
AO Vinyl Series
In case you were looking for a vinyl soft-sided cooler then this series should be your perfect match. In fact, the Vinyl Series is one of the most prominent selections presented by AO because of its variety of sizes, uses and premium structure.
Speaking of variety, the Vinyl series of AO coolers comes with an equally impressive selection of 6 coolers: 12, 15, 24, 36, 38 and a 48 pack. Hence, you can expect to find a specific cooler for anyone out there no matter your preference or requirement. Consequently, whether you are an amateur angler, hunter, camper or beach lover, you’re going to find the perfect Vinyl cooler for you.
As far as build quality goes, the Vinyl series goes a step further compared to the previous line and invests in a 1000 denier vinyl coat that is significantly tougher than vinyl. Nonetheless, colors in this line are limited to black, royal blue and silver.
AO Carbon Series
The Carbon series is more limited because it prefers to focus on compatibility and resilience. Certainly, the market of soft-sided coolers needs a cooler that is both soft, resilient and lightweight for longer journeys. Hence, AO seems to think that this series answers to all those questions in one product.
AO Carbon coolers come in a variety of 4 coolers: 12, 24, 36 and 48 packs. Thus, you can expect the target audience to be limited in comparison to the previous series with over 6 sizes. However, the AO Carbon coolers are still very capable of handling mediocre tasks such as a day’s fishing trip, a short camping session or the occasional picnic.
Since we mentioned resilience as a pillar of this series, we think it’s necessary to detail the build materials and process through which these coolers go through. Accordingly, all the Carbon Series coolers are made of woven 1000 denier vinyl in carbon-fiber pattern as well as a heavyweight leak-proof liner.
AO Backpack Coolers
Under this segment, we will briefly discuss the practical little lineup that AO dedicates to Backpack coolers. Now, it is important to note that AO invested in Backpack coolers in a couple of its series. However, this segment is going to focus on the special 18 pack soft-sided backpack cooler that AO proposes in 8 different skins.
Accordingly, The backpack model of AO coolers comes in a high quality TPU liner which is stronger and more eco-friendly. Also, the backpack design is very casual in standard colors and that would allow you to take it anywhere you go without being noticed. This feature will push this backpack design from a strictly hunting, angling and camping soft-sided cooler to a possible daily commuter / workplace cooler for 9 to 5 workers.
AO Hybrid Series
AO’s hybrid selection is one of the most high-end selection of coolers out there. Indeed, this soft-sided lineup is limited to two sizes: 24 & 64 pack. However, the reach of the Hybrid AO goes further than most of the selections above.
Accordingly, these hybrid coolers are resilient and practical which can be seen through their welded thermoplastic polyurethane coat and molded Eva bottom. Moreover, these coolers have removable shoulder straps for a better transportability / compatibility profile, making them perfect for fishing, hunting, camping and any activity that requires long distance crossing.
AO Stow-N-Go Series
The AO Stow-N-Go Series is more or less the most limited lineup AO has ever invested in. Now, whether this is an attempt at emphasizing the value of this cooler or a lack of interest, AO decided to stick with one size in this line. Accordingly, the Stow-N-Go series is represented by a 38 pack single cooler.
The series might shrink in terms of variety but it definitely shines when it comes to build quality and design. It must be noted that this cooler is designed for compact spaces, which makes it perfect for skiing & fishing boats as well as off-road vehicles. Moreover, this cooler features a thick, high-density wall with a closed cell foam insulation, pushing the cooler to attain a full 24 hours ice life.
AO Hunter Groomsmen Series
The Gunter Groomsmen Series happens to land on the more affordable end of AO soft-sided coolers. However, it is still one of the most reliable coolers for hunters and outdoors lovers.
Accordingly, the series at hand comes in a variety of 5 sizes, ranging between 12 and 48 packs, which is supposed to be plenty for people with different needs and requirements. Thus, you can definitely find your match in this selection whether you’re an amateur angler, hunter, avid camper or an outdoors lover with a limited activity range of 24 hours.
Speaking of which, it might not sound like much but the 24 hours ice retention life on the Hunter Groomsmen is still impressive, considering the affordable price tag.
AO Hard-Sided Coolers
With over 25 years of experience in the soft-sided cooler department, AO thought it was about time to invest its expertise in hard-sided coolers. Given, hard-sided coolers are more practical than their soft counterpart since they come in handy in a variety of scenarios. Hence, it was only a matter of time to see a brand with evident success in one isle to upgrade to the next.
First, one of the most interesting aspects about these hard coolers is the fact that they are Rotomolded from the get go. In that respect, these coolers aren’t only robust but they’re also granted a significant advantage in ice retention time.
In terms of variety, AO is definitely still in its early hard-sided days because they’ve only introduced one size for the time being. The AO 80Qt hard-sided cooler is dense because of the 3 inches thick walls and that means it has a lot of potential, which will be discussed in the following segments thoroughly.
Design & Build Quality
Design is one of the strengths of AO coolers because of the impressive variety but also since all these different Series share the same clever technicalities. In that respect, it is hard to discuss design without hinging on the value it contributes to performance.
Accordingly, AO is one of the brands that introduces various designs with various aspects but the difference lies in the price range. Hence, the more you’re willing to invest in a soft-sided cooler, the more likely you are to get a smarter more practical design. While the Canvas Series looks like a standard hand bag / gym bag, AO coolers only get better up the line and a great example of that is the Stow-N-Go series.
The example of the Stow-N-Go cooler is a great one because it emphasizes the compatibility aspect of the cooler without sacrificing the strength of the walls. Hence, you’ll notice that this cooler isn’t only strongly structured but it’s also cleverly designed to fit in tight spots.
In terms of quality, the same reasoning applies here because of the wide variety that AO presents. Now, it is important to keep in mind that all AO coolers are considered to be tougher than any “affordable” option out there because this is a brand with a name and a reputation to maintain. Nevertheless, it still makes sense that the more you invest in a cooler, the better quality you’ll be receiving.
Consequently, the range of quality on AO coolers starts with the Canvas series which is a standard cooler that isn’t exactly supported by any form of protective walls. Then, there is the AO Vinyl series, which is definitely better looking and tougher because of the 1000 denier Vinyl walls. One step further and you’ll meet the great AO Carbon Series, also known as the face of the brand because it is resilience and highly popular. This series is understandably expensive because of its woven 1000 denier Vinyl / carbon fiber pattern.
In conclusion, AO coolers are generally resilient, structured with tough liners and versatile enough to cater for any kind of outdoors activity. However, not all Series have the same longevity which brings us back to our first statement: the more you’re willing to invest, the stronger a cooler you’ll end up with.
Ice Retention & Insulation Ability
Insulation is probably the biggest contributor to sales in the industry of soft and hard-sided coolers because we’d be lying if we said that ice life doesn’t matter. Yes, quality is important but what is the point of a strong cooler with a limited insulation.
In that respect, AO cooler decided to go for a standard measure on all of its series and that is the 24 hours rule. It is rather surprising to realize that all AO coolers, despite the differences, come down to an equal ice retention time.
Nonetheless, it is important to note here that the more expensive series are more likely to push through this time limit. However, AO is fully aware that it is way better to under-value their products and give you a pleasant surprise in the end, instead of over-valuing these coolers and ending up with a bag of water by midday.
While 24 hours sounds like a mediocre performance at best, it is necessary to understand that coolers that go beyond this limit are far more expensive. Nonetheless, AO coolers still exhibit some premium insulation qualities such as the 3 / 4 inches of high-density foams, a heavy-duty leak proof liner, lightweight polyethylene film for moisture prevention and heavy-duty polyester with vinyl coating.
On the hard-sided section, AO coolers are definitely insulation beasts with the ability to maintain ice for as long as 5 days. Accordingly, the hard-sided department in the AO isle benefits from a similar 3 to 4 inches thick walls, a robust polyethylene crust, a rotational molding build and a freezer grade gasket.
One of the best aspects of AO coolers is the rich line of features that comes along. Thus, in the following segment, we will try to highlight some of the most prominent features designed by the brand. So, here’s what you’ll find on every soft-sided AO cooler:
One of the best features on AO coolers is the large mouth opening design. This little design trick isn’t only going to make it really hard to pack and unpack the cooler but it’ll also give these coolers better ventilation and help them dry out quickly once washed. Speaking of which, washing AO coolers is significantly easier because of the wide opening.
1000 denier lining
Another prominent aspect of AO coolers is the fact that all of them, with the exception of the Canvas Series, are supported via a 1000 Denier Liner. But first, what is this 1000 Denier? Well, in less fancy / technical terms, this type of liner is basically more resilient, waterproof and tear proof than any other standard material.
One of the most influential features in the insulation department is the UV coating that is found on most AO coolers. This type of UV Coat plays a major role in ice retention because it manages to repel most of the UV rays before they enter the walls of the cooler. However, whatever gets through the walls is going to have to face the thick foam insulation wall.
Shoulder straps and Handles
A solid feature on any soft-sided cooler is a reliable shoulder strap and handle. Hence, AO went ahead and invested a little more into its shoulder straps via soft / padded shoulder patches to prevent the cooler from burdening your shoulders in long term.
As far as handles are concerned, the more premium AO coolers benefit from a padded joint that allows you to carry the bag easily and comfortably. However, the lower end models feature simple nylon straps.
- Easy release buckles
- Padded Backpack straps
- Eye hooks
- Modal Eva Tub
Who is it For?
As it has been made obvious already in previous segments on this AO cooler review, the soft and hard-sided selections are rich enough to cater for pretty much everyone out there.
Accordingly, whether you’re into long term or short term journeys, AO has you covered thanks to their dependable soft sided coolers and a single 80Qt hard-sided option.
AO Cooler Vs. Yeti
While AO has established a firm grasp over the market, it would be more interesting to look at it in the light of a prominent brand. Hence, the following segment will discuss the advantages and disadvantages between AO coolers and Yeti’s Soft Sided selection.
Now, while both brands are considered to be high figures in the industry, AO coolers definitely has a deeper grasp of the soft-sided department. Nevertheless, Yeti is still a pretty outrageous contender for AO, considering that it features some of the most expensive soft-sided coolers ever.
That being said, AO coolers are definitely more versatile and variable because they come in a multitude of shapes and sizes while Yeti presents a humble variety in 5 coolers total. Thus, variety is definitely an advantage for AO coolers and you are guaranteed to find your match within their rich selection.
In terms of quality, AO seems to be more diversified in this sector, which explains the huge different in prices from one series to another. On the other hand, Yeti is more of a purist brand because they commit to one line of extremely high-end coolers.
In brief, AO coolers exhibit 1000 denier carbon / Vinyl liner and a robust polyurethane UV repellent coat at their peak while Yeti coolers are consistently supportive of their Dryhide shell which is a high density fabric, water proof and resistant to mildew, punctures and UV rays. Therefore, we must give the quality aspect win to Yeti hands down.
As for performance, AO coolers seems to have agreed on a standard duration of 24 hours maximum, which is humble to say the most frankly. So, once you compare that to the bare minimum of 3 days ice retention provided by Yeti soft-sided coolers, it becomes quite obvious who deserves the win here. Nonetheless, it is critical to keep in mind that that Yeti coolers cost 2 to 3 times more than a high-end AO cooler.
AO Coolers – Bottom Line
In the end, AO coolers are one of the most satisfying options on the market because the brand managed to find a neat balance between price and performance / quality which is undeniably rare in the industry.
That said, it seems that this AO cooler review has come to an end and that will inevitably put the final decision on your table. But before you pull that trigger, remember that AO coolers are resilient, affordable and capable of giving you a whole 24 hours of strong ice life.