What Size Cooler Do You Need For Elk? EXPLAINED IN DETAIL

What Size Cooler For Elk?

If you’re heading off on your first Elk hunt a common question that gets asked is “What size cooler or coolers do I need for Elk?” I hunted the web and collected all the advice so you know exactly what size cooler you need.

For boned out Elk you will need a minimum of a 120-150 Quart cooler plus it’s recommended to bring a second smaller cooler for the extra meat just in case. For quartered Elk, length is just as important as size and you will need a cooler at least 32-34 inches in length. A 150-Quart cooler should store 2 Quarters, while a 200+ Quart cooler can likely fit 4 quarters. You’ll still need a second cooler for the scraps/extra meat.

A Yeti 160 or Yeti 210 plus a Yeti 65 are your best premium cooler options

An Igloo Quick and Cool 150 plus a Coleman Xtreme 62 Wheeled are your best budget options.

The advice given for what size cooler (or coolers) you need for Elk meat is pretty standard across the board with some minor variations. So the above recommendations should serve you well.

There are a few factors to take into account when deciding what size cooler you are going to get, and then later we will talk about what brand of coolers to buy and if you should bother investing in a high-end cooler or not.

So Exactly What Size Cooler Do You Need For Elk?

Depending on whether you plan to just quarter your Elk, bone it out or have it fully processed will affect what size coolers you need.

However, a common thread among all the advice out there is to not just rely on one cooler. Always have at least one large cooler for the majority of your meat (or maybe 2-3 medium sized coolers) and then have a spare cooler for the extras.

The spare cooler can be used at the beginning of the trip for storing dry goods, or your own personal food. Then filled up with meat for the journey home.

So let’s look at the sizes of coolers you’ll need for each scenario:

What Size Cooler Do You Need For Quartered Elk?

If you want to transport your meat quartered then you’re going to need a larger cooler than if you bone it out.

The length of your cooler is extremely important.

An Elk Quarter is generally 32-34 inches in length, and a big mountain bull Elk might be 36 inches, so you need a cooler at least that length across.

A 150-Quart cooler should fit 2 quarters, but if you want to fit all 4 quarters in one cooler you will need something that is 200-Quart or bigger.

You’ll also need a second cooler around the 65-Quart mark for the extras – backstops, neckstraps, burger meat etc – in game bags.

This second cooler you can use for personal use at the start of the trip and fill it up with meat for the way home.

Budget Cooler Options For Quartered Elk

For the best budget coolers for quartered Elk I recommend the coolers below. Click the price link to see them on Amazon.

Igloo Quick and Cool 150-Quart:

Plus

Coleman Xtreme 62-Quart Wheeled:

Premium Cooler Options For Quartered Elk

For the best premium coolers for quartered Elk I recommend the coolers below. Click the price link to see them on Amazon.

Yeti Tundra 210:
or
Yeti Tundra 160 (150-Quart):

Plus

Yeti Tundra 65:
or
RTIC 65-Quart:

The below video explains perfectly what size cooler you need for quartered Elk:

What Size Cooler Do You Need For Boned Out or Processed Elk?

It’s probably more likely you’ll be looking to take boned out Elk home, rather than the full quarters. This means that the length of the cooler is less important as the pieces of meat are much smaller.

Capacity is still an issue though as you’re looking at storing roughly 200 lbs of meat, plus you’ll need ice to keep the meat cold.

The general consensus is that for boned out Elk a 100-Quart cooler will NOT be big enough. A 120-Quart is the bare minimum and 150-Quart is on the safe side. Plus a smaller cooler for extras

Alternatively 2 x 85-Quart coolers can also work with a smaller cooler for extras.

Here’s a full list of all the personalised recommendations I found on the variety of hunting forums out there. These are recommendations pulled from Rokslide Forum, Hunt Talk, BowSite, Hunt Talk (again) and Elk101.

  • 110-Quart + 65-Quart
  • 150-Quart + 2 x 60-Quart
  • 2 x 85-Quart + 60-Quart
  • 200-Quart + 120-Quart (but at least 2×120-Quart)
  • 2 x 120-Quart
  • 2 x 120-Quart
  • 4-5 x standard coolers
  • 100-125 Quart (150 to be on the safe side)
  • 120-Quart (but multiple coolers is better for air circulation)
  • 150-Quart
  • 150-Quart
  • 150-Quart
  • 120-Quart (with a couple of bags of ice spread out between the meat)
  • 2 x 120-Quart coolers (+ 3 bags of ice in each)
  • 150-Quart fully (butchered with just enough room for dry ice)
  • 2 x 100-Quart coolers (allows for more ice)
  • 2 x 100-Quart (with wheels)
  • 120-Quart + 40-Quart
  • 100-Quart + 40-Quart
  • 150-Quart + 55-Quart (for overflow)
  • 150 + smaller one

As you can see the recommendation is generally always a minimum of 120-Quart + 60-Quart, with quite a few people recommending 2 large coolers.

To be safe I would say get a 150-Quart cooler + 60-Quart cooler.

Budget Cooler Options For Boned Out or Processed Elk

For the best budget coolers for boned out Elk I recommend the coolers below. Click the price link to see them on Amazon.

Igloo Quick and Cool 150-Quart:

Plus

Coleman Xtreme 62-Quart Wheeled:

Premium Cooler Options For Boned Out or Processed Elk

For the best premium coolers for boned out Elk I recommend the coolers below. Click the price link to see them on Amazon.

Yeti Tundra 160 (150-Quart):
or
RTIC 145-Quart:

Plus

Yeti Tundra 65:
or
RTIC 65-Quart:

Do You Need A Premium or a Budget Cooler For Elk?

When you’re looking at purchasing these large coolers it starts getting quite expensive. Even the cheaper coolers are upwards of $100 and the more expensive ones you’re looking at $500+.

So how do you know if you need an expensive cooler or if you can get away with a cheaper one?

The main factors to consider are time on the hunt, travel time back home and the outside temperature.

Basically, the longer you are hunting and more travel time you have to get home, the more likely you are to need a premium cooler.

A good quality cooler like the Yeti 160, with some dry ice or frozen milk jugs can keep your meat frozen/cold for up to a week, and can easily do 2-4 days.

A cheaper cooler will struggle to keep your meat cold for days, but will be fine for a car ride home under 12 hours.

The last thing you want is to have all your meat spoil, so take time to choose the right cooler and spend money on a good cooler if you can.

If you can’t afford a Yeti 160 then an RTIC 145-Quart cooler is a fair amount cheaper or the Igloo Quick and Cooler 150 is a good budget option.

Ultimately it's up to you what type of cooler you buy. A premium cooler will always perform better but you can get away with a cheaper cool if you follow steps to keep ice longer in your cooler and you may need to buy extra ice on the way home.

Best Premium Cooler Options For Elk

There are a lot of great roto-molded coolers out there that you can choose from. But not many companies make roto-molded coolers big enough for Elk hunting.

Yeti Coolers

Yeti Cooler Logo

Yeti are the pioneers in high-quality coolers and they make large coolers big enough for all your meat. You’ll need to buy a Yeti or a Grizzly if you want to store an entire quartered Elk in one cooler as other brands just don’t make them as big.

Yeti Tundra 160 (150-Quart):

Yeti Tundra 210:

RTIC Coolers

RTIC make coolers extremely similar to Yeti only cheaper. Their slogan is “Overbuilt, not overpriced” and they do have a 145-Quart cooler which should be big enough for boned out Elk.

You could also opt for the larger Yeti but then save some money on your smaller cooler by getting an RTIC or a Lifetime cooler (which is even cheaper).

RTIC 65-Quart:

RTIC 145-Quart:

Grizzly Coolers

Grizzly coolers are made in the USA and are one of the only other companies to make coolers big enough for Elk.

They have a 100-Quart, 165-Quart and even a whopping 400-Quart cooler.

Grizzly 100-Quart:

Grizzly 400-Quart:

Orion Coolers

Orion coolers have some of the best performance of any cooler but they don’t have any coolers over 100-Quart. You could however get 2 x 85-Quart coolers. This is a great option but it doesn’t come cheap:

Orion Cooler 85-Quart:

Ozark Trail Coolers (Walmart’s Brand) or Lifetime Coolers

Ozark Trail Coolers or Lifetime coolers don’t come in sizes big enough for Elk, but as most people recommend taking a secondary smaller cooler these can be great high-quality budget options for your secondary cooler.

Ozark Trail 52-Quart (see latest price on Walmart.com)

Lifetime Cooler 55-Quart (see latest price on Walmart.com)

Best Budget Cooler Options For Elk

If you’re looking to save money then there are some good budget cooler options out there that have performance close to that of a high-end cooler.

For the larger cooler your cheapest options are the Igloo or the Coleman Xtreme.

Igloo Quick and Cool 150-Quart:

Coleman Xtreme 100-Quart Wheeled:

For the smaller sized cooler your best budget options are either the Lifetime cooler, which is just under $100, or the Coleman Xtreme which is under $50.

I would avoid other “regular coolers” as the ice retention is terrible on them compared to the 2 budget coolers I just mentioned.

Lifetime Cooler 55-Quart (see latest price on Walmart.com)

Coleman Xtreme 50-Quart:

How To Pack Your Cooler With Elk Meat

It’s very important that you pack your meat properly in your cooler.

The #1 rule is don’t pack warm meat in your cooler.

If you pack warm meat in your cooler it is going to be extremely hard to cool down and it is much more likely to spoil.

Hang your meat up to cool down and get up at the coldest time of the day, when your meat is at it’s coldest, and pack you’re cooler at that time.

If you simply pack cold Elk meat in a high-quality cooler it should be fine for a few hours without ice. But ideally you’ll have some frozen milk jugs with you to help keep your meat cold.

Put the milk jugs on top of the meat, not on the bottom. Cold air sinks so this will allows the cold to move through the cooler towards the meat at the bottom.

Dry ice is also a great option as it’s colder than regular ice and can keep your meat frozen. Just make sure to put a layer of cardboard or a fleece blanket between your meat and the dry ice otherwise your meat will get horrible freezer burn.

Once you pack your cooler with your meat and ice do not open the cooler until you’re getting the meat out. Don’t open it to check on it as this will introduce warm air into the cooler and your meat won’t last as long.

Trust in your cooler and trust in its ability to keep your meat cold.

When it comes to deciding on what size cooler you need for your Elk, it makes sense to simply learn from those who have already done it.

There are loads of forum posts, as well as educational videos helping you to choose what size cooler you need, as well as what kind of cooler you should buy for transporting your meat.

How To Fit Your Coolers On Your Truck/In Your Car For Elk Hunting

Given the size of cooler you need for Elk it can become hard to actually fit the coolers in your car for the trip.

Get A Hitch

Installing a hitch onto the back of your car or truck is a great solution to help fit your cooler. Tie the cooler down onto your hitch and you don’t have to worry about fitting it in your car or in the tray of your truck:

Rola Vortex Steel Cargo Carrier, Hitch-Mount:

Use Your Coolers For Dry Storage or Personal Use

You only need your coolers for the Elk meat once you tag out, assuming you tag out at all. It’s likely this will be somewhere towards the end of your hunt.

In the meantime use your coolers to store other things. Coolers can be a great place to store dry goods, and you can also use them to store your personal groceries until you get your catch.