Buying a cooler can be a bit daunting. How do you determine what cooler will keep your food cold?
The cooler that was recommended by that guy at work, the one who used it for beer in 80° weather for 2 days, might just be the worst option for you and your family on week long camping trip.
Here’s the Kicker:
It is almost impossible to determine what the best cooler for the money is. There are so many variables involved that we may never get it just right.
I’ll do my best to break down all the different elements of getting a valuable cooler. Coming up, I’ve got a few hacks, some food safety guidelines, I do my best to explain what makes coolers different from one another. Then I’ll finish up with a few recommendations
But first, Let’s ask ourselves a better question.
How to Choose the Right Cooler For You
The Secret to Choosing the Best Cooler is this:
Know exactly what you will be using a cooler for
This sounds a bit basic, but it’s the most important step
This depends on a few different factors.
- How will this be used? Is it for beer and soda at a Backyard Barbecue or a 2 week camping trip?
- How Many People are involved? More people means more food and drink which, in turn, means more required space
- How often will the opportunity to refill with ice present it self?
- What kind of food are you storing? Raw Meat? Frozen Items?
- How often will it be used?
I’m sure you get the idea. The length of use and food safety are the big factors here. There’s not much danger of illness if the beer gets a little warm. I am not advocating warm beer!
However, getting food poisoning when you are on a secluded 7 day adventure with small children is a pretty atrocious thought.
If you are planning a family that camps for 2 weeks every summer the amount of money you want to spend will be less that of a couple who camps for 3 months out of the year.
Transportation is another factor. The cooler has to get to the campsite, right? Do you have enough room to pack it with you? Would 2 smaller coolers be a smarter move? Maybe a soft cooler is what you need.
Take time to really consider why you need a cooler. This will save you some money in the long run.
What Makes Them Different?
The short answer the Construction Design Techniques
If you have ever used a cheap cooler you’ll know that there can be a huge difference. HUGE!
The thickness of the exterior plastic can differ from model to model. This will also have a marked difference in the length of time the interior will stay cold, the weight of the cooler and, of course, the price. In fact, this might be one of the biggest factors in price difference.
Is there a rubber gasket on the lid?
This is an integral piece of construction that seals the the biggest cause of cold loss in a cooler. Think about your refrigerator, you probably have never seen one without a rubber gasket covering the door. The next step in the evolution of coolers will probably be a beep that lets you know if your cooler lid isn’t sealed properly.
Higher end models use a completely different method to create the coolers as well. The standard for years was essentially gluing plastic pieces together around a foam insulation. A few years back, someone had the idea to use a mold and to form the entire cooler and then inject foam insulation in afterwards. This produces a better seal with no seams. These models usually include the above mentions rubber gasket as well as latches to keep the lid sealed.
Soft Coolers are another option with a different set of factors
. The amount of insulation and how well they close and seal are the biggest factors. This is usually a standard rule of the more insulation and better it seals the colder it will stay. You can make a pretty solid judgement by the price of the cooler.
Electric coolers are great if you have access to electricity.
Usually equipped with a 12V car adaptor might limit your use, but for just a few dollars you can purchase and adapter for a wall plug. I wouldn’t recommend these alone for extended trips.If you are using them in conjunction with another, larger, cooler it would probably serve your needs wonderfully. They are usually very expensive and usually only come in a 40 quart or smaller size.
Is Your Food Cold Enough?
Here’s the Deal:
Keeping your food cold is important. Especially raw food. Isn’t that THE MOST IMPORTANT THING?
Of course it is.
It’s for that reason I suggest buying a thermometer that requires no electricity and can be attached to the inside lid of your cooler. For under $10 you can take all that worry and throw it out the window.
Here are the temperatures for common food products:
Raw Meat should be stored at 40° or less and should not be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours
Raw Eggs should be stored at 45° or less
Fruits and Veggies can be safely kept at 50° or less. Most will not go bad if left out for a relatively short amount of time, but you can increase the length of time they last by keeping them cool. Some fruits are best left out of the cold. Such as Bananas, which will not last as long in the cooler.
Dairy should be kept at less than 40° at all times
Attaching a light to the to inside of your is a great way to see what your looking for at night.
Using narrow seal-able containers is a great way to keep food dry and your cooler organized
Filling up these PVC tubes with a 50/50 water/rubbing alcohol mix will make great narrow ice packs. For just a few dollars you can make several of them. The best part is that you can use any size PVC pipe you want. Don’t forget to seal then ends with PVC glue and leave a room for the water to expand when cold.
Preparing your vegetables and seasonings before you leave the house is a great way to save space and time when camping
Using a grill grate to separate ice packs from your food help to keep items dry.
Putting an Ice Blanket over the top of your food helps keep it cold
Purchase on Amazon.com
The 5 Best Coolers For Your Money
Coleman 30-Can Soft Cooler With Hard LinerCheck Prices on Amazon.com
For a soft cooler, this is a really good one. It comes with a removable hard liner which allows for flexibility when packing, Measuring 12.2 in. x 9.65 in. x 13.78 in it can hold up to 30 cans 12oz cans, approximately 8 12oz bottles and about 5 wine bottles. This is without any ice.
It seals with a zipper Unfortunately if you use it without the hard liner it is not waterproof.
Currently there are 497 reviews on Amazon.com with an average of 4 ½ stars
Igloo Maxcold Ultra Roller CoolerCheck Prices on Amazon.com
A step up from the Coleman soft cooler, this Igloo 61 quart cooler is probably perfect for the occasional weekend camping trip or backyard barbecue. Both the lid and body are insulated. It comes with a tall handle and wheels on one side to make transporting it easy. It also includes a threaded drain plug. Igloo claims it will keep ice for 5 days in 90° weather. The dimensions are 16 x 18 x 28 inches. It currently has 496 reviews on Amazon.com with an average of 4 ½ stars
Yeti Tundra CoolerCheck Prices on Amazon.com
Yeti provides what is considered the Mercedes of camp coolers .The Tundra ranges from 20 to 75 quart. It’s foam is pressure injected to ensure that it gets the maximum insulation. It also has the coveted rubber seal under the lid and 2 exterior rubber lid latches. It also has a storage basket that rests on the inside lips for dry goods as well as a drain plug.
This a very durable cooler that is pretty heavy. There is a 5 year limited warranty.
Engel High Performance Roto-Molded DeepBlue CoolersCheck Prices on Amazon.com
Another very high end cooler, the Engel boasts that it’s bear resistant container can hold ice up to 10 days. Complete with airtight gaskets, compression latches, and a drain plug. Available in a variety of sizes from 25 all the way up to 123 quarts. There is a 3 year warranty on this for normal use by the original owner. It currently has 206 reviews on Amazon.com with an average of 4 ½ stars.
Koolatron P75 36-Quart Kool Kaddy Electric Cooler/WarmerCheck Prices on Amazon.com
This cooler can also be used as a warmer and is powered by a 12V cigarette lighter plug and wall outlet plug. It only has a 4ft cord, so I would recommend buying an extension cord (Here’s a great option on Amazon.com). Another added feature is that it comes with a shelf and can sit upright to be used like a mini-fridge.
It cools to 40° below surrounding temp and heats up to 135° It weighs 19 pounds and 15.8h by 21w by 15.5d inches. There is a 1 year parts and labor warranty.
One more thing…..
Don’t forget the ice!