No matter where your outdoor adventures take you, your cooler often becomes the ultimate gathering place. Whether it serves as the bench at your tailgate party or it becomes a rolling campsite refrigerator, your cooler is key to get-togethers with friends and loved ones.
Our celebration of insulation sent us to the ice chest authority, himself. Coleman’s chief cooler expert, engineer Mike Brockel, is dedicated to designing and studying all things cold.
Set the ice up to last
Brockel says the way to get the most out of your cooler comes down to getting the most out of your ice. The process begins before the big event by refrigerating the items that will go inside the cooler. The reason is seemingly simple: Cool food and drinks won’t warm up the cubes as much; and the colder the ice, the longer it lasts.
Those frozen cubes will stick around even longer with a dual attack. Start by filling a couple of two-liter bottles almost to the top with water, freeze them for a few days, throw them in with the drinks and the meat, and then sprinkle a bag or two of ice over everything. If your dad did this and you thought the old guy was just cheap, you were wrong. Brockel says the bottled ice keeps the cubes cooler, the cubed ice keeps the drinks cooler, and the drinks keep you cooler.
Time to pack things up
When it comes to packing everything you pick up at the grocery store, there is no real formula. Just remember the ice will eventually become the freezing bath you’ll have to fish through to find the last soda. Make sure it’s OK if the stuff on the bottom gets wet. Keep things like meats isolated in watertight bags or sealed containers so they stay dry. If you have the luxury of using two coolers, Brockel says it’s worth it. Separate your items into two categories: things you may need more often (like drinks) and things you may need less often (like meat).
Add more ice
Don’t forget to keep the cold water in the cooler, even when you add more ice. That super cold H₂O will help keep the fresh ice frozen longer. Remember that any new ice will melt faster in the drink cooler you are in and out of frequently, whereas the cubes you pour over the steak and dogs will last longer when you leave them alone.
That’s a wrap
Keeping the outside of the box as cool as possible is as important as keeping the temperature inside it down. Placing a tarp, sleeping bag or white, wet towel on top of the cooler and setting it in the shadiest part of the campsite will usually do the job.