We all like to arrive at our favorite campsite, or anchor in a secluded bay, and enjoy a cold beverage and fresh food. Let's face it -- the thought of a lukewarm soda or a bacteria-ridden sandwich just isn't all that appealing. Not only can keeping your packed goods cold and fresh provide taste relief, but the benefits will allow you to enjoy a worry-free and safe meal in the outdoors.
A neat feature that is fairly new to coolers is wheels for when the food and drinks weigh a ton.
Choosing a cooler that fits your style and one that provides all of the necessary requirements doesn't have to be difficult, but there are certain things to keep in mind. Follow the advice of this guide, and you'll be well on your way to owning the cream of the crop.
Sizing Them Up
The first consideration when shopping for a cooler is size. Coolers come in a wide array of sizes, from small (capable of holding a few pops and sandwiches) to oversized (allowing you to put everything but the kitchen sink inside).
Cooler capacity is rated in quarts. The higher the quart number, the more items that can be fit into the cooler thanks to the larger interior surface area. Common sizes include 50 quart, 80 quart and 100 quart. Many manufacturers will state how much this quart number will hold, usually using the example of pop cans and ice. For example, an 8-quart cooler will hold 10 cans plus ice, whereas an 80-quart cooler is capable of holding 106 cans plus ice. This may seem like a lot of room, but keep in mind, cans pack together nice and neat, especially in comparison to bread, fruit or irregular-shaped jars.
If you want a small cooler for a day on the water, or do frequent day trips as opposed to weeklong excursions, choose a style that is under 30 quarts. This will be more than large enough to accommodate a daily inventory of food and will also pack well enough to keep the temperature nice and cool. (If you leave too much space (air) in a cooler, temperatures can rise significantly. Packing tight is the way to overcome this.)
For those that head out on family trips, or take longer excursions, look to a 80-quart, 100-quart or larger cooler to meet your needs.
For the most part, cooler manufacturers use three distinct outer materials during construction -- nylon, plastic or metal.
Plastic seems to be the most popular nowadays due to its rigid composition and lightweight design. Metal was popular in days past, but its weight made it pretty obsolete, even though some manufacturers are bringing back lighter, stronger metal coolers.
For small coolers, especially the personal sizes, nylon is a strong contender. This material allows the cooler to fully collapse, allowing ease of storage when the unit is not in use.
There are pros and cons to both materials. Plastic is very rigid and will protect your contents safely. It can be heavier than nylon, and it also takes up a considerable amount of room when being stored. It does, however, offer greater cooling capabilities.
Nylon does not offer as much protection for your foodstuffs, yet it is light, and of course, fully collapsible. Large units are only made with plastic, but when it comes to a personal-size model, the choice is entirely up to you between plastic and nylon. Both work well.
Under The Lid
Lids should be tight fitting. A latch is always useful for maintaining the seal, and many are lockable if listed as an option.
The inside makeup of a cooler is what truly keeps your grub cold. The quality of the insulation is what makes these units tick, and many are on par with one another. Foam insulation in a high-density grade is a common means for lining a cooler. The higher the density, the better off the unit will be.
One thing to keep an eye out for is an insulated lid. This will form a fully insulated seal on all four corners of your foodstuff, keeping things colder overall. If a manufacturer lists insulation thickness, definitely take note -- the higher the number, the better the performance.
Lids should be tight fitting. A latch is always useful for maintaining the seal, and many are lockable if listed as an option. A poor-fitting lid is responsible for escaping cold, many times rendering your cooler useless.
Beverages holders on top of the lid are also a nice wrinkle. No more spilling beverages while boating or camping, and with your drink handy, why not make the top of the cooler the table and have your whole meal on it? This is a trick I've used many times in the past.
Hinges on the lid are also an important feature. These will keep the top securely in place and will help stop the likelihood of misplacing it. Lids blowing into the lake while cruising at full speed will also become a thing of the past.
Another common feature of coolers is a channel drain in the bottom for easy no-tilt draining. Instead of heaving up on one side to get all of the water out, simply pulling the drain plug will rid your cooler of melted ice.
When it comes to carrying your cooler from truck to cottage or boat to campfire, having comfortable handles is imperative. Oversized is a great route, as they will alleviate finger cramping and overall awkwardness. If you can find handles with a molded grip -- especially a rubberized one -- all the better.
Whatever style handles you choose, make sure that they're strong. The last thing you need when carrying your food is for a mishap to happen.
Another neat feature that's relatively new on coolers is wheels. For those persons that have less upper body strength, or when the food and drinks weigh a ton, you can now easily roll the cooler along -- much like you would with a suitcase on wheels. A set of wheels positioned on one end, with an extra long handle on the other is ideal. Remember, however, that this function is only doable when the terrain is relatively flat and free of obstruction.
As you can see, there are many options when it comes to purchasing a cooler. Keep these options in mind while perusing the site or your local Bass Pro Shops store. Coolers are an integral part of the outdoor experience, so choose wisely.