Whether you’re off on a camping trip, to watch your favorite team play sport or to picnic with your family in the great outdoors, it can be a real challenge keeping your food and drinks fresh and chilled all day. Don’t let warm drinks and soggy food ruin your outing. Below are some ideas on how you can keep your cooler cold all day.
Good Old-Fashioned Cooling
Here are a couple of ways things were kept cool in the good old days before there were coolers and ice packs. You may need to use some of these cooling methods in conjunction with modern cooling accessories if it’s a scorcher of a day.
Shade: Always keep your cooler in the shade but preferably not in an enclosed space like a tent. Choose a spot carefully and watch it as the day progresses. Trees are good. Put it under a table or a vehicle.
Put a wet towel over the top of your cooler. This works particularly well when there’s a breeze. If you hang the towel in such a way that it hangs into a bowl of water, the towel will stay wet. You can also cool down individual items by wrapping them in a wet cloth and hanging them in a breeze. If you’re near a stream, placing the cooler in shallow running water will do the trick. If you’re at the beach, half-bury your cooler in the sand and put an umbrella over it.
Whilst travelling, insulate your cooler by wrapping it in sleeping bags. Pre-freezing your cooler in a deep freeze both before and after you’ve packed it (without sandwiches or anything that will go soggy!) is another clever cooling tip. If you don’t have a deep freeze, or it doesn’t fit, and you have a lot of ice packs you could use some to pre-cool the cooler and then swap them out with frozen ones when you pack.
Then there are two obvious, but often forgotten, tips: keep it closed and out of the sun!
It’s all in the packing
The way you pack your cooler is also important for keeping food and beverages fresh, cool and ready to eat.
Firstly, freeze anything that can be frozen. Find something that you can use as a layer of insulation like bubble wrap or Styrofoam. A breadboard will work too. Put ice packs at the bottom, then your meat and frozen food, another layer of ice packs, add your layer of insulation and then put the sandwiches and salad stuff on top. Don’t let ice packs touch salad or fruit or they will spoil. Use ziplock bags instead of plastic containers and frozen water bottles if you have no ice packs.
Don’t use dry ice. Not only does it emit gas but most coolers won’t handle the extreme temperature. It’s difficult to handle and it sticks to everything, especially your fingers. Adding rock salt to ice does keep ice from melting but it really doesn’t work as well as an ice pack. It does also eventually melt and will end up making your cooler mucky.
A cooler to suit the occasion
The type of cooler you’re using is very important. There is a myriad of designs, sizes and styles to choose from that all offer different functionalities. They can be made out of Styrofoam, soft-sided nylon, metal, hard-sided plastic and plain plastic. The cooler you use will depend on what you’re using it for. A Styrofoam cooler is more suitable for a day-trip and a hard-sided cooler for camping, for example.
Some coolers have freezer-grade seals, there are coolers that boast ice retention of up to 10 days and coolers that are even bear-proof. Coolers that are big but heavy are suitable for extended adventure trips, backpack coolers ideal for a day hike on the mountains and coolers on wheels.
Whilst deciding on the best cooler for your needs isn’t as big a decision as buying a major appliance, taking some time to compare products is definitely worthwhile. Think about the size, the weight, the temperature retention time and the price, as well as what you’ll be using it for before you buy.
Using cold and long-lasting ice packs
Ice packs ae so useful they could be the next best thing to sliced. Gone are the days of using regular ice and racing to eat your snacks before your cooler turned into a pond. There are a wide variety of ice packs to choose from that all are designed to stay cooler for longer.
Ice packs provide insulation and have special additives in the water or gel inside them to slow down the melting process. Some have energy transferring covers that keep items cooler for longer. They aren’t that expensive and are worth their weight in gold if you’re looking to keep your cooler cold all day.
There are ice packs that stay cold for 4-6 hours and others for up to 96 hours. There are ice packs that freeze quicker than others and ice packs that stay colder for longer. There are ice packs that are rigid and others that are soft and malleable.
It is often best to use a combination of ice packs. Use larger, thin ones for layering and smaller soft ones for filling spaces, for example. When buying ice packs, make sure that they fit in your cooler box. The last thing you need is a cooler box where the ice packs take up so much space that there isn’t much room left for anything else.
Ice packs stay cold for varying lengths of time so you need to choose the ones that suit your purpose. Ice packs you use for a 5-day adventure experience will be overkill on a family picnic. Weight is another important consideration, particularly if you’re going to be carrying your cooler some distance. The weight of ice packs depends on the size and the cooling agent used.
The shell of an ice pack will also make a difference to your choice. You’ll want 100% non-toxic ones for school lunches in case you child decides it’s an ice loly. An ice pack with a hard, durable leak-proof shell would be best for fishing or camping adventure. The small, soft gel ice packs are the most versatile and are perfect for filling those small spaces in your cooler.
Of all the things mentioned in this article, ice packs are probably the most important consideration. Choosing ice packs that are the coldest and longest-lasting will keep your cooler cold for a good few days, never mind one.