Ten tips on how to get 10 days out of your 5-day cooler
If you’re one of those people who can’t afford a cooler that costs more than your car, you can still keep your food and beverages cold for more than a week. Here’s how.
1. Start with quality. If you want a cooler that will keep things cold in 90-degree heat, you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg. A few fingers, perhaps, but not an arm and a leg. My Coleman Extreme cooler has served me well for many years. I paid $45 for mine. These days, they sell for around $60.
2. Ice cubes are great for mixed drinks, not for coolers. Always use blocks. I make my own by using gallon containers. If you want to bring along frozen foods, such as ice cream, use dry ice if you can locate a source to buy it. Word of caution there: Make sure you isolate your dry ice and frozen foods from other items in your cooler. Newspaper works for that purpose.
3. Freeze! Start out with frozen food. Any meat items you don’t plan to eat on the first day should be frozen. Keep them clustered and separate from eggs, cheese, vegetables, etc. Especially the etc.
4. Don’t run on empty. Eliminate air space with a closed cell foam mat. Last summer I saw “custom fit” mats advertised for this purpose. The cheapest ones cost around $20. You can get by cheaper than that by cutting off pieces of that yoga mat you no longer use — or your camp mate’s sleeping pad.
5. Throw a towel over it. Putting a wet towel over the top of a cooler helps keep it cool. This is especially useful when you’re transporting it in a canoe on a sunny day. Use an old towel or do what I do — buy one from a deep discount store. Keep the towel wet by pouring water on it from time to time or placing a wet sponge on top of it. When on river trips, I simply dip the sponge in the river, let it soak up as much water as possible and set it on top of the cooler. The towel will draw water from the sponge, keeping it wet for a long time.
6. Keep the damn lid closed. I don’t know how many times I’ve been on camping trips where I’ve looked around to see cooler lids ajar. I keep a stun gun handy for people who go into my cooler and don’t close the lid. It teaches them a lesson and adds to the entertainment.
7. Strap it down. By using a cam buckle strap, you can keep the lid closed tightly. This is a necessity in places with racoons. Some of them are clever enough to open a cooler that isn’t secured with a strap or other device. I use old straps that I’ve cut down for this purpose.
8. Close the damn drain plug! On a recent camping trip I took all of the precautions above, but forgot to close the plug on my cooler. So I turned the stun gun on myself.
9. Bag it. On the aforementioned recent trip, I had to leave my full cooler behind at base camp for a few days in 70-80 degree heat. I wrapped it in an old sleeping bag and put it inside a light-colored tent. After three days, only 25 percent of the ice had melted.
10. Take care of your cooler and it will take care of you. When storing a cooler, keep it out of the sun or sunlight. This can break down the insulation. Also, store it with the drain plug open and the lid ajar. I use a small piece of foam pipe wrap for the latter purpose. This keeps your cooler from getting funky. And don’t be like my buddy, Joe, who does his laundry in his cooler.
Or, if you don’t want to go through all that, you can spend upwards of $750 for a high-end expedition cooler.