Ultimate Cooler Hacks

Ten tips on how to get 10 days out of your 5-day cooler

Another good thing about Coleman coolers — The hinges and plug assemblies are guaranteed for the life of the cooler. Just contact the company, and they’ll send you a new set free of charge.

Another good thing about Coleman coolers — The hinges and plug assemblies are guaranteed for the life of the cooler. Just contact the company, and they’ll send you a new set free of charge.

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.

Actually, if you have a large enough vehicle — such as a Hummer — you might want to bag the cooler altogether and bring your freezer instead.

Actually, if you have a large enough vehicle — such as a Hummer — you might want to bag the cooler altogether and bring your freezer instead.

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.

Make sure the mat is pressed down against the contents. For even more insulation — and to keep the mat in place — put an old towel on top of it.

Make sure the mat is pressed down against the contents. For even more insulation — and to keep the mat in place — put an old towel on top of it. (Dry towel.)

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.

coolerstrap

Older cam buckle straps tend to fray, but the fraying often occurs toward the ends. By cutting old straps into 6-foot lengths – or shorter – you can get a few more years out of them by using them as cooler straps.

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.

coolerplug

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.

Note that the cooler is sitting on a mat, adding to the insulation.

Note that the cooler is sitting on a mat, adding to the insulation.

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.

A well-dressed cooler — complete with towel, strap, block ice and mat.

A well-dressed cooler — complete with towel, strap, block ice and mat.

Or, if you don’t want to go through all that, you can spend upwards of $750 for a high-end expedition cooler.

 

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5 thoughts on “Ultimate Cooler Hacks

  1. I’m with you on everything here except the wet towel. Have you done a test to confirm that the towel works better when wet? Generally any insulation material works better dry. I get that the swamp cooler effect should provide cooling, but doesn’t that require a lot of air flow?

    I wonder if instead of the wet towel, some sort of reflective material.Reflectix Bubble Pack Insulation comes in rolls, you could create a custom insulation cosy for your cooler.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is interesting that dry ice can help so much with this type of thing. I have never considered it before, but I can totally see how this would keep everything beautifully cold. Coolers are annoying to haul around, so it is immensely disappointing when you open them up to find room temperature foods. For this reason, I appreciate your helpful article and for all of the different methods that you described; thank you!

    Like

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