Yesterday I brought up one of my new favorite boozy beverages, and today I am going to talk about my test over time to keep the ice cold for my Pennsic cocktails. I will note that you can actually do Pennsic without a cooler at all (assuming you do not have medications you need to keep at a certain temperature), and some people do indeed do this. Duke Cariadoc has an article about doing Pennsic without a cooler here that some folks might be interested in: http://daviddfriedman.com/Medieval/Articles/Camping%20without%20a%20cooler.html
Personally, the only food I take to War is a few snacks for land grab. After that, my cooler is for ice only, and maybe a re-used water bottle full of leftover coffee or tea for a cold beverage at a later point. Mostly I am just keeping ice for drinks, and possibly a small container of fresh fruit purchased at the Coopers store. My camp has a meal plan, and I love to eat in the market, and I certainly am not going to Pennsic to cook so one of the ways I have pared down the things I take with me is to cut out the food items (that often were going to waste).
I am, however, very picky about coolers, and doubly so if food is going to be stored in them. Coolers are not immortal. They have a lifespan, and often the cheapest coolers have a very short one. The easiest way to tell if your cooler is on the outs is to open the lid. If it lifts with no resistance at all, it is no longer air-tight and, therefore, it is no longer doing it’s job. You will go through much more ice at this point and it is time to consider purchasing a new one. (Do not worry though, that old cooler can be used to store your dry goods now, because old coolers are a fantastic way to keep bugs out of your food and rain off of it!)
For the past decade, I have used Coleman Xtreme coolers and really do like them. They last longer than some others I have had and tend to keep things cold for a decent amount of time. I have, however, been researching newer high-end coolers for almost two years now, because I am due for a new cooler and because I also want a smaller one as I really just need it for ice. After reading many reviews, I decided that I wanted to try a Grizzly cooler, with which my wonderful mother recently surprised me. I honestly cannot wait to test it out this year (and will definitely post my thoughts after the fact)!
Even if you are not ready for an upgrade just yet, I do have some tips for helping to make the best use of your current cooler.
- Make sure both the cooler is not hot when you fill it. Don’t leave it in a hot shed or the trunk of your car beforehand. Bring it into the house to cool down first.
- Make sure the items you adding to it are already cold. Chill your 12-pack of beer before putting it in the cooler and add your ice on top of that.
- Adding water bottles that are frozen is also a great way to keep things cold longer. Make sure you pour off a bit of water though, so that the bottles do not crack when the ice expands. Personally, I re-use old water bottles by filling them with tea and freezing those. As they start to thaw I drink them.
- Do not leave empty space in your cooler when packing it. Fill it to the brim with ice.
- When using the cooler, keep it out of the sun. If it is in a central location, like a camp kitchen, try to keep it in the shadiest spot possible and cover it with a heavy blanket to help keep the temperature down.
- Do not drain off the cold water as the ice melts. A cooler with some ice and some cold water will keep your items cold better than a cooler with less ice and open space.
- Most coolers are not made to sit or stand on. Over time that will distort the shape and weaken the seals, causing you to have to replace it sooner.