The key to having a cooler perform longer is to pre-cool your cooler. If you start out with a cooler that has been in the bed of a hot truck for any duration the cooler will have to absorb most of the new ice just to reach a point where it can even start the cooling process. Bring your cooler inside the night before and open the lid or place a small bag of ice inside of it overnight. The cost of a small bag just for the precool stage will be worth it if you are depending on ice storage for many days. I usually keep a few gallon water jugs frozen in my freezer that I place in the cooler the night before for this purpose.
Deciding the purpose for a cooler is essential. Sometimes using multiple coolers dedicated for different things is better than one large cooler. If you are only using one large cooler, consider using a divider to separate the items for convenience and ice retention. Using a towel or other barrier on top helps ice retention by only accessing the portion of the cooler needed.
On most of my fishing trips we will take a 68 quart Bruin cooler and pack it to the top for clean ice, drinking ice and to refill our day bag cooler. A second cooler is dedicated for food and beverages only and a third strictly for fish.
When possible, always put beverages that are already cold in your cooler. It takes quite a bit of your ice resources just to chill down warm drinks.
JUST ADD ICE
Cubed ice keeps drinks and things colder but melts faster than large ice blocks. There are several companies that make reusable and stackable ice containers that can be frozen and places strategically on the cooler bottom of around the sides to help keep ice retention. Frozen water bottles work well as an alternative but generally having some sort of bulk frozen items along with cubed ice will be the best of both worlds.
Remember to limit the time the lid is open. Grab your items quickly and get the lid shut and securely latched.
Now comes the debate issue…to drain or not to drain the melted ice water. I don’t think anyone will argue that cold water from the melted ice keeps things colder that the dry cool air above the ice. For me, I will drain a little water if I am unable to reach an item in the bottom or if I am adding fresh ice. If you are on the fence, why not occasionally drain an inch or so off the bottom.
Now I must mention that all coolers are not made equally. Some may look good on the outside but have very little insulation in the middle. The main reason that the better coolers are fairly heavy is because the inner core is packed with an industrial foam insulation.
If you want a premium quality cooler that is truly affordable, you should check out the Bruin line. They have a 5 year manufacturer warranty, and a few extra features that make them standout.
That's all of our Cooler Prep 101. Be sure to check back in next Tuesday for more tips from our expert staff and pro staff from around the country.