Looking to buy a portable Cool Box. This comprehensive Portable Cool Box Buying Guide will help you to make the correct decision.
Pretty much everyone will have use for a cooler at some point, though most will use one a couple of times a year. Choosing the right model for you can be a daunting task.
With hundreds of models and an ever-changing roster of what is offered, the process of shopping for an insulated box for your drinks and food can be difficult.
While most people have chosen the version they currently use rather casually, we would like to demystify the process so that you can get the best tool for the job.
We are familiar with the market and have done our homework. Some of that homework included an in-depth, hands-on review of eight of the world’s best.
A cooler, at its simplest, is an insulated box. All it needs to do is slow heat transfer. We use one to protect perishable food from the effects of high ambient temperature while away from domestic refrigeration.
Additionally, we ask them to be readily transported, to hold ice and the meltwater it creates, to serve as camping and picnic furniture, and to do so while being jostled and abused in rough environments.
Each consumer and each situation may demand a different capacity. The cooler business responds to all of these demands with a whole range of products. There are throw-away insulators that cost just a few dollars and multi-hundred dollar pieces of modern engineering that will outlast generations.
As well as, of course, everything in between. When choosing any consumer product, the cost is a consideration. Read between the lines below in order to see what you get when you pay certain amounts. Alright, let us continue to break it down.
Types of Portable Cool Boxes
High-End Portable Cool Box
This is a category that didn’t even exist before 2006. Prior to that date, manufacturers operated under the assumption that there was a cap on what any consumer would spend. Engineering and materials kept the costs low while compromising on durability and insulating value.
In 2006, however, a company called Yeti threw out all the rules about the cost. They engineered and manufactured a no-holds-barred line of products, successfully selling them at a price previously considered astronomical.
Since then, the rest of the market has responded. There are now a number of very well built, highly insulated designs on the market.
These expensive insulators are molded and injected with foam. The lids seal very tightly, most with replaceable and durable hardware. Heavy users and those that will be away from a supply of ice and refrigeration for extended periods will do well to check out the higher-end models available. These high-end versions start at about $250 for the smallest and go well into the thousands for the industrial-sized models.
Traditional Portable Cool Boxes
This is what you probably think of first when you envision a cooler. It’s a plastic or metal box lined with foam, which is then itself lined with another plastic box.
The foam varies in thickness and the connection of the shells is mainly glued or epoxied. The walls of these models can be made very thick, but are generally thinner than the walls of the high-end versions.
For a given size, traditionally constructed products hold ice approximately half as long as the high-end offerings. Traditional models are priced mainly on size. The smallest are very inexpensive, while the largest can be a few hundred dollars.
How to Choose a Cooler – Portable Cool Box Buying Guide
Size – Portable Cool Box Buying Guide Tip One
The first thing you should do, to narrow down the field, is to consider the size you will need.
Size influences how long the users can steer clear of the grocery store, how long the ice and cold will last, and how portable it is. Portability is an easy one.
Larger models are harder to get around. Consider where and how it will be transported and stored. Perhaps there is an absolute upper limit to the size that you can handle. Further, in determining your desired size, consider the following generalizations.
A model smaller than 25 quarts in capacity is really only suitable for a single person’s food for maybe one night away.
One between 25 and 45 quarts in capacity can hold a single person’s food and drink for up to four days, or a couple’s food for a full weekend.
Versions between 45 and 70 quarts capacity represent the sweet spot. Even when full they are easily transported. And they can hold all that a family of 4-6 might need for a long weekend of camping. If it is insulated well enough to keep the ice, one of this size can store a couple’s food for a week.
Bullet Coolers larger than 70 quarts are suitable for storing a very large group’s drinks. Additionally, those in professional remote food service will have use for these largest designs.
An insulator of a given size will keep ice longer if it is full of food and ice. Air space is an enemy.
A given content volume will stay cold longest in an insulator exactly sized to that volume, all else equal.
In comparing models of different sizes, both completely and similarly full, the larger one will hold ice longer.
Obviously you will have differing applications for your chosen product. Having one large enough to accommodate the largest demand is fine, as long as the user realizes that a large version, only partially full, will lose ice faster than those same contents in a smaller version.
In the experience of our testing team, designs between 50 and 60 quarts in capacity will serve most people in most applications.
Use Environment – Portable Cool Box Buying Guide Tip Two
After size, consider how, how often, and where it will be used. If you will use yours for more than 15 or 20 days each year, the initial investment in one of the high-end models will be worthwhile. If you will ever use yours to keep stuff cold for more than a week, the investment in a high-end model will also be worthy.
When you are using a portable cool box in a really rugged environment, consider the high-end designs for their durability. If it will live strapped to the back of a dusty jeep or tossed in and out of a whitewater raft over and over, the additional integrity of the high-end versions will be justified.
However, you will use it like ninety some percent of consumers, a traditional insulator should be fine. Most people use one a few weekends a year, and then once for a longer trip. On that long trip, very few are more than a few days between ice resupply opportunities. In these contexts, a traditional model costing less than $100 should serve just fine.
Portability Features – Portable Cool Box Buying Tip Three
The primary consideration in portability is size. Size also greatly affects usability and ice retention. As such, size is addressed in the greatest detail above. For a given size, however, they can be equipped with a variety of portability features. The most portable model is one that is equipped to roll, be carried by one person, and be carried by two.
Each of these transport modes requires a slightly different configuration. Rolling status is easy to judge: does it have wheels? Further, are the wheels sturdy and large enough to handle at least a little uneven ground? Opposite the wheels, we look for a rigid handle that protrudes enough to save the tower from hunchback shuffle. For solo carry, a pair of opposing and smooth handles, set in close to the center of mass works best.
For tandem carriage, longer, flexible or pivoting handles on each end work best. No design that we know of comes with all three carry options. Generally, models without wheels can come with handles for both solo and tandem transport while versions with wheels skip the tandem carry nuances.
Besides handle configuration and size, especially in the bold new world that includes really expensive high-end designs, the consumer must consider weight. These high-end offerings are heavier than their less expensive counterparts, but even among the high-end models, weight varies. A full icebox will get heavy real fast. Be cautious about starting with a box that is too heavy even empty.
The above discussion highlights the major questions. However, some other things are worth examining.
First of all, and an option that has only come about in recent years, will you need your cooler to resist theft? When we say theft, we primarily mean the loss to animals. Coolers will regularly live outside in remote environments.
Food smells in these remote environments will attract the attention of a wide range of critters. Many of the high-end versions can be secured with an aftermarket lock to protect against a whole host of animal tamperers. Most notably, designs from Yeti and Pelican are certified to be grizzly bear-resistant.
Is it important that it serve as camping or picnic furniture? Some models are not suited to sitting on. Others are particularly well suited. Most are in the middle.
Those that make the best furniture can be equipped with aftermarket seat cushions or come with molded-in cup holders. Some don’t have the structural integrity to support the weight of a seated person.