Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

The modern cooler puts yesterday’s coolers on ice

By Joe Shead
Contributing Writer


If you think of the classic American family vacation, it entails a lot of things: mom, dad and the kids packed into a wood-sided station wagon, bickering siblings, missed turns, family anxiety and, of course, a green metal Coleman cooler packed with several days’ worth of picnic lunches.


Big Frig’s Badlands Series rotomolded coolers are UV-protected. Heavy-duty rubber latches and a freezer-grade gasket keep the cold in and the heat out. Dual stainless steel lock plates double as bottle openers and a vacuum-release button makes opening the lid a breeze. Non-slip feet keep your cooler from sliding around in your truck.

When I think of the big chest cooler my family always used on our camping trips and summer vacations, I don’t picture cold, refreshing beverages. Rather, I think of soggy food floating around in melted ice.


Luckily, for families of the 2020s, coolers have come a long way. They keep food cold for days and can withstand years of abuse. But you’ll pay a lot more. Today’s coolers often cost hundreds of dollars. Let’s take a look at how today’s coolers are designed and what makes them so much better than the coolers of our youth.


“A lot of research and technology has gone into today’s coolers, resulting in three major improvements over the coolers of yesteryear,” said Dakota Hoard, director of operations at Big Frig.


Igloo’s Mission Series hard-sided coolers are ideal for backyard picnics or wilderness adventures. Ultratherm insulation in the body and lid retains ice for eight days in 90-degree conditions. The lockable lid has a food-grade silicone rubber lid gasket and oversized latches. Other features include an FDA-approved food-grade liner, two-way tie-down points, fast/slow dual drain release, heavy-duty grab handles and a molded fish ruler.

Those three improvements include, first of all, the use of rotomolding, rather than blow molding or injection molding. Second, modern coolers have better insulation. Third, improved lid seals keep cold air in and warm air out.


“Traditional plastic coolers were either blow molded or injection molded,” Hoard said. “These processes resulted in thin walls and seams in the bodies of the coolers, which allowed air and moisture into the insulation, compromising heat-resistance and overall durability. Modern coolers like Big Frig’s are roto-molded – rotationally molded – which produces thick, seamless plastic walls in the body and cooler lid for exceptional integrity and durability.”


In the rotomolding process, fine plastic pellets are poured in a mold, then placed into an oven. The oven melts the plastic pellets. While in the oven, the mold is constantly rotating – horizontally and vertically – to evenly distribute the plastic. This results in even thickness throughout and no weak spots. During the injection-molding process of yesteryear, melted plastic was shot into a mold. In this process, the plastic wasn’t evenly distributed, which resulted in thin spots, particularly in the corners. Not only did this make the cooler weaker at these points (often resulting in broken corners after repeated use), but it also compromised the cooler’s ability to keep things cool. Because of their uniform thickness and thicker walls overall, you’ll notice that modern coolers are much heavier than old coolers. But they are also a lot more durable. You’ll probably never need to buy another cooler.


“Older-style coolers had little insulation between

The Orca 40-quart cooler has durable, rotomolded construction. Integrated insulation, combined with a perfect-seal lid gasket, keeps ice for up to 10 days. Extendable flex-grip handles make transporting the cooler easy by yourself or with a buddy. A cargo net attachment provides added storage and the easy-flow drainage spout releases water. Available in several colors, or with the logo of your favorite college, NFL, MLB or NHL team.

those plastic walls – many only had air as an insulator inside their lids,” Hoard said. “Big Frig coolers are pumped full of dense polyurethane foam over 2 inches thick in our larger models.”


This polyurethane foam core is sandwiched by plastic in the cooler body and the lid. Old-style coolers usually had just air in the lid and inferior foam in the body. The new process provides superior insulating capabilities.


“Third, the previous generations of coolers often had a poor seal around the lid – many were just the plastic lid in contact with the plastic body, which allowed hot air in and cold air out,” Hoard said. “Our coolers use freezer-grade rubber gaskets around the lid and latch for an airtight seal. In fact, the seal is so good, we added a vacuum-release button to our coolers because the contracting cold air inside the coolers can make them difficult to open otherwise.”


These three improvements dramatically improve a cooler’s function. In fact, when opened sparingly, high-tech coolers can retain ice for over a week. You’ll also notice a lot of handy accessories for coolers, including non-slip feet, lockable lids, improved lid latches, reinforced hinges, durable drain plugs, molded drink holders, fish rulers, bottle openers, separate cell phone storage compartments, rod holders, all-terrain wheels and other features, depending on the style of cooler you choose. They’re also durable enough to double as a seat.


Soft cooler designs also have improved. Soft coolers are small, lightweight, and collapsible, making them a good choice for everyday use or when you need something that’s more portable that a big, hard-sided cooler.


The Yeti Hopper M30 soft cooler has a re-engineered wide mouth that closes with HydroShield technology – a strip of ultra-strong magnets that create a leak-resistant seal that is further secured with two quick-release buckles to remain closed when it’s tossed around. ColdCell closed-cell foam insulation keeps food or drinks cold and the DryHide shell resists mildew, punctures and UV rays. RF-welded seams eliminate stitching and provide a leakproof interior liner and waterproof exterior.

Although these coolers are soft, they are durable. For example, the Yeti Hopper has a DryHide shell that is similar to the material used to make survival suits. The high-density fabric is waterproof and resists mildew and punctures. The cooler uses closed-cell rubber foam to keep its contents cool, which is superior to the insulation used in cheap soft coolers. A waterproof HydroLok zipper functions on the same principle as zippers used on drysuits, keeping water from leaking out. Yeti now offers HydroShield technology on some of its soft coolers. This system uses a strip of ultra-strong magnets, secured with two quick-release buckles, to close the cooler. This gives the cooler a larger opening, which was one complaint many people had of the zippers.


If you’re truly looking to keep things cold for an extended period, the larger size and thicker construction of a hard-sided cooler is superior to soft coolers. But soft coolers are a great choice if you’re looking for a lightweight alternative or just need to pack lunch for a day trip.


“It’s important you prep your cooler appropriately to maximize ice retention,” said Mike Lewis, director of e-commerce and development at ORCA Coolers. “Storing your cooler in a cool, dark place for 12 to 24 hours prior to use will ensure the insulation is cooled down and ready to rock. If you don’t have a dark place to cool your cooler, fill your cooler with ice for the 12 to 24 hours prior to use, seal it and let it sit. This will help to regulate the temperature within the cooler and prep it for long-lasting use.” (Note: Make sure to remove this “prep ice” prior to use and refill with fresh, non-thawed ice).


Whether you choose a hard cooler or a soft cooler, today’s manufacturers have developed ways to keep food colder, longer. Plus, rotomolding makes them rugged. The next cooler you buy may be your last.

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