Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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Get the most from your high-tech ice chests

By Jerry Bush
Contributing Writer

 

Many people purchase expensive, high-tech coolers that may cost up to $500, and then fail to find the value in their purchase. Is the gear faulty or is the owner at least partially responsible for the disappointment? Let’s make a careful and honest appraisal.

 

A few years back I purchased a well-known brand of new technology ice chest. It was one of those claiming to hold ice for at least five days, and it was even bear-proof. My wife and I do our fair share of wilderness tent camping from our boat, so the thought I would no longer need to suspend food every evening from a tree intrigued me. The fact that we wouldn’t need to travel to town more than once during a week-long adventure for ice was also a welcome thought.

 

Our high-tech purchase proved to be amazingly effective the first year we owned it, with ice lasting four or five days, as claimed. Then came the outing when it left us disappointed. Suddenly that modern cooler failed to hold ice for more than about 18 hours. What on earth happened? It’s not exactly as if there are moving parts on an ice chest to suddenly fail.

 

We finished that weeklong outing with me grumbling, but curiosity got the best of me after we arrived home. The gasket around the lid was clean, but I could tell a little silicone would help it remain soft. I noticed the hard lip on the body of the cooler that contacts the gasket needed a good cleaning. 

 

Upon further inspection I realized the drain plug screwed into a rubber gasketed, threaded insert. The threaded insert was loose, which allowed debris to wedge between the gasket and cooler body. Apparently, it unscrewed and loosened the last time I removed the plug to drain the ice chest. I cleaned the rubber gasket and the smooth surface it seated against before re-tightening the threaded insert and plug. 

 

When working efficiently, a vacuum pressure builds up inside the chest, making it nearly impossible to open. A rubber button is built into the front of the body that when pressed, releases the vacuum so the lid can be opened easily. Unfortunately, that button threads into another gasketed insert and it too vibrated loose with time. The reasons our cooler was failing were becoming clearer to me. I pondered how the darn thing even kept ice for 18 hours as it had. I’ve learned a little inspection goes a long way.  

 

One evening we were sitting around the campfire and I noticed one of the cooler’s handles was supported at an angle, rather than resting naturally parallel to the lid. Closer inspection revealed that one of the handle’s straps had somehow ended up pinched between the lid’s gasket and the cooler body, making it impossible for the lid’s gasket to seal properly. The straps are held in place with buckles that normally rest in recesses. I’ve since learned to pay attention to the buckles, and assure they rest in the recesses before the lid is closed. It’s become a habit to assure no objects are interfering with the gasket.

 

None of us considers a cooler, absent of moving parts, would require much thought. Experience has taught me otherwise. There’s more to a modern ice chest than meets the eye. 

 

For a recent fishing trip, I threw our largest cooler in the boat and stopped by a convenience store on the way to the lake to purchase a bag of ice. As I emptied the ice into the cooler, it occurred to me the ice was basically crushed ice instead of cubes that I was accustomed to purchasing. Realizing crushed ice would not last like good-sized cubes, I opted to purchase a second bag. By the end of the 92-degree day, I was pleased with my decision for the sake of protecting our catch.

 

I have concluded that when it comes to ice chests, we make many decisions that impact the cooler’s efficiency. We can place it in a continually shaded area or expose it to direct sunlight for hours! What we store in it impacts the longevity of ice. Aluminum cans get cold faster and stay cold easier, thus helping ice last longer than plastic bottles do. 

 

You will probably pay the price if you are cheap and expect one small bag of ice to last. We have found it beneficial to place a couple of bags of ice into the cooler 24 hours before a trip; drain the melted water; and top off the cooler with fresh ice before going into the wilderness for days.

 

Frozen meat acts as a large block of ice and helps ice last longer than a pre-thawed steak or all those freshly caught fish we add. Obviously, our ice chests must serve specific needs at particular times, but I’m pointing out we sometimes expect too much of our equipment. We underestimate the impact we can have on such a simple item. 

 

Bear activity around campsites has been on the rise in New York again this summer. And, scientists have known for decades that a bloodhound’s sense of smell is 1,000 times better than a human’s, so we humans who spend any real time in wilderness must appreciate that a bear’s nose is considered seven times better than that of a bloodhound. It’s little wonder the “bear-proof” claims are so readily bantered about in advertisements. 

 

Outdoorsmen are, however, kidding themselves if they don’t realize even a small black bear can tear the bungy cables that hold a cooler’s lid closed. While the modern plastic material is amazing, it is the addition of a non-included padlock that truly enables the ice chest to live up to its bear-proof moniker. 

 

Every modern, high-tech cooler I’ve investigated includes at least one insertion hole through which a padlock’s shackle is intended to be clasped. 

 

Bears do not only smell food. When in the wilderness, consider placing toothpaste, deodorant, soap, and even fishing worms inside your modern cooler before clasping that added padlock. 

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