Nice Ice, Baby
Which cooler is the coolest?
Like most reasonable people, I'm concerned about global warming. I haven't seen An Inconvenient Truth yet, but from what I understand, glaciers are melting, ocean levels are rising, and if we don't act quickly, the future of the planet—and the human race—will be in jeopardy. As I see it, we have two options: 1) Embrace alternative sources of energy. 2) Buy an excellent cooler and hope for the best. A fan of the easy way out, I'm choosing No. 2. So which cooler is the coolest? To find out, I performed three tests:
The Beer Test: I took six coolers, filled them with ice and a six-pack of beer (Shiner Bock, my fave), and then left them in my back yard. I checked on them twice a day, first thing in the morning and again in the evening, taking copious notes on the ice levels. If they looked dangerously low, I rescued the beer and drank it immediately. The science of cooler testing demands no less.
The Ice Cream Experiment: Same drill, but with ice cream and Popsicles. This didn't work as well as I had hoped. Coolers cool; they don't freeze. After a day, the ice cream was a soupy mess and the Popsicles had gone soft. But it did give me a chance to test how easy they were to clean.
The Beach Trial: I filled the coolers with ice, turkey sandwiches, and soda, and then left them on my covered porch. From 11 a.m. to sundown, I went out every 20 minutes and opened the coolers for about 30 seconds to simulate how a cooler might be used at the beach. I wore a bathing suit and draped a towel over my shoulders to fully mimic the seaside experience.
Along the way, I gained some general cooler wisdom, which I'll share for your benefit. For starters, pack your cooler in layers: Toss in some ice, your soda, and then some more ice. Put soft food near the top (otherwise, that turkey sandwich will get crushed) or pack it in Tupperware. And, perhaps most important, fill your cooler entirely: Ice in a half-filled cooler melts much more quickly.
I tested coolers that a family of three or four might take to the beach, steering clear of those mini lunch-size coolers and those coolers big enough for a deer carcass. Some of the coolers, assuming they're not opened often, will keep ice cold for days—perfect for that long weekend camping trip you were planning.
Chill Factor (10 points): More points for coolers that stay cool longer. I took special care to ensure each received equal amounts of sunlight and shade. I kept a log of the ice levels, backing up my handwritten documentation with photographs. (A neighbor witnessed my photography and asked me what I was doing. "I'm taking pictures of ice," I said matter-of-factly. "Ah," he replied.)
Ease of Use (10 points): Look, coolers aren't very complicated. You put stuff in that you want to stay cold. They should be easy to lug around, easy to clean, and generally problem-free. The coolers I tested could all handle at least four six-packs of soda. Because they're simple products (or should be), I have zero patience for minor flaws. Is that too harsh? Maybe, but that's how I roll.
Here are the results, from melted to ice-cold:
Tom Bartlett is a writer in Mount Rainier, Md.