Cooler Thread - Post Hike Refreshments

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Sep 3, 2003
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Gorham NH
Given the big run up in cold drinks pricing at most post hike stores, I have decided to switch back to a post hike cooler. I used to tailgate on occasion with group hikes but generally when solo or with just another person I usually stop at a hopefully locally owned store for a post hike chocolate milk or a soft drink. Since the covid lockdowns I have noticed that the retail price has gone up substantially for individual bottled/canned soft drinks and milk and in the case of milk, the price is up and selection is way down. Add in staffing shortages and a quick stop at small store can be a 20 minutes experience when I really just want to hit the road home. I have a variety of "car coolers" that I leave in the car for when I shop near civilization (one of the definite down sides to living in the north country) for getting cold goods home but unless I want to use a large quantity of ice, those coolers rarely make the grade in a closed car on hot hiking day like this past weekend.

I upgraded to one of the large high performance coolers for camping a few years back and it works well for multiday events but its quite large and not something I want to lug around all the time. I use the Pelican brand products as they are mostly US built, test well in comparative testing and do not have the large price premium and advertising budget that Yeti coolers have. Yeti also seems to have far more of their production off shore yet they still charge a significant price premium. The design of a high performance cooler is not rocket science, typically its a roto molded outer case with a thinner usually roto molded inner case. The wall thickness is thicker than a standard cooler and its injected full of closed cell foam. The cover is rigid and equipped with a flat sealing surface and gasket arrangement with locking latches . The same design was used for years for vaccine coolers. They do hold the cool and are good for multiday trips. The cost to make these seems to be optimized to make them big.

I finally broke down and bought a "smaller" 20 quart version. footprint is similar to a large sized playmate cooler but much taller. It sort of sits behind the seat on my Rav 4 with the seat pulled forward about the amount it would be if someone was sitting there but it does require the seat to be somewhat upright. I have other spots for it but I prefer behind the seat so it does not become a missile during a fast stop. Its deep so packing and access is bit less convenient but its performance is impressive. I had two 1 pound ice packs and a frozen bottle of water in mine on Saturday in a dark gray car in the very hot sun and the contents were still quite cold with the frozen bottle still half ice. I only had the cooler half full which is generally not recomended. They make a smaller/shorter version but various reviews indicated that the smaller versions are borderline for capacity. Mine is big enough for me to handle a couple days at BSP if I skip beverages. Note this one is not certified as bear proof. It can be secured, but my guess is the smaller size just makes it more vulnerable to attack. Its intended to stay in the car.

One thing to be aware of is some folks go with dry ice to extend cooling. It is not easily available in my area but for those who use it be aware that the inner plastic wall is rarely rated for dry ice use. It can shatter if knocked around. if the dry ice is kept away from the walls and the cooler is used for static storage for several days the inner wall should survive but it needs to be packed tight so nothing is rolling or moving around while in camp or in transit. Note long ago I used dry ice once on a BSP trip and beer in bottles did freeze and leak. A unpleasant thing to deal with at the start off a trip.
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One thing I have read about dry ice is to use it to keep water ice ice and use that to chill everything else. Unless you have meat or ice cream you want to keep frozen.

I've been using a 42qt refrigerator that runs off a 12v outlet and gets down below 0F surprisingly quickly. It insulates well enough when powered off that it functions as a cooler through the weekend. It's been great for bringing home fresh trout and keeps groceries cold so you don't have to rush the ice cream home. No water to dump, soggy contents, or space sacrifices for ice.
We have been using a small “6 pack” cooler with an ice pack to keep a few drinks cold. It sits on the floor of the back seat. As we work on redlining the trailheads are often remote. This way we get an immediate cold drink. What we have noticed are very long lines at drive thru fast food restaurants.
For a post-hike cool drink I fill a Hydroflask with ice water before leaving home. After the hike I pour it into a water bottle, drop in a Nuun tablet and I’m good for the ride back.