All about coolboxes

Keeping stuff cool is one of the fundamental requirements of a decent camp setup, whether it is some milk for a cup of tea in the morning on an overnight stop or a weeks food and provisions. So a coolbox of some kind is almost essential for most campers, but they come in all shapes and sizes - so which is best for what?

Coolbag: This is an insulated bag with waterproof fabric inner / outer and some insulation in between. They come in all shapes and sizes from little tiddlers up to pretty large. The big ones can be a bit unmanageable once full. Generally cheap enough and available in a wide variety of fabrics and designs. The insulation is usually fairly thin so they are really only suited to to overnight use or bringing frozen / cold food from the supermarket

Basic Coolbox: This is a hard box made of a hard plastic (like PE) which forms an inner and outer shape, with some insulation in between. The lid can be hinged or removable and sizes vary from a few litres to about 40 litres. In terms of insulation performance these can be workable for a long weekend if you use them carefully. Prices can vary quite a lot though it isnt always clear what the extra cash is getting, you would hope the construction and insulation improve. In terms of size, they are probably best suited to weekend and / or couple use. For use over more than a couple of days you would need to be able to stock up on chilled food and refreeze freezer blocks on site. Prices run from a few pounds and up

"Super" Coolbox or High Performance Coolbox: These are designed in a similar way to the basic coolbox but have much better insulation and are available in much larger sizes to over 150Litre. In the US they are typically rated as 5 day models, 7 day models - this is how long it would take ice left in the box to melt if it was 25C outside, though it is worth remembering in the US they would fill the bottom with ice rather than use coolblocks as we tend to in the UK. They work well for longer trips, especially where no power is available. Igloo Maxcold, Coleman Xtreme are the two commonest brands in the UK. Price wise these start at about £40 and up

12V electric Coolbox: These are similar to the basic coolbox with the addition of an electric cooling mechanism. Many only use 12V power (and can run off 240V with an adaptor) so the box cannot cool things in the way a fridge would but they can be better than a basic coolbox over longer periods. 15 to 18C below ambient temperature is claimed as possible with the better models (though in the authors experience that can be optimistic). They can be useful in the car while travelling, but if run in the car overnight with the engine turned off you run the risk of flattening the battery so would need an EHU while camping. Waeco is one of the better brands and prices are similar to the "Super" coolboxes. Prices are similar to "Super" coolboxes

"Proper" camp fridges: These can run on gas or electricity (most run on both) and will maintain 25C below ambient temperature, some even have the capability to freeze when running on 240V power. The main issue with these is cost as they are much more expensive than other styles of coolbox. But if you have the money, use EHU at the campsite and have the capability to move them (they are heavy) there is no doubting their ability and convenience

Top tips for using Coolboxes

Mostly common sense, the main thing to remember is everything that goes in should be cold, the colder the better. Don't leave the lid off and don't leave it in the sun. Keep empty space to a minimum too

For a week long trip we freeze as many items as we can (including milk for later in the week) and this usually means we can last the week without needing to refreeze cool blocks or add ice. We also put freezer blocks in the coolbox 2 days before we go to cool the inside of the box and then refreeze them on the night before we set off. 2Litre pop bottles can be 80% filled with fresh water and then frozen - they can be to take up space (a full box works better) or to replace coolblocks, or to give you nice cold drinks. Freezing the Vodka as make a little bit of a positive difference

How big will we need? Not an easy question to answer as we all take / use different amounts of chilled products. For a family weekend away where we only need milk, eggs, bacon and wine 25Litres is enough for us. For a week away when we will take some frozen meals from home and a bit more booze we manage fine with a 70Litre Igloo. We dont take big bottles of pop or tins of beer / lager, so if you do you might want a bit more space

Cool blocks / Ice packs all generally have the same contents (a Propylene Glycol colution) so we buy these in the shapes / sizes that best suit our boxes - for us that tends to be the flat skinny ones