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Coolers: What to consider before you buy
From camping to cookouts and fishing trips to football games, coolers are the ultimate accessories for any outdoor excursion. They keep your food and your drinks cool when it's hot outside, and protect your snacks and beverages from insects and the elements. Learn about the different types and some important things to consider that can help you shop.
Types of coolers: When you think of coolers, chest coolers may come to mind first. Like a trunk, they typically open from the top and have hinged lids, and you can fill the inside with food and drinks. They're easy to access, and they come in a variety of sizes, colors, styles and prices. Wheeled coolers typically resemble chest coolers placed on wheels. This makes it more convenient to roll them long distances, like across the parking lot from the tailgate to the big game or down the hiking trail to your picnic site.
Soft-sided coolers are lightweight and flexible, making them easier to carry on camping, fishing and hunting trips. You may even want to use them to carry your lunch to work or school. These can be easier to flatten or fold when you're not using them, which helps you conserve storage space. Beverage coolers hold and dispense liquid instead of individual cans or bottles. Thermoelectric coolers keep items hot or cold for longer periods of time, so they're a great choice if you're heading out on a lengthier excursion.
Where, when and how you use your cooler: When choosing between the different types of coolers, the first thing to decide is what you plan to do with it. If you like to entertain, you may want a large chest cooler that holds enough drinks for all of your guests at your parties and backyard barbecues. You likely won't mind leaving this cooler in place, so wheels won't be necessary. If you plan to take your cooler when you go hiking or camping, you'll want something that's convenient to move from place to place, like a soft-sided cooler or a wheeled cooler. If you're attending a concert or football game, the venue may have restrictions on the style or size you can bring inside. If you plan to travel during the colder months, a thermometric cooler may be ideal if you have access to electricity, because it can double as a warmer.
Size matters: To take your cooler outside of your home, you'll need space for it in your vehicle. You'll also need space in your home to store it. Narrow your search down by height, weight and length. Once you've considered transportation and storage options, think about the internal size of your cooler or the volume. It's usually measured and advertised in gallons or quarts. Obviously, when you're having a party, you'll need one that can handle a large amount of drinks, while if you're camping alone or with one other person, a smaller size will probably do. You can typically find sizes ranging from fewer than 5 gallons to over 100 gallons. A 20-quart (5-gallon) cooler typically holds about 25 soda cans. Keep in mind that ice, ice packs and other types of insulation may take up some of the available space.
Durability: Coolers range from basic to high-end, and they're made from a variety of materials. Some are more durable than others. Again, where and how you plan to use it will play a role in your choice. For example, if you're planning to roll it through the woods to a campsite or store it on your boat during fishing season, you'll want something more durable than you would if you were just serving cold drinks at your pool party. The majority of coolers are made from plastic, because it's lightweight, inexpensive and typically waterproof. Some higher-end coolers may have metal components that usually last longer and rubber components that offer tighter sealing. Soft-sided coolers are made from stiffer fabrics like nylon with waterproof backing. Check to see if the cooler has a warranty to get an idea of ifs lifespan, but keep in mind that exposing it to the elements and moving it around frequently can shorten this duration.
Additional features: Once you've considered the size, durability and type of cooler you need, there are a few extra features you may want to keep in mind. If you aren't buying a wheeled cooler, think about how you plan to carry it. Some come with side handles, some with handles on top and some even have shoulder straps, but top and side handles are typically easiest to use with smaller, more portable coolers. You'll also want to consider how long you want to keep your items cold. Most coolers will do so for a few hours, which is great for a tailgate, while others can work up to a few days, which is ideal for camping or an overnight fishing trip."