4 Ways to Keep Camping Food Cold

Vintage metal Coleman ice chest

Vintage Coleman cooler (photo by Caffinara on Flickr)

The year I was born, 1965, Coleman® introduced the popular steel-sided ice chest that I imagine many of us grew with, camping with our families. I imagine that it wasn’t all that great, compared to some of today’s high-tech plastic coolers, but it was as much a part of my early camping experience as the smell of kerosene from the camp stove and I kind of miss its retro-simplicity.

Unlike 1965, we have a lot of choices these days, when it comes to keeping our camping food cold. There are coolers of all different shapes and sizes, hard-sided, soft-sided and even refrigerated units. We have the boating industry to thank for a lot of the technology we see in today’s multi-day ice chests and, indeed, some of the best (and most expensive) coolers on the market are aimed primarily at boaters.

Go Vintage

Coleman metal ice chest

Retro-styled Coleman Steel Belted Cooler

Colman stopped making their metal cooler in 1994, but that doesn’t mean you have to work the garage sales to get your retro fix. In 2001, they introduced a reinterpretation of the old classic, under the Steel Belted® name.

Size: 54-quart
Dimensions: 24.25” x 16.75” x 16.75” (L, W, H)
Weight: 22-pounds

Go Wheeled

Igloo All-Terrain Cooler

Igloo All-Terrain Cooler

Big ice chests work great on boats, where you don’t have to move them around, much. On land, though, these behemoths can tip the scales at over 100-pounds, which makes them cumbersome for family camping. Igloo® gives you the best of both worlds with their All-Terrain™ line of wheeled  ice chests.

Size: 120-quart
Dimensions: 38.31” x 17.38” x 17.75” (L, W, H)
Weight: 32-pounds

Go Soft

AO Coolers soft cooler

AO Coolers 48-Pack Soft Sided Cooler

Soft-sided coolers have a bit of a bad rap as being okay for picnic lunches, but not serious contenders for family camping. That’s not the case with American Outdoors® coolers, however. They feature more insulation than other soft-sided coolers and are guaranteed to hold ice for 24-hours at 120-degrees.

Size: 36-quart (approximately)
Dimensions: 21” x 13” x 13” (L, W, H)
Weight: 6-pounds

Go Refrigerated

Engel portable refrigerator

Engel portable refrigerator-freezer

Like soft-sided coolers, 12-Volt coolers have a reputation for not keeping food cold, in addition to having lots of reliability problems. Engel coolers are a different story, though, and their AC/DC coolers feature ultra-efficient motors that have a great reputation for longevity.

Size: 40-quart
Dimensions: 25” x 15.5” x 18.5” (L, W, H)
Weight: 48-pounds

See also…

12 thoughts on “4 Ways to Keep Camping Food Cold

  1. Hey Roy, good stuff. I just looked into one of those Engel coolers. $$$$!!! I am a big fan of innovative ideas, but that’s pretty pricey. I have never been convinced of those 12v Thermoelectric coolers until we recently did a review of the Coleman 40 quart one for our website. We kept a thermometer in it the whole time. It maintained between 38 and 42 degrees all weekend outside (In the shade) in 90 plus temps. I am now a believer and will be offering them as options on our campers.

    • Right, Andrew – those high-end coolers a major bucks 🙂 Good to hear about the Coleman – those (12v in general) have really gotten a bad reputation, over the past few years.

  2. How lovely that I “stumbled” onto your blog!
    I’m in my second season of base camping ( did lots of bicycle camping in my wasted youth;)) and am amazed at the array of camping gear designed to enjoy the outdoors in comfort.

    Already own a 50 odd qt. Colman 5 day Xtreme cooler last year and must say it’s quite the lifesaver. With judicious use of frozen juice containers ( I like the sq. ones best fer spacesaving) and lots of Ziploc gallon bags, I was able to premake, pre freeze lunches and dinners to serve 4 for 5 days. Everything kept cold to frozen for the full trip.

    Still that wheeled Igloo you featured above looks mighty fine. Going out for 2 weeks this year and would love to move the liquids to the Coleman and use the Igloo for food.

    Still, I wonder if Igloo has sacrificed interior space for extra insulation as is the case w/ Coleman. Wish somewhere I could see the interior online. Not many camping stores here in NYC.

  3. Ah, such fond memories of the metal cooler! Whenever I’m in the Coleman outlet I always pause and consider purchasing one of the newer versions, if for nothing else than nostalgia! However, then I remember that I’m older and wiser, which is why I own a version with wheels! The one I have isn’t all-terrain like the one you mentioned here. Guess I just added one more thing to my wish-list!

  4. I hadn’t heard of the Engel refrigerated cooler. We had a Coleman unit that worked ok. But it seemed better for day-trips. It wouldn’t work that well if it was packed too heavily. I’m going to have to invest in one of those wheeled jobs. It about strains my back hauling our big loaded cooler from the car to the camp kitchen.

    • Right, Chris – most of the 12V coolers are not worth the trouble. They don’t cool very well and the motors burnout pretty quick. The Engel is one of the few that has a really good reputation.

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