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Keeping Food Cool While You Go Off-Road

There is nothing better than loading up your 4x4 and heading out of town for a long weekend on the trail with your friends. At the same time, there is nothing worse than realizing that you forgot your sleeping bag, or opening your ice chest to find a sandwich floating in murky water and broken glass. While we cannot help you remember to bring your sleeping bag, we have comprised a list of ten simple suggestions that will keep your sandwiches dry and your beverages cold for your entire trip, no matter how many days you venture into the backcountry.   COOLER01 Cool Tip: Block ice takes up more space than cube ice, but it also lasts much longer in your cooler. Dry ice can last even longer, but can crack your plastic ice chest if it comes directly in contact with it, so it must be wrapped in paper. We typically use a combination of block ice for cooling and cube ice to fill in the voids. Note that not all ice is created equal either. “Wet” ice is close to 32 degrees and will melt faster than “dry” ice (not to be confused with “dry ice”) that is frozen below 32 degrees.   COOLER02 Cool Tip: If you just get your ice chest out of the garage and toss some warm beverages and a bag of ice in it, much of the ice will be consumed by cooling the ice chest itself and the contents. Place a bag of ice inside the ice chest a day before you leave for your trip so the cooler is already cold before you pack it to maximize efficiency.   COOLER03 Cool Tip: Not all coolers are created the same. Note how much thicker the insulation is on the Yeti cooler on the left when compared to the Coleman cooler on the right. The downside is that even while the external dimensions of these two coolers is nearly identical, the interior volume of the Coleman is greater than the Yeti. That is a tradeoff you will have to consider, particularly in a vehicle like a Jeep where space is at a premium.   COOLER04 Cool Tip: Jugs full of frozen water are a great alternative to block ice. They will keep your ice chest dry and the water can be consumed during your trip. The downside is that they take up a lot of space, so several small bottles may be more practical than one large bottle depending on how much room you have in your cooler.   COOLER05 Cool Tip: The black cover that came with our stainless Coleman cooler does a great job of keeping the ice chest from getting scratched, but its black cover is a lousy choice for keeping the contents cool. Consider bringing a moving blanket to cover your ice chest and provide and extra level of insulation in your vehicle and in camp.   COOLER06 Cool Tip: Water at the bottom of your cooler can be annoying, particularly if it gets items soggy. The water, while not as cold as ice, still helps keep items cool though and should not be drained from the bottom of the ice chest. Instead package items so they are water tight and keep them organized in trays above the water.   COOLER07 Cool Tip: Freeze meat and any other food that can be frozen before leaving on your trip to help keep all food cold and fresh. If you really want to be organized you can even prepare entire meals ahead of time and vacuum pack them before freezing them. All you need to do when you arrive at camp is boil them in hot water for a delicious meal with very little prep or clean up.   COOLER08 Cool Tip: Air is a terrible insulator. The ice will be wasted cooling air that just escapes every time you open your ice chest. Make sure that the cooler is packed all the way to the top to minimize the amount of air inside. You can add cubed ice to fill in the gaps or even newspaper to take up space; anything is better than air.   COOLER09 Cool Tip: Pack in reverse order so that the things you will need first are on top. This minimizes the amount of time you need to have the lid open, letting cool air escape from the ice chest. Pack items in your cooler in chronological order based on when you plan to use or consume the items. Put the items you will use last on the bottom of the cooler, and those you will need access to first, on top. Cold air travels down, so pack the items in the cooler first and then pack either crushed ice or block ice on top.   COOLER10 Cool Tip: A small soft cooler is a great place to keep snacks and beverages close at hand in the cab of your 4x4. We put ice packs in our AO Cooler, but frozen water bottles will also work to keep your lunch cold and provide drinking water as they melt.  

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