Eskies. Hieleras. Coolers. Iceboxes. It’s all the same really.
If you want to cut your budget so you can save and invest more in order to retire as early as possible, you may need to make some improvements in your diet, food prep, and shopping habits. If you’re already rolling your eyes about this, make sure to go back and wrap your head around the mindset I described here.
I’ll share some recipes and tips and tricks I learn along the way relating to all things food, but for today let’s talk about keeping yourself fueled with good food, affordably, when you’re not at your house. Let’s talk about Coolers.
In August, my friend from Chicago was visiting me in the Baja. One day, as we were preparing to head for a surf, he commented on me quickly but efficiently and effectively filling one of my small coolers with fluids, frozen goods, snacks and anything else that is better off out of the desert heat at the beach (like surf wax). As he stoodby, he commented “man you pack a mean cooler”.
And I guess he’s right. I have really gotten it down to a science over the years of camping and road trips, but especially since moving to Mexico and going on multi-day excursions here on the desert beaches of Baja California Sur, where it’s important to follow all the rules to a tea (unless you have a $500 YETI* cooler), if you want anything to stay cool and last more than an afternoon in the desert sun.
So, here’s a quick run-down of the most important strategies and things to keep in mind:
- Keep it full – use towels or ‘dry’ food to make sure it is completely full at all times. Bring some extra things to stuff in there (such as, dirty clothes in a large ziplock bag) as you will probably start to empty the cooler as you go, but you still want to keep it full. If it’s full of a lot of airspace, your ice will be working very hard to continuously cool it down.
- Cool it first – much like you should put some hot water in your thermos for a few minutes before filling, you should cool your cooler as much as you can before filling. Why have your ice work to cool down the cooler itself? That’s a little backwards. Toss a sacrifical bag of ice or some other frozen goods that you don’t need to take with you in the cooler the night before you leave, or at least for an hour or two before filling.
- Combo Solid ice and Cubed/Crushed Ice – the best way to keep your things cold for the longest amount of time is to use a combination of solid/block ice along with crushed/cubed ice. I take a few milk jugs or similar and freeze them ahead of time, as well as any other liquids I might be bringing that can tolerate being frozen. Then I’ll also pour some cubed ice in as I pack it, this essentially fills any other airspaces with ice which is a huge advantage over filling with air.
- Frozen foods – to add to the fun, any food you have that can be frozen beforehand should be. Bringing some meat? Pick it up a few days beforehand and freeze first. But first, check your freezer for freezer-burned sausages and things like that. Chances are you’re going to throw them away at some point in the future instead, but camping you may actually use them because, well, everything tastes better camping. I also like to try to eliminate things that aren’t so compatible with coolers and moisture, such as egg cartons. Put some eggs in a mason jar, and throw that in your cooler. Less mess and less space used per egg.
- Don’t drain water – water is cooler than air and has a greater specific heat capacity (takes less to heat and cool than air), even if not icey-cold any more.
- Keep it closed as much as possible – this goes without saying (such as keeping out of the sun), but everytime you open the cooler any airspace inside is warmed and will need to be cooled again when you close it, adding heat to your ice and melting it. And there will always be some airspace no matter how full you’ve kept it.
- Electrolytes – In hot places I like to add some sugar-free electrolyte tablets to my water, and since this will lower the melting point of the water, it can be a good way to make your ice last longer while still being able to consume it in the end (unlike salt water, which will also stay frozen longer). Also keep in mind that if you’re traveling and consuming de-mineralized water, you’re going to want to get some salts into you, and I find an electrolyte beverage (homemade or a sugar-free tablets/powder like NUUN, NOT Gatorage or Powerade) can make all the difference.
That’s about all I can think of for now, but I know I’m missing some and have more tricks and tips to learn, so feel free to chime in below and let me know what you get up to to maximize your cooler’s functionality while out adventuring?
*If YETI would like to send me a 65L cooler and maybe a smaller day-cooler to remove this post so that people don’t learn what they can do with their regular coolers, that would be OK with me.