You only buy a cooler for one reason, right? To keep stuff cold. And when it comes to coolers, colder for longer is what it’s all about.
But here’s the thing, before I got into the cooler business and became an enthusiast I didn’t realize just what goes into keeping your stuff colder, for longer.
I faced questions like, when designing and building a premium cooler, what are the features, design elements, and materials that really matter? How are some cooler makers cutting back to sell at a loIr price point? What’s just marketing BS?
And over the past 2 years I’ve spoken to countless product designers, parts suppliers, and manufacturers (yes even the team who manufactured coolers early on for one of the world’s leading premium cooler companies) and what I discovered was pretty cool.
So I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned so when you set out to buy your next cooler you’re a wiser shopper.
BUYING A COOLER: WHAT MATTERS MOST.
1) Decide what’s important to you.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the old adage about quality/price/time? How can you only get 2 out of the 3? Well, the same holds true for coolers but those elements are replaced with size/construction quality/cost. If for example, you value size and quality, then costs go up. If you have budget limits, then it’s either going to be a smaller cooler or will be lower quality and not perform as well.
So while size is really important (and is really the thing that most people focus on), you’ve got to balance that with your budget and the quality of cooler you’re looking for.
Other things to consider:
- A larger cooler gives you more space but it’s also larger and heavier than a smaller cooler so it may be more difficult to carry and store.
- Whatever the size cooler, to maximize thermal performance you need to keep it full of either drinks, food, or ice. The more empty within a cooler, the more ambient air (ie warm air) is trapped in the cooler.
- So size is important: too large it takes more ice and contents to fill it. Too small and it won’t carry the drinks, snacks, or food you need it to.
2) Hard coolers outperform soft coolers.
While soft coolers are convenient to carry and store while not in use, all things being equal a hard cooler will outperform a soft cooler.
It just comes down to the differences in thermal properties of materials and how they’re constructed.
Soft coolers are created to fold, bend, and to be flexible. The insulation used within the liners is flexible and compresses under weight or pressure. So as soon as you load up a cooler the “wall thickness” shrinks, bringing down its thermal properties.
Hard coolers are, well, hard. So the rigid rotomolded plastic (that’s used for premium coolers) keeps the thick polyurethane foam insulation (that’s also used for premium coolers) from compressing – keeping the thermal properties unchanged.
One more thing, soft coolers (especially economy ones) can leak when ice melts, they typically don’t have a solid outer shell to keep them from drooping, sagging and leaking, particularly on uneven surfaces. Provided you don’t take a baseball bat or drive over your cooler, hard coolers don’t leak or sag.
3) Pay attention to wall thickness, it matters.
The thicker the insulation, the better a cooler should perform (provided the walls are not empty, see our next point) because a thicker wall means more insulation.
Yes, a thicker wall will also reduce the internal capacity and make the cooler heavier and higher cost, but none of that matters if your drinks have gone warm or the ice cream melted everywhere.
So really take a look at these three numbers:
- Cooler dimensions – typically the outer dimensions of the cooler. You want something that fits in the space you’re going to keep it as you travel (say, a Model 3 truck well perhaps?).
- Cooler capacity – typically the volume of the interior of the cooler represented in gallons or litres. This mostly helps for comparing between coolers or how many cans of soda a particular cooler may hold.
- Wall thickness – typically represented in inches or millimeters, this really matters most for what you can expect from a cooler in terms of keeping things cooler for longer. The higher the number, the better.
4) Make sure it comes with an insulated lid.
This is one of those things I was surprised to find out. Many coolers rave about their performance or capacity, but don’t actually have an insulated lid. Having zero insulation across the top of the cooler essentially exposes one entire side of the cooler to the environment – especially important if the sun is beating down on it.
I was baffled, really. If only 5 of the 6 sides of a cooler are insulated, is it expected it to perform as well as a 6-side-insulated cooler?
5) It doesn’t have to be ugly.
While I’d be the first to admit that there are some really great looking coolers out there – most coolers look like an afterthought. Like plastic patio furniture, they serve a purpose but you don’t look good or feel good sitting there in the chair as the kids cannon-ball into the pool.
If you care about looks, you have to move to a premium cooler. They tend to look better with their smooth finish, they perform better than lower-cost coolers, and they’re usually purpose-built for a certain activity (or vehicle).
THE CNCT COOLER (pronounced “Connect”)
When I set out to create a premium cooler, specifically designed for the trunk well of a Model 3, I didn’t know how challenging and rewarding the whole process would be.
I just wanted to share some of my learnings that I picked up along the way to save you from being that person who’s sitting at the charging station on a hot day, warm drink in hand.
If you want to learn more about our CNCT Cooler, please check out our site.