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PostPosted: July 21st, 2021, 11:21 am 

Joined: June 28th, 2001, 7:00 pm
Posts: 1995
Location: Freeland, Maryland USA
Callee wrote:
Hi everyone, hoping you can recommend me a cooler.

Last year I went on a big cooler hunt. I wanted something that could fit in one of our blue barrels so that it would be easy to tie up in the air.

I can recommend a cooler, perhaps even one that will work inside a barrel. But, as usual, it may take me a while to get there. TLDR: A well insulated 20 or 30 liter dry bag will keep ice for 4+ days. More about that later.

I’m not sure I would put any wet ice cooler I have used inside my food barrel, which is sideways in the canoe and upright in camp; even the most leak-proof cooler may not be 100% water tight, and I’d hate for all of my dry goods to become barrel soup.

If you want things cold on day 4 or 5 the usual advice applies. Freeze anything you can, use block ice (or frozen milk jugs of water) and fill the interstitial spaces between things with cube ice, the fuller the better, empty headspace is an ice killer.

Don’t open the cooler every 5 minutes, and no “browsing” with the cooler open, letting the cold out and the warm in. Keep the cooler in the shade and use a reflective cover in sunny areas. Etc, etc good practices.

Beyond that one of the (gulp) $300 Yeti or knock off coolers will work well. Thick, insulated walls, latching, gasketed lid, etc. But they are crazy expensive, heavy, bulky, and the uber thick walls leave less room inside than you might think. Yup, bought me this $300 Yeti the size of a steamer trunk, but it’ll keep ice for a week, and has room for a couple steaks and almost a full case of beer. Maybe on a raft, overkill in a canoe.

As with many things I got curious and did a cooler ice retention test some years ago, filling 5 or 6 different coolers, from cheapo zippered soft side (filled with ice, was gone in a day), to a pricey reflective Solar Bear (almost 5 days with floating ice remaining, but that was a big cooler, filled with several large bags of ice).

I set the coolers outside in the sun and opened them once in the morning and once in the evening to check the ice levels, taking thermometer reads in the no-ice residual water ‘til it went tepid. The priciest of the coolers tested, constantly in the sun, held ice for 4+ days and was cold/cool on day 5. But so did a DIY’ed cooler, performing so impressively that I constructed a larger version.

Those DIY’ed coolers are 20L and 30L Sealline dry bags. With the roll down dry bag top they are well sealed, but I wouldn’t trust them to not leak a bit if wet iced and sideways in a barrel. The outsides are permanently wrapped with a layer (or two) of cheap blue ensolite pad, contact cemented in place, with an exercise foam base glued on the bottom for insulation from the warm ground.

ImageP7200002 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

The insides have a foam circle bottom, a sleeve of foam friction fitted around the sides and a foam lid. All of those pieces are unglued, just tightly fitted, so they can be easily removed after the trip to clean/dry the inside.

The three interior parts of those dry bag coolers; foam bottom, wrap around sleeve insert, foam lid.

ImageP7200004 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

The inside of that dry bag cooler with bottom and side foam sleeve in place.

ImageP7200006 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

With the foam lid in place. The pull string is a necessity if you value your fingernails.

ImageP7200007 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

The lid is two pieces of foam glued together, with a smaller center circle so it fits tightly in place.

ImageP7200008 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

For convenience of carry I found a couple old day packs in which the insulated dry bags fit perfectly. Eh, confessionally, Maryland State Parks prohibit alcohol, but, you know, that’s just my day pack.

ImageP7200010 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

I used one of the DIY dry bag coolers on a sunny desert river trip and it functioned very well, keeping ice, or at least retaining cold, into day 5. Not a lot of available shade on desert rivers, and with family style ice chest coolers we bring a thick Mylar blanket to drape over the cooler for that purpose.

I thought about making a custom fitted, lift-off “cap” for them, like an upside down U, but instead built removable Reflectix covers that fit around the day packs and straps, with raiseable Reflectix lids.

ImageP7200012 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

The Reflectix is overlapped and Velcroed to itself, easy to remove if I don’t need it off-season, or when I don’t want my “that’s just a daypack” to look like R2-D2’s carryon.

The Reflectix keeps the heat of the sun off in the canoe, in camp I don’t feel the need to constantly move the cooler into the shade, and adds another layer of insulation. Fully “dressed” it does take a couple extra steps to access the cold stuff; flipping the Reflectix cover back, opening the day pack, opening the dry bag, removing the interior lid, and reverse to re-seal, so it isn’t as easy as simply flipping up the lid of a standard cooler.

Keeps me from going to the well too often, and I’ve learned to say “I’m going in for a beer, anybody need one?”

An insulated dry bag cooler could be used in a barrel without wet ice, using frozen foods, ice packs or frozen soda bottles of water.

Those original ice retention tests were done in the heat of summer, but without the day pack and Reflectix cover. It is hot summer again; I may take the 20L, which has at least 3 layers of foam on every side, including at the bottom and top flap of the day pack, fill it with ice again and test it again.

Will report back.

PostPosted: July 22nd, 2021, 10:09 am 

Joined: June 28th, 2001, 7:00 pm
Posts: 1995
Location: Freeland, Maryland USA
No time like the present, the forecast is for highs in the mid-80’s to mid 90’s and sunny for the next week. Replicating the previous cooler tests I filled the 20L dry bag cooler with cube ice. Filled to the lid as before it held just under 8lbs of convenience store ice. No frozen water bottle or etc, which I know would last longer, just cube ice.

The insulated dry bag cooler is sitting outside in the sun, this time encased in the day pack with Reflectix cover. I will reposition it in full sun as needed and check it at 8pm and 8am each day until the ice and any residual chill is gone. Results in 5 or 6 days.

One additional benefit of the 20L dry bag cooler, without the day pack and Reflectix it fits in some sea kayak hatches.

PostPosted: July 23rd, 2021, 9:22 am 
User avatar

Joined: February 26th, 2009, 11:13 am
Posts: 151
Location: Eganville, ON
I've been on a few short portage luxury trips where I though it would be nice to have some cool drinks as well.

My solution was to turn a 60 liter barrel into an insulated cooler with 2" thick walls. I took a 2" thick sheet of good quality xps foam board, cut a circle to fit the bottom of the barrel, cut a bunch of 2"x2" strips for the sides and lined it with a seal line dry bag.

To assemble everything place the bottom disk, spray foam around the edge, then add all the vertical strips with spray foam between them then quickly insert the dry bag and fill it with water to hold the shape while everything drys for a couple of days.

Once dry use a router with a straight guide bit to cut the top of the foam and dry bag nice and neat to the ID of the top. Seal the cut surface with epoxy and cut another circle of foam that fits tight on top. If you get the depth right the barrel lid should add some down pressure to hold everything nice and tight and you can glue the foam disk to the lid.

My barrel cooler works as well as a coleman extreme; keeps ice for 3-4 days. It will hold 48 regular cans (12 per layer). It is so much easier to carry than a regular cooler; that I use it all the time.

Unfortunately I cant seem to find any pics; I'll update later once I find some.

PostPosted: July 29th, 2021, 2:20 pm 

Joined: June 28th, 2001, 7:00 pm
Posts: 1995
Location: Freeland, Maryland USA
Dry Bag Cooler Ice Retention Test Redux

Same “technique” as the last test. Starting in the morning the smaller 20L dry bag cooler was filled with (nearly) 8lbs of cubes, and the cooler was moved around into the sun as the day progressed, opened and checked twice a day.

ImageP7220002 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

12 hours later that evening - Ice level essentially the same, down a hair
24 hours later, next morning - Not much change overnight, ice level down a half inch
36 hours, evening day 2 – A center core of cubes with a gap around the perimeter, down 1 ½” inches from the lid.

48 hours, morning day 3 – Warm night last night, the center core of ice is down 4 inches, and resting in a pool of ice water. The empty headspace in the dry bag cooler is not helping with the ice retention.

ImageP7230003 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

60 hours, evening day 3 – Hot mid-90’s day, a floating raft of ice far down inside the cooler.
72 hours, morning day 4 – another warm night, a handful of ice floating in a pool of water
84 hours, evening day 4 – Another hot day, no ice remaining, 42F water temp
96 hours, morning day 5 – Still felt cold when I plunge my hand in, 61F
102 hours – I got curious about how long the residual ice water cool would last. 66F at noon.
108 hours, evening day 5 – 69F. It was a cloudy day, back in the mid-80’s.

In rough comparison to the previous tests, this time with just the 20L dry bag cooler, but in a day pack, and the day pack wrapped in the Reflectix coozie. Similar weather to last time, mid-80’s daytime, mid-60’s low nighttime for the first couple days, then mid-90’s daytime, mid-70 low overnight, sunny most days.

In the previous test the giant “48-pack” Solar Bear made it to day 5 filled with ice (I bought a like 50lbs of ice for that multi-cooler test), and the 30L dry bag cooler was impressively close behind. The Solar Bear has a nearly 3 foot long zipper, and zippers on coolers are a loss-of-cold point, and prone to failure.

Another cold killer is headspace. When I have extra, uh, beverages on a trip I sink them in a dunk bag (or leave them out on cool nights) and, when chilled, add them to the cooler to occlude empty space. Keeping the cooler full-ish for less dead air space when the previous contents are becoming depleted seems to help.

In that regard size matters, a large volume cooler may hold more ice, but when the ice is melting and some of the contents are gone, also has more empty headspace.

In the previous test the smaller 20L was nearly out of ice the evening of day 3, and had naught but cool water by day 4 the next evening.

This time around the now uber-insulated 20L dry bag cooler held ice, or at least ice water into day 5. No doubt the day pack enclosure (which has foam inside the bottom and in the top flap pocket) and sun Reflectix coozie added a couple days ice retention time to that smaller version.

Volume-wise the 30L dry bag cooler holds, in convenient 12 ounce units of measurement, 21 cans in three stacks of 7. The 20L holds only 8 cans, in two stacks of 4.

Those were acid tests. I could have put in a frozen water bottle or two, or frozen foodstuffs or, you know, not have left the cooler in the sun all damn day.

Heck, who can resist; I’m going to refill the 20L cooler with ice, stick it in the dark 70f basement and not even check it ‘til day 5. Or, more real use revealing, stick in a frozen water bottle, seven pre-chilled cans of beer and fill the rest of the dry bag with cube ice.

Any cool, dark and shady predictions on ice duration?

PostPosted: August 1st, 2021, 3:11 pm 
User avatar

Joined: March 26th, 2013, 9:27 pm
Posts: 511
Location: Winnipeg, MB
scratchypants wrote:
I'd be inclined to try insulating the blue barrel itself - or at least a section of it. Spray glue in some closed-cell foam pieces or shoot low-expansion urethane down there then cut a disk of rigid foam board in half to make the lid/false bottom. You could even add a bulkhead fitting down low for drainage.

I've thought about this. Even thought about putting a 30l inside a 60l and spray foaming the air gap.

I don't take things that need to be kept cool enough to warrant the effort.

PostPosted: August 6th, 2021, 4:04 pm 

Joined: August 17th, 2001, 7:00 pm
Posts: 30
Location: Peterborough, Ontario Canada
Some great ideas here. I will simply add that I've seen various youtubes which show that in many cases the lids on cheaper rectangular type coolers are often hollow, despite appearing thick enough to suggest they are foam-filled - those sneaky manufacturers market the foam-lidded versions as the more expensive super duper versions. The suggestion offered to improve cheaper coolers' performance is to drill the lids in several places in order to inject expanding foam. I know this isn't the style of cooler being discussed, but thought it worth mentioning. A small-medium one can be easily hung in a hockey bag or similar, and can also serve as a seat or work surface. No question they can be a hassle to portage.

I intend to put foam in one of my cheap coolers but haven't gotten around to it. Meantime, for a recent last-minute trip I quickly cut out a rectangle of reflectix (shiny stuff in Mike's posts) to set just inside the top of our hollow-lidded cooler. I believe that minor effort was worth doing. Loose chunks of Reflectix would also be a quick, cheap and lightweight option for shading any cooler, pack or barrel in a canoe while paddling. With something else on top to prevent blinding glare for the stern paddler, of course.

PostPosted: August 11th, 2021, 6:15 pm 

Joined: May 19th, 2014, 9:48 pm
Posts: 31
I use these in various configurations. I don't trip in the summer due to the number of people in the woods so I can't comment in the high heat season.

However, if I'm not portaging (or short hauls) and essentially staying put I use these two -

Stanley Adventure.
RTIC 20 qt.

I never put anything but ice in the RTIC and I feed ice into the small Stanley. I keep milk, OJ, a couple of beers at a time and and everything is in ice water. I keep the RTIC out of the sun and is always covered with a wet white towel. We plan for the "opening of the cooler" ritual and minimize the number of times it's opened. Often times only once a day. In May and October I might just bring the small Stanley and I can keep ice for a number of days with just milk and OJ. On these colder trips I just drink my beer/diet cokes at whatever the temp of the water is.

Portaging - no cooler at all.

PostPosted: August 12th, 2021, 11:15 am 
User avatar

Joined: February 26th, 2009, 11:13 am
Posts: 151
Location: Eganville, ON
Here are the pics of mine. Been working great for 10 years now or so. Keeps ice 3 or 4 days no problem.



You do not have the required permissions to view the files attached to this post.

PostPosted: August 13th, 2021, 2:40 pm 

Joined: June 28th, 2001, 7:00 pm
Posts: 1995
Location: Freeland, Maryland USA
Improving cooler insulation

We have an old, hard-sided Igloo “Marine”, still occasionally used on family trips, but mostly nowadays relegated to life as a tripping truck cooler under the bed cap. Even shaded in the truck that old “marine” cooler was so-so at ice retention; the walls are only 1” thick, and I suspect they are filled with air, not insulation.

It now has a better quality latch; I switched out the flimsy plastic one with a sturdier replacement version from Igloo. And later replaced the crappy OEM plastic latches on friend’s Igloos. The OEM ones were creased -plastic destined to fail. Hinges too.

Thanks Igloo, I have to better-replacement-parts re-build a reliable cooler? ... XwQAvD_BwE

There was no gasket on the lid of that Igloo, just plastic ridge seated in plastic groove. But some ¼” wide one-side adhesive foam window insulation in the lid reveal resolved that obvious cold leakage flaw.

ImageP8120011 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

That lid is snug-as-a-bug pry open tight now, with a much better seal. That simple weather stripping gasket added at least a day to ice retention. Maybe more; it’s hard to tell, some additional exterior insulation was installed on that tripping truck Igloo.

The side-shelving in the back of the tripping truck was cut short on one side, to accommodate that cooler at the tailgate end. But I left a bit of wiggle room, enough to contact cement sheets of exercise flooring to the outside of the cooler as extra insulating layers. Bottom, back, top and part way up the sides.

ImageP8120027 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

There are carry handles on the sides of that Igloo, and in tripping truck use it is sandwiched between foam covered tailgate and carpeted shelf end, so additionally insulated at the ends.

Hmmm, I guess there is room left on the sides for additional insulative exercise flooring; gawd knows I have saved every scrap of that stuff, and always have contact cement in the shop. The less often I have to buy ice the better; I might as well cover the rest of the sides with scraps of exercise foam.

The addition of that exercise flooring resolved another issue with the Igloo. The lid had two levels, with a lower level indented fish measuring scale.

I wanted the top flush. A narrow sub-strip of exercise flooring and voila, another handy fully-flush flat surface. And, with foam exercise flooring atop things set or strapped on the cooler don’t slide around as much.

ImageP8120013 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

Yeah, yeah, I am obviously smitten with exercise flooring. The truck tailgate and bed were un-cushioned hell on my aging knees when climbing in and out, and road noisy when a shift driver was trying to sleep back there. Never much bothered me, but I can sleep through anything, and can make believe tires on pavement is the sound of ocean waves. At least until my driver catches a rumble strip.

Beyond shift-sleeping time that exercise flooring is handy on the truck bed when out shopping for life’s necessities (think pricey cases of bottles IPA’s). Placing them on the exercise foamed truck bed stuff doesn’t slide around with potential breakage vigor. Groceries and hardware stuff as well.

On long summer road trips, or backcountry desert meanders where convenience store ice replenishment can be infrequent (or pricey), I could have unglued-wrapped exercise foam inside that cooler for an interior insulative layer, a la the removable foam inserts in the dry bag coolers.

But, serendipity, the soft sided Solar Bear fits inside perfectly, with room to drop any excess convenience store ice, waste not want not, around the edges.

ImageP8120017 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

If I’m buying ice I’m using every damn cube dammit; those couple few left in the plastic bag won’t-fit in the cooler go into the remains of this morning’s coffee mug, for daytime iced coffee sipping while I drive. I can only hope that I took the time to brew my own, and didn’t fill mug or thermos with burnt truck stop bleech.

That old, once good in its day, Igloo Marine is/was a POS in ice-retention, at least in comparison to a modern, better designed $300 Yeti. But, with a better latch, DIY gasket and extra insulation it now is damn near the equal. With the soft side Solar Bear iced down inside, maybe better.

Plus I can grab a near fully ice-intact, soft-side, compactable-when-empty cooler inside from the Igloo at the launch.

Of course the exterior of the Igloo was not white anymore, and grey exercise foam is not my first choice in sun reflective cooler material, either in the canoe during sunny, open water days paddling days, or in un-shaded camp use. This was easily rectified with the usual Reflectix material.

ImageP8120020 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

For extra insulation and sun reflectivity, exposed in a hot canoe or in sunny camp, that Reflectix stuff is easy to DIY, and worth its near weightlessness. That Igloo Reflectix cover is one piece, with an attached fold-over lid and wrap-around Velcro corset sides.

ImageP8120022 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

ImageP8120023 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

Detached, folded up and put away it doesn’t take up much room, and in cooler coozie use it weighs all of 10 ounces; a good trade for improved ice retention.

Yeah, I’m cheap. I’m not buying a $300 Yeti when I already have several coolers. Some gasket material, some added insulation, a wrap-around Reflectix coozie, sometimes an internal soft side cooler and I have a finger gesture for Yeti.

PostPosted: August 17th, 2021, 5:19 pm 

Joined: February 18th, 2021, 9:21 am
Posts: 46
Thanks for the great responses everyone. I decided to try out a cooler from recreational barrel works that was linked to earlier. They look like a good canadian company, their product looks like it will suit my needs perfectly, and I was also able to order a few different barrel organizers at the same time, which look super cool!

Thanks again, I'll post an update next month how well the new cooler works.

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