Coolers for camping at a music festival are a pretty big deal. You’ve stocked up on food and beverages for the music festival – now how do you keep the perishables cold all weekend? We’ve used a variety of coolers, large and small, wheeled, soft sided…each one has its pros and cons. So if you are looking for a new cooler for camping, tailgating, or chilling around a bonfire…check out our mini-guide to cooler technology!
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The Basic Cooler
The simplest and least expensive cooler is a basic insulated box with a lid that may or may not be hinged, and some type of handle(s). We have four of these and they’re pretty ice … I mean nice.
The smallest one is pretty much an insulated lunchbox – room for a couple of sandwiches, a canned beverage or two, and a small ice pack, but not much else. It has a handle and a shoulder strap for easy carrying. If you’re at a fest that allows you to bring your own food and drinks right into the concert venue itself, then you may want to use one of these mini-coolers for taking stuff from the campsite to the venue.
You can choose between the soft style or a hard sided cooler. The soft ones don’t stay chill quite as long, but are nice for storage when they are empty.
Need a Bigger Cooler
The next size up is a 28 quart cooler with an unhinged lid that can be flipped over and used as a small table, complete with cup holders! It holds a good 18 cans of your favorite drinks with room for ice and it’s easy to carry.
We also have two 48 quart coolers with hinged lids – those are the workhorses for most camping trips and music festivals. When fully loaded, they’re pretty heavy, so moving them is a two-person job. They both hold the same amount of stuff, but one has thicker insulation, so it keeps the chill longer than the other one. The downside is that it’s a little bigger on the outside, so it takes up more space in the car. The one with heavier insulation keeps the food and the other one holds the drinks.
A Wheel Good Cooler
If you can camp with your car, then you don’t really need a cooler with wheels. But if you have to haul your gear from the parking lot to the campsite, then you’ll be glad that some engineer looked at the basic cooler design, said, “Hold my beer,” and came up with the wheeled cooler. Its only disadvantage is that the wheels increase the exterior footprint, and the wheel wells take away some of the interior space. Basically you have a bigger cooler with less room in it, but you’ve saved yourself a trip to the chiropractor – not a bad trade-off.
No Ice Required
We recently acquired a plug-in cooler – an Igloo Iceless Thermoelectric model. That’s great if you’re camping near an electrical outlet, but don’t run it off of your parked car all weekend or you’ll kill your car’s battery. If you’re thinking about powering it with a solar panel or battery bank, it draws about 70 watts. Running it 24/7 would use 1.7 kWh of electricity each day. If the ambient temperature isn’t too hot, you could unplug it overnight and cut the energy use by a third or more.
We used ours for a long trip from the Midwest to the East Coast, keeping it plugged into a car outlet while driving. When we stayed at a motel overnight, we brought the cooler in and plugged it into an AC outlet. (The AC adapter costs extra.) When we went on day trips, we’d keep the cooler in the car, but it only ran when the car was running. With the car parked in direct sunshine on 90+ degree days, the Igloo kept its cool for 5 hours or more while we went sightseeing. (For extra insulation, we threw a blanket over it when it wasn’t running. Just remember to remove the blanket before starting it up again, otherwise the thermoelectric unit will overheat.)
If you have a long drive to get to the festival and you have the extra room in the car, a plug-in cooler is a nice option during the trip, but since it’s unlikely that you’ll be camping near an outlet, you’ll still need a regular cooler with ice.
Keep It Cool and Save Some Cash
Speaking of ice, we recommend that you take some old plastic soda or milk bottles, fill them most of the way with tap water, and freeze them a few days before the show. (Water expands when it freezes, so leave room for that.) They make great ice packs, and when the ice melts, you’ll have fresh drinking water that you didn’t pay $5 a bottle for. Now you’ve saved money on ice and water, and you’ve kept some plastic out of the landfills. You’re the coolest!
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