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Five hacks to help you get the most out of your Esky or cooler

As the weather warms up, keep your cool with our expert tips.

esky full of ice and drinks keeping cold
Last updated: 19 September 2019

Is there anything more disappointing than a lukewarm drink on a summer's day? Whether you're cooking up a barbie in the backyard or hiring a campervan and driving in the outback for a month, keeping your food and beverages nicely chilled is an important part of most Australians' leisure time. 

Here are five simple tips to help you keep your esky, ice box, chilly bin, cooler – whatever you want to call it – as cold as possible. 

1. Pre-chill everything

Every cold thing in your cooler will help everything else stay cold – but a room-temperature bottle of soft drink will let the team down and bring the temperature up. 

It's worth getting organised in advance to make sure your drinks stay frosty. You could even freeze food and non-carbonated drinks the night before to keep things extra chilly. 

CHOICE tip: To keep your food safe, it needs to stay below 4°C (or above 60°C), so packing your cooler should be the very last thing you do before heading out of the door to make sure everything stays as cold as possible. 

2. Fill 'er up

A full cooler is a cold cooler. "You want the maximum thermal mass you can get," says CHOICE cooler expert Ashley Iredale. "The fewer air gaps, the better."

Any unfilled space in your cooler will warm up, so fill up empty space with ice bricks, ice, cold food and drinks. 

If you're using ice bricks, place a layer on the bottom and a layer on the top – and squeeze some down the sides if there's room.

If you're packing food and drinks together, put cans and bottles down the bottom, and use oven racks to keep your salads, sandwiches and other foods separate on top. This will stop your food going soggy when the ice melts. 

"Some of the bigger, more expensive coolers come with baskets for this purpose, but you can rig up a DIY version yourself without too much hassle," says Ashley. 

CHOICE tip: You can make huge ice blocks by freezing water in ice cream containers or 1L milk bottles. But you'll need to plan ahead to make sure your cooler has enough room for these and all your food and drinks.

3. Location, location, location

When it comes to where you place your cooler, choose wisely.

First, make sure it's in the shade, not your hot car or the blazing sun. And think about where the sun will be in a few hours' time – you don't want to move a heavy cooler.

If it has a drainage point, consider where the melted ice will actually drain to. Make sure your tent or picnic blanket isn't downhill from your cooler, otherwise the great thaw will literally put a dampener on things. 

And a word of warning about safety. Secure your cooler when travelling in your car: in an accident, it could become a projectile if it's not tied down. And no-one wants to be knocked off by a flying VB stubby. (It would be a particularly Australian way to go, but still.)

4. Keep a lid on it

Keep the lid of your cooler closed as much as possible, and try to open it as little as possible – be generous and ask your mates if they want a drink when you're getting one. 

And make sure the lid is fully closed each time. Were you born in a tent? 

"To boost your cooler's insulation, you can buy or make an insulated cover," says Ashley. "A lot of camping fridges come with covers for this reason."

5. Get mobile

Turn your cooler into a fridge for long-haul trips by using it in combination with a camping fridge.

Set your camping fridge to freezer mode and make ice bricks in it, then add them to your cooler as needed – that'll keep you going indefinitely.

Liquid ice bricks stay frozen longer than gel-based ones.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.