Not all coolers (aka eskies or ice boxes) are created equal. Can you tell which ones will keep your food safely refrigerated for a week-long camping trip, and which ones are just suitable for an afternoon picnic? Our testers can, and our lab tests prove it. Here's how.
CHOICE maintains a NATA-accredited test laboratory and the vast majority of our product testing is done in-house. Our lab has many years of experience across a range of laboratory disciplines and product areas.
With so many coolers to choose from, we can't review them all. Instead we aim to test the most popular brands and types on the market, and the coolers you are most likely to see in camping and outdoor stores, as well as other major retailers.
- we survey manufacturers to find out about their range of products
- we check market sales information
- we also check for any member requests to test specific models.
Our senior tester, Corinna Horrigan, is a refrigeration expert who can tell how most coolers will perform just by examining their construction. Corinna visits major camping and outdoor retailers to examine coolers from all the major brands to assess each cooler's construction and materials.
For the newer models, whose construction can't be determined by inspection alone, our buyers purchase them and put them to our usual lab tests to confirm her assessments, and to lift the lid on new, different or unusual models and technologies.
We don't any models below 40L, as coolers at that size are usually only for short-term use (keeping a few drinks cool for a picnic, for instance). Because of their relatively low mass, they also don't perform as well in our lab test.
As well as the visual inspection, a representative sample of new cooler types are assessed in the lab to cross-check the assessments, and to test any construction we aren't certain of. We begin this test with the cooler at room temperature, and we load each one with with bottles of water and pack them with ice to the point of being nearly full. The coolers are closed and placed in a temperature-controlled room in our thermal lab set at 32°C.
We measure the time taken for the bottles to rise from 0°C to 2°C and then to 8°C using an array of sensitive instruments inside the bottles in each cooler. The rise to 2°C tells us when the most of the ice has melted, and the rise to 8°C tells us when the cooler's inside has reached an unsafe temperature for food storage.
Each cooler is opened for a few seconds at regular intervals throughout testing to tamp down the ice as it melts (though in normal use they will be opened more often and warm up faster). The longer they take to warm up, the better the score.
The overall score is based entirely on performance, i.e. how long the cooler will keep its contents cold, and are scored as follows:
- 80% – these are the coolers to go for if you need their contents to stay chilled on one load of ice for a long time – in the case of a large cooler, this can be several days
- 70% – these are good performers and can keep the contents chilled for a few days – enough for a weekend camp, for instance
- 60% – these are OK performers better suited for short term use. Don't rely on them for more than a day or two of chilling.
The scores are only comparable within each size category (medium, large and extra large), as a larger cooler naturally holds a greater mass of ice and chilled food and therefore takes longer to warm up.
CHOICE has high-quality NATA-accredited laboratories, and lab staff skilled and accredited in wide range of product testing. Our equipment is calibrated to ensure accurate and precise measurements.