Australians are famous for our outdoors lifestyle. We love a picnic, a day at the beach, an outdoor music festival or a backyard barbie. Food is a big part of these events, so it's little wonder that Australia is home to the first official portable cooler in the world, the Esky!
The Esky brand is so synonymous with cooler in Australia, we now use the name to describe any portable cooler that keeps our food and drinks nicely chilled on a day out. And there are now quite a few on the market. Here's what to look for when buying a cooler.
Pay more, get more
You can spend several hundred dollars on a cooler so you'll be hot under the collar if it doesn't do the job. No one wants warm drinks on a scorching summer's day, or worse, a bout of food poisoning. Our testing found that some coolers work better than others, and the better ones tended to cost more. Whatever your budget, we have a fridgeful of tips on how to pick a good one.
What size esky is best?
You might be tempted to go large, but make sure the cooler you buy can fit in the space in your car. Narrow and smaller coolers are also easier to lift without assistance.
Taller coolers allow you to store bottles upright, while models with recessed lids allow you to load items higher (but they could become warm in this space).
What else to consider
Over years of looking at eskies, we can generally tell which cooler is going to get the best score the moment we see them because of their insulation. Thicker walls generally provide better insulation. Look for walls and lids that don't compress easily when pressure is applied, as they're more likely to be filled with air. Sturdier coolers can also be used as a seat.
Look for good seals around the lids and other openings (the drainage plug to release water after ice melts). The better the seal, the more likely you are to keep your food and drinks cold.
White textured lids can be difficult to keep clean. Look for flush-mounted drains that won't trap dirt.
Check the manufacturer's instructions about the use of dry ice. A dry ice block should be heavily wrapped so it doesn't come into contact with the liner and damage it.
Wheels will make pulling a heavy load (on smooth surfaces) much easier than carrying.
Handles should be robust and easy to hold on to. Shoulder straps are useful for small coolers while pull handles are better for larger wheeled types – try first to make sure they suit your height.
Bungs, plugs or stoppers that seal the drain hole should fit well and be attachable so they don't get lost. A hose fitting helps the cooler to drain.
Latches and lids
Latches and lids should be easy to open and close; one-handed types are easier for general use. Hinged lids can be quite heavy and cause the cooler to topple over when it's empty.
Food must be kept below 4°C (or above 60°C) to remain in the safe food temperature zone. Any food cooled outside this zone for longer than four hours should be binned.
Here are some tips to keeping your food safe in a cooler:
- Chill or freeze food and non-fizzy drinks overnight before packing.
- Avoid cross-contamination of cooked and raw food by packing in leak-proof containers or zip lock bags.
- Fill as much empty space as possible with ice – the fewer air gaps, the better.
- If using freezer packs, place a layer on the bottom of the cooler and a layer on the top. If space allows, squeeze some in the sides too.
- Liquid freeze packs will stay frozen longer than gel types.
- Packing the cooler should be your last job before taking off.
- Keep the cooler in the shade.
- Minimise opening and closing the cooler. Make sure the lid is fully closed each time.
From $90 to $450.