Upgrading from the lightweight esky-style of cooler to a heavier, better insulated icebox is a good starting point, but how you manage your cold stuff is critical to the longevity of keeping the ice from melting for as long as possible, so in this article we’ll look at all these factors in detail and give you some tried and true tips.
Firstly, high performance iceboxes differ in that they use high density refrigeration grade injected foam insulation in the walls and lids of the cooler. The shell construction however, can be either plastic (poly) or fibreglass. There is a vast difference in price, with the poly boxes being far cheaper than the fibreglass design but which actually performs better?
We’ve actually had both, so in preparing this article we’ve reviewed all the manufacturers’ claims, together with our own experiences and those of the many people who contribute to Forum
discussions on the subject.
To begin, let’s lay out the facts on each type of icebox:
The plastic used in iceboxes is either High Density Polyethylene, or Polypropylene, which is rotomolded to produce the hollow forms of the icebox with walls of uniform thickness and stress-free corners. High-density polyurethane foam is then injected inside the walls and lids. In terms of application to a low-temperature, food grade container subjected to wet conditions, there is little difference between the two polymers.
However, there are differences! And price will be your best indicator. One of the reasons for a wide variation in price between brands of plastic iceboxes is due to the use of recycled vs first-grade plastic polymers. Iceboxes made from recycled polypropylene or polyethylene are unable to hold dry ice, and are likely to crack or chip and could suffer UV breakdown over time. (Note if using dry ice, you should always put a thick amount of hessian or a piece of plywood under it. This protects the plastic from becoming brittle and cracking after a number of times carrying dry ice).
Typically, a polyethylene icebox will keep ice frozen for three to five days when kept in the shade.
Variances in reported ice-life is usually more to do with ice management than the brand of the box. (More about that at the end of this article).
Advantages of Plastic Iceboxes
Low Price Tag:- Polyethylene/Polypropylene iceboxes are typically cheaper to buy than fibreglass iceboxes. This is mostly due to construction methods but most are made overseas and imported into Australia. Remember, "Australian designed" and "Australian owned" doesn’t mean "Australian made".
Very Robust:- The rotomoulded construction of these eskies is such that they are far more resistant to knocks than fibreglass iceboxes meaning they are less likely to be damaged on long trips. In terms of cabinet construction, each brand is probably as good as the next, however there are some major differences between hinges, latches, bungs, and handles that will be covered later in this article.
Large Range of Sizes:- The construction methods of rotomolding plastic means manufacturers can produce an array of sizes relatively cheaply. They range from as small as 10L right up to commercial sizes of around 1100L.
When looking to buy a plastic icebox, you'll quickly discover that there are many many brands on the market and it is difficult to know which one is better than the other. As I've already stated, when comparing apples to apples, there is very little difference between the brands but there are some design features and use of materials that do make a difference. Here are our suggestions for what you should be looking for when choosing a plastic icebox.
Size/Bulk:- plastic boxes are inherently bulky for their volume capacity so if it’s a dedicated drinks box you will need a rather large one. Don't be fooled by their physical size, check the actual capacity and remember the packing tips (below). It is better to aim to pack the whole amount cold before you leave rather than plan to add a few more cans every day.
Handles:- One thing you don’t want is flimsy, brittle handles – look for good quality, strong polypropylene handles. You’ll be dragging and moving the heavy icebox full of ice and drinks around to chase the shade so there is a lot of load here. Positioning and design is also important, more so with the larger capacity iceboxes. Anecdotal reports on broken handles from different brands would be worth considering, so this is one area where Forum comments are worth checking.
Bungs:- look for a bung that doesn’t protrude and won’t break if you bump it.
Latch:- a sensible latch that is easy to use but also adds downwards pressure to help close the seal is important. Personally, I like elastic latches as do most others it seems.
Seal:- getting a good seal is important, obviously, to keep hot air from making its way in to melt your ice. Here's a trick to help you check the seal in the shop: close the lid, latch it down. Put a business card (here's a good use for your ExplorOz Member Card) in between the foam seal on the lid and the foam seal on the box. Now gently pull the business card along the seal right around the box. It should have resistance against it at all times. If the business card slides freely with no resistance, the box is not sealing properly and you shouldn’t buy it.
Lid/Hinge:- polypropylene or metal hinges are less likely to break. Check to see if the lid will stay open without holding it up, or you’ll find it very annoying to pack and remove items, especially in larger models were you might need to dig down to find what you want.