9 Days, 1 Cooler, No Resupply

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Traveler I

1,747
Phoenix, AZ
Last month I took a 9-day trip into southern Utah (Cedar Mesa, Comb Ridge) to explore a few of the many ancient cliff dwellings and petroglyph/pictograph sites in the area. We split the time between two base camp sites. Given the distances and time required to resupply food, water, fuel and ice, the plan was to go completely self sufficient for the entire time. All were easy to do except for the ice and keeping the food and beverages chilled. Without getting into the cooler vs frig debate, here is what worked for me.

I started with a 75 quart Canyon Cooler. I've used this cooler a lot and it works great. But a week has been my limit so far.

Three days prior to departure I began to precool the cooler. All items going in the cooler were in the fridge or freezer at this point.

I built a "cooler condom" of reflectix material and duct tape. The bottom half came up to the bottom of the handles, had a double walled floor, and a flap for the drain plug. The upper half came down low enough to overlap the bottom portion by 2 inches to avoid heat loss (or is it cool loss) at the seam. It was also easily removable for when I accessed the cooler. The double walled bottom of the condom served to minimize heat transference from the only solid material touching the cooler. Solids generally transfer heat more than air.

I made ice blocks using tupperware containers in the freezer , rectangles about 3 inches thick that would fit the bottom of the cooler in two rows of 4 blocks. The blocks had two advantages over bag ice from a convenience store. The are solid, so no wasted space, and they are colder (I had cranked the freezer down).

Meat (steaks, pork chops, chicken) was frozen and vacuum sealed in foodsaver bags. I also precooked some meals (Chili, spaghetti, pot roast with veggies) and vacuum sealed and froze those as well.

The day of departure I loaded the ice blocks and 20 pounds of bag ice (gotta have some for cocktails) and then placed the frozen meat and meals atop the ice with the meals placed in order of use, top meal is first to be used, bottom is the last night's meal . I placed a layer of reflectix material on top of this. This insulation kept the upper levels of the ice chest from freezing (think freezer on the bottom, refrigerator on top). the frozen meals are heated in a large stock pot of hot water, the bags snipped open, food plated and served. Really easy for those busy days when time and energy are at a premium. Minimum clean up too.

On top of the reflectix went veggies, beer, soda, cream cheese, butter, steak sauce, etc, etc., all pre cooled of course. The Canyon Cooler has two baskets to help with organization. Organizing was key. No holding the cooler open for 5 minutes searching for some item.

The cooler went in the truck (4Runner) and never left. Every effort was made to keep the cooler on the shady side of the interior.

Temperatures over the 9 days ranged from a high of 84 to one morning's low of 29. Average highs were mid 70s. Average lows were 40.

All the food stayed cool for the entire trip. There was plenty of ice for evening drinks. There as considerable ice at the end of the 9 days.

So I am pretty sold on this system.
- Precooling the cooler
- Cooler condom
- Block ice
- Frozen meals
- Organization.


Ice Remaining After 9 Days

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Cooler Condom

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Ice Dump For Scale

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Contributor I

60
Flagstaff, AZ, USA
First Name
Jason
Last Name
Costello
You pushed the envelope, or more correctly you built an envelope. I love seeing this kind of work. Did you also do the wet towel thing inside ? or otherwise try to consume all the interior air space ? Air exchange is a pretty big deal. Even just slamming the lid can help, but good luck with the instant vacuum seal when you try to re open it.
 
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Traveler I

1,747
Phoenix, AZ
You pushed the envelope, or more correctly you built an envelope. I love seeing this kind of work. Did you also do the wet towel thing inside ? or otherwise try to consume all the interior air space ? Air exchange is a pretty big deal. Even just slamming the lid can help, but good luck with the instant vacuum seal when you try to re open it.
Nope, didn't do the towel. Next time I will try that. Airspace is indeed a killer and I hear you on that vacuum seal and lid opening thing. Those seals really work!
 

Traveler I

1,747
Phoenix, AZ
Thanks for the write up! As a cocktail guy, was wondering how you accessed the bag ice without digging through the layers to get to it for the essential daily drink?
Most of the loose stuff was in the two baskets (highly recommended options), so just lift one out. The few things below the basket were fairly large (think one of the premade salad kits), so didn't take much to move one aside to get to the ice level. Since he original post I have totally quit using bag ice, opting for larger cubes made in my own freezer. These are great for cocktails since they are colder and melt less quickly wit the added advantage of providing increased coldness to the cooler. I use them at home as well for happy hour (gin and tonic in the warmer months, a good bourbon in the cooler times).
 
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MchewD

Rank II
Member

Traveler I

Most of the loose stuff was in the two baskets (highly recommended options), so just lift one out. The few things below the basket were fairly large (think one of the premade salad kits), so didn't take much to move one aside to get to the ice level. Since he original post I have totally quit using bag ice, opting for larger cubes made in my own freezer. These are great for cocktails since they are colder and melt less quickly wit the added advantage of providing increased coldness to the cooler. I use them at home as well for happy hour (gin and tonic in the warmer months, a good bourbon in the cooler times).
That makes a lot of sense. You can choose between cracked or cube ice. Nice!
 

Brewbud

Rank V
Member

Enthusiast II

1,855
SoCal
Member #

17493

Great ideas for the extra insulation techniques. Here is a helpful tip for cocktail ice. I fill my yeti flask and a large Hydroflask completely with ice and place them in my cooler or fridge. Make sure the ice is not melted or wet when you put it in as you don't want it to refreeze into a big rock. The yeti flask is easier since it has a wider mouth. I have had the ice last for days without melting at all. Easy to just pour some ice into your glass. Make sure to put the flask back in the cooler right away.
 

MMc

Rank IV

Enthusiast I

855
Southern Califoria
First Name
Mike
Last Name
McMullen
Member #

18647

Nice write up. I use a blue pad of closed cell foam cut to fit the inside of the chest. It's like you liner but thicker. There is a guy making one out of insulite too. I use a Maluna ice chest it they go for 10 day easy.
 
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