Like most vandwellers I used an ice-chest as a cooler for the first seven years I lived in a vehicle. And like most vandwellers I got really tired of buying ice and having my food swim around in ice-melt. Three years ago I bought a Dometic 12-volt compressor refrigerator/freezer, so I no longer have those problems. But, since it is a hot August, and most of you still use ice chests, I want to show you some ways to make that situation better. If you follow these suggestions, your ice should last much longer.
In this first picture you can see two important ideas. 1) Add extra insulation. This can be very simple. I took pieces of left-over Styrofoam insulation and cut them to fit around the walls of the cooler. To hold them on I just took some bungee cords and wrapped them around. It couldn’t be any simpler. If you prefer you can use Gorilla Glue and glue the Styrofoam on. If possible you want to use pink or blue Styrofoam since it is much tougher than the white. I believe most of your cold is lost through the floor, so be sure to put insulation underneath the cooler. Styrofoam works really well, but you can go to a Walmart and buy a blue backpacker foam sleeping pad for about $9 and cut it to fit, then glue it to the bottom and top of the cooler. 2) Keep the cooler full. As the cooler runs low, I add
extra pops to fill it. At the top I place the bags filled with gel that are intended to be frozen and placed in coolers. They are flexible and fit in nooks and crannies and they hold cold very well.
In this picture you can see how I cover the cooler with extra blankets. In the winter I need more blankets but in the summer they just take up valuable space. So I fold them and store them on top of the cooler. It works perfect, in winter the ice lasts a long time so the cooler doesn’t need the extra blankets, and then in the summer it gives me a place to store the blankets and keeps the ice from melting as fast. I also have extra pillows and throw them over the top of the blankets. Every little bit helps! The cooler in these pictures is my Dometic 12 volt fridge. It has a compressor that gets pretty hot so you must be very careful to not block the vents on its sides. If you do the compressor will overheat and burn up. Mine is now three years old and still working like a champ!
In these pictures you see how to make a reflectix “cozy” for your cooler. I think this is one of the best things you can do. With most coolers the seal around the lid is one of the worst leaking areas, and the Reflectix cover really helps to keep the cold from escaping. It is just as simple as wrapping a long piece of Reflectix around the outside of the cooler and taping it together.
Making the lid is a little more complicated. The best way I can describe it is to imagine the Reflectix is Christmas wrap and you are wrapping the cooler like a Christmas present. That describes how you must fold the corners to make it a square. Then just tape it together with a good tape like duct tape. The longer the lid goes down the sides of the cooler, the better. If you have any leftover Reflectix, you can cut some pieces to fit snuggly inside the cooler and then lay them on the inside top of the cooler. Some people even cover the inside bottom and sides with Reflectix, but I worry about mold and bacteria growing on it so I never have. But you may want to try it for yourself. If you do, let me know how it works for you.
Finally, here is something I used to do but don’t have any pictures of it. I had a big
cooler, so I found a big Kitty Litter tub that would fit inside it and still let the lid close. I didn’t put the ice in the ice chest; I put it in the Kitty Litter tub. That way when the ice melted, the water stayed in the tub and my food always stayed dry. More importantly, the ice water was never in direct contact with the walls of the cooler, and much less of it was in contact with the floor. So the air around the tub acted like an extra layer of insulation and the ice lasted much longer that way. I highly recommend this to you.
So there you have it, some ideas of how to make your cooler keep ice longer in the summer heat. Bob