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Chill Out

Keep your cool with the latest ice chests.

By Gibbs Milliken

Want to beat the heat? The latest coolers can keep food and drinks cold even on the hottest Texas days.

One of the best family-size chests is the Xtreme 5-Day Cooler ($45.10, Silver, 50-quart, Model #6263-707, Coleman, (800) 835-3278, www.coleman.com). Excellent insulation keeps ice up to five days in temperatures up to 90 degrees. This is also an extremely portable chest: Strong folding-end handles, heavy-duty towing yoke and two 6-inch recessed wheels make it easy to tote and stow. The lid, sturdy enough to sit on, has four offset drink holders and handy ruler for checking game fish lengths.

A more traditional chest is the Steel Cooler ($105.25, 54-quart, Model #6155-707, Coleman) in stainless steel. This classic, high-quality unit has 2-inch-thick insulation and is built to last. As with all stainless products, however, it requires some maintenance and care in handling to prevent dents and scratches.

Igloo set the standard in making the first quality, all-plastic ice chests. Their well-known white coolers, like the huge, 162-quart Marine Ice Chest ($333, Igloo, (800) 364-5566, www.igloocoolers.com), originally made for Texas Gulf Coast fishers, is still among the best and most durable, even in direct sunlight. Their smaller, box-type Igloo Legend Combo ($21.99, 40-quart, Igloo) is a great buy that includes a fully insulated ultratherm body and a lid that supports up to 300 pounds. Igloo's modern-style Playmate Plus ($14.99, 24-quart, Model #6464, Igloo) features a combined handle/lid that rotates open with a convenient thumb-operated auto-locking catch on top. Included is a removable food tray that allows items to stay dry above the ice.

The new soft ice chests - some that can fold to a quarter their original size - are popular with sportspeople and travelers. Even large-capacity containers like the 72-can Rolling Collapsible Cooler ($59.99, Model #72PKCRT, Glacier Gear, (800) 676-8634, www.glaciergear.com) has smooth roller-blade wheels and a retracting tow arm. It converts quickly to a shoulder bag with a separate expanding front pocket large enough for a folding stove or sports gear and a mesh rear pocket for wet items. A smaller, less expensive folding tote is the Timber Creek Cooler ($10.99, Model #PTQ99-1205B, Academy Sports & Outdoors, (281) 646-5200,www.academy.com), which holds 24 drink cans with ice. The twin-zippered top features a bungee-cord keeper system for attaching other items. Add a padded shoulder strap to the end handles to carry it hands-free.

The latest innovation in rigid coolers is the ice-free Thermoelectric PowerChill Plus ($132.20, 40-quart, Model #5642A807Coleman). Plug it into your car's cigarette lighter or any 12-volt system and this thermoelectric cooler keeps your food cold or hot for the long haul to the coast. Wet ice and liquids should be kept in sealed containers with this unit to prevent damage to the electrical system. Optional is a separate 110-volt adapter to plug into standard power at home or camp. The unit is compact, lightweight and can be set either vertically or horizontally.

Whether you want to keep your food, drinks or fish cool, improved insulation means you can keep your cool even during a season in the sun.

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