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Ice Chests and Electric Coolers

New designs offer greater durability and more convenience - some don't even need ice.

By Gibbs Milliken

Portable coolers come in two basic forms, soft-sided or rigid. In many situations the soft, lightweight waterproof case is ideal for carrying food, drinks and gear, but these usually do not have as much insulation as a molded solid chest. The hard-box style can also serve as a seat.

Yeti Coolers manufactures premium quality ice chests made of fiberglass. The units are insulated with high-grade polyurethane foam and a sealing lid gasket for ultimate ice retention. They are made only in white, but hunters can apply camouflage paint or adhesive camo sheets for blending into the environment. These chests come in a variety of sizes. All have heavy-duty hinges and non-marking rubber feet to prevent marring surfaces of fishing boats. The sturdy fiberglass construction is easy to clean and will not impart odors to ice and food products. ($299.99, 60 qt. Fiberglass Cooler, Yeti, 512-394-9384, <www.yeticoolers.com>)

Many of the latest designs in ice chests come with rollers. The new Igloo Marine Ultra Roller not only has wheels, but also a retractable extension handle and two detachable fishing rod holders. This 60-quart unit is constructed of poly plastic, well-insulated and small enough to fit conveniently into a car, boat or camper. ($63, Marine Ultra Roller, Igloo, 800-324-2653, <www.igloocoolers.com>)

Among the many soft-sided coolers on the market are the excellent Polar Bear Chests. They are lightweight and, when empty, can be folded or rolled up to fit in luggage or vehicle compartments. The rugged exterior is of 1,000-denier nylon with top quality attachments, strong seams and a durable rubber-coated zipper for maximum resistance to leakage, ant attacks and the elements. They come in several sizes, colors and also work well as insulated totes for hot foods up to 200 degrees. Personalized monograms can be added at a small additional cost. ($39.99, 12-pack Soft-Side Cooler, Polar Bear, 888-438-7924, <www.polarbearcoolers.com>)

Only a few coolers generate their own refrigeration. The Coleman Powerchill Thermoelectric Cooler is a fine quality 40-quart unit with an electric line that plugs into a 12V car outlet or a 110 AC household power supply converter. The chest can be used in either a horizontal or vertical position, has an adjustable divider shelf and a quiet fan motor. ($99.99, Powerchill Cooler with AC converter, Coleman, 800-835-3278, <www.coleman.com>)

Perhaps the most advanced design in portable electric coolers is the Coleman Stirling Cooler/Freezer. It has a capacity of only 26 quarts, but is the most powerful in its class. Features include large handles, a lighted temperature control panel with five settings, and adaptors for either 12V or 110V currents. This unit keeps food frozen solid even in 100-degree temperatures. During operation, it does make an audible humming sound, but is a great choice for hunters, fishers and campers needing a small storage container for freezing foods and making ice in remote locations. The unit requires continuous power supplied from DC or AC generators or direct line connections at a campsite. ($400, Cooler/Freezer, Coleman)

Portable ice chests and refrigerators are all about new technology. Look to the future for even better designs to evolve that will keep food fresh and drinks ice-cold for longer periods of time.

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