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Coolers: drain the water often, or keep it?

I feel silly for asking this, but I think asking about it will be faster than running the experiment personally. On a recent car-camping trip, everybody had different opinions on the best strategy to keep our cooler cold the longest. We don't have top-of-the-line coolers (someday!) and didn't pre-freeze any of our food (only a long-weekend trip this time), but we did have blocks of ice as well as cubes.

One group wanted to drain the water daily or more often, since that's what they'd always done, and the other group wanted to keep the water and only drain it before we left, since that's what they'd always done (or strategic draining before getting fresh ice, on longer trips).

What's the best strategy? Is the strategy different depending on what conditions the cooler itself is facing, like being stored in the shade/sun, or being inside a bear box with shade/no shade for the box?

2 Replies

@LisaRoseI love this question! It is better to keep the water in the cooler. It's physics! Removing H2O from your cooler will not make the ice any colder and it adds more space in your cooler for the ice to have to cool.

Some other tips for you to keep your cooler cooler.

1. Fill it up! The less surface area you have to cool the better!

2. Keep the cooler out of the sun.

3. Open the cooler as little as possible.

4. Great work with the blocked ice! Another great tip!

5. Freeze your food!

Thanks for the question! Stay cool!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Great question!  In the past when I've drained water, it's more about keeping the food from getting soaked if it's not in tight packaging and you know you have plenty of ice.  It seems cleaner than food getting soaked by potentially dirty water.