Icebox Buyers Guide

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Written By Jay Clatworthy

Off Grid Camping contributor.

Icebox Buyers Guide

If you are looking for a way to keep your food and drinks cool when away from home, an icebox could be the perfect solution.

We talk about the best icebox in another article but in this article, we discuss the nature of an icebox in more detail and understand how they work.

An icebox is an insulated container designed to put food and drink, and things you may have caught fishing and hunting, to keep cool, with the assistance of ice. Iceboxs have similar properties as coolers, but are a different type of product.

The thermal efficiency of an icebox keeps the ice from melting for numerous days (and longer if you follow these tips), essentially providing you with a portable fridge/freezer.

In many cases, for shorter camping trips, you could rely on an icebox and not ever have to worry about purchasing a 12v fridge/freezer.

There is a broad range of iceboxes available to choose from so this article will give you some things to think about as you try and choose the best icebox for you. 

Size

It goes without saying that there are dozens of different size options to choose from, from 30 liters up to 1000+ liters, ice boxes can be as small or big as you want. As best you can.

Try and predict what you are going to expect of your icebox for the most part – is it just for drinks? Or drinks and food for a family for a week? Or just meat for your local BBQ?

It may be the case that it’s worth getting multiple boxes for multiple scenarios you plan to encounter, but just make sure you have a good think of all the ways you will hope to utilize an icebox and make sure the one you buy is big enough to meet that need. 

Colour

The color of your icebox can increase the performance of your icebox by up to 20% so the color is critical, most iceboxes are a very light color (usually blue), if not white, but the lighter box you get, the efficient it will be, and the longer it will keep your ice from melting.

Construction Material (what the icebox is made of…)

Most iceboxes are craft is with a plastic compound of some sort, and in many cases, it is a high quality, high-density polypropylene. This material is used on some of the best ice boxes on the market, so it can definitely get the job done.

A good example of a high-quality propylene finish icebox is the Techni Ice Signature Series Ice Box. 

Some brands also offer a fiberglass model. These are typically more expensive than polypropylene versions, and fiberglass comes with some advantages.

It typically performs better than polypropylene in terms of thermal efficiency but some claim that the fiberglass is not as rugged and able to withstand rough treatment as its polypropylene counterparts, but I cannot personally attest to that one way or the other. 

A good example of a high-quality fiberglass icebox is the Evakool Fibreglass icebox

Manufacturing Process

It is worth taking note of how the icebox was made. Some claim to be handmade (especially the fiberglass models), and many will list their rotomoulded manufacturing process.

This means that the unit is crafted as a single entity and it is not multiple different components that have been joined together.

The benefits of a roto mold process are that the lack of joins improves insulator capacity, as joins can be vulnerable to letting heat in and decreasing the efficiency of the unit.

Insulation

Most decent iceboxes will have foam inside the walls and lid, as this is what contributes to the thermal efficiency of the unit. When shopping around pay attention to the nature of the material used, and how thick it is.

The thickened the walls, the better the insulating capacity will be. That’s why you always need to look at the inside size of your icebox, as they look very big on the outside.

However with the thick walls, the inside space will be significantly smaller than the outward look would suggest.

Latches

Look at the latches included. How many? What type? Latch the lid and have a feel of how tight the seal seems.

If you can still feel some wriggle in the lid when it is latched, this could suggest a poor seal and lead to decreased performance. Is it an elastic loop? Or stainless steel push-down latch? 

Some latches are recessed into the design of the box, which can be great as the latches won’t catch, and you can fit the box into tight spaces without any interference.

The main thing is to make sure they provide enough pressure to create a tight seal to minimize warm air getting in. 

Note: Just remember that when storing your icebox and it is not in use, don’t have the latches fastened, as this can wear out your seals prematurely.

Save the firm latching for the times when you are using it actively and you will have a longer life out of your rubber seals. 

Seals

The seals you have on your icebox will be very influential in how well it performs and stops the ice from thawing.

Have a good look at the seals on the models you are looking at, and see if the seal is described much in the accompanying material.

Some manufacturers use a double seal design to create an airlock that improves performance quite significantly. 

Lockable

Many icebox manufacturers that distribute their products in the USA have their products tested to see whether they are ‘bear proof’. Meaning Can they withstand the efforts of an interested bear who is trying to get to the inside contents of the icebox.

The Yeti Tundra and the Techni Ice range have achieved this certification and done so by providing the ability to lock the lid shut, sometimes in a single location in the center of the unit, sometimes on two of the unhinged corners. 

If you are living and camping in a bear country that is great, but for us in Australia who doesn’t need to worry so much about bears.

We can be assured that these units will withstand the interest of any other passing animal, and it would also be a handy deterrent from a fellow traveller, or curious kid, who is keen to access the contents against your wishes. 

This does not impact the actual performance of the icebox but it is an additional security measure you can consider if you wish. 

Accessories

Most icebox makers have a range of additional accessories available for separate purchases. Have a think whether you think you will need or benefit from these, and look around at what is on offer.

From baskets to dividers, to seat cushions, to rod holders, to drink holders and tie-down straps the options go on and on.

It’s just good practice to think this through before you buy, rather than invest in a model that you later find does not have, or cannot be used with an accessory you want. 

Spare Parts

Along with accessories, it’s also prudent to look at what spare parts are on offer for each brand. With ice boxes, the actual box itself is highly likely to last for decades, but the moving parts (like hinges and latches) are the thing that is likely to break at some point.

So do your research and ensure your brand has a range of spare parts available for order. Given the amount you are likely to be spending on an icebox, you want to make sure you get a long life of use from it, and spare parts availability will play a big role in that. 

Warranty

Most iceboxes have a generous warranty period, given how sturdy and simple the units are. It is not uncommon to see a five-year warranty against any manufacturing faults or defects, and the Techni Ice range even offers a lifetime warranty to the original owner, against any such faults.

This does not mean you can treat them poorly and break them and send them back for a refund or exchange, it covers the manufacturing of the unit which you should be able to tell pretty soon after you pick it up. 

Reviews

One of the many benefits of online shopping is the ease with which you can leave a product review on something you purchase.

The reviews left on the camping retail websites, or even directly on the manufacturer’s websites can give you a good overall indication of how well a product performs. 

However, it is good to keep in mind that most of these companies are making hundreds of thousands of these units, and at that scale, there are going to be faulty units, and sometimes the people who end up with these faulty units get a bit upset, and post about it online.

All that is fair enough, but just don’t let a single bad review of a product let you scrub that on off of your list.

But if you see multiple bad reviews, all saying similar things, then it may be an indication of poor design, or bad customer service culture in that organization, etc. 

Summary

In summary, just make sure you do your homework. The above points are just reference points for things you might want to pay some attention to as you are comparing different icebox options.

An icebox might be something you only invest in once or twice throughout your life if you do it right. So take your time, get clear on your requirements, and find one that you think will best meet them.