The shaky fear that comes with packing a foam cooler you just bought from the store with ice, drinks, and food is familiar to many of us, and there’s an obvious reason for it. Most of us have either experienced or bore witness to a foam cooler disaster wherein a fully loaded foam cooler – bought cheap from a convenience store or from the bargain section of a department store – just up and decides to collapse and spill everything in it all over the ground. It’s such a common occurrence that they have gained somewhat of a negative reputation over the years.
Fact is these kinds of cooler meltdowns are totally unnecessary, and you as a consumer can begin doing something about it immediately by integrating these three key standards into your buying decision when shopping for a foam cooler to use when enjoying the beach, picnicking, fishing, or any other outdoor activity.
Do NOT be deceived by a really “CHEAP” price
The cheapest expanded polystyrene (eps) foam coolers are actually more expensive than they seem when you take into consideration just how easily they break and need to be replaced. Certainly, the cost in gas needed to take them to recycling comes into effect, and the time necessary to calm yourself down after experiencing a cooler failure (ham sandwiches taste awful with beach sand in them – even when you douse with mustard). When you buy a quality one instead, you spend a few extra pennies or dollars, but there’s none of that worry over whether the cooler is going to fall apart, the item is reusable, it can be put to other purposes, and in the end you save money because of not having to buy another.
LOOK and FEEL for FLAWS on the surface and interior
Foam coolers are not supposed to sweat or leak, nor are they supposed to crumble easily when scratched. The surface should appear to be semi-smooth with not a lot of dimpling (deep dimples in the surface indicates inferior molding at the factory). Run your fingernail across it and see if little eps foam beads start to fall off. If so, then the cooler hasn’t been properly fused in the molding process. This can happen when a manufacturer tries to boost profits by rushing the cooler through in order to make more in less time. If the little foam beads don’t fuse together well, then the strength and water-resistance level goes down. Ensure that you don’t see a lot of individual foam beads that appear to barely be connected to one another. The beads should be married, not merely dating.
Check the THICKNESS and RIGIDITY throughout
If the cooler seems somewhat translucent when held up to light, it may be too thin (and flimsy, breakable, even leaky). Does it flex easily? Not particularly good, if so. You’d be justified in feeling shaky about buying anything thinner than 5/8 of an inch. Better yet, save yourself some money in the long run by going even thicker than that into the “ice chest” category. A foam ice chest is generally in the 3/4 to 1 inch thick range or thicker. They last a long time when fully fused and properly run on the line at the manufacturer. Their value is evidenced by the fact that seafood shippers and businesses that have to ship valuable, perishable goods across long distances prefer them, plus they are reusable and recyclable.
Be very wary of those bargain brands in which the cooler thickness varies, starting out thicker on the top portion of the main body and getting thinner towards the bottom of the cooler, because that means the cooler gets weaker where the cargo load puts the most pressure. Make sure the thickness of the cooler is consistent so that it is more reliable.
So, if the foam cooler you buy has a confident thickness (consistently around the body), is strongly rigid, and sports a fully fused foam beaded surface and interior appearance that doesn’t fall apart when lightly tested by fingernail, then you should be able to relax with it when you pack it with goodies and ice for your day at the beach or park or other outside fun. You may have to pay just a bit more initially for a great foam cooler that lasts, but in the end you’ll save money and not jump up and down screaming in frustration when your beer ends up in the dirt.