There are many different types and sizes of coolers. For most of our campouts ones that plug into the car will be to small, and not practical for extended stays. I also find the cheap foam throw away ones not the best option for campout after campout. I also believe they are also harder on the environment. Most of us will use the standard plastic re-usable ice chests.
Obviously the primary function of a camp cooler is to keep perishable food from spoiling. The lower temperature inside the chest slows the growth of harmful bacteria, thus extending the length of time it takes food to spoil. Also it is worth noting that the higher the bacterial count, the higher the chance of someone getting sick. I can tell you from first hand experience food poisoning is no fun.
When picking out a cooler worry more about function then looks. Pay attention to the thermal ratings, some chests have better insulation then others, this mean they will keep food cooler longer without needing more ice. I prefer ones with a value to drain water out of them, when and if needed. However, a value like this is normally not available on small coolers. It should also be noted that most of the time you do not want to drain the water. This is because the water is almost as cold as the ice and will help extend the length that your ice will last. Also it is very important to make sure you pick one out which has a tight sealing lid.
A few last tips...
As much as possible, chill all food before putting it into an cooler. Also if you will be gone an extended time, say over a week, freezing fresh meat in water will allow it to keep longer and help keep the ice cold.
Keep your cooler in the shade, as much as possible. The hot sun will reduce the amount of time your as will last.
Lastly, I generally prefer to make my own ice in a appropriate size container, such as a half gallon milk jug filled almost to the top with water and then frozen. This makes a manageable block of ice. The larger the container you make your ice in the larger and heavier it will be, but also the longer it will last. I find a few of these half gallon blocks of ice, depending on the size of the cooler will last about 3-4 days in a medium size cooler – of course depending on the temperature.
What kind of coolers do you like to use? How do you keep your food cold while in camp? Please tell me by posting comments below.