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Discussion Starter #1
Has anyone made their own high performance cooler or modified a manufactured cooler by adding insulation?

The typical store bought cooler barely has 1" of wall thickness and often the lids are not even insulated. Doesn't seem too hard to beat that. Plus a homemade box with vertical sides would hold more than the mass production friendly sloped sides on a typical cooler.

I like the quality of the YETI style coolers but the price is too steep for my budget. For $300 you could buy a lot of plywood and rigid insulation...
 

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I made one a few years ago with aluminum and two part expanding urethane foam that I poured in the cavity. The walls and lid are 2" thick and has 125 quart capacity. The cooler looks neat, but the aluminum transfers the cold and heat too rapidly to be effective. I would say that the cooler holds the ice about 1/2 the time as a Yeti or similar rotomolded cooler. Also, the cooler weighs 70 lbs empty. When it was all said and done, I had about $300 into building the cooler and still ended up having to buy an Engel. It's a great conversation piece. ImageUploadedByMountain Buzz1424840617.377958.jpg ImageUploadedByMountain Buzz1424840673.276923.jpg ImageUploadedByMountain Buzz1424840721.807661.jpg ImageUploadedByMountain Buzz1424840778.015810.jpg
Always thought it looked cool on the boat!
 

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I insulate all my cooler lids with foam sleeping pads. I like the idea of a home made cooler but you'd have to finish it really well so it wouldn't warp.
 

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Has anyone made their own high performance cooler or modified a manufactured cooler by adding insulation?

The typical store bought cooler barely has 1" of wall thickness and often the lids are not even insulated. Doesn't seem too hard to beat that. Plus a homemade box with vertical sides would hold more than the mass production friendly sloped sides on a typical cooler.

I like the quality of the YETI style coolers but the price is too steep for my budget. For $300 you could buy a lot of plywood and rigid insulation...

I think building a "satisfactory" cooler from scratch is beyond my skills, but I've wondered about enhancing an el-cheapo cooler in a couple of ways: (1), by adding spray foam to the hollow lid (most are hollow). In order to prevent the foam from distorting the lid, I think you'd have to drill a few holes (on the inside), not only for injecting the foam, but also to let it out, then trim it off when it's dry. (2) making a liner (with a floppy lid) of cheap sleeping pad foam, that would be removable for cleaning. And (3) is something I already do, which is lay sleeping pad foam under and over my ice (which is frozen jugs), then the food on top of that. And I put certain things like frozen meat under the foam with the ice.
 

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cooler envy

Please realize that it has only been ten years since these high performance coolers surged into the market. People were river running for 45 years without them. Don't get me wrong they are great and I bought the first generation Yeti which is not close to as good as the newest model but it was $275 in 2007 not $475 that they are now. So guess what, people tend to upgrade because they like new stuff. Get a cheap of free old igloo that someone or a rafting company is upgrading from and get going down stream. Tricks that helped river runers for years. cooler mantainence drain everyday, Freeze your meat and vacume seal it so it doesn't get wet, don't put warm beers in your food cooler to cool them and melt your ice, keep the lid closed and have a plan befor opening you fridge, put five blocks in it for a five day trip, and keep it covered all day either with you sitting on it or with a paco when at camp. I did a six day on the Rogue at 100 degrees last fall we had 3 coolers for 20 people. Mine was the only Yeti the other two were wallmart style. We filled the bottom with ice coverd it with cardboard to absorb free water and insulate, but most important our plan was to have a day 1 and 2 cooler. A day 3 and 4 cooler. And a day 5 and 6 cooler. As we finished one cooler left over ice got bumped into the beer cooler. Don't let price and wants prevent participation. Have a plan, and if you have the lowest performing cooler of all your buddies than use your cooler early in the trip. No big deal! The best engle cooler left open on not latched, or not drained works only slightly better than a rocket box. Peace
 

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Discussion Starter #6
I'm actually thinking about a real 'poverty boat' design, at least for prototyping. Only needs to last a few trips until I get the design perfected. My frame is an odd size and I have never found a cooler that is a good fit.

Here is what got me thinking along this line...

I few years ago I needed a cooler to fit under the seat of my drift boat for a multi day trip. Unable to find one that was a good fit I took a thick styrofoam cooler (the kind that comes with steaks in the mail) and cut it down to size with a hand saw. I added rope handles and covered the outside with duct tape so it would hopefully last six days. 6 years later I still use that cooler. I have had to renew the duct tape a bit, but the 2" thick foam does a very good job at keeping ice.

I'm thinking a box of 1/2" marine ply, epoxy sealed, painted and sanded on the interior. Cover the outside of the box with 2" of rigid closed cell insulation and cover that with fiberglass FRP panels or perhaps painted canvas like the old canoes. Don't really care if the outside suffers a few dings as long the interior remains water tight.
 

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Hey this may be old news to the people on this post, but in case it's not, here's a trick my friends and I use: We bring a towel for each cooler, and regularly dunk the towel in the river, and lay it out across the top of the cooler. Aside from the cold water helping to keep the cooler temperature down, as the water evaporates it also cools the cooler. We've done 5 day trips many times, with two "wal-mart" coolers, using both the whole trip and had ice left at the end.

Partitioning coolers for certain days of the trip is pretty clever too, that would really cut down on extraneous opening of the cooler. Good call mcguire!
 

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Kengore I do the same thing with styrofoam steak coolers for my crappie fishing cooler (I catch 'em-give them the ole' hillbilly headslap and throw them in the cooler) because I don't want to get blood and fish slime in my other coolers. I've thought about doing what you say although with something lighter than marine ply, just to see if it works so I'd be interested if you try it....and I've been holding onto one to try this with.

I'm also with mcguire and lomabardi as well. I can keep a coleman 48 and a 20gt igloo cold for 4 days in 95 deg heat easily by keeping it in the shade, wet blankets or even diggin a little pit in the sand if there is no shade. With two coleman 48s I can easily stretch that to 6 days.

The high end coolers really are only good for trips over a week IMO. (even then not really necessary). I know plenty of people who have yetis and engles that never spend more than 2 nights in the woods. These are the same guys who don't like it when I point out that for a day trip we can hold more beer in my coolers than their yeti and they will be just as cold thoughout the trip....in a cooler I bought for $5 at a garage sale.
 

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I was researching DIY dry boxes last year and stumbled on a few guys making coolers. They used 2" "pink" foam, epoxied the foam together and then glassed it inside and out (there was more detail on hinges and latches that I don't recall). Essentially they made them in a variation of the Stitch and Glue boat building technique using foam instead of wood. They were not fiberglass gurus but did have some experience laying glass for boat building. I don't have time to search for the write up I'm referring to but I found it via Google... It was intriging

I was mildly interested in following up with it at the time, but too many projects and too little time have pushed the idea back in my head.
 

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Ok it's all coming back to me know... Somewhere I ran into another group of guys that skipped the wood portion of the West Systems build and just glassed the foam... any ways maybe that site will get you on a good research trail.
 

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I agree with the general vibe of the thread. If money is tight just buy a cheap cooler and manage it well. Building one wont be cheaper and inless you need a very specific size it isn't worth it.

I'm cheap. I ran used igloos for a while. They worked fine. I eventually found a deal on good roto coolers and went big. It adds a magin of food safety for longish trips. I just like having one. But most people honestly don't do that many big trips. I do 3 trips a year 5 days each or more. I still think the big cooler is hard to justify financially- except that I like it.

GC- rent
Idaho- it isn't that hot
Desert rivers- manage carefully, generally short trips


On the lower salmon one trip a group pulled up and asked to share a beach. No problem. Their TL was GROSSLY overloaded. 16' cat tubes more than half submerged. The eddy was a very very easy pull (we swam in and out all day) and he barely made it. He had a huge homemade cooler and drybox, plywood and fiberglass. The cooler was this elaborate multi stage box with layers of various insulation and contrivances. He was very proud of it. From the depths of the box he produced rock hard ice cream for all.
After further discussion I discovered that was basically all the cooler held. 2 nights of ice cream at about 125lbs of packaging. Not worth it to me, but that was this guy's thing and he wouldn't have it any other way. The drybox was the kitchen box from which steel dutches, multiple tents and everything one could imagine needing emerged. It was quite the site to see setup. He loved his wood and glass boxes and was really proud of them. I thought they were a bit impractical.

I'm guessing 2 foam fishing coolers with dry ice duct taped shut could produce ice cream on day 2,3,4 for about $10 and 5 lbs each.

On that trip my group had some ancient igloos that did OK. The lids were cracked had been taped many many times. The latches were long since sheared off. the hinges were marginal. One went bad after one of the guys decided to dump about 48 very warm beers into it and drag it onto the hot beach for convenience. The other large igloo held strong through 105degree days when treated with a bit of respect.
 

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I agree with the general vibe as well; it's probably easier and more economical to practice better management and such. Or simply buy some manufactured product. but where's the fun in that? I know most people want quick and easy and more power to them, but I can maximize space, comfort and have fun doing it by building my own chit.

Good luck in what ever method you choose!
 

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I use cheap coolers but I'm real careful to maintain them during the trip and it usually works out pretty well. One trick that hasn't been mentioned yet is a floating lid made from a blue sleeping pad cut to the exact size of the inside. As the level of contents drops so does the lid so the air space between the lid and the floating lid isn't cooled. Also several smaller coolers rather than one big one will cut down on the number of times they each get opened.
 

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I'm all for building stuff. I built my tables, sewed dropbags, drilled new frame parts, made buckles, built floors and beaver tails....etc. I guess my argument is that the manufactured product is a superior product. The corners are rounded for easier cleaning. The drains work. There is virtually no maintenence, they have a great strength to weight ratio and the insulation is presumably engineered in some way for maximum benefit. The space gained from straight sides vs angled is probably given back in the thickness of the wood and unnecessary insulation or joints.
Full disclosure:
I was a full time custom wood worker for 5 years. I love wood products. I like building things. But a cooler strikes me as an odd use of a material that is not water tight and requires maintenence outdoors. Maybe glass over foam would be cool. But I know how my stuff gets dragged over rocks and beaches and slid down ramps. It trundles in a trailer down washboard roads and gets left to get funky in the garage sometimes. Plastic is where it is at for me.

But if it is a labor of love then make sweet sweet love all day long. Pics of the process would be cool. Keep us posted.
 

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Reading the first several posts of this thread, I was going to suggest fiberglass, and then I saw elkhaven's posts.

Fiberglass will give you much better strength to weight/size ratio than plywood. I'd research fiberglass techniques and costs. You mentioned construction using 1/2 inch marine plywood. I think you would actually be STRONGER as well as thinner with 1/4 plywood and several layers of fiberglass. And since it will be completely sealed with the fiberglass, you can save money by using a less-expensive grade of plywood other than marine-grade.

What you save in wall thickness can either translate to more internal volume, or thicker and better insulation, your choice.
 

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Fiya79, I doubt I'll be building a cooler any time soon (read decades) but I like the idea. My wife would shit a brick if I started another project. I still have to rebuild my trailer deck, build a kitchen box, remodel my side decks, build a table/bench seat, build a rocket box wood stove and a new anchor... all while finishing my parents trim work on their house + my regular job...and truly the list goes on. I was just arguing the point cause that's what I do.

At this point plastic for me too!
 

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Costco $99 160qt

All my buddies have the $400-$500 fancy coolers. I know they are very nice, but 5 years ago at Costco I bought an $89 Igloo. It isn't commercial. It has a crappy mini opening on the top that I sealed up and added insulation to. I have taken it on 3 GC trips and about 10 other week long trips. It is pretty damn good, and for the money it is a steal. If I were in grizzly bear country then it wouldn't be as good, but it holds ice 90% as long as the expensive coolers, and when it breaks I will throw a little epoxy on there, or buy a new one. The opportunity cost of sinking $500 into a cooler isn't worth it for me.
It surely isn't 5 times better by any measure.
 

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I've said it 100 times (not 100 times here). In my case it came down to durability. I bought an Igloo 120 for a c note. Held ice fine for my purposes but I couldn't drag it up a gravel bar or even sit, let alone stand, on the lid. A 120 quart cooler you can't sit on? Gimme a break. Guess how long til it was destroyed? At $100 a pop it wouldn't have taken long to get to the $379 I paid for the Yeti which can be dragged, dropped, sat on, stood on, jumped into the water from; you get the picture. It's a shame one often has to choose between buying something that won't last or taking out a second mortgage to buy something that will, but that's where we are I guess. My cooler is literally worth more than my raft LOL. Now get off my lawn!
 
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