The cooler is important at tailgates, barbecues, and outdoor shindigs; it is downright vital when camping. No, a hulking beast loaded down with ice isn’t going to be found deep within the backcountry, where we imagine real life-or-death situations lurk. But even your run-of-the-mill camp outing requires distance from civilization, and that makes it all the more dangerous to find yourself with spoiled food, or (maybe worse) a mispacked larder. This responsibility looms heavy. Hungry, sick friends do not happy campers make.
But outside of scraping by — meat sanitary, beer on the cool side of tepid, dry goods not mushed and moisturized — an ideal exists: a cooler that can keep food cold for days, stuffed with quality food that’s easy to make in the backwoods but also adds a touch of pampering to any outdoor outing. It also gives you mad woods cred. Think your knowledge will be questioned after you pull out an ice-cold can of the perfect camping microbrew for a friend who’s washing down that whole fish you just grilled? What’s that, friend — you’re in the mood for some charcuterie? Help yourself. We’ll be over here, full, relaxed, and very happy with our provisioning skills. Here’s a starter kit for the ultimate two-person weekend of camp meals, both sensible and hearty.
There are options out there that keep food colder than the Coleman Steel Belted Cooler. They use modern insulation tech, and they’re fantastic — if you’re looking to spend upwards of three Benjamins. The Coleman, on the other hand, looks classic, is the right size at 54 quarts, gets the job done (careful of the latch, which can be a little finicky), and costs around $140 (much less, if you can find a sale). In this case, perfect has all the little imperfections that make a classic.