Needed: Modular Camping Cooler (Ice Chest)

24Jul13

People buy coolers and fill them with food, beverages, and ice.  Then they go to sporting events, fishing, or camping.  The ice melts within a day or so (unless you invest in a very expensive model), and you have to go somewhere and buy more.  The water from the melted ice makes the thing too heavy to carry unless it has a drain and/or wheels; often the wheels are cheap, and sometimes the drains leak.  As long as the water is cold, it can still cool the food, especially by leaking into the bags and other containers in which the food is stored.  The Sun has a nasty habit of moving, which means that most coolers will spend part of their time not in the shade.  Cooler manufacturers accommodate this by making many of their coolers blue or red, so as to absorb the maximum amount of solar heat.  The cooler is a handy place to sit, which is unfortunate because it is not necessarily made to be sat on.

These and other observations suggest that cooler manufacturers consider selling modular cooler components designed to serve disparate purposes.  Here, I briefly sketch one concept.  It starts with the outer shell:  large, moderately insulated, sturdy, and white.  It might come with optional add-ons, such as wheels, folding legs that allow it to stand at table height, and cutting-board tops.

In this concept, the outer shell can function, itself, as a basic cooler.  But its primary purpose is to enclose other cooler components or modules.  One such module could hold soda cans and other beverages (perhaps fitting into appropriately designed forms, so as to minimize the amount of air to be cooled around each can or bottle).  Another module could hold (or consist of) an insulated beverage jug (e.g., the kind with a spigot, that you can put on a table and use to refill cups).  Another could hold items that cannot be submerged in water.  There might also be modules or spaces designed to hold dry ice or block ice.  There might even be a refrigeration module, for use when electricity is available.

These modules might be arranged to slide in next to one another and/or to stack on top of one another, depending on their purpose.  For instance, the one that keeps food dry might logically lie on top of another module, so that the icy water would have to rise pretty high to threaten its contents.  These modules can have closable vents designed to allow cool air or cold water to circulate into them while they sit inside the outer shell.

There might be more than one size of outer shell.  There might be more available modules than could fit into any but the largest such shell.  People could select the modules they need.  Thus, along with the purposes suggested above (e.g., transportation, via wheels; convenience, via cutting board and/or sitable lid), the outer shell serves certain module-related functions.  For one thing, it organizes the modules:  multiple things fit within one device that could be rolled around like a child’s wagon.  It also cools the modules and provides additional insulation, reducing the amount of insulation needed on individual modules.  For example, the contents of a beverage jug might be drained before the heat would penetrate its thin insulation; but it might need to be kept cold inside the outer shell for two or three hours before lunchtime.

It might be possible to rotate some modules into and out of the outer shell – first for cooling, and then for service.  For instance, a six-pack of soda cans might be taken from the fridge (at home or at a convenience store) and loaded into a module with insulation (and/or the solution used in freezer packs) form-fitted around each individual cans.  The foam itself would tend to keep the cans somewhat cool on the way to the outing.  At the outing, the soda can module already being cooled inside the outer shell would be brought out for use, and this supplemental module would take its place.  It would already be cool; the outer shell would keep it so.  The swapped-out module would sit on top or on a table.  People would take cans out of it.  The outer shell would not be opened, and warmed, every time someone wanted another can.

The smallest outer shell might consist of little more than a soda can module and an ice module.  The largest outer shell might accommodate cases of soda and/or some combination of two-liter bottles.  A modular system would allow people to choose an outer shell suited for the occasion, and to fill it with appropriate modules.  The contents of even the largest outer shell could be emptied and transferred module by module if necessary; getting everything in and out of a vehicle would not require brawn.  A full modular system could represent an investment, but people could build up to it piecemeal, as their needs expanded.

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