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Cooler Insulation Types and The Science Behind What Keeps Coolers Chilled

Published: 2022-04-27T23:02:22+0000 Author: Abby Helgeson

Coolers are an essential part of camping and road trips, keeping your food and beverages chilled and ready to serve, but how do they really keep them cool? In this article we will discuss the different insulation types and go into how insulation really works as a whole. Read on to learn more about custom coolers!

How Do Coolers Stay Cold?

So what is the science behind insulation? Convection and conduction play a big role in this as well as the type of ice you use inside your cooler, find out why below.

Convection and Conduction

Convection, known as the heat traveling around an enclosed space through air currents is unavoidable. The insulation inside a cooler makes the convection occur at a slower rate the same goes for conduction. Conduction occurs when heat moves directly from warmer objects to colder ones. The insulation in your coolers acts as a strong barrier to slow or prevent convection and conduction. Although this only works when the lid is closed, every time you open your cooler you will let warm air inside so it is best to remember to close it after grabbing your food and drinks.


To keep your food and beverages cold for days on end, keeping ice in your cooler is a must! The ice block in your cooler won’t melt until it absorbs a lot of energy. Contrary to popular belief, it is best to keep the water from melted ice inside your cooler, if you take it out, it will actually make the ice melt faster. Both the ice and ice water will stay at freezing temperature until the ice has completely melted.

Vacuum Insulation

Newer to the insulation game is vacuum insulation, a space that has been almost completely evacuated of air to slow the spread of heat. You might know that many popular water bottle brands use vacuum insulation in their products because it works! Keeping your drinks and ice cold for days on end. Yeti just came out with their Yeti V series which features vacuum insulation, though it does cost a pretty penny, it is well worth the money, claiming to hold ice 50% longer than a regular Yeti cooler.

What materials are used for insulation?


This type of insulation is the most inexpensive option because it doesn’t keep food and drinks cool as well as other insulation types and is not very durable. Styrofoam coolers usually don’t have insulation inside the lids of the coolers creating an air cavity that makes the coolers less effective. For these reasons, styrofoam coolers are best for short trips.

Polyurethane Foam

Polyurethane foam is a much denser material than other foams like polyethylene foam or styrofoam since the foam has smaller air bubbles. With the denser foam the cooler becomes much more heavy and in turn, much more durable. Coolers made with this foam usually have thicker walls (about a 3 inch width) and with the combination of those thick walls with more insulated foam, these coolers offer maximum insulation. They can hold ice for 5 days or even up to 2 weeks depending on the model.

What We Recommend:

Pelican 50qt Elite Cooler

We recommend this Pelican brand cooler because it has everything you need for a successful camping trip. It keeps ice cold for up to 8 days, has a large amount of storage space, is super durable and a drain plug for easy cleaning.

Polyethylene Foam

Most soft shell coolers use polyethylene (PE) foam insulation. There are two types of polyethylene foam, open cell and closed cell. Closed cell is when the air bubbles are all trapped and separate from each other so air doesn’t flow while open cell means each air bubble is somewhat connected to the air pocket next to it so the air can flow easier, meaning less insulation. This foam is optimal for soft side coolers as the foam is lightweight making the cooler easily portable.

What We Recommend:

Igloo Seadrift Coast Cooler

If you are looking for a portable soft sheller cool we highly recommend this one. Featuring MaxCold® insulation, a handle for carrying and enough storage space for a weekend trip, you’re sure to take this with you on all your future adventures!

Now that you know the science behind coolers and the different insulation types, feel free to browse our custom coolers buying guide and find the perfect one for you! We also have an in depth guide to the best materials for coffee mugs.


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