The ice chest is simply the most basic type of cooler. In fact, there are many different kinds of coolers. However, the ice chest is a box or other rectangular container that keeps the inner contents colder than the ambient temperature outside of the ice chest. They may come in many different sizes, colors, and are made from different materials, and some have additional features. But they still follow the basic rectangle box shape.
The first portable ice chest was invented in 1951 by Richard Laramy, and popularized by the Coleman company in 1954. This first Coleman was made of galvanized steel. Three years later Coleman invented a way to make a plastic liner for coolers and other containers.
Ice chests are usually kept cool on the inside by the use of ice cubes or ice packs. A few collapsible varieties have an inner lining filled with gel. When the cooler is collapsed and placed in the freezer the gel freezes and is all that is needed to keep the contents cool. There are also some electric varieties, though these are usually designed to plug into a car lighter rather than an electric outlet, so they are more portable.
The ice chest is used for a number of different purposes. They are idea for short outings, such as picnics and day trips to the beach or mountains. Most are large enough to hold a day’s worth of food and drinks and ice. In warmer regions people sometimes use a cooler simply to transport groceries from the store to the house. This is a great use of the ice chest as it prevents food from spoiling, and is particularly helpful if you have other errands you need to run after the grocery store visit, or when you have multiple grocery stores at which to shop.
Camping is another activity where the ice chest is used heavily, and relied upon even. There are some newer models that are rated for five days of cooling, even in temperatures as high as 90 degrees. By far the most popular model of ice chest/cooler is the Coleman 62-Quart Xtreme Wheeled Cooler. It can hold 85 cans of beverages, with enough ice to keep it cold for five days. The reviews are very positive, and most reviewers comment that the cooler does, indeed, keep ice and contents cold for many days. They also agree that it is an easy cooler to move around and to load and unload from the car, due to the flip-up handle and large wheels. The reason this cooler works so well is that it has extra thick insulation all the way around, and even on the lid.
The most common material these days for ice chests is plastic with hard foam inside, or more accurately, in between layers of plastic. There are a few other kinds, though. It is still common to see Styrofoam ice chests in use, particularly when the chest is going to be out in the sun all day. The Styrofoam chest is also a good option for shipping, as they are usually designed to fit inside corrugated boxes easily.
Metal ice chests are another option, though they tend to me more expensive. The advantage is that they are the most durable kind of ice chest and will likely last you for many many years. You (or your grandparents!) may still have one in their attic or garage that they bought in the 1950s or 60s that is still in good shape.
Coolers are generally easy to find in your local department store at the beginning of the outdoor/camping season, but are probably a lot harder to come by any other time of the year. Consider purchasing online. By doing so you can look at many different models and varieties and read reviews to pick the best one for your needs. The most popular brands of cooler are Coleman, Igloo and Rubbermaid, though you should be open to any brand that has a good product that suits you.