Will it keep the ice?
  |  First Published: April 2005

These days Aussies are deciding to discover more of this great land of ours instead of going overseas. Not only that, many are also deciding to try their hand at camping rather than staying at nice 4 star hotels. And let’s face it, camping these days is nothing like it used to be. I remember my first camping trip without my parents. It consisted of a 9’2” Malibu surfboard, a tin of spaghetti, 2litres of cordial and Moreton Island. I slept in my surfboard cover and had my tin of spag for brekky. These days I can’t go camping without towing a bloody trailer behind my Jeep just to fit everything in. So I thought this month we would look at one of the most important things in your camping set up - the icebox! Or as we Aussies have always liked to call it, the esky!

While the esky is one of the most important items in your camp, it is also probably one of the most daunting products to buy. And it’s no wonder. There are so many out in the market place and they all claim to be better than the rest. Do I go for plastic or fiberglass and what should I look for? Well my first piece of advice would be not to always listen to the salesperson in the shop or the manufacturer at the camping show. I would estimate that 8 times out of 10 the sales person really has no idea about the product, and if you talk to the manufacturer, they are naturally going to tell you their esky is better. So do your homework and ask around your mates or find a sales person with experience in the industry and with the product.

First of all, let’s look at the plastic icebox. These have been around a long time and no doubt almost every bloke has been given a Willow or Coleman esky on one of their birthdays. The Coleman esky has served us well for many years, but these days some companies like Tropical Iceboxes, Icey-Tek and Evakool have put a little more thought into the design and performance and have come up with some very good products. They are making their iceboxes from a rotomoulded product called Polyethylene and are injecting a high-density polyurethane foam inside the walls and lids. This makes for a very lightweight, robust and durable esky with better ice keeping capabilities, not to mention a cheap price tag. But before you race out to buy one, we should take a closer look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of these new plastic iceboxes.

Advantages of Plastic Iceboxes
Low Price Tag

Naturally plastic eskies are cheaper than fiberglass eskies. This is also partly due to the fact that they are all made overseas and imported into the country. They may say Australian designed and Australian owned but they are actually made overseas. Don’t be fooled.

Very Robust

The rotomoulded construction of these eskies is such that you can bang them around in your ute, sit on them, stand on them and more and you won’t really damage them. In terms of box construction, each brand is probably as good as the next. However when it comes to accessories such as handles, hinges, bungs and latches, there are some major differences you need to take a look at. Tropical Iceboxes seem to be the only ones I have come across that have hit the nail on the head with their design. They have robust handles riveted to a metal plate on the inside for strength, a bung that won’t break if you bump it walking past, a sensible elastic latch and virtually unbreakable hinges. One thing you don’t want is flimsy brittle handles and hinges or a bung that protrude a long way out. Flimsy handles that break aren’t going to be any good on bigger sized eskies. Some companies out there can’t seem to get it right and are always changing their accessories due to problems caused by bad design. They may replace it under warranty but the same thing is going to happen again.

Large range of sizes

There is such an array of sizes in these boxes. They range from as small as 10L from Evakool right up to commercial sizes of around 1100L from Icey-tek and Tropical.

Disadvantages of plastic iceboxes
Don’t hold ice as long

One of the only downfalls of the plastic esky is that it doesn’t hold ice as long as fiberglass does - you will usually get around 1-2 days extra from a fiberglass esky.

Heat and cold affect the plastic

While plastic absorbs heat and cold, fiberglass (depending on its colour) reflects almost 95% of heat. Heat will make your plastic expand and cold will make it contract; therefore, it is possible that your esky lid or box will warp out of shape. It doesn’t happen all the time but if it does, the manufacturer will cover it under warranty and give you a new box. I guess it is always advisable to keep any esky in the shade as much as possible but this is especially so with plastic models.

To make sure that the esky lid seals properly before you buy it, close the lid of the esky, latch it down and get yourself a business card. Put the business card in between the foam seal on the lid and the foam seal on the box. Now gently pull the business card along the seal right around the box. It should have resistance against it at all times. If the business card slides freely with no resistance, the box is not sealing properly and you shouldn’t buy it.

Fiberglass Iceboxes

If you are in the market for a fiberglass icebox, you have it a lot easier as there are currently only two major manufacturers and a couple of small manufacturers of fiberglass iceboxes.

A fiberglass icebox is the ultimate model on the market due to its ice-keeping capabilities and the fact that it can handle dry ice. While dry ice can be put in plastic eskies, it is recommended that you put a thick amount of hessian or a piece of plywood under it. This protects the plastic from becoming brittle and cracking after a number of times carrying dry ice.

The two main fiberglass iceboxes available on the market are the Downunder and the Evakool. I have done a lot of research into these two eskies and use both myself. The Downunder Icebox is made in the Philippines and the Evakool is made right here in Australia.

Let’s look at some other possible questions you may have.

Does the fact that the Downunder is made in the Philippines mean that it is not as good? My answer is a definite no. The company is Australian, the directors have been making fiberglass iceboxes for as long as they have been around, and the simple fact is they can produce a top class product at a cheaper cost.

Similarly, the Evakool is made in Australia, so does this mean it is a better icebox? My answer again is no. It is made in the same way as the Downunder by the company who made the first fiberglass icebox in Australia. The only disadvantage of being made in Australia is the fact that it is more expensive due to higher wages and costs.

Perhaps the most important question is, which icebox performs better? You may be surprised to hear that when I put the two iceboxes to the test, I found that both held ice for the same amount of time.

There is another fiberglass icebox available in South East Qld and it is made by an Australian company called Mickey Iceboxes. They are only available in a small number of shops but I have to say that this is my favourite fiberglass icebox. It performs the same as the Downunder and Evakool when it comes to holding ice, but the overall finish and presentation of these boxes is second to none. In saying that, it does have a heftier price tag. However, I like to think of it as getting what you pay for. It’s a first-class price but it’s also a first-class icebox. So when it comes to fiberglass iceboxes, it all depends on whether you want to buy Australian made or pay less for an import of equal quality. That is a decision I will leave up to you.

I have had a fair bit to do with iceboxes, so if you have any questions at all please post your questions on the Fishing Monthly website and I will be sure to give you any advice I can.

Cheers for now, and may your beers stay cold!

- Todd Morrow

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