Fort’s Trail Team – Cooler VS The Fridge

posted in: Gear Review, Trail Trip, Travel | 0

One of the greatest sources of conversations while on the trail, in our group at least, has to be the subject of refrigeration of food.  Specifically, when overlanding or camping.  

Eric’s K2 Cooler setup

Fort’s hopped on the “expedition cooler” trend 5 years ago when we became a retailer for K2 Coolers.  We went through a couple of pallets of their industrial grade coolers and made sure that everyone knew how amazing a tough cooler could be when traveling days on the trails.  From the inception of our relationship with K2, I have been thrilled to use my 50qt cooler on any and every trip.  Not only was it a great at keeping things cold… But it made a great bench when we stopped for end of the day refreshments.  

I have always diligent to make sure my ice to water ratio is perfect when setting up the  K2.  Too much water and its sloshing around and getting in some light dry goods or sandwich meat.  Too little, and we have a warm cooler!  There is an art to the packing of ice in any ice chest, and my years on the trails and camping have given me hope that I can get by just fine for days with my K2.

Don’s Dometic on a slider

The alternative is the portable refrigerator.  From almost day one of our trips out west, we have always had someone in the crew with one of these devices.  The ARB brand is one of our most popular brands for all kinds of off road accessories.  ARB was also one first to mass market an expedition refrigerator.  They are tough and rugged and they run no matter how tough the trail is. 

ARB Fridge AND a Cooler in Jake’s 4Runner

Jake has an ARB model in his Landcruiser and Don runs a Dometic branded refrigerator in his 4Runner.  The fun now for the “fridge brothers” is to mock my antiquated cooler.   Part of the CB/Radio banter while on our last few outings have been other members of the team calling out their cooler temps.  They are not hopping out to look at the temp on the digital display.. oh no…  they are getting live readings via the bluetooth connection!  Is this roughing it or what?

On our 2019 venture through the San Juan mountains in Colorado we found ourselves in Telluride.  If you’re travelling with three young ladies, who have been super stellar all day hitting mountain passes…  You are going to find an ice cream shop or something as payback.  We are starting to get the lay of the land with these pit stops.  Silverton always demands a stop with the kids for a treat.  No difference on this trip to Telluride.  

We yelped it…  The Telluride Truffle was ranking pretty highly on the places to check out for those with a sweet tooth.  Our trail grungy crew walked down the main drag on a beautiful sunny day in this famed luxurious mountain town to a block stone storefront with a tiny little confectionery tucked inside.  

Telluride Truffle had ice cream.  Big, tasty scoops that can appease the toughest co-driver.  They also had lots of handmade chocolates and treats that were perfect for husbands who need something to take home to a patient Wife.  

San Juan bar

My daughter, Summer, found a unique chocolate  candy called the San Juan Bar.  It was a house-made confection that looked like 7 little mountains strung together.  On top of every peak was a dash of white chocolate.  Inside, they were filled with caramel.  My daughter bought one along with a bag of chocolate covered espresso beans. (I think she even used her own money?!?)  These would be a perfect souvenir/treats from the day trip.

We tossed the coffee beans in the cooler and Summer stored the 7 peaks in the glove box of my 2010 4Runner.  

After a day in Telluride, we had to get back to Ouray for our campsite.  This time of day, we were not going to take the pass again, we took the “Last Dollar Road”.  Last Dollar is another Trail Team favorite.  It’s a bumpy, single lane, run of dirt and gravel that should be a shortcut to Ridgeway Colorado, but ultimately takes longer because you just have to stop and check out the views!   

the bumpy trail on Last Dollar Road

When we got back to camp and started unloading for dinner… I heard a mopey sob that was punctuated with something like “Dad what happened?”.  My daughter was quite frustrated to find the espresso beans submerged in the cooler water.  While the cooler seems packed well when we had left Telluride…  It was obvious that the bumpy and unpaved Last Dollar Road had shuffled the entire contents of the K2.  Summers beans were pretty much ruined.  

Inside the glove box was no better.  The San Juan bars were now little clear bags of melted caramel and chocolate.  If you imagined, you could see the rough shape of the San Juan peaks.  Now, they were eroded to little hills at best.  

If you are a Dad…  You know the shame that I was feeling.  It was hours on the trails or highways back to Telluride…  And I knew that getting more of this handmade goodness was not possible.  My kid had the saddest look on her face and I knew that I would never escape the shame of this event.  I was right…  As I write this nearly a year later, I still get mocked about the failure!

I love my coolers… And they are great for most any trip… But I do have to concede that a truck with a dry & cold space can be a lot less hassle on a big trip.  And I am not sure that any price would have stopped me from trying to go back in time to not have this happen again!

2020 Update:

This year’s 2020 Trail Team trip was hastily planned and with COVID raging across the country, we never really knew if we would go anywhere!  As things opened up in Colorado this summer, we three Dad’s from the 2019 trip (and a bonus Dad and Son) decided to make a quick trip to some familiar stomping grounds in Moab, Ouray and Telluride.  I found myself childless this year…  As the kids are now working summer jobs and money for school takes precedence of Dad time.  

In the back of my truck this year sits an ARB cooler.  By the time we reached Telluride, I had used up a lot of my occupied fridge space.  Myself and the other campers had eaten pretty well out of our refrigerators, and we were down to the final days of the trip.  There was plenty of room if I should decide to make up for last year’s failures.

Happy Daughter with a San Juan Bar!

You know what I did!  I found Telluride Truffle (in their new location) and I bought two San Juan bars and a few other treats to bring home. I had a goal to drive back 900 miles with these sweets unscathed!  

Days later, I made it back to Illinois with fully preserved chocolates.  I felt like Dad of the year when I presented the San Juan bars and other treats to my family.  Summer made it very clear that those 7 peaked candies were hers alone  Fair enough, since she had been tortured by seeing the ruined chocolates last summer.  

Hero status achieved.  (For this week anyway!)  Thanks to a fridge!