I lent my friend my rig to take on a 10 day business trip to rural Indonesia. Sorting through the logistics of which makes my five-day stint in Tokyo seem like a walk in the park. In the meantime a domestic business trip came up for me. A two parter, one day in Cincinnati and one day in San Francisco. I used the opportunity to trial a much cheaper rig. I can imagine my buku all-Yeti set up is highly annoying and/or unaffordable. There must be a less expensive way! Another friend on Facebook recommended a far cheaper alternative to the cooler that she used for frequent domestic travel. It is made with similar foam to the Yeti and is also Wirecutter’s top soft cooler pick. My husband has had this giant plastic Pizza Hut jug for more than a decade that looks a lot like my Yeti vessels. Can’t imagine it has near the temperature stabilizing capacity of a double walled vacuum sealed thermos, but hey, if it’s all about ice to milk ratio I can still fit a lot of ice in that jug. I found a similar grade gallon sized plastic “water cooler” on Amazon for one tenth the cost of the Yeti vessel. So with minimal investment I now I have a redundant, all plastic set up.
Doing this exercise made me do something I had never really wanted to do… tally the cost of the original rig. In my fear of how difficult and intense this whole concept of pumping during international travel was going to be I was in the mindset to err on the side of a rig that was too capable, and yes, probably too expensive. But since it so greatly over performed in Japan it made me re-think what could be possible with far lower end equipment. During one late night of binge watching ice pack shoot out videos on YouTube I had purchased a four pack of Cooler Shock because it held beer cold for 60 hours. I never bothered to test them because when I opened the package and read that I needed to use a clothing iron to set them up. Naturally, I threw them into a pile of shit to do later. I’m trying to survive the reality of two very young children right now. Finding, setting up, and using an iron is a ridiculous concept in my life right now. But since my Yeti ice is literally out of the country it seems like the right time to iron these packs. Cooler Shock fits the bill of cheap and super capable. Hopefully so capable that it can carry an all plastic team. And… the entire rig can be duplicated for 1/5 the cost.
Components of the Cheap Rig:
- AO Cooler 24 Pack (of beer, which is consistently a form of measurement)
- Rubbermaid Victory Jug Water Cooler (1 Gallon)
- Cooler Shock
Also, notably not part of the rig itself but helpful complimentary equipment – the ThermoWorks ThermoPop. I typically use the more expensive ThermoPen but this worked just as well and is 1/3 the price. It does require that one remember to turn it off though, which is not my forte.
The Plastic Day Vessel Sucks
I was about to try to find a link to something like the Pizza Hut jug to complete the list of equipment in this cheap set up, but I stopped myself. As much as I feel the ping of desire to complete a list I started, just because I started it, this would not serve to either of us. The plastic day vessel sucks. The result of this experiment was that I had to find ice mid-day everyday. When I went for lunch with two of my colleagues I brought with me a giant zip lock bag so that I could ask the team at the salad joint for ice. Then I carried that big bag of ice through the duration of lunch and back to the office. I found myself putting the jug (with the lid off) into various refrigerators just to keep the milk cool. I would tuck a napkin over the top but I did always wonder if any overly curious co-workers might try to check out what resided in that giant open vessel. The frequent ice supplementing succeeded in keeping the batch of milk cold but definitely failed my goal of minimizing the need for access to refrigeration.
Perception vs Reality, the rig totally worked.
Because my day vessel was falling apart I also naturally assumed my rig was likely falling apart inside too. Why did I think this? I should not have. The rig, unlike the day vessel, had both superior cooler insulation foam and Cooler Shock inside. But I worried anyway. So on the evening of day one I added a huge bag of ice to the top of the cooler and asked the hotel to put it in the freezer overnight. Just like the moment 24 hours before my departure in Japan when all of my intuition said the rig could make the trip home without ever visiting the freezer, I couldn’t take the risk. I will have to let go of this trip a little and just let it be an experiment!
Looking at the temperature sensor history shows that my nervousness could have been justifiable. The temperature climbed quickly from the bottom starting point around noon of day one to that evening, the first night in the hotel when I decided to add extra ice. The night in the freezer brought the temperature back down which seemed to then sustain well for the next two days. I am curious if I had not put it into the freezer if the temperature would have still held for that third day though. Will have to try again.
Each night I also did milk temperature checks before adding new bags of milk from that day to the storage vessel. I gained a single degree in temperature day-over-day.
Arriving home with a gallon full of milk at 34 degrees I will mark as a success. Though I did cheat with the freezer on night one I still think the rig would have held. Clearly the plastic vessel did not work as a day vessel but maybe it is fine as a storage vessel. I’m even now wondering if less insulation from the ice may have helped to keep the milk temp low. The steel vessels are so impenetrable (good and bad) that it can take a while for the contents inside to freeze and chill. I’ve been managing to uphold the thermo rule of only adding cool milk so in theory the rig isn’t having to “cool” anything just maintain the temperature but I do now wonder if a more direct to milk contact would help. Just another reason to trial this again. One pervasive unmet need though is a soft cooler with an actual leak proof zipper. This time I bagged and checked the zippers on all of my ice but still found some broken open and a soaking rig at baggage claim. I had written off hard coolers originally because they were heavier and could not fit the vessel dimensions that I was looking for but now I am also wondering if this also might need to be reevaluated. For now I am willing to trade 34 degree milk for a wet suitcase.