June 5, 2009 -- If you and your family are vacationing close to home this summer, these new products tested by the Good Housekeeping Research Institute are guaranteed to make a splash.
For Food and Drink
The institute tested 27 hard- and soft-sided coolers to see which ones stayed below 40 degrees the longest; how easy they were to pack and load, carry and clean; and how well they handled wear and tear.
The Rubbermaid 50 Quart DuraChill Wheeled 5-Day Cooler ($33) scored highest in our tests. With a 75-can capacity, it won't lose its cool. It held to a safe temperature (under 40 degrees F) for more than 12 hours, and with a larger amount of ice (per the instructions) for five days. Pluses included wheels, a telescoping handle and a drain.
How Much Ice to Pack
Add half a pound of ice per quart capacity of the cooler. The 50-quart cooler would need 25 pounds of ice. Consider a separate cooler for drinks so as not to expose perishables to warm air.
Other 'Cool' Coolers
The soft-sided Igloo Playmate IcyTunes ($60) has a lot of fun features. A built-in iPod/MP3 player dock and speakers will lighten your load and your mood. It will also keep 18 soda cans cold for six hours, and the hinged lid and solid base make for easy loading and unloading. A larger Cool Fusion 40 IcyTunes ($150) also performed well.
Safeguard Your Valuables
The institute recommends the Dry Pak Belt Pack ($13), with its hermetic seal, which will protect your cell phone, MP3 player, wallet and keys from splashes.
Keep the Kids Happy
As any parent knows, a portable DVD player is essential for a long road trip. The institute checked the video and audio quality, durability, and battery life of 14 new models. One favorite was the Polaroid 7-inch portable DVD player ($130), which comes with a swivel screen, remote, and carrying bag.
On the Beach
Besides the must-have high-SPF sunscreen, consider bringing a beach umbrella on seaside escapes to help reduce your risk of sunburn. We tested eight of the newest portable shades for fade- and water-resistance, stability, durability and the ease of opening, setting up, closing, and carrying.
The one that scored best in portability was the PortaBrella ($40), which breaks into three parts and collapses to just two feet long when stored in its carrying bag. It's key for a trip to the beach.
For additional coverage, Add-A-Shade ($16) is an option. The panel straps on to the umbrella you already have. While it's handy, expect its color to fade over time.