Really compact insulated bag for groceries and takeout?
September 25, 2019 9:34 AM   Subscribe

I do most of my grocery runs without a car. I have a few insulated bags, but the insulation is really bulky. Is there an insulated bag that works well but is thin and compact?

I'd like something big enough to hold several bags of frozen vegetables or even a bag of frozen chicken breasts - but then I'd like the insulated bag itself to fit comfortably inside my backpack or another bigger bag.

I'm also likely to use it to keep takeout food warm (on different occasions, obviously).

I've seen things with really thin insulation, almost like mylar blankets - could something like that work?

Please share your recommendations for things that insulate frozen groceries well, but could also fit well inside another bag.

(Also, my trip home is usually about 25 minutes. Do I even need to worry about frozen foods for that amount of time?)

posted by kristi to Shopping (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I bring all my groceries home by bus (45 min-1 hr) in uninsulated bags. Unless it’s something like ice cream, it does okay. I wouldn’t worry about it.
posted by valeries at 9:37 AM on September 25, 2019

I also would not worry about insulated bags for only 25 minutes. I regularly stop to get takeout on my way home from the grocery store, and don't get my groceries put away until 30 to 45 minutes after I leave the store. I even go so far as to stick my hot takeout in the bag with my cold groceries as I heft them all up the stairs to my condo. I've never seen any evidence of an issue.
posted by backwards compatible at 9:44 AM on September 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

It's nice to have some insulation for the frozen stuff when you're not inside some kind of insulated vehicle and it's hot out, but in my experience the most important thing is to keep it out of the sunlight where you can.

I've got some cheap (free promotional) insulated lunch bags with really thin insulation, but I'm not sure they insulate much, and don't think I'd bother with actually purchasing such a bag. I like the mylar blanket idea, but have never tried it. I think I'll stick one in my bike panniers so it's available for an experiment (unhelpful now, but I promise I'll update here if I try it.)
posted by asperity at 9:52 AM on September 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

When I order from certain grocery delivery services, they use a mylar bubble-wrap bag (with a reusable sticky strip at the top to close) inside a grocery bag. They don't put an ice pack or anything in, but when I go out for my long errand run on Saturday mornings I do throw a small ice pack each into a couple of those bags just to be extra cautious.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:55 AM on September 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have several of these Therm-O Tote bags and they are the best combo of thin and insulated I've found so far. They do just fine for getting things from the store to home but not for hours of use. I've gotten them all as promo items from ordering grocery delivery, so not sure how you would find one for retail sale, but maybe someone else will.
posted by assenav at 9:55 AM on September 25, 2019

Many grocery stores sell a mylar bag in the frozen section that has a hard plastic handle but is otherwise very thin. You can wrap the bag around the handle and it will be under an inch thick and fit in a backpack.
posted by soelo at 10:18 AM on September 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

Seconding the mylar bag. I will note that it's not as durable as other things, but good in a pinch. Depending on your hand strength and the load, the handle may be too painful.
posted by hijinx at 10:31 AM on September 25, 2019

I've seen the bags that Lyn Never suggests and I would think those would be a good idea, but a plain space blanket might be even more compact and backpack-friendly.

Another option would be a dedicated insulated backpack like this, but that seems overkill for your use case.

I wouldn't stress about it for 25 minutes, though. Just put your frozen foods next to each other (and the refrigerated food directly above them.)
posted by mosst at 10:35 AM on September 25, 2019

I really only use the insulated bags when it's very, very hot out and/or I'm carrying something like ice cream. Then I bring a smaller bag, like a lunch bag, just for those select items. But my commute is nearly an hour by bus; for 25 minutes I would not stress except in unusual circumstances (ice cream in August).
posted by epanalepsis at 10:49 AM on September 25, 2019

I've done plenty of 20 minute grocery runs on foot without an insulated bag. A few other things that help are keeping the frozen stuff packed together with the cold stuff like dairy next to it, and getting the cold/frozen stuff last.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:52 AM on September 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

Sometimes they still have a stack of the old school paper bags; under the end of each check lane but unused unless asked for. They work great; and when they are worn out ten uses later; paper shred them into mulch (plant a flower; grow a tree with your next fruit or veggie seed; or find a pile of dog poop to bury, something. Paper sacks aren't 'waste' unless they are single purposed).

Buying an extra frozen veggie item helps keep important things cold; and we're all supposed to be eating more veggies anyway.
posted by buzzman at 7:35 PM on September 25, 2019

If you are near an IKEA, I've gotten a couple from IKEA that were great for this - this green one is a little bulkier but can still roll up in a backpack, and this blue one is really thin and can be folded easily. Both fit a ton of stuff.
posted by beyond_pink at 5:57 AM on September 26, 2019

I was given that green IKEA bag free at a new store opening, easily 12+ years ago, and it has often been the bag I carry my other bags in all this time. (Well...a purple sports drink had a situation in there a few weeks ago and I'm worried it's not going to make it out of the washing machine intact, we'll see.) It's a great bag and holds a lot of stuff. There's some mesh panels inside, where I stick an ice pack.

But as long as you're not out for 2-3 hours, or buying ice cream, I don't think you need to be absolutely stressed over this. I'm doing my errands in a car where the ambient temperature can get to 100+ and so I use coolers and ice packs, but I don't think relatively climate-controlled transportation is a serious issue. If you are buying ice cream, an insulated lunch bag should do the trick.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:20 AM on September 26, 2019

These are all terrific answers! Thanks to everyone saying I don't need to even bother with an insulalted bag, I might just not worry about it for now, but I'll probably try out one or both of those Ikea bags next time I'm there.

Thanks very much to everyone for all the helpful replies!
posted by kristi at 11:58 AM on September 28, 2019

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