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Cool products for summer

For most travelers, summer means a substantial amount of time spent at lakes and beaches where two elements prevail: heat and water. They can pose problems for food that's best kept cool, gear that's best kept dry and even the family pup _ whose exuberance in the surf may be dangerous to its safety.

The following products aim to solve some of these problems and to make summertime livin' indeed easier. Prices do not include shipping and handling.

Insulated coolers may suffice for short spells and for food that is safe at middling temperatures, but for lengthy car trips of Florida's extended heat, consider this portable electric cooler/warmer that plugs into a standard car cigarette lighter and keeps its cool (or heat) over the long haul.

Employing a match-book-size, thermo-electric module in lieu of the bulky refrigeration coil, compressor and motor used in conventional refrigerators, the compact fridge keeps food 40 degrees Fahrenheit below the outside temperature. A flick of a switch converts the unit into a food warmer (for preheated food only) that keeps food at about 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Called a Koolatron, the unit comes in two sizes. The smaller size, 13 inches long by 9 inches wide by 11 inches high, weighs 6 pounds and has a capacity of 9 quarts (about nine 12-ounce cans). The large size, which measures 21 by 16 by 16 inches, weighs 17 pounds and holds 34 quarts (the equivalent of 40 12-ounce cans). Both units have low power draw, 2.5 amps (about the same amount as a tail light), so they shouldn't pose a problem of battery drain.

I tried each unit, and both performed as promised. As indicated in the instruction manual, food closer to the cooling (or heating) element stayed cooler (or hotter).

Though it's much bulkier, I preferred the larger unit, since it holds about quadruple the food of the smaller model, providing plenty of space for large bottles and casserole containers, which justifies its weight, size and cost. The smaller unit has such a limited capacity that it really doesn't seem worth the bother (or price). An insulated cooler of similar size would do fine for such a small amount.

The manufacturer makes the power cord 10 feet long, allowing the cooler to be kept in a car's back seat (the large unit takes up about the space of one person; the smaller one could be stored on most car floors).

One thing to keep in mind is that on a 90-degree day, the cooler will chill to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit _ not safe for perishables for a substantial length of time. Also, if your car's cigarette lighter does not function when the ignition is off, the cooler will not function either.

An optional AC adapter (5 pounds) is available for both models, allowing the unit to be plugged into any 3-prong, 110/120-volt outlet _ a useful feature pool-side, at electrically wired campsites or in motel rooms.

Koolatron Portable CoolerWarmer, $150 for large size, $110 for small size, and $55 for optional AC adapter, are available from Frontgate, an Ohio mail order company; (800) 626-6488.

On a simpler note, a Colorado company has come up with a solution to keeping valuables such as passports, cash and keys dry while engaging in water sports or simply romping in wet places. The Dry Pack 210 is worn around the waist and has an adjustable belt with a plastic clasp. Items to be kept dry are stored inside a spacious waterproof pouch, the flap of which is folded over tightly several times, then buckled to keep the closure tight. Water-safe items can be stored in the outside mesh pocket, which has a drawstring to secure the contents.

I found this product useful whether kayaking or strolling the beach. Note, however, that, while the dry-pack is water resistant, it is not waterproof. The pouch did fine during brief dunkings and endless splashing but ultimately leaked during prolonged submersion _ as the manufacturer warns.

The Drypack 210 (item 7002) is $22 from TravelSmith, a San Rafael, Calif. mail-order company; (800) 950-1600.

Videocassettes are particularly vulnerable to heat, sand and water. Sony has addressed that problem with its Sports Metal HG, an 8mm videotape that comes in a transparent, hard-rubber case. The videocassette is a standard high-grade metal tape that is not water-resistant, but when stored in the heat-resistant, air-tight rubber case, it is protected from bumps, water and high temperatures.

Sony Sports Metal HG, which has a 120-minute length, is $12 at camera stores and other video suppliers.

No need to get a wet and/or sandy derriere at the beach. Lands' End's pop-up beach chair, which has light-weight aluminum legs, provides sturdy seating, then folds back up for easy carrying.

I bought a pop-up chair for use at picnics and outdoor music concerts. While it was plenty comfortable for me, I don't recommend it for people with serious back problems.

Pop-up Beach Chair (item 1 985-2115) is $40 from Lands' End; (800) 356-4444.

But enough about people. Pets can be beach-goers too, and the Texas Recreation Corp. of Wichita Falls offers the canine set a little extra buoyancy on the water. The company's soft, vinyl foam, dog life preserver, available in six sizes and pink or blue, is designed to keep the animal from tiring when splashing in the deep. The life preserver has two holes for Fido's forelegs and two straps that buckle at the back.

I used a friend's terrier as a guinea pup, with mixed results. On land, the dog appeared annoyed by the contraption and proceeded to roll around and bite at it. In the water, however, the life preserver seemed unobtrusive _ though I couldn't tell if it made swimming easier. Because the vest is plastic, it can get warm and binding, so it's a good idea to remove it when the dog isn't water-bound.

To determine the necessary size, measure around the dog's chest behind the forelegs. Sizes are S (11-13 inches), M (15-17 inches), L (19-21 inches), XL (23-25 inches), XXL (27-29 inches), and XXL (30-34 inches).

Dog Life Preserver in pink or blue (item B38-0562) is $25 in S, M, L, and XL sizes; and $30 in XXL and XXXL from Pedigrees, a New York pet products catalog store; (716) 637-1434.