Contents of the Cooler

Keep Your Cooler Ice Cold with Our Step-by-Step Guide

The trip is planned, your clothes are in your bag, and you’re ready to hit the road. Only thing left to do is pack the cooler! Easy, right? Just throw all your food and drinks in and dump some ice on it. Not so fast! You’ll have to pack your cooler a little more thoughtfully than that if you want to ensure your dogs stay fresh and your beers stay cold all weekend.

Wherever you travel, a cooler is a necessity for keeping all your delicious food and drinks cold, but failing to pack it properly can lead to some serious problems; food that’s gone bad can lead to illness, plus warm drinks can be a major drag when you’re out in the hot sun. We’re here to show you how to pack your cooler the smart way to avoid some common mistakes, keeping your food safe and ready to go so you won’t get left high and dry when you’re in the deep woods.

To do it right, the cooler-packing process needs to start days in advance, which brings us to our first step:

1. Collect Everything You Need

Contents of the Cooler

Contents of the Cooler

Once you’ve planned your menu, gather all your ingredients for each recipe.  Prepare your fruits and veggies, marinate your meats, and put them in re-sealable, leak-proof containers. You can pack in zip-lock bags as well, but I would be sure to at least double bag them to prevent things from getting soggy.  I prefer to use waterproof, plastic containers that are re-sealable.

2. Select the Right Cooler

The thicker the walls of the cooler, the better it will insulate. The better it will insulate, the longer it will be able to maintain the chilly temperature you need in the scorching hot summer heat. For trips spanning multiple days, Yeti coolers are one of the most popular choices on the market, and for good reason; Yeti products are designed to keep food cold for 6 days and beyond and are durable enough to be used in the most rugged of conditions. If you are going to the beach or on a day trip, you may want to use a soft sided style cooler, which are lighter and easier to lug around with you.

3. Cool Your Cooler

You always want to start with a cold cooler.  Coolers often take multiple hours before reaching the desired temperature, so cooling it down before you plop your goods in is key to keeping them cold through and through. Prepare your cooler by bringing it inside the night before, wiping it down, and filling it up with ice and water. The colder it starts out the better!

4. Freeze Your Food

In the days prior to packing, freeze as much of your food as possible, especially food you will not need for a couple of days.  This will act as more ice keeping all your food colder for longer.

5. Ice, Ice Baby

How to Pack a Cooler

Ice, Ice Baby

The most important ingredient in packing a cooler: ice. If you’re going on a quick day trip,ice packs might work just fine. For longer trips, however, you will want both block and cube ice. Block ice will stay frozen much longer than cubed ice, but cubed ice is important for filling in the cracks. If you don’t want to buy blocks, a good trick is to freeze bottles filled with water. They can range from small bottles to gallon size jugs depending on how much you need. Plus, once they start to melt you will have cold drinking water as well!  Once you’re ready to start packing the cooler, empty out the cooling water and throw down a first layer of ice on the bottom.

6. Plan and Organize

Be sure to organize your cooler as you pack it. The longer you spend digging around looking for what you need, the more cold air you’ll lose. One convenient way you can do this is to place drinks on one side, dinner items on the other side, and breakfast and lunch items in the middle. This means that as you finish one day’s worth of meals, your next day’s meals will be right on top waiting for you.

7. Layer Up

Put your frozen items and items you won’t need for a few days at the bottom.  Add another layer of ice to fill in the open spaces. Next, add the things you will use in a day or two. Place another layer of ice over the top to fill in all the empty spaces.  If your cooler comes with a storage basket place things in it that you want to make sure stay dry and that you have easy access to.

8. Keep it Cool

If you are going on a longer trip and need your ice to last, it may be best to keep beverages in a separate cooler. Opening and closing the food cooler less often will prevent the cold air from escaping. Try and keep your cooler in a shaded area as much as you can to prevent the hot sun from ruining your perfectly-packed cooler.

How to Pack a Cooler

Yeti Cooler Packed

Some additional tips:

  • Freeze uncarbonated drinks that you don’t need for a few days
  • Dry ice is great at keeping your cooler cool for longer periods, but be sure to wrap it in several sheets of newspaper before packing. Never touch the dry ice with your bare hands.
  • For extra insulation, line the perimeter of your cooler with closed-cell foam pads.

Meat that’s gone bad or warm beverages can sour an otherwise beautiful day of camping, but follow the steps above and you’ll be well on your way to keeping your belly full and happy without issue. Watch the video to see the steps in action!

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