Cooler Packing – Cool Packing Tips For You And Your Cooler

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Summer may be coming to an end, but we hope it doesn’t mean your many adventures with your cooler are coming to an end too.

Your trusty companion keeps your food and drinks cold enough to outlast the toughest conditions, so it will likely be with you no matter what the season.

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We talk about coolers every day. We talk about the different brands and try to compare them to see which one is best. We talk about their construction and how to keep them clean. But now we think it’s about time we talked about the most simple yet most overlooked aspect of properly operating a cooler: packing it.

Believe us when we tell you there is a lot more to properly packing a cooler than you might think. It’s not just about dumping your food and drinks in the cooler and jamming it shut, only to rummage through it again when you’re looking for what you want.

It’s both a science and an art, and today we will explore it in depth.

Having Two Coolers Might be a Good Idea

The very first suggestion we would give you is to get a two cooler system. If you tend to pack a lot of stuff and have a large enough cooler, it might actually be a good idea to have one cooler specifically for foodstuffs and one cooler specifically for drinks. The cooler with the drinks will naturally be opened a lot more often, which means it will get warm much faster.

how to pack a cooler Two Coolers

When you put food and beer in one cooler, with food at the top and beer at the bottom, then you have to open your cooler often in order to get to the beer at the bottom.

This can be one hell of hassle, but it can more importantly be a massive waste of energy since you’re helping the warm air circulating and the food won’t stay as cold for as long as it would if it had its own cooler. If it’s within your means, by all means, get yourself two coolers and watch your perishable food stay colder for longer.

Prep your Cooler the Day Before

Good cooler packing begins with good cooler prepping and that has to happen the day before for the best results.

  • Environment

    Most of us store our coolers in a garage or an attic or other storage space that naturally tends to get hot and warm the things in it over time. For your cooler to perform at its best, you want its ambient temperature to be as cold as possible to begin with.

    That’s why you should bring it inside the house and place it in a cool spot the night before. That way the core temperature of the cooler will be cool enough that the cooler won’t have to waste ice pack energy to cool it before it can cool the food and drinks inside.

  • Hygiene

    Let’s admit it: we aren’t very good at cleaning our coolers immediately after a trip. We’re typically so exhausted and hung over from the trip that we’ll just gloss over the job and leave the cooler in the garage for another day.

    So it makes sense to clean your cooler again when you’re planning to use it. Just wash it down thoroughly and use a disinfectant spray on it to get all the germs, stains, and odors out. This isn’t about keeping your food cold; it’s about keeping your food safe from contamination.

  • Pre-Chilling

    So you’ve put your cooler in a cool place, but that’s not the end of the road. You still have to chill it before it can chill your food and drinks. That means filling it with cold hose water and then dropping in a bag or two of ice.

    This should be done at least 12 hours before you expect to use the cooler for best results. The ice is sacrificial and should be dumped, along with the cold water, when you finally begin to pack your cooler.

Prep your Food

To save some space, make sure most of your food is prepped at home. You vegetables should be chopped early enough and the condiments can be portioned into smaller containers to avoid carrying the whole bottle. With the food taking up less space, you will have plenty for your ice.

packing cooler frozen foodYou should also avoid having excess packaging. Don’t bring more than you need. Use only resealable packaging to avoid leakages. The best assumption you can make is that everything in the cooler is going to be wet so no need to leave any food unsealed.

If you’re going to be taking an especially long trip, make sure you freeze your food long before the trip. That way, you don’t need to eat all of it on the first night out. At the very least, make sure that nothing that goes into the cooler is at room temperature.

Select your Ice

  • The Case for Block Ice

    This is the best ice to go for. If you can’t get block ice then go for reusable freezer packs. Block ice will take a lot longer to melt than ice cubes and should go at the very bottom of your cooler. You can then add smaller ice cubes and the food and drinks on top of the block ice.

    pack cooler with dry iceIf you can’t get block ice or reusable freezer packs, then freeze a few water bottles and lay them horizontally in the cooler. Make sure a quarter of the water is removed to allow for the expansion of water as it freezes.

  • The Case for Ice Cubes

    Ice cubes melt much faster than block ice, but they fill in the empty pockets that would otherwise be filled with air. They are therefore still important to have around.

  • The Case for Dry Ice

    Dry ice is a pretty great idea for especially long trips. It is very cold, much colder than water ice, and will freeze just about anything, including your hands, which means you need to be careful while handling it. And remember to check, if your cooler is dry ice compatible.


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Luke is a co-founder of, a cooler expert and author of 70+ reviews on this website. Luke has a deep passion for sports and all-things-outdoors. From fishing to hiking, from family camping to solo bike trekking, Luke adores spending quality time enjoying nature, oftentimes checking out new coolers while doing so.

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