Best Way to Pack a Cooler for Camping or Long Trip
Packing a cooler for a long trip, road trip, vacation, or family picnic? There are some ground rules that need to be laid down. Many people make the mistake of packing improperly, and when you do this, you’re sacrificing precious storage space, and this can actually negatively impact your entire picnic, or require you to have more coolers that you may not have room for. Well fortunately for you, there is a system (yes, it’s true!). We’re going to tell you in this guide how you can pack a cooler like a pro so you don’t end up with melted or waterlogged cheese and food, and it will help maximize storage space too!
Choose the Right Cooler
First of all, you need to know what cooler to buy and take on your trip. Finding the right sized cooler is essential. You don’t want to run out of room at any point and time, but you want your cooler packed as tightly as possible, but still have room for the ice packs (or ice if that’s what you’re choosing to use). You may even want to have one that has special compartments to choose from. This will help you keep certain items off of the ice below, and help to keep food separated from drinks, etc.
Depending on how big of a meal you need to make and take with you, you might want to use a double cooler system. This way you can keep one cooler strictly for drinks since it’s going to be used more often. This ensures that you’ll keep your food cold so when you’re looking for a cold brew or soda, you’re not continuously warming up the food, and ruining the trip. You need to conserve as much cold as possible when you’re using coolers, because it’s only temporary.
Prepping the Cooler
The first thing you need to do is bring the cooler inside the home, so you can get it cleaned out. If you didn’t just buy a cooler (and if you did too), you need to make sure it’s disinfected so you can avoid any chemicals or germs from causing any problems or contaminating the food.
The next thing you need to do is pre-cool the cooler. Yes, you may end up wasting some ice on this, but it’s important to chill the insulation inside of a cooler. Much similar to how you may add hot water to a thermos. Just remember to dump out the ice water when you start packing.
Prepping the Food
You probably want to do this the day before. You don’t want any space wasted, and you want all of your food to be prepared ahead of time. That means, cut up what you need to, and make sure you get rid of extra packages (like boxes, bulky wrappers, etc.). By eliminating space like this, you can pack a lot more into a tiny space.
You may want to use leak-proof containers, or lids that have seals on them. This will help to keep the food fresh, keep things from spoiling, keep excess moisture out, and keep the food from leaking out into the cooler as you’re moving it about. Another reason, is so that you don’t have a cooler full of hot dog juice to keep your beer and soda cans cold… Nobody wants to drink hot dog flavored beer. Also, if you want to keep your food cooler longer (like hot dogs, etc.) you can toss things like meats and other prepped food into the freezer. Don’t ever do this with fresh vegetables though – they turn into mush when they thaw out. Even water bottles though, you can freeze to save space and keep additional cooling inside the cooler.
Choose the Right Ice
One of the biggest things that people do wrong is choose the wrong ice for their coolers, or they just think that they can make their ice cubes. You may want to look into investing in freezer packs, blocks of ice, or even dry ice. Blocked ice or freezer packs are great because they last a lot longer, melt slower, and they will help keep your cooler cold from the bottom up.
Ice cubes and crushed ice is the key to save space as well, but it’s a little trickier. Some people have the mentality that they just need to dump a whole bag of ice in, and then they end up with a wet mess. The best thing to do with ice is to use it as a space filler. Put a little bit in at a time around your drinks at the bottom, then as you put items in, put a little more ice in around them. It does melt faster, so it may cause more problems if you’re going on a long trip.
Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide, and not only does it provide a really awesome fog effect (and have some slight danger associated with it too), you can really keep things cold. Dry ice is carbon dioxide that is frozen to 0 degrees Kelvin (or -32 degrees Fahrenheit). When you need to make long trips and keep things super cold, then you should use this ice because it will give you the most bang for your buck. Just be careful not to touch it or it can freeze your skin almost instantly.
When it comes to packing your cooler, you want the block ice on the bottom. You also want to make sure that everything is face up in the cooler. Once your block ice is down, you want to put food items in a reverse order as far as when it is to be used or consumed. Therefore, you’ll want to put the last day’s food down towards the bottom, and build up to the most recent or to-be-used item. Use the ice cubes to fill in small gaps. One thing you can do is go to your nearest fast food place, like a Sonic Drive-In® and get a bag of ice there. Their ice cubes are extremely small, and are great at filling in the gaps. Otherwise, you’ll just need to your local store and get it.
Once you have all of those in, you want to make sure that you pack things in accordance to what meal they’re going to be in as well. Choose things like meats and breakfast to put on one side, while other meals and veggies can go on the other side. Another thing you’ll want to probably do to avoid a cooler full of mush, is to put fruits and veggies towards the top. This will ensure that you get the most items in there, keep things cold when it needs to be cold, and not waste any precious space or end up with vegetable sludge.
Conclusion – Packing a Cooler
When you want to pack your cooler, you should think about it like you’re packing a U-Haul trailer and prepping for a move, or a suitcase. Try to keep large things towards the bottom, and place small things around them. Utilize literally every inch, but don’t forget to leave a few gaps for the ice cubes. This will ensure that you get every bit covered in cold, and make your food last a lot longer. If you have any troubles, or you start to notice that things are thawing out, you can literally unpack/repack as needed, or you may have to start using the food sooner, which can really put a damper to your camping trip!