How to pack a cooler like a pro – for camping
By Robert Marvin
If you are planning for a camping trip, you would know that bringing along a cooler is absolutely essential (unless you live in a really cold place where temperatures are usually below freezing).
People use coolers to store food and beverages while camping or bikepacking. To ensure that your food stays in the freshest condition, you need to know how to pack your cooler in the most efficient and effective way possible. Otherwise, the food may turn stale, and your drinks may not be able to stay chilled.
In this article, we will explore some pro tips on how to pack your cooler for camping. If you are looking to purchase a cooler soon, you may also visit dailytrekking.com to read up more on the extensive research into cooler models.
Firstly, before packing, always chill the cooler
The colder the cooler is, the more ice it will retain. If you have access to a commercial freezer, you could leave it to freeze overnight.
Before your camping trip, keep the cooler in the coldest part of the house so that it remains icy.
It is better to use ice blocks rather than ice cubes
Regular ice cubes are not as ideal as ice blocks if you are camping overnight. Ice blocks have a much smaller surface area, and do not melt away as quickly as the cubes do.
For a long trip, ice blocks are really helpful. You can make ice blocks by freezing water in a bowl, according to the size of the cooler. But keep in mind that you would need a pick or hammer to break off the ice blocks.
Foods and drinks need to be frozen
Raw meat should be frozen for as long as possible, but take note that certain types of meat are not able to be kept in a cooler safely for more than two days. If you are mixing raw meat with other items in the same cooler, you should pack them into airtight, leakproof bags before placing inside the cooler. Bring out raw meat about 1-2 hours before you intend to cook, and thaw them in cold water.
Cooked and ready-to-eat foods that are frozen may be thawed by placing them in a waterproof bag, then soaking them in cold water.
Non-carbonated drinks and water should also be packed and frozen inside the cooler before your trip. When you reach the campsite, you may bring them out to thaw in the open if you wish to consume them on the same day.
Do not drain water on long camping trips
Some cooler manufacturers suggest not to drain water when going on trips. One of the reasons behind this is that it keeps beverages extra cold. Ice tends to melt quickly in a cooler, but any water from ice that has recently melted is likely to stay cold for quite a while.
However, if the water is making your cooler contents soggy, or if you need to remove things to add more ice, you should drain the water.
The layers matter
Keep the ice blocks in the bottom of your cooler, and then wrap the ice with a light, solid coating like the side of a milk container or a sheet of cardboard.
When you travel, there are chances that the food may slip between the ice and get soggy. But the barrier prevents it from happening. Also, store food in the order of when they are meant to be consumed. For example, the food meant to be eaten on the first day should be placed at the top, while the food intended for the last day should be at the bottom.
Food packaging may sometimes disappoint you. It is common to hear of those who kept packaged food in a cooler, only for it to become soggy and mashed at the time of eating.
So what should you do? You could take food out of their original packaging, and keep them in leakproof containers. This will help you avoid any accident with food spillage.
In addition to this, if you want to keep your greens crispy and fresh, then you can wrap them in a wet paper towel before placing in an airtight bag.
An extra layer of insulation is good
Even if your cooler is able to stay cold for long periods, an extra layer of insulation over the top is always helpful. It may help reflect some of the sun’s heat during the hot summer months.
Do not keep it open
Always make sure to keep the cooler sealed shut, as this helps in preventing leakage of cold air. Whenever you take something out of the cooler, shut it immediately. Furthermore, when at a campsite, keep your cooler in a shaded place.
Keeping food in an organized way
When you keep your food organized, you can get whatever you want more quickly. For a start, you could try placing different types of food in different sections. For instance, some people keep the meat in one section and veggies in another. Also, put the condiments in a different section.
If possible, carry another cooler for the beer
We know that reaching out for a chilled beer is a natural action after a long day of camping. However, frequently opening and closing the cooler could cause the ice to melt faster, making the other food items soggy or warm.
Clean it after use
Do not leave a cooler lying around after emptying it of its contents. Clean it with warm water and soap, and if possible, with bleach. Then let it dry thoroughly. Not washing the cooler immediately could increase the risks of bacterial growth on the inside.
[Editor’s note: The video below shows how you can pack a cooler for camping, using some of the tips outlined. Credit to: OARS (on YouTube)]
When packing a cooler for a camping trip, make sure you know the trip’s duration, food and beverage items you wish to keep chilled, and the order of your meals. As can be seen, packing a cooler for camping requires you to plan out the trip’s schedule beforehand. When in doubt, feel free to reach out to other regular campers for advice.
Finally, if you are looking for a new cooler for your camping trip, make sure to check out this comparison guide of camping coolers right away!
Images: Unsplash/ Sandrene Zhang and Pixabay/ ITUBB
Robert is the founder and Editor-in-chief of Trekking Ground. He grew up playing in the forest and hiking in the mountains. Together with loved ones, he spends most of his free time running, hiking, and exploring. His idea of a perfect day starts and ends wearing a headlamp and includes a rocky approach and endless high-fives with a partner.