The Most Efficient Way to Pack a Cooler

These expert tips will keep everything cool.

Man reaching into cooler packed with drinks

How is your packing game? A cooler filled with food and drink can really upgrade the camping, glamping, tailgating, picnicking, or road-tripping experience. Keeping the food fresh over the long haul when temperatures are high can be challenging. But it is possible with a bit of planning. Follow these simple steps and you'll be well on your way to packing the perfect cooler.

Ice It

Start with a cold cooler, then use as much as ice as possible. The experts at YETI, makers of high-performance coolers, recommend following a two thirds ice to one third contents ratio. This means that one-third of your cooler can hold your cold drinks and food, while the other two-thirds should be filled with ice if you fill the cooler completely. "We recommend a thin layer on the bottom of the cooler, then use ice to fill all the nooks and crannies," explains Alex Baires of YETI. Add in food and drinks and be sure to put ice throughout, as well as on top. "You want the ice to engulf all of your contents whether it's food or drinks," he says. "Fill all the gaps, including the top over the items." Remember, cold air falls to the bottom.

"Ice blocks are especially effective because they start out cooler," says Baires. "You can even use them in tandem with ice cubes. The thicker the cube, the better because it doesn't melt as fast." If you do buy bags of ice from a grocery store, Baires recommends taking one from the back of the freezer, since the bags near the front are more likely to have experienced some melting since they're closer to the ever-opening door. It's also important to make sure the cooler is completely full, as limiting any extra air inside will it allow it stay cooler. "You can add a foam pad or even a towel on top of the ice—an especially good recommendation for a cooler that isn't full all the way," he says.

Food and Drink Packing Tips

Pack frozen food when possible since it will last longer. Additionally, packing frozen water bottles helps keep everything cold longer. You should also group meals together. "The things you need to access later should be at the bottom so you're not fishing around," says Baires. This will help minimize the time the cooler is open.

Open Only When Necessary

Once packed, only open the cooler when you need it to prohibit warm air from entering. Creating a "Cooler Map" can help cut down on the amount of time spent rummaging around with the lid open. Just mark the location of food and drinks with tape on the outside of cooler to create your map. Close as quickly as possible. It's a good idea to keep your cooler in the shade if possible.

If you are camping, consider locks to critter-proof your cooler from enterprising raccoons and even larger animals. If you are going to bear country, make sure your cooler is bear-resistant; the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) certifies bear-resistant containers.

Clean and Care

After use, drain any melted water from the cooler. Clean everything out, using mild soap and warm water. "You can even use a power washer with a hard cooler," says Baires. "And make sure the cooler is dry before you store it."

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