How to Pack your Cooler for Camping!
- Gather everything you need
Once you have your menu for your trip planned, map out exactly how much of each ingredient you’ll need for every recipe and prep as much as you can for each meal in advance. Prep any vegetables you’ll need, marinate your meats, pre-package , pack up small containers for condiments, and don’t forget the salt. (Seriously. Do not forget the salt.) Because everything you pack in the cooler is probably going to get wet, make sure to package everything in leak-proof resealable containers or plastic bags.
- Score the right storage
The thicker the walls, the better insulated the cooler—and the longer it’ll keep things cold. But it’s not just the walls that matter: you want to make sure your cooler has a thick, well-insulated lid. If yours doesn’t, you can help it out by packing a thick towel on top of everything under the lid. Also pay attention to how the cooler closes: Any lid that locks in place will help preserve the chilly temperature. We’re fans of the tough, super-insulated, bear-proof (and very stylish)
- Start with a cool cooler
Coolers are built to retain temperature, whether it’s hot or cold. So if you store your cooler in the hot attic of your house or the hot garage, make sure you bring it in the house and open it up to air out a day before packing it. Ideally, you’ll want to get it cold. DJ Bell, the director of product marketing from Yeti Coolers, recommends dumping a “sacrificial” bag of ice in your empty cooler to chill it for at least a few hours before packing it. (Discard that ice before you start packing—it’s done its job.)
- Chill what you’ll be packing
The colder the food and drink you put into a cooler, the longer it’ll stay cold. Makes sense, right? So don’t pack warm beers in your cooler: they’ll just make everything else in there warm up and make the ice melt faster. Pre-chill everything before you pack, or, even better, pre-freeze it. Need to pack drinking water? Freeze it. Packing steak? Freeze it in its marinade in a leek-proof bag.
- Score a mix of ice
For a one night trip, a couple reusable ice packs will do the trick, and will help keep things less messy. But for a longer haul, you need real ice. When you go to buy that ice, Bell wants you to “be an ice snob” and be choosy about which bags of ice you buy. He suggests that you “Don’t get the stuff at the front of the freezer—get the stuff that’s like a solid block at the back of the freezer.” The bigger the ice chunks, the more slowly they’ll melt.
- Plan for a long haul
First off, consider using multiple coolers, especially if you’re feeding a larger crowd. If you can, use a separate cooler for drinks and a separate cooler for food. (The drinks cooler will probably get opened more often, keeping the more temperature-sensitive food cooler colder, longer.) If you’re feeding a big group, you could even have a cooler for each day so you don’t need to open up the cooler for your third day until the time comes.
If you’re packing enough food for a weekend trip, you’ll want a mix of small ice cubes to chill things quickly, and big blocks to make the chill last longer. You can even throw in one or two reusable cooler packs (we like the ones with a freezing temp below that of water), which will help keep the ice cubes frozen longer.
- Pack in layers
When you start packing, start with a layer of ice on the bottom, then start adding in the items you need to stay coolest (like raw meat) on the bottom. Add another layer of ice, more food, and then more ice. Finish with foods that don’t need much refrigeration, like vegetables. If you don’t have a separate drinks cooler, pack your drinks on top, since they’re the least perishable and will probably be the first thing you go digging for when you set up camp.
- Keep your cooler’s cool
Remember: Air is the enemy in your cooler. If you have even a little bit of space at the top once you’re done packing, throw in that towel. And once you get that cooler to camp, try and keep it out of direct sunlight, and resist the urge to open it more than necessary