There is a science to packing a cooler. While it would be nice to just toss things into a cooler and go, you'll probably end up with lukewarm food that isn't edible. There are certain ways to keep food cold and fresh while in a cooler. Here are some tips for packing a cooler that will help keep everything fresh for as long as possible.
Prep the Cooler
Letting ice sit in the cooler before you pack it will allow the cooler itself to become a lower temperature. If you put the ice in when you put the food in, the ice has to cool both the food and the cooler. This compares to preheating an oven, only this is pre-chilling the cooler.
Freeze Ahead of Time
Anything you can freeze ahead of time will help keep things cold without adding ice. Freeze bottled water, juice boxes, fruit, meats, and pre-made meals, like these sausage, potato, green bean foil packs. If you’re packing jugs of water, freeze those too. As they melt they can be used but won’t leave water all over in the cooler and make things soggy.
Elevate Dry Goods
The things you want to have in the cooler that may be susceptible to becoming soggy if there are leaks need to go on top. A great way to keep these things out of any melted ice is to use a grate in your cooler. Pack cans and bottles on the bottom and cover them with the grate. Then add things that you don’t want getting wet on top. This will make sure that as the cooler shifts around during movement, your things aren’t going to slip down into any open areas where there might be water.
Measure it Out
Planning your meals ahead of time for your trip will allow you to pre-measure ingredients and only take along what you need. This keeps big bottles and packages out of the cooler and allows you more room when only adding smaller amounts. Small plastic bags are great for portioning things out so that you don’t have to fit containers in that won’t bend or change shape.
Alternatives to Ice
If you camp or pack a cooler a lot you may want to invest in some freezer packs instead of using ice. They generally tend to take up less room than chunks of ice and, depending on the kind you get, can be more flexible and allow you to wrap them around things. These can be laid across the bottom easily or wrapped around the walls of the cooler. They also won’t cause a wet mess in your cooler as they melt!
Get the Right Kind of Cooler
Having the right kind of cooler can go a long way to keeping your items cool and fresh. The insulated bags or foam coolers are inexpensive, but they do not perform well. The thicker and harder the cooler is, the more it will control the temp and keep the cold in. Investing in a good cooler is key to ensuring your stuff will stay cold the entire trip.
Throwing things haphazardly into a cooler and expecting them to stay cold is going to prove unsuccessful. It may seem silly, but pay attention to what you put in your cooler and where you put it. Spoiled food will spoil your camping trip too!