How to Properly Pack a Cooler

- Aug 31, 2020-

Coolers are only as good as the users who pack them. If you don’t organize right, you’ll squander all that fancy insulation you paid through the teeth to get.

For tips on how to maximize those cooling powers, I turned to several guide friends who’ve taken their coolers on weeklong rafting, climbing, and camping trips around the world. Here are their tips.

A cold cooler keeps ice longer. If you somehow have access to a commercial freezer, let the cooler spend the night inside. For everyone else, keep it out on your porch overnight, or stick it in the coolest part of your house the night before your trip.

Freeze Your Food and Drinks

If you’re planning to have steak and chicken on the third night, pack them frozen, and let them thaw over time. They’ll contribute to the overall cool and be ready just in time. The same goes for your water and other noncarbonated drinks. Start with frozen bottles in the cooler, and pull them out to thaw once you arrive at camp. "[Freezing bottles] is also a good way to save money," says Lars Alvarez-Roos, a guide who owns Bio Expeditions.

Use Ice Blocks Instead of Ice Cubes

Ice blocks, which you can make at home by freezing water in Tupperware, are more work than regular cubes—you’ll need to bring a pick or hammer to knock pieces off—but their additional mass means they don’t melt nearly as fast. "It's easier to chip office for your cocktails than watch cubes melt in front of your face," says Grand Canyon guide and outdoor educator Saylor Flett.

Drain Water on Long Trips But Not on Short Ones

The guides I spoke with don’t drain the cooler water on short trips because it keeps items like beer extra cold. But the water also makes the remaining ice melt faster, so if you’re trying to preserve your blocks for the next seven days, you’ll need to drain your cooler a couple of times each day.

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