Keep Cool

Keep cool

Best way to pack a cooler for camping

When it comes to camping, the food you bring is just as important as the tent, sleeping bag, fire wood, and portable shower. It’s important to keep your food items cold, dry, unsquished, and organized for days at a time.

That’s why we’ve compiled this handy list that will help you pack your cooler(s) like a pro.

How to easily pack a cooler like a pro

Choose the right cooler

The thicker the walls, the better insulated the cooler will be and the longer it will keep things cold. If your cooler doesn’t have a well-insulated lid, place a thick towel between the food items and the lid for better insulation. It’s also important to have a lid that locks tightly to help maintain a cool temperature.

If you have the space, it’s ideal to pack two coolers—one for food and one for drinks.

Gather what you need

Once you have your camping menu planned, gather your ingredients for every recipe and prep as much as you can. Wash and cut any vegetables you’ll need, marinate your meats, fill small containers with condiments and spices for recipes—and don’t forget the salt and pepper!

It’s also important to remove excess packaging to conserve space. For example, cut the carton in half if you only need six eggs and don’t bring the entire package of butter if you won’t be using all of it. Buy smaller condiments—like ketchup and mustard—if you won’t need large quantities. The same goes for peanut butter and jam. You can always avoid purchasing new bottles and jars, by filling small containers with the amount you need for your camping trip.

To avoid wetness, it’s important to package everything in leak-proof resealable containers and zip-top bags. Since you’re camping, it’s best to avoid glassware.

Chill your items

The colder the food and drink, the longer it stays cold in the cooler. Packing warm food and beverages will warm the cooler and make the ice melt faster, so pre-chill everything before you pack it. Pre-freezing items is even better. If you’re taking bottled water, freeze it. If you’re taking steak, place it in your desired marinade and freeze in a leak-proof zip-top bag.

Pack it right

Pack that cooler like a grocery store cashier! Place heavier items on the bottom, and fragile items—like eggs, lettuce, bread, and potato chips—on the top.

Stash loose items together. Place yogurt and condiments together in a container with a sealed lid, and packages of sandwich meat and sliced cheeses together in a large zip-top bag. The less loose items you have in the cooler, the less chance there is of a spill that affects everything inside.

Map it Out

This might sound a little over the top, but it’s incredibly helpful if you have a large cooler—or more than one cooler. A map will help your locate items quickly, minimizing the amount of time the cooler lid is left open.

Pack breakfast foods to the left and dinner foods to the right. That way you’re not searching all over for your ingredients when it’s time to cook. Clearly label your items for better organization and lower stress levels. You’re on vacation, so why not make it as easy as possible to find food in the cooler?!

Save it for last

Packing the cooler is the last thing you should do before you drive away. The longer you hold off on packing the cooler, the longer food and beverages will remain cool. If you have one of those awesome plug-in coolers, plug it into your vehicle while traveling to increase the longevity of having a cold cooler.

Sort the ice

Begin with a layer of block ice on the bottom, then pack food items in reverse order. Start with the last day’s food on the bottom, and work your way up so the first day’s food is sitting on top.

Large pockets of air inside the cooler will accelerate ice melt, so it’s important to fill up as much of that space as possible with ice cubes.

Stands things up

Play it safe and assume everything might leak. When placing containers with liquid, make sure they are placed vertically.

Stay shaded

Once you’re at your destination, the ice will last twice as long if you keep your cooler(s) in the shade.


Click here for some awesome ideas for quick and easy campfire meals.

Enjoy your long weekend!