The Best Way to Pack a Cooler

With a little planning, a picnic or camping trip can play out very smoothly. A big part of the day or weekend is going to center around food. Keeping the food as cold as possible, and yet readily accessible, is crucial to the success of any picnic event. Packing the cooler in the best way possible will set the stage for a relaxing picnic getaway.

best way to pack a cooler

The Best Way to Pack a Cooler

Prior to Packing a Cooler

Before even starting to pack a cooler, a little prep the night before will go a long way.

  • 1) Chill all the drinks in the refrigerator so that they are plenty cold before packing.

  • 2) Place the drinks next to the food that will also be packed so that nothing is forgotten.

  • 3) Consider freezing any foods that freeze well ahead of time, depending on the length of the trip. This way, they can help to keep other foods cold and will slowly thaw as if in the refrigerator after packing.

  • 4) Place any foods that may leak, such as meats, into plastic containers with tight lids.
    For instance, patty the hamburger meat and then pack them into the smallest plastic container possible. A heavy bag can be used, but is not recommended for two reasons. There is the worry of the food being smashed and of the bag being torn. If meat juices were to leak into other foods, then there would be major safety issues with the contaminated foods.

  • 5) Also steer away from paper packaging, since it will rip and tear once it absorbs moisture from the melting ice.

  • The Best Way to Pack a Cooler

    Steps to Pack a Cooler

  • 1) Pack ice into heavy plastic bags.

  • 2) Begin with a layer of these ice bags covering the entire bottom of the cooler.

  • 3) Pack drinks around the perimeter of the cooler.
    Keep like items together to keep from constant rummaging through all the items to find things.
    Use reusable water bottles to bring extra water and eliminate waste.

  • 4) Pack the food in the center on top of the ice bags.

  • 5) Use frozen ice packs, or more bags of ice, to fill in any gaps of air that remain after the food and drink is packed.
    Unlike a refrigerator and freezer, which need some space around the perimeter of the food in order for the air to flow properly, a cooler is packed efficiently if all the air space to taken up with food, drinks and ice.

  • 6) Once arriving on site, keep the cooler under a tree or otherwise out of direct sunlight.
  • The Best Way to Pack a Cooler

    Additional Info

    Don’t forget to bring the boxed wine. That way, any leftover wine will remain fresh to travel back home. To find out how long wine lasts, see our wine page.

    Not all condiments need to be stuffed into a cooler. Check our list for which condiments need refrigeration before taking up valuable packing space.

    To find out how long other foods are good for, please visit the Dairy, Drinks, Fruits, Grains, Proteins, Vegetables and Other sections of Eat By Date or use the search function below.

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