How to Pack a Cooler like a Pro

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Don’t let the summer heat get you down! We share our tips and tricks on how to pack a cooler for camping so your food and drinks stay colder, longer.

Hands reaching into a blue cooler full of ice to pick up a drink can

“How hard can it be? Just put your food in the cooler and throw ice on it, right?”

This is how we used to think about packing our cooler, that is to say: not very much. But after a miscalculation left eating questionably refrigerated food, we decided to get serious about our cooler situation. 

After doing a bunch of research and trying out a couple of techniques, we’ve compiled some best practices for packing a cooler: Ways to make your ice last longer, optimal organizational strategies, and a pre-trip checklist.

By the end of this post, you’ll know how to pack your cooler like a pro!

A white cooler stacked on top of a larger blue cooler
Two of the coolers we own: a Yeti Tundra 35 and the RTIC 45QT

How to select the BEST cooler (for you) 

The first step to improving your cooler performance is to make sure you have the right cooler for your particular needs. 

Consider upgrading your cooler 

Cooler insulation has improved dramatically over the past couple of years. If you’re using one you picked up on discount years ago, you might want to consider upgrading to a newer, better-insulated model. 

New coolers feature better insulating material, better construction methods, and details like freezer-style gaskets and tighter fitting lids. These features can go a long way towards keeping in the cold. 

Properly sizing your cooler 

Nobody talks about this, but properly sizing your cooler is perhaps the most important factor when it comes to cooler performance. We will get into this in more detail a little later, but for optimal performance, your cooler should have an ice-to-content ratio of at least 2:1. 

If you want a premium brand cooler, but due to sticker shock decide to opt for a smaller model, you will inevitably find yourself shortchanging the ice—and in doing so, ruin any performance advantage you might have gained. 

We recommend getting a cooler slightly larger than you think (you can always fill the extra space with ice). But you don’t want to have to cut back on food to keep the ice ratio in line. 

Our Take: This is the exact mistake we made! We initially bought a 35-quart cooler when we really should have gotten a 45-50 quart cooler. 

Michael in a store looking at a display of coolers

Don’t get too hung up on brand names 

Yes, cooler insulation has improved, but no one brand has a complete lock on proprietary game-changing technology. It’s a very competitive industry (valued at over 1 billion in the US alone) and there are a lot of very good products on the market.

Consider a two cooler system

Depending on your group size and your budget there’s a strong argument to be made for having one cooler for food and one cooler for drinks. 

The drinks cooler is going to be opened a lot more frequently and will, therefore, warm more rapidly. Digging underneath your food to find a cold beer at the bottom is not only a hassle but a major waste of energy. 

In our opinion, the drinks cooler can be a more inexpensive model or perhaps a semi-retired older cooler. When it comes to food safety, there is a greater margin of error for drinks than there is for food. A less-than-chilled beer isn’t a big deal, but lukewarm chicken is a major problem. 

So if you can swing it, a two cooler system can really help your perishable food items stay colder and safer for a lot longer.

Cooler prep 

The day before your camping trip, there are a few things you can do to prepare your cooler for success. This is how we prepare our cooler before a big trip. 

Bring your cooler inside 

If you store your cooler in a hot attic, shed, or garage, bring it inside at least a day before your trip. You don’t want to start with a hot cooler. 

Clean thoroughly

If you are like us, there is a good chance you didn’t do a great job cleaning the cooler after your last trip. Take a moment now and wash it down with a disinfectant spray. One of the best ways to increase food safety is to start with a squeaky clean cooler.

Pre-chill 

This step is very optional, but if you’re really trying to maximize performance, consider pre-chilling your cooler with cold water and/or sacrificial ice a few hours prior to your trip. Dump this ice/water mixture right before you’re ready to start packing the cooler and then reload with fresh ice. This step will chill the interior of your cooler, so it starts off freezing cold.

Watertight containers of food stacked on a refrigerator shelf.

Food prep 

The prep work you do here will make the rest of your camp cooking experience so much easier and enjoyable. Here is how we prepare our food before it goes into the cooler.

Prep food

To save space, you will want to prepare as much of your camping food at home. Pre-chop your veggies and make marinades ahead of time. Portion out condiments into smaller vessels if you don’t need the whole bottle. The less space the food takes up in the cooler, the more room there is for ice.

Remove excess packaging

Store packaging takes up a lot of extra space and usually isn’t watertight— so remove what you can. There’s no need to bring a whole carton of eggs if you only need six. Likewise, you don’t need the cardboard box that comes with a six-pack of beer. It’s just going to get soggy and need to be thrown out at camp. 

Transfer to watertight containers

Another reason to remove store packaging is that it’s usually not resealable. Assume everything in your cooler is going to get wet (because it will). So unless you want your half-opened packet of hot dogs floating around, we suggest transferring everything into reusable, watertight containers.

Freeze what you can

For longer trips, you will want to freeze as much of your food as possible. Obviously, don’t freeze food you’ll need to eat on the first night (or food that shouldn’t be frozen like eggs, dairy products, mayo, etc) 

But any meat that isn’t going to be used on the first day can—and should—be frozen. (FYI, this frozen meat counts as ice when you’re doing your 2:1 ice ratio calculations.)

Refrigerate the rest 

Everything that is not being frozen should be refrigerated before being packed. That includes resealable food containers. 

Nothing should go into the cooler that’s at room temperature, otherwise, you waste your ice making warm things cold instead of keeping cold things cold.

examples of different kinds of ice
Block ice, ice cubes, and re-freezable ice sheets all help to keep your food cold

Ice prep

With a little forethought, you can save a bunch of money by making your own ice ahead of time. Even if you still need to supplement with store-bought ice, it’s still worth it to make as much of your own ice as you can. Particularly block ice… 

Block ice 

Quite literally a block of solid ice, block ice has less surface area than crushed or cubed ice, which means it will last much much longer. While block ice is hard to find for sale, it’s very easy to make at home.

Just fill up any loaf pan, casserole dish, or large reusable container with water and freeze it. Depending on the size of water you’re trying to freeze, this process can take some time, so start a day or two before your trip. 

Cubed or crushed ice 

If your refrigerator has an ice maker, crank it up to Party Mode and start hoarding as much as you can. Or use the old-fashioned trays. Cubed or crushed ice is great for filling in the air gaps between food containers and drinks.

Our Take: Cubed ice is also great for cocktails, but we suggest putting your drinking ice cubes in a ziplock baggie. You don’t want your VIP ice mixing with the general admission ice. 

Ice or reusable freezer packs 

Whether or not you decide to use ice or reusable freezer packs often comes down to trip duration and space considerations. 

Weekender  (2-4 days) 

If you’re going out for anything less than 4 days, we’d suggest looking into using reusable freezer packs. There are some really incredible products on the market, like Dry Ice Freezer Sheets or Arctic Ice Freezer Packs, that will actually last longer than ice. Plus, everything in your cooler won’t get wet with melted water. 

Week-Longer  (4+ days) 

If you are going to be road-tripping for a few weeks, then your best bet will be to use ice. You can drain out the meltwater and replenish the cooler with purchased ice from grocery stores, gas stations, or campgrounds. 

Or—if you are going on a long trip but have the extra space, you might consider starting with reusable freezer packs, removing them after a few days, and then switching to ice if necessary. 

Ideal cooler to ice ratio 

When packing your cooler you should aim for an ice to content ratio of 2:1

That means you want TWICE as much ice as you have food and drinks. To maximize food space, you can count any food that you freeze towards the “ice” part of the ratio.

Adding more ice can improve your cooler’s performance, but only up to a certain point, after which you’ll see diminishing returns. 

But anything less than 2:1 and you’ll notice an exponential drop off. There just isn’t enough 32F degree material to keep everything cold. 

How to pack a cooler step by step photos

Packing your cooler

When it comes to packing your cooler, there are some important orders of operations to follow. By setting up your cooler in the right order, it will not only improve the performance but make life a whole lot easier at camp. 

Block ice on bottom

Begin with a layer of casserole dish depth block ice on the bottom (or frozen food items), then back in food items in the reverse order that you plan on using them. Starting with the last day’s food on the bottom, work your way up so the first day’s food is sitting on top.

Fill it up with ice 

Air is the enemy. Large pockets of air inside your cooler will accelerate ice melt. Fill up as much of that space as you can with ice cubes and/or crushed ice. Ideally, there should be no “extra” space in your cooler. It should be completely filled with food, drinks, and ice.

We find that the best way to achieve this is to pack one layer of food, then a layer of ice, and repeat until the cooler is full.

Top with a reusable freezer sheet 

With the cooler packed nearly to the brim, we like to place a few frozen ice sheets on top. These reusable and foldable freezer packs do a great job of trapping the cold and preventing warm outside air from spilling into the cooler when opened. 

Since they are foldable you can lift one side up to access just a portion of the cooler without exposing all the ice to the outside air. 

If you don’t own a freezer sheet, you could also use a damp towel.

Meal categories

If you have space, consider packing 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.

Make a cooler map 

If you have a particularly large cooler, it helps to make a quick cooler map so you know where things are located (minimizing the time your cooler is left open while you search for what you’re looking for).

A cooler underneath a picnic table with a tent in the background.

Best practices

The way you transport and store your cooler will affect the way it performs. By following a few of these best practices, you will get the most out of your cooler. 

Transportation 

When loading your vehicle, keep the cooler inside the car with you if possible. Avoid putting it in a hot trunk or strapped to the roof where it is apt to sit in the direct sunlight. 

Keep it shaded

At the campsite, place your cooler under a picnic table or somewhere else shaded. The sun is a heat source and you’ll want to avoid direct sunlight as much as possible. Taping a piece of Reflectix to the lid can also be helpful. 

Keep it closed 

One of the single biggest factors in how long the ice in your cooler will last is how often it is opened and exposed to outside air temperatures. Keeping it closed keeps it cold. 

Don’t drain the meltwater (except when you should) 

If you are looking to extend your cooler’s “cooling” power, it is better to leave the meltwater in the cooler than to drain it. This is because water has a much higher thermal density than air, meaning it won’t change as rapidly.

However, if you plan on refreshing your ice supply shortly, there is no harm in draining the meltwater to make the cooler lighter to carry.

Cooler accessories

Here are a few of the cooler accessories we personally use when camping.

Cooler Thermometer 

If you really want to know what’s going on inside your cooler, consider buying a small food thermometer and attach it inside. That way you’ll know at a glance whether food is being stored safely (temp below 40F) or not.

We stuck one of these thermometer strips to the inside of our cooler. These can read down to 39F, so we’re able to see when our cooler temperature is starting to creep into the danger zone.

Techni Ice 

These are the best reusable freezer sheets we have used. They literally stay frozen for days (far longer than regular ice). They are foldable and lay flat in your cooler.

When we’re using just reusable freezer sheets, we put one or two on the bottom and one or two on the top to sandwich in the cold. This is super effective for upwards of 4 days. 

Hands reaching into a blue cooler full of ice to pick up a drink can

Conclusions 

So much of your cooler’s performance comes down to how to use it. While owning a high-quality well-constructed cooler will certainly help, there is a lot you can do to improve the performance of whatever cooler you own!

This post was first published on May 25, 2017, and last updated on July 27, 2021.

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63 Comments

  1. I like to use zip lock freezer bags, rather than containers for frozen food. Think tamale pie filling. It can either lay flat or stand up along a wall. My goal is to not pack any air, ever. Then you don’t have to figure out where there is room for the empty container. The empty bag becomes your trash bag for the night, or a place to store leftovers.
    Also, found something on Pinterest for tiny amounts. Use plastic drinking straws for spices, toothpaste (single use) and such. Pinch end with needle nose pliers, use flame to seal, fill, seal other end, and label. Fat shake straws hold more. Have not tried it yet, but sounds good.

    1. These are great suggestions! Thank you so much for sharing. Agreed with trying to pack a little air as possible. Ziplock bags would definitely offer more versatility in stacking/organizing. We’ll have to give it a try.

    2. The bags sound like a great idea. I don’t like single use items but for camping, sometimes I make exceptions. The leftover plan is great! I reuse the tupperware I bring for this but if there are no leftovers, I have an empty container to find a place for. The trash bag becomes the perfect re-use option. I do some backpacking and they have some great, very small items for spices. Some have several sections for different varieties. I use those, but the straw is good if you have some to make use of. Another item I’ve eliminated from my home.

    3. Flaming plastic straws releases toxic chemicals, and so, I’d advise not to do so. Side note: dry ice can be purchased at most grocery stores in 1 or 2 lb flat blocks which are perfect for coolers.

  2. We use wide-mouth plastic containers, preferably squarish in shape (the kind in which rice blends or nuts come in), to make ice blocks before we leave – the fresh water can be transferred into our water jug as it melts; the containers can then be easily refilled with ice cubes along the way, keeping the melt water off the food in the cooler. We also use large freezer bags to hold pre-frozen homemade chili, pasta sauce, beef stew, butter chicken, pulled pork, etc. for the same reason as Linda does. We’ve had our coolers (one large and one medium-sized) for years, thanks for the tip about recent improvements – we’ll be looking into that.

  3. And if/when we take eggs, we crack them into zip lock bags. 3 per baggie for me, 2 per baggie for her. Leave the shells at home. Pour into the hot pan at the campsite/Basecamp… shredded cheese, onions and green peppers and mushrooms added to a bag or two with the eggs for an “instant omelet” meal.

    1. I prep our scrambled eggs and freeze. Lightly beat the number of eggs, put in a bag/container then freeze. It works great! We’ve also tried omelets in a bag, prep everything at home in a freezer ziploc, freeze(or not), at campsite boil some water and place the omelet bag in the water approx 10min. Quick clean up and the hot water is ready to do dishes.

      1. Make sure to leave out the mushrooms till you’re at the campsite! A bag omelet left with mushrooms sitting in it will turn a pukish gray… Bleh.

  4. How to pack a cooler like a pro? A cooler is a MUST have in every camping trip. You must select the perfect cooler base on the number of days you’ll go camping, the things that you will bring, the activities that you plan to do, and so much more.

  5. For this tip there’s no substitute. It’s not just about buying a rotomolded cooler but knowing how to properly pack your cooler. That’s what matters most!

  6. Helpful tips. Thanks for sharing. I think YETI coolers are best for keeping foods for longer time. I am using one and it is really great.

    1. YETI (and really any of those roto-molded high-end coolers) are in a league of their own. WAY better than the old school coolers we used to use.

  7. Antonia G Kitto says:

    i love the idea of ziplock bags and straws, but one of my goals this year has been to majorly reduce my use of single use plastic. straws especially are having a horrible impact on our environment. i like the tiny tupaware for spices, and i bring travel siz toothpaste. definitely going to make my own block ice now! love all the suggestions! <3

  8. I like how you mentioned to pack your cooler right before getting in the car. I imagine this is because it will help the food stay fresh for a longer period of time. My friend absolutely loves to go hiking, so I think she’d like to go for a picnic in the canyon. I’ll definitely use these tips when I pack my cooler!

  9. Stephanie says:

    I lay clean dish towel on top of everything before I close the lid. It reduces the amount of air around the food and keeps everything colder for longer. I have a standard cooler and found that the ice can last up to two days with this method.

  10. Stephanie says:

    I lay a clean dish towel on top of everything before I close the lid. It reduces the amount of air around the food and keeps everything colder for longer. I have a standard cooler and found that the ice can last up to two days with this method.

  11. Question about where to store the cooler: When parked and the AC isn’t on for long periods of time, is outside the car better than the inside? I.e. driving to a trail head where you don’t have a camp site to leave the cooler. It seems like it would be but I’m wondering if it makes that big of a difference. Just got a Yeti 35 for Florida and Southwest desert trips and tested it in the car. Ice lasted for 2 days in 97 and 94 degree weather. Surely outside of the car would be better? I’ve been Googling it with no results. Thanks!

    1. Hmm. I think it’s really going to be dependant on the difference between the ambient outside temperature vs the inside temperature of the car. Outside of the car and in the shade is ideally where you want it to be, but that might not always be practical. A parked car (not running A/C) functions like a greenhouse and always is hotter inside than the outside air temperature.

  12. Thanks a lot for sharing such great tips on packing a cooler perfectly.

  13. Get yourself a vacuum sealer and seal then freeze the meat in meal size portions, it will last longer once it has defrosted. I use those large zippable dog food bags, well washed obviously, to hold the frozen meat and ice. This stops any contamination of other food if you meat packaging leaks. Freeze large water bottles to keep the rest cool.

    1. We should really pick up a vacuum sealer. They seem like they would be super versatile and perfect for freeze food. We agree with you whole-heartedly. If it can be frozen beforehand, it should be.

  14. M Nielsen says:

    I like the idea of reusable ice packs, but seems to only make sense for a short term trip. Otherwise, how would you re-freeze them when on the road? I’m just a casual car camper, and really appreciate your tips for improving my skills. Thanks!

    1. True, the reusable ice packs are only good if you can refreeze them. If you’re on an extended trip, then picking up ice periodically is going to become necessary.

  15. We tend to go away as a family of 6 for a week at a time.

    I use a huge cool box and freeze almost everything. I buy milk in smaller containers, and also fruit juice in litre bottles – these are all pre-frozen apart from the one for the first night. Pancake batter is made at home from scratch and frozen (in 2 pint milk containers – one for each day). I pack my cool box so that everything chilled /frozen for breakfast and lunch are packed into one bag or box along with milk and a bottle of juice. Dinner and Supper are then packed into another bag. So if Im going for a week I have 14 bags in the cool box and a emergency backup bag.

    I only need to open my cool box twice a day to get that half days rations out – which is all together in one outer bag. Once the half days stuff is out I use a homemade bubblewrap / foil insulation bag to keep it cool.

    No cool packs, no ice and my food is always cold on day 7 – sometimes still frozen.

    I tend to keep small bottles of milk, fruit juice and pancake batter in the freezer just in case of a last minute camping trip. Also when I make a meal or sauce at home that translates to campfire food I double up and freeze half (i.e. pasta sauce)

    1. Thanks for sharing. Freezing ingredients ahead of time is definitely the way to go and it sounds like you have a fantastic system going. Minimizing how often you open the cooler is also critical, so that’s fantastic that you can pair it down to opening it up just two times a day.

  16. sarah williams says:

    I’m finding it tough to find ice block to fit at the bottom of my cooler . any suggestions? Do i need to buy a block and cut it myself?

    1. You can always make a block of ice yourself. Clear out some space in your freezer, get a high-sided baking pan that fits inside your cooler, and then freeze the water yourself. It does take a bit of foresight but it saves you instead of buying ice from the store.

  17. I have been camping for over 15 years, and one of my favorite cooler tricks a few days ahead, is to make ice packs in several different sized zip-lock bags. Gallon sized fit nicely and flat along the bottom of the cooler, and the smaller Quart, sandwich or even snack sizes, fit in between items very easily, along with freezing some of the food, my cooler stays cold for days!!!

    1. Good tip! Buying ice can be expensive, but with a little foresight, you can make lots of the stuff yourself. And in more useful sizes. Good trick with freezing them in gallon freezer bags.

  18. Christy Lundy says:

    Wish I’d read this before our trip this weekend! Next time my cooler packing will be a little more methodical!

  19. I love my Yeti cooler and it also has exceeded my expectations. The pre cooling is so important. Thanks for the great ideas. You’d think with tons of experience would come this very useful knowledge, but I am still learning. The organizing by sides is a fantastic plan. One of my biggest issues is the chaos in the cooler. My next trip will be much more structured in the cooler department:) Thanks for the great info!

    1. Pre-cooling and freezing food ahead of time has made a big difference for us. It’s also hard to give up so much of the interior space to ice, but maintaining a proper food to ice ratio is critical. There is always room for improvements!

  20. For those who drink boxed wine, or know someone who does, the bladders inside those boxes make really good containers for water, which can be frozen and used in your cooler. They’re a pretty good size, too.

  21. Marti Furman says:

    Great suggestions! We have a small trailer with refrig. And supplement with a cooler. The cooler is usually the “freezer” with dry ice for food towards the end of the journey.

  22. Rebecca Louise Rendon says:

    Thanks for all the great tips. Learned a lot today, the ice cream salt goes on the top of the ice, no gaps of air,wrap dry ice in several layers if newspaper & top placement is prefer but bottom is ok too.block ice is best but cubes are great to fill spots of openness, pack backwards from last day to first day,breakfast to left dinner to the right, first layer if food last days frozen foods,add another layer of ice then snacks and drink, including cleaned ice chest keep all items chilled, prepped , package free,limit times cooler is open keep in cool shaded place/wrap in a sleeping bag.

  23. Carol McD says:

    Great tips. Here are a few more. Freeze block ice in large, square tupperware style containers so that when the ice melts, it does not leak. The melted water can be used for drinking in a pinch.

    As far as the fill in ice- we either use frozen small water bottles or place ice cubes in quart sized heavy duty zip top plastic bags. Again, no leakage and the bags may come in handy for produce or leftover storage.

    Last- lay a towel on top of the food before closing the lid. That way you only have to pull up a corner or two and it inhibits warm air from entering your cooler. Similar idea to the 2 cooler system- one for drinks, one for food. Keep the food as cold as possible.

    We’ve been camping for over 50 years. Your website has great tips and ideas for all levels of camping experience. great recipes too. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for your support! And for the extra cooler tips as well! We are definitely going to try out the cool towel trick this summer! Thank you for sharing.

  24. Patti Lee says:

    we like to use Milk cartons with screw top lids to freeze our water for block of ice. Works great, doing same by not filling to top of container so doesn’t overflow.
    We have been using a Yeti cooler for 3yrs now, and is the best thing ever. Is very heavy though so when we load the cooler,just before we leave, hubby loads in back of truck and I fill it there. Saves on your back…

  25. Very good article! I think I’ve tried everything to get the max. out of my cooler, in terms of ice retention, and packing it RIGHT is probably the most impact thing on the list of tips to maximize cooler ice life. When you pack it right (e.g. place block ice at the bottom as you wrote), not only you’re going to increase the ice retention but you’ll also spend much less time with the lid opened, and you’ll likely be able to pack more food/drinks inside.

    My other favorite hack is to add some rock salt on the top of ice – it helps the ice in your cooler last longer because it lowers the freezing point.

    Hope it helps!

    1. Happy to hear you approve of the article! Thank you for the suggestion about the rock salt. We haven’t played around with it at all, but we’d love to start trying it out.

  26. Miranda Huck says:

    Absolutely LOVING your site!
    Thank you!!! ????????????

  27. Jenny Gayden says:

    I bought lots varity meats at the store. And bought cooler put ice and made sure there was plenty of ice for trip home 12hrs. Juices got mixed from beef steak to chicken legs, to pork. Never got above 40. steak was discolored to. Ice melted. Are the meats still ok, if rinsed amd stored in freezer right when got home?

    1. Yikes. So you’re definitely entering into uncharted territory food safety-wise. If you’re confident everything stayed below 40 F, rinse thoroughly with water at home, repackage into resealable containers and then placed in the freezer, you should be okay. However, I would be sure to cook this meat to USDA recommendations. 145F for steaks, 145F for pork, 165F for chicken. We’re not food safety experts, but that’s what we would do.

  28. Great advice, but what is reflective paneling?

    1. It’s basically the same reflective foam material a car’s sun shade is made out of. If you have one of those already, you can just place it on top of the cooler. Otherwise, they sell Reflectix at hardware stores, or if you just need a little bit, you can also pick up another car sun shade.

  29. We have a Lit cooler(beer cooler!!) and it has LED lights inside when you open the lid) and an Igloo cooler for food. For the Igloo cooler, I bought a roll of insulated bubble wrap, and reflective tape> I made a cover for the Igloo cooler to help reflect the heat. We’ve camped twice with the cover, and I think it has helped tremendously in keeping things inside cold longer. We are saving for a new Yeti cooler for our food, but the Igloo cooler has done remarkably well, even without the cover. Will definitely try the towel on the top of the cooler trick as well. Thanks for all the great information, and website.

  30. MotherNature from Massachusetts says:

    Great information. Thank you! for my old-fashioned plastic coolers I have made insulation blankets using reflective material that comes in a roll and duct tape. It adds 2-3 days to my cooler’s ability to keep my items cold, my ice frozen, and the melted ice water very cold. They were quite simple to make and only take about 2 hours.
    I’d love to show you my photos if you’re interested.
    Happy Camping.
    MotherNature

    1. Great idea. I was actually thinking, before I seen your comment, that I’d make one with Dollar Tree reflective car sunshades to fit my cooler.

  31. Sheila Resari says:

    Wow, I have learned so much reading this article and the comments! Planning to pack my new cooler (not rotomolded, but an upgrade from previous) w/DIY block ice (gallon milk jugs, tetra bricks) and add a crate for produce (no sog) and a thermometer to check temps. Excited to see how this works on our upcoming camping trip!

  32. This is great. Thanks for the tips! I haven’t pre-chilled the cooler before, but it’s a super idea, just as many listed here.
    Great post.

  33. Love all the ideas. Can’t wait to see cookbook.

  34. I invested in a Yeti cooler and it has exceeded my expectations. I found that I make my own blocks of ice and it keeps much longer. I also invested in a smaller cooler an orca which I use just for drinks. The yeti has exceeded the Orca cooler. Went camping in Maine during a heat wave this past summer for six days and did not have to replace any ice in my yeti cooler. Iwas the only person Who’s cooler food did not spoil!!!!! Well worth the investment. Took me awhile to make the investment because they are exceedingly pricey but, it certainly has paid itself. Meat that I’m not going to use the first day or two, I freeze and put it in a freezer bag. All food I put in freezer bags and milk or cream I put in a small glass jar or Empty Gatorade /water bottle. If you put milk or cream that comes in a cardboard type container it can get messy. I use airline Approved little non leak proof containers for condiments.

  35. Marilyn Courtney says:

    Great article. I never knew you shouldn’t drain the melt water. And putting breakfast on the left and dinner on the right is a great idea. I guess I didn’t know a lot. It makes complete sense though. Looking forward to more tips in the future.
    Marilyn

  36. I have reused the frozen packs that my neighbor gave me from his Freshly food order. Eack weekly order comes with four 18″x12″ bags. He also give them away online. I leave mine in the garage, melted of course, then freeze them a few days before our trip. He gave me 10 bags, which is plenty…too much in fact. But they were free. Anyone else try using those frozen bags?

  37. Donald Burger says:

    Nice article.

    Good tips on block ice and the role of ice cubes in filling in the gaps. Also, reverse packing is a clever idea.

    The two cooler system is good, especially with kids. Keeps them out of the main ice chest.

  38. We also used two coolers one for food one for drinks. It also helps if your cooler has wheels. We also bring a mini travel cooler for beach days. Ziplock bags of all sides for everything, put food, I.e. hotdogs into a ziplock bag as soon as you open them. You have to picture that everything will eventually be floating in water. Dollar stores have ziplock bags of all sizes. The one inch size from the craft section are great for spices. I also freeze water flat in extra large ziplock bags, frozen flat. They are my homemade ice blocks which can be used for drinking water as they melt. Just before I close it up we empty our fridges ice maker reservoir into the cooler to fill up spaces. I also freeze homemade soups flat like our water. They fit better and don’t leak.

  39. Jessica Johnson says:

    This is the single lost useful article I’ve read on the internet in a very long time. We brought our cooler into the cold basement, we made ice blocks, we made a bag of drinking ice, we don’t have a super new cooler either. We put everything in waterproof containers, we packed just like to said and everything stayed cold and we even had part of our bottom block still frozen. Thank you so much!! We also prepped some of your foil meals and brought way less food than we usually do and ate like camping royalty. I’m so happy Raddish Kids introduced me to your website!

  40. This was a very helpful article. Going on my first REMOTE 4 day trip and I’ll be putting my ice chest packing skills to the test…with help from this page! Thanks again!!!

  41. I followed several of these tips this past weekend, and I did so good that we could’ve easily stayed an extra day or so since my ice lasted so long! Really pleased with the results from creating my own block ice, freezing all items that could be frozen first, keeping ice sheets on the top layer to create a barrier, and keeping the entire yeti chest covered with a reflective heavy tarp. Thanks again for the super helpful information, it allowed us to eat like kings in the middle of nowhere!