How To Pack A Cooler Like A Snack Pro

Summertime brings a lot of activities with it: barbeques, camping trips, road trips, and so much more. We enjoy all these picnics and beach visits, but everyone knows what happens if the food and drinks aren’t just right! Knowing how to pack a cooler properly can save us a lot of grief on those summer expeditions.

There’s nothing worse than a warm can of soda when you’re looking for cold refreshment. With a nicely-packed soft cooler, you’ll be able to enjoy your ice-cold drinks on a sweltering day. Your snacks will also stay safe from contamination.

If you’re a novice at this game, there’s no need to worry. Once you know how to pack a cooler, you can apply that knowledge to avoid disappointment and that dreaded pool of water in a picnic cooler.

vector icon of an ice cooler

Make the Most of Outdoors: How to Pack a Cooler

There’s a lot to learn about how to pack a cooler in a way that your favorite drinks and snacks do not prematurely warm up. Following each step will help you out.

Divide and conquer

If you’re taking frequent trips this summer, you should get at least two coolers for your food and drinks. You can check out some performance coolers; these are among the largest and most convenient options. Plus, a performance cooler is perfect for keeping its contents cool for a long time.

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You might be able to get some bargain deals on performance coolers if you look around. Plus, having an additional cooler will also divide the burden. One cooler can hold the drinks while the other can carry your food.

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Do you usually open the drinks cooler more often? If yes, it could let the cold air out. With the food safely in another cooler, you won’t have to risk contamination or unnecessary warming.

You might even want to see about investing in a third cooler for the sake of storing frozen items (as opposed to fresh fruit or sandwiches). Of course, all this would depend on how much you want to take with you and how much space is available.

ice cooler full of ice and drinks

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It’s time to pre-freeze

When you have your cooler (or coolers) on hand, you should pre-freeze your items. Organize your fridge and freezer, make enough room for your picnic/trip items, and leave those to chill as much as possible.

If you just want to chill the food and drinks, you should leave them in the fridge for at least an hour. For quicker results, try keeping them in the freezer for twenty minutes or half an hour.

Some might prefer to leave the whole cooler in their freezer. If that’s possible for you, it might be a good idea. However, we can’t expect everyone to have enough room in their freezers or fridges for this practice. Especially for the larger coolers. Those can get pretty darn large!

If your cooler can’t get into the fridge or freezer, make sure to keep it at room temperature and fill it up with ice or ice-cold water on the day before your trip.

food inside a refrigerator

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Follow the “first in, last out” rule

You’ll have to synchronize your packing somewhat, but making a bit of mental effort is worth your peace of mind afterward.

The basic thing to remember here is that you should pack contents in the expected order for using them. It means that what you need to use last, you pack it on the bottom of the cooler. When you don’t have to search for your required item for too long, you won’t have to move things around and lose all that cooling.

It’s also a good idea to bag complementary items together. For instance, you can pack the cut vegetables with the sour cream dip so you won’t have to fumble around in the cooler too much.

Finally, keep your food in sealed containers. That, in conjunction with a floating tray compartment, will help to keep water from coming into contact with your food.

Show your creativity by layering everything up

Layers are useful when you’re learning how to pack a cooler the right way. Along with the rule about “first in, last out,” you need to think about putting everything in a proper place.

If you’re packing a cooler with mostly drinks, for instance, start with a layer of ice (crushed) at the cooler’s bottom first. After that, put a layer of cans on top of this ice, and then, go with another ice layer. Some might even place a large chunk of ice right in the middle for that radiating cold effect.

For packing food coolers properly, it’s best to put your fish, poultry, and raw meat at the bottom. It will reduce the risk of any cross-contamination. If the outside temperature threatens to go above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll have to put your perishables back inside the cooler within an hour after using.

In either case, put alternate layers of ice between your items. You can also use ice packs and loose ice to provide a dense cooling experience.

The tighter you pack your cooler, the colder it will stay inside. If there’s a lot of space left at the top, fill this up with wadded pieces of brown paper, newspaper, paper towels, etc. This practice will serve to keep the hot air out.

You may also consider placing dry ice on top of your contents. However, it’s more convenient to keep this on the bottom. You have to handle it with care, though!

Keep it cool with salt

Everyone knows the role of salt in keeping frozen things cold. When you pack some salt in your cooler, you allow your water to stay cold without freezing up. That way, you can keep the cooler temperature low for a longer period. Salt is also great for cooling down warm items on a hot day.

a small jar of rock salt

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You can incorporate salt in your cooler-packing process by sprinkling several handfuls of it while alternating the layers of food, drink, and ice. Rock salt is the best option here. You should also top off the packed contents with a bit more salt just to make sure.

vector icon of an ice cooler

Heading Outdoors Is Fun with a Smartly Packed Cooler!

Now that you’re all caught up on how to pack a cooler, it’s time to get cracking! Grab your ice, salt, food, drinks, and anything else that can make your expedition better. Make sure the cooler stays in the shade as much as possible; perhaps even push it inside the sand a little. You can now sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

So, how many coolers did you pack for your summer hang out? We’d love it if you share your experience with us.

a man sharing a drink in can

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Featured Image: Public Domain, by Kim Siever, via
Ice Cooler Icon Source: Icon made by Smashicons from

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