Choose the right cooler
Coolers are typically rated on how long they can keep contents cool––in ideal conditions. For camping trips of three days or more, you need a cooler that also has insulation in the lid. For day-use, a less-insulated cooler might be sufficient. Whatever your trip, choose a cooler that matches your usage level.
Choose your ice wisely
When purchasing ice, the ideal guideline is to use .75 lb. of ice for each quart in your cooler. Block ice lasts longer than cubed, but cubed can be poured into the spaces between items. A mix of the two works best.
Turn your food into a cold pack
Aside from foods you’ll use the first day and any delicate foods, freeze anything and everything you can before packing the cooler. Jugs of water or lemonade become ice blocks, as do packets of bacon, sauces, bags of chili… you get the idea. Anything that can’t be frozen should be pre-chilled. (Note: Glass containers and stainless steel water bottles are the exception––they do NOT freeze well.)
Consider the order
The order you put your food in the cooler is important. Start at the bottom with the most perishable foods, such as meat and dairy, and work up with items that are less of a concern. Layer ice in between items. Keep meat away from the edges, which will get warmer in the sun, and keep produce on top of the ice.
Start with a clean slate
A cooler should be cleaned and dried between uses. If raw meat was stored in the cooler, you should disinfect it with a diluted bleach solution prior to storing it as a precaution. If you only use the cooler for beverages, hot soapy water is sufficient. Regardless of what has been stored in the cooler, your hands can introduce soil and bacteria, so it’s smart to give it a good cleaning after each use.
Prechill your cooler
If you’re worried about your ice making it to the finish line, get a head start by filling the cooler with ice water for a couple of hours just before packing it.
Milky ice water is gross, so is slimy cheese. Put everything in leakproof containers, and when in doubt, double bag. Be sure to test them––many containers do not have leakproof seals.
How to pack a cooler
A well packed cooler will make your camping adventure so much easier. Whether you’re new to camping or simply convinced your cooler could be––well, cooler––here are some lessons we’ve learned over the years.
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