How To Pack A Cooler And Keep It Cold For All Eternity

How To Pack A Cooler

Summer is here, and there are many great things about summer: outdoor happy hours, BBQs, trips to the lake where you can crush 20 beers and take a long afternoon nap right there on the public beach, etc.

But summer isn’t all girls in skirts and bros in bro tanks, because the season also has one major problem: it’s hot. There is sunburn and eternal swamp ass and my uncanny ability to chest sweat through any shirt I wear.

Now, if you, like me, spend most of July and August trying to beat the heat, then I have some good news for you: just because you’re a hot, sweaty mess, it doesn’t mean your food and drink have to be. Today we’re gonna cover the secrets to packing a cooler and keeping it cold forevermore.

Chill The Cooler Before Packing

A cooler, by itself, doesn’t cool anything. It has no magical cooling powers. It just maintains temperature. So if you pull a cooler from your hot garage and immediately start packing, you’ll waste a lot of ice cooling the cooler itself. Instead, pre-chill your cooler using one of the methods below.

3 ways to pre-chill a cooler:

  1. Store it in a deep freezer overnight
  2. Fill it with a sacrificial bag of ice, then dump it right before packing
  3. Fill it with hose water

Freeze Or Refrigerate Food Items Before Packing

Again, to get the initial temperature of the cooler as cool as possible. If you’re packing for a multi-day trip, freezing Saturday’s pork chops will maintain cool temperatures within the cooler and also decrease the risk of the meat spoiling before you can eat it.

Use A Quality Cooler



An important rite of passage in every young man’s life is going out and buying a giant-ass premium cooler. At least that’s what I told myself when I blew $400 on RTIC coolers earlier this spring.

Anyway, rotomolded coolers like the one you see above contain up to 3 inches of insulation in the walls and lid. That, combined with one piece construction and a freezer-style gasket will keep ice for days.

Use Both Block Ice And Ice Cubes

Ice cubes create a large total surface area which will cool a cooler and its contents quickly and effectively. But block ice lasts and lasts and is therefore essential to your cooler’s longevity. You want to use both, and here’s how to do it…

Pack In Layers

How to layer items in a cooler; build from the bottom up:

How To Pack A Cooler

Fill It To The Top

One of the most important pieces of cooler packing is eliminating air space. Air pockets accelerate ice melt because the ice is wasted cooling the air. Therefore, it’s important to pick the right size cooler and fill any open space with ice cubes. If your top layer of food is lettuce or other vegetables you don’t want super cold, you can substitute the top layer of ice with a towel or anything to fill the space.

Keep It In The Shade

Even with an expert level packed cooler, it’s important to keep the cooler out of the sun. Ice can last twice as long when your cooler is in the shade.

Don’t Drain The Water

Water from the melted ice is still cold and will help insulate the remaining ice. Also, any water you drain will be replaced with air, which is not a good tradeoff.

Keep It Closed

For the same reason you don’t stand with the refrigerator door open, you’ll want to keep the cooler closed as much as possible.

Use A Two Cooler System

If you plan on crushing beer all day, it’s a good idea to keep drinks and food in separate coolers. That way, you can open the drink cooler to grab a beer every 20 minutes while everything else stays nice and cold, leaving you plenty of ice for your evening cocktail. And I’m pretty sure that, right there, is the key to a good summer.


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