5 Strategies for Packing a Cooler to Last All Day Long

updated Dec 17, 2019
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(Image credit: Christine Gallary)

Packing your summer cooler is an art form. It’s not just about what goes in it, although that’s obviously crucial; it’s also about how you pack it all in. Accessibility is key, of course, and you want to keep your food from getting squished, but there’s also the issue of food safety. A lukewarm beverage is one thing. Mayo-heavy potato salad that’s swimming in a sea of melted ice? You might not want to eat that after all.

To avoid your food and fun from being spoiled, follow these strategies for packing a cooler that will stay cold all day long.

While we consider ourselves experts in most matters, we sought some outside advice from Trisha Antonsen, the “Chief Cocktail Officer” at beverage delivery service Drizly. The Boston-based company knows a thing or two about keeping things cool.

In addition to being an aficionado of cold beverages, Trisha is also a fan of day-tripping (with chilled drinks in tow, naturally). Here is her five-step guide to packing a cooler that keeps everything nice and frosty, while still keeping a cold one close at hand.

1. Chill before you pack.

If you want your provisions to stay colder longer, the key is to start with food and beverages that are already cold. So, do as G. Love and Special Sauce advise and stick it in the fridge.

Tip: If you’re packing water bottles (and it’s always a good idea to stay hydrated), you can freeze your water bottles.

2. Build your base with beer and ice.

Create a layer of cans and bottles on the bottom of the cooler. Not only does this form a sturdy base for your perishables, but those beverages will also stay nice and chilly underneath everything.

3. Next, add your meats (and more ice).

Your burgers, hot dogs, and other grillables come next and — this is key — they should be packed in airtight, water-proof, reusable plastic zip baggies. In order to prevent spillage, you may want to consider double-bagging.

4. Divide and conquer.

On one side of the cooler, place fragile items you don’t want to get squished, like pre-cut fruit, pre-made sandwiches, pasta salads, and desserts. On the other, add another layer of pre-chilled beer and drinks. These are your easy-access drinks, so you don’t have to dig through the entire cooler (and mess up your organization) before you’ve had a chance to warm up the grill.

5. Add more ice. No, more.

Finish by pouring ice over the top and shaking gently to get the ice to settle into open space inside the cooler. Continue the process of pouring ice and shaking until the cooler is completely full.

You definitely want more than one bag of ice; probably three to five bags depending on the size of your cooler. Reducing the amount of airspace means a colder cooler, which means food that won’t spoil.

Need help with what to put in your cooler? We have a few ideas.

The Best Beverages for Stocking Your Summer Cooler

Is this how you pack your cooler? What’s your best advice for packing a cooler to last all day?