To keep your food cold and maintain ice on a long trip, there are several things to keep in mind when packing a cooler. Here are the best how to pack a cooler practices for efficient packing.
As tempting as it may be to just toss your sausages and frosty beverages into an insulated box with some ice, a little planning, and the right stacking strategy will help your food and drink stay cold longer.
You’ll also stymie bacterial growth, which the Department of Agriculture says occurs rapidly between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (4 to 60 Celsius). And a weekend marked by legendary levels of bacteria is one you’ll remember for all the wrong reasons.
Make Sure You Have The Right Cooler
The best cooler for your trip is the one you can stuff to its limit, leaving as little empty space as possible. You want as much heat transfer as possible inside your cooler to happen between the ice and your goodies—you don’t want precious ice-chilling random air. Your main consideration will be cooler size (see Kenai coolers 25, 45, and 65-quart coolers for reference): use one you can fill to at least two-thirds of its capacity with ice, with the remainder reserved for food or drink.
A 2-to-1 ratio of ice to food or drink is recommended. The easiest way to visualize this is to divide your cooler into thirds and ensure your provisions fill one of them. Just don’t pack it like that—we’ll cover how to pack a cooler properly next.
How To Pre Chill A Cooler
Once your cooler is clean and ready to go, stash it in the coolest place you can until you’re ready to pack it up. Maybe that’s a shady spot outside your house, your basement, or inside a freezer, but you want to avoid pulling a cooler straight out of a hot car or steamy shed and immediately stuffing it full of ice and goodies.
The warmth from the cooler will seep into the cold stuff inside and you’ll waste ice cooling the cooler. Not ideal. Keep the cooler on ice (or as close as you can get), however, and the summer heat will have to work through cold insulation before it even touches what you’ve got inside.
How To Pre Chill A Cooler?
A great way to achieve this is by freezing water in old water or milk jugs and placing them in your cooler the night before you pack your cooler. This will maximize pre-cooling the interior walls and insulation of your cooler.
Pre-Chill & Prepare Your Food and Drink
Before you pack your cooler, you’ll want to get rid of as much dead weight as you can. That means preparing food in advance so it’s essentially ready to cook or eat right off the ice. Get rid of packaging too—don’t waste ice chilling some plastic you’re going to immediately throw in the trash when you get to your party spot.
If you have an opportunity, place pre-chilled beverages or cold foods in your cooler; that’s the best-case scenario. If you start with cold contents, the ice and cooler won’t have to work as hard to keep contents chilled, therefore retaining ice longer.
How To Pack A Cooler Properly With a Smart Stacking Stratgey
Leave as little airspace as possible. Layer ice on top of the contents to fill the cooler to full capacity. If you have more ice than other contents; surround the contents on the bottom, sides, and top with ice or icepacks to provide an extra layer of insulation this boosts the insulating power of Kenai Cooler’s thick pressure-injected polyurethane foam insulated walls.
The more intelligently you pack your cooler, the less you’ll have to disturb its contents, and the less heat you’ll introduce into that refrigerated environment. think about what food or drinks you’ll want to access last and put them at the bottom.
The primary exception to this rule is uncooked meat. You should store it in watertight containers so it can’t leak everywhere, but if you don’t have those, stash it at the bottom so its juices can’t contaminate other food.
As you go, try to pack everything in layers and fill all empty space with ice. Remember, the less air there is in your cooler, the longer everything will stay cold.
Top Off With Ice or Ice Packs
Once your cooler is stuffed to the brim with ice and goodies, fill the last bit of space under the lid with something cold. Reusable ice packs are a great option and will serve as a secondary lid. If you don’t have access or room for reusable ice packs. Regular ice will get the job done as well, but won’t last as long as reusable ice packs.
Now You Know How To Pack a Cooler Like a Pro - Here Are Additional Steps to Help Retain Ice In Your Cooler For As Long As Possible.
- Keep the Ice Chest Closed – Keep the cooler lid sealed. Every time the cooler seal is broken, and warmer air is introduced to the cooler contents, the ice has to expend more energy to chill the contents again. Kenai Coolers rubber gasket maintains a tight seal to keep cold air trapped.
- Insulate The Cooler Exterior – Keeping the exterior of the cooler insulated and out of direct sunlight is the best practice to maintain the longevity of the ice in your cooler. Wrapping a blanket, sleeping bag, or beach towel over the cooler and out of the sunlight will help insulate the exterior as well.
With this information in mind on how to pack a cooler. You now can confidently pack your cooler knowing that your cooler contents will stay cold longer. Stay frosty!