How To Properly Pack A Cooler For Camping (2022)

camping cooler
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    Have a camping trip coming up? Making sure you have your nutrients is important! Without proper storage, you could face a disaster that will leave you starving. Literally.

    Packing your cooler properly goes beyond methodical arrangement.

    The next time you head out into the great outdoors, don’t just shove things in your cooler, pack it right! Here’s your comprehensive guide for how to properly pack a camping cooler for the best results!

    1. Find The Right Cooler Size

    First, you need to find the right-sized cooler for your needs. Think about how often you go camping, how long you camp for, and what you like to bring with you on your trips. Will more people be accompanying you? If so, don’t forget to think about them!

    Some people like to bring more than one cooler on their trips. One for food, the other for drinks. This could be a great idea to make sure you don’t have a shortage of drinking water or any specialty drinks that could take up space by the time you add in your food.

    2. Plan Your Meals

    Before you put anything and everything in your cooler, plan the meals you want to bring for your trips. Being methodical and planning is going to save you space (and money) in the long run!

    Planning your meals also tells you what to pack and how much room you will need to store these items. If you plan on bringing meats along to cook over a fire, you will need to make sure the meat is properly stored so that it doesn’t spoil while you wait to use it.

    3. Bring It Inside Before You Leave

    It’s likely that you keep your cooler in the garage or outside when it’s not being used. If that is the case, here’s an expert tip: bring your cooler inside for at least one day before you leave!

    Bringing your cooler inside helps it to chill for at least a day without it starting off hot from being outside. An optional step you could also take is to put some ice inside the cooler or cold water for it to “pre-chill” before usage.

    4. Prep Your Food At Home

    Instead of buying prepackaged food at the store and shoving it in your cooler, prep your food to make the best use of your space!

    If you are bringing some prepackaged food with you, take it out of the packaging if you can. Prepackaged food can take up a lot of space in your cooler, and it isn’t good working against water.

    When you are prepping your food at home, you need to be realistic about how much food you’re bringing with you. Only bring what you know you will need for the duration of your trip to maximize the usage of your space.

    Are planning to eat meals with chopped veggies and meat? If so, wash and chop your veggies at home before leaving. This allows you to place your veggies in smaller containers to have more room for ice.

    5. Store In Watertight Containers

    Speaking of containers, it is very important that you use watertight containers when bringing along food for your trip.

    Since your cooler will be full of ice that will begin to melt, the watertight containers will protect your food from the water and keep them dry and cold.

    Before your trip, everything you plan to eat that is not pantry items should be either frozen or refrigerated, depending on how long you plan to stay.

    For instance, if you are staying 4+ days, it’s essential to freeze your food (except for what you plan to eat the first night) ahead of time after prep. Everything else needs to stay cold in the refrigerator.

    Having your meats, fruits, veggies, drinks, and other cold items cold before entering the cooler helps it to stay fresh and cold longer against the ice instead of putting them in there hot.

    6. Don’t Forget The Ice

    Lastly, don’t forget the ice! Ice is essential to packing your cooler properly by keeping your food cold and safe to eat until cooking.

    If you are camping between 2-4 days, consider using reusable ice packs instead of ice for more space in your cooler, and crushed or whole cubes for 4+ longer days.

    No matter how long your trip is, your cooler should always be packed with ice to keep your food safe to eat!

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    Riley Draper

    Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.