A 5-gallon Cubix beverage dispenser placed on a truck bed

How to Pack a Cooler Like A Pro: Top Tips And Tricks

A Comprehensive Guide on How to Choose a Cooler Reading How to Pack a Cooler Like A Pro: Top Tips And Tricks 6 minutes Next The Ultimate Ski Trip Essentials Packing Guide

Ever traveled for hours to a campsite or destination, eager for a refreshing sip of cold water, only to be greeted by lukewarm drinks and spoiled food? If so, you’re probably packing your cooler wrong. 

Packing a cooler seems straightforward, but it can be trickier than it appears. We've got a ton of experience, and we know that getting good at this skill can make your camping trips, road trips, and outdoor hangouts a lot more fun. The goal is to keep your food and drinks delightfully cold for as long as possible. We’ll share expert tips and insider tricks to help you keep your food and drinks perfectly chilled for days, not hours.

Pre-Chill Your Cooler

Coolers serve as your shield against the scorching heat, keeping the interior cool despite the blazing temperatures outside. How you pack it can make all the difference in how long your goodies stay refreshingly chilled. Before you embark on your adventure, give your cooler a head start by pre-chilling it! We’ve found that pre-chilling your cooler can give it up to 20 hours extra of cold. You can pre-chill it by popping it in the fridge overnight. If you don’t have a fridge big enough to fit your cooler, just use a sacrificial bag of ice to cool it down the night before.

Think About Ice, Ice Baby

The Ice Base Layer

First up, you need to start with a solid layer of ice or ice packs at the bottom. This is the key to creating a cold anchor that will provide a chill that rises through the cooler and keeps everything cool. Ice packs are an ideal choice as, unlike ice, they won't melt into a pool, keeping your cooler dry and your snacks safe. Plus, they're reusable, come in all shapes and sizes, and keep things cool evenly throughout the cooler.

A Cubix Outdoor cooler filled to the brim with snacks and an ice pack

Our Top Tips for Extended Cold

  • 2:1 Ice to Contents Ratio: We recommend filling the cooler with twice as much ice as the volume of food and drinks you plan to store. 
  • Eliminating Air Pockets: A full cooler is better than a partially full cooler. Be sure to pick the right size for your needs and pack it as much as possible.
  • Keep Your Cooler Closed: Minimize opening the cooler to preserve cold air, prolong ice retention, and keep perishable items chilled for longer durations during outdoor activities.
  • Seal It Tight: The less air in the cooler, the longer it will stay cold. Always make sure to seal your cooler tightly. If your cooler has a rubber seal, even better! An airtight seal will keep the cold air in and the hot air out.

Strategic Layering: Maximizing Efficiency

When it comes to packing for a trip, it's important to consider the layers and order of the items you'll need. 

  1. Bottom Layer: Place items that freeze well and won't be needed immediately, such as frozen meals or meats, close to the ice or dry ice to ensure maximum freshness and preservation.
  2. Middle Layer: Add items that you'll need sooner, such as drinks or pre-made meals, on top of the bottom layer for easy access.
  3. Top Layer: Place another layer of ice cubes or a thin reusable freezer pack on top to maintain the cold temperature throughout the cooler.
  4. Separate Cooler for Frequent Access: Keep items that you'll need frequently, like drinks or snacks, in a separate cooler to maintain the temperature of perishable items and minimize the need to open the main cooler.
  5. Waterproof Containers or Sealable Plastic Bags: Use waterproof containers or sealable plastic bags to prevent water from ice melting and ensure food stays dry and free from cross-contamination.
  6. Frozen Drinks as Additional Ice Packs: Freeze drinks beforehand to use as additional ice packs that slowly thaw while providing a refreshing beverage.

Cooler for Camping and Road-Tripping

When packing a cooler for camping, prioritize items based on the length of your stay and meal planning. Consider packing one cooler for perishable food items and another for drinks and non-essential items. This reduces the frequency of opening your perishables cooler, keeping it cold longer.

For road-tripping, accessibility is key. Pack items you'll need along the way on top or in a separate cooler. Additionally, keeping the cooler in the coolest part of your vehicle (often the trunk or under a shade) can help maintain its internal temperature.

A Cubix Outdoor 25 Quart Viva Cooler with a Cubic tumbler next to a lake

Invest in a Superior Cooler

No matter how meticulously you pack your cooler, its effectiveness ultimately hinges on its insulation. Explore the different types of coolers in our Comprehensive Guide on How to Choose a Cooler. Without proper insulation, your efforts to keep things frosty could fall flat. That's why investing in a quality cooler, like one from Cubix Outdoors, is a good idea. With a robust three inches of insulation, Cubix coolers are built to withstand the heat and maintain chilly temperatures for up to 5 days. With the expert packing tips mentioned earlier, you can even extend that cooling time further, ensuring your beverages and snacks stay refreshingly cold throughout your entire adventure.

Final Thoughts

Packing a cooler efficiently for camping, road trips, or any outdoor activity is a blend of science and strategy. By understanding the principles of cold management, using dry ice wisely, packing in layers, minimizing air pockets, and pre-chilling your cooler and items, you can significantly extend the cold life of your cooler and items. Remember, the goal is to pack in a way that ensures your food and drinks stay cold and fresh, enhancing your adventure experience.