How to Pack a Camping Cooler

There’s an art to packing a camping cooler. Do it right and your food will stay cold and fresh for days. Here are our tips to make your next outdoor adventure the coolest yet. 

Chill your cooler
Dig the cooler out of the garage a few days before you’re heading out. You’re going to want to air it out and wash out any cobwebs and dirt. Chilling your cooler before you pack it will help it retain its cool temperature longer. Put a few frozen ice packs or a large bag of ice in your cooler, fill it with cold water, and let it stand for a few hours. Drain and dry the cooler, before you start packing. 

Two coolers are better than one
Depending on how many people are in your group, you might want to consider bringing a separate cooler just for drinks. That way you can grab a beer without compromising the temperature of your food. 

Get a cold start
The colder your food is when it goes into the cooler, the colder it will stay. While you’re cooler is chilling, make sure your food is getting the same treatment. Freeze fresh meats, cooked soups, and stews. Putting warm food in your cold cooler will only make it warmer. 

Ice it right
If you’re only going out for a night, Sun Basket’s reusable ice packs are all you need to keep your food safe, but if you’re going for longer, you’re going to need actual ice. Remember, the bigger the ice, the slower it will melt. Block ice is ideal, but it can be hard to find and hogs a lot of space in your cooler. For the next best thing, look for a bag of cubes that have been frozen solid.

Pack in layers
Start with a layer of ice or freezer packs on the bottom. Put frozen foods in next, add another layer of ice, top with foods that need to be kept cold (such as dairy products), top with more ice and then with foods that don’t require such cold temperatures like produce. Finish with your least perishable items. If there’s any space at all between the cooler lid and the top layer of food, lay a thick towel (or your Sun Basket box insulation) on top for added insulation. 

Keep your cool
Eat your most perishable items first and save shelf stable meals, like your pasta-and-canned-bean dinner for your last night out. Store the cooler in the shade or under a shelter, away from direct sunlight. Try to minimize the number of times you open the cooler. Return cold foods to the cooler right after serving. 

Discard leftover meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and any foods made with them if left out for 2 hours or more, or for 1 hour or more in temperatures over 90° F.