Pack a Better Cooler
Whether you’re planning an overnight trip or a longer stay, your cooler is an essential piece of camping gear. The first few times you load your cooler, though, you may realize how precious that space is.
If you’re using a non-powered cooler like the Dometic Patrol, you’ll need to pack food along with ice. These eight simple cooler packing strategies will make the most of your cooler space, help ensure that you have enough food for your trip and make it easy to access that food when you arrive.
Tip #1: Plan Your Meals in Advance
Even if you’re more of a grab-and-go kind of eater, deciding what you’ll eat on your trip helps ensure that you bring along everything you need and makes packing your cooler easier. Put the food that you’ll eat last at the bottom of the cooler, and load it accordingly, with the food you’ll eat first at the top. The less often you open the cooler, the longer your food will stay cold, so your goal should be to open it as infrequently as possible.
#Tip 2: Freeze Food Ahead of Time
Stash foods that can be frozen in your freezer before your trip. Those foods will help maintain a colder temperature for a long period of time. The same goes for refrigerated items; keep food in your regular fridge until immediately before you load it into the cooler to help maintain that icy chill.
#Tip 3: Pre-package Food When Necessary
Planning on campfire burgers? Making the patties and wrapping them ahead of time will both save you time at your campsite and cooler space. While you want to plan to have enough to eat, be thoughtful about the packaging of food you bring. You’ll carry everything you take to the campsite out with you, so minimizing waste as you pack is a smart move.
Tip #4: Prep Your Cooler Ahead of Time
It starts with your cooler, literally. Clean your cooler out, if it needs it, and if you store it outside or in a garage, bring it indoors to let it cool down for at least a day before you plan to pack it. Take the time to wipe it down well with a disinfectant to make sure you’re starting with a germ-free setting. You can also pre-chill it with ice and cold water for a few hours before loading it to start with an even colder environment.
Tip #5: Prep Your Food
Place condiments into smaller containers to save space, and wash and prep fresh veggies and fruit to save space. This kind of prep encourages you and your family to snack on all of the healthy food you’re bringing along! Packing food like bread in waterproof containers will help it stay fresh for longer and protect it from getting wet and soggy (yuck).
Tip #6: Make Lots of Ice
The usual ratio is 2:1, ice to food, so keep this in mind when you pack your cooler. You can make your own block of ice to save space and slow melting; pour ice into a pan and let it freeze overnight. You can then place this at the bottom of the cooler. Or choose reusable, frozen ice sheets that don’t melt and stay frozen longer than ice.
Tip #7: Pack Your Cooler Wisely
Because space is at a premium, store your largest foods first (keeping in mind when you will eat them) and place smaller items in and around them. You’ll fit far more in than if you pack smaller foods first.
Tip #8: Fill Up Air Pockets
When it comes to filling your cooler, air pockets are the enemy. The more air, the more quickly your ice will melt, raising the temperature inside the cooler. You may want to pack a layer of food, and then a layer of ice, for the optimal temperature.
Foldable ice sheets can be used as the top layer and help prevent cold air from escaping and warm air from getting into the cooler. They’re inexpensive and can be used over and over, but a wet, frozen dishtowel will produce a similar effect.
HEADING OUT ON YOUR ADVENTURE
Finally, when you hit the road, keep your cooler in the car with you if possible, instead of in a hot trunk or strapped to the top of your roof. The cooler it is, the cooler it will be inside. At the campsite, keep it in a shaded area, out of direct sun, and open it as rarely as possible. (If you have the room, consider bringing two coolers — one for drinks, which will be opened far more frequently, and one for food, which should be kept cold for as long as possible.
Need a cooler for your next adventure? Check out the Dometic Patrol. If you want to make keeping your food cold even easier, consider upgrading to a powered cooler like the Dometic CFX3, which eliminates the need for ice.
What’s your favorite food to bring along when you camp?