When I started camping, I had no idea what kind of cooler to use. Then, I purchased a best backpack cooler and thought that would solve all of my problems. I had no idea how much better the experience could be once I learned how to pack my cooler! Although kind of embarrassing, it took me a few years to figure out the best way. Now, I give that knowledge to you.

Prep the Food

It all begins with prepping the food. Anything you plan to cut up should be done before you go out. This will save room in the cooler and cut down on waste. Bags with a zipping lock save the most space Whatever you can prep ahead of time, do it and store it leak-proof containers or vacuum pack it. If not, leakage can contaminate food and end up costing you big bucks.

When to Pack Your Cooler

The cooler should be the very last thing you fill, and it should be the last item you pack in your car. This reduces the amount of time your cooler has to be in warmer weather. It can really make a difference in the summer.

How to Pack Your Cooler

Step 1: The first thing to put into your cooler is a layer of ice. If you have a very large cooler, you can put dry ice in the bottom as long as it is properly wrapped and maintained. However, most people have medium to small coolers and will benefit the most from using ice packs.

Tip: Make some cheap, reusable ice packs by or freezing water in zip locking bags. These blocks keep your stuff cooler than crushed ice.

Step 2: Next, put in food that needs to stay the coldest. This would be things like meat and dairy products, including cheese.

Hint: if you have meat, it can be frozen and will last even longer, but do not freeze the dairy.

Step 3: Now, add another layer of store-bought or homemade ice packs.

Step 4: Put in your lunchmeat and your fruits and vegetables.

Step 5: Add more ice and continue alternating until all of your food is in the cooler. Remember to always begin with the most perishable edibles and work out to the least.

What about Drinks?

I advocate for using 2 coolers, with the second being used for drinks. This will increase the number of perishable items you can bring with you. In addition, the food cooler will only need to be opened a fraction of the amount as it is when food and drink are combined. This will keep the interior cooler for longer.

Best Backpack Coolers

Have you ever heard of backpack coolers? They are handy, lightweight, and can be carried for longer trips. Not to mention they fit on your back and are some of the most compact coolers on the market. Although you won’t be gone for very long, I recommend stacking the food/drink as you plan to eat it or drink it. Be careful not to smash anything soft like sandwiches!

Here are my top 3 picks:

    IceMule Pro Insulated Backpack

    MIER Insulated Cooler Backpack

    North Coyote Backpacking Cooler

Alice Blauch
alice@refugeeair.org