Packing a Camp Cooler

Pack your cooler efficiently with these tips.

  • Serving as your satellite refrigerator, your camp cooler performs a vast number of vital duties.
    Photo by adobestock/gstockstudio
  • “The Campout Cookbook” by Marnie Hanel and Jen Stevenson includes more than 75 recipes for camping.
    Cover courtesy Artisan Books

The Campout Cookbook (Artisan Books, 2018) by Marnie Hanel and Jen Stevenson is a cookbook that complements the magic of gathering around a campfire and sharing a meal with friends. In addition to recipes, this book includes inspiration and know-how for camping. This section details how to efficiently pack your cooler.

Serving as your satellite refrigerator, your camp cooler performs a vast number of vital duties — fish froster, guacamole guardian, salad keeper, rosé chiller, and overall food-safety sheriff. We recommend lugging at least two ice chests: one for the food and one for refreshments — because beer and Blood Orange Bug Juice need their personal space.

Polar Pre-funk

If your cooler’s been sitting in a sweltering summer garage, ready it for camp kitchen action by bringing it indoors a day before the trip and dumping plenty of ice inside a few hours before you pack it.

As Cold as Ice

Don’t underestimate the value of pre-cooling — it takes 2 1/2 pounds of ice to chill a gallon of room-temperature liquid. To prolong the brrr, freeze any provisions that are not meant to be consumed at the first meal, such as marinated meat, cheese, butter, bread, cinnamon rolls, milk, juice, and bottled water.

Arctic Layering

Layer securely wrapped raw meats and fish first, followed by frozen dairy, deli meats, bread, eggs, and condiments, then delicate fruits and vegetables. Chocolate for s’mores needs safeguarding from heat, cold, and moisture, so place it in a resealable plastic bag and store it on the very top, avoiding direct contact with ice.

Ice, Ice, Baby

Plan on 3/4 to 1 pound of ice per quart capacity of your cooler — cubed ice is ideal for short-term cooling, while block ice holds down the frigid fort. Use blocks or large flat reusable ice packs as your foundation, then scatter cubes between each layer of provisions and on top, letting them work their way in between bottles and bundles to provide surround chill. Wrap dry ice in newspaper or old towels and place it on top of items that require a real boreal blast, like ice cream.

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