Investing in a high-quality cooler is not enough when fighting the summer heat and keeping your foods protected from outside factors. You’ll never discover your cooler’s full potential without the proper packing techniques. Following these tips and tricks may mean the difference between a spoiled lunch and a cooler that keeps food for days.
Now, you’ll probably need a cooler to follow along with these cooler-packing steps. If you haven’t picked up your cooler for this summer’s excursions, now is the time to do that. We will first look at how to choose the cooler that best suits your summer itinerary. Then we will share some simple packing tips to get the most out of your cooler this season.
Choosing Your Cooler
When choosing your cooler, there are a few questions to consider during your search.
What Are You Using Your Cooler For?
Determining the intended uses for your cooler is a helpful starting place in a market of endless choices. Coolers are made in a variety of styles and sizes, and determining which is best for you begins by deciding on your cooler’s intended use.
Durability matters if you plan to expose your cooler to the elements — which most coolers are called to do at some point. If you’re in the market for a cooler that you can take into the wilderness for camping and hiking expeditions, you’ll most likely want to choose a hard cooler. Hard-sided coolers are built to withstand external forces like weather conditions and wildlife, including bears.
If the intended uses for your cooler are more mild, like an afternoon picnic or sporting event, then a soft-sided cooler will be more than enough.
What Size Cooler Are You Looking For?
Coolers come in a vast array of sizes, ranging from individual to commercial use. Determining the size of cooler you need will be helpful to your search. Soft-sided coolers tend to be smaller and built more for individual use, while hard coolers are functional for large gatherings.
Coolers for personal use generally range from four to ten quarts and are often found in a soft-sided style. The 10 Can Softpack Cooler with a capacity of 5.5 quarts and the Venture 9 Can Day Cooler with an eight-quart capacity are perfect for individual use.
Between 10 and 20 quarts are medium-sized coolers, perfect for families or small gatherings of friends. In this range is the 24 Can Softpack Cooler with a capacity of 14 quarts or 17lbs of ice. Even larger, the 34 Can Softpack Cooler can hold up to 20 quarts or 30 pounds of ice, bolstered by its heavy nylon shell and durable internal liner.
Large coolers, ideal for block parties or tailgates, typically range between 20 and 50 quarts. Take our 20QT and 50QT Rotomolded Coolers, for example. They are hard-sided coolers, durable enough to withstand the toughest of nature’s forces. These hard coolers can feed a family on a day trip to the beach or keep a few dozen drinks cold during a tailgate.
What Is Your Budget?
Another critical factor when narrowing down your cooler search is your budget. Soft-sided coolers tend to be less expensive than hard coolers but generally don’t last as long.
Hard coolers made by rotomolding, a process of manufacturing plastic, are high-end coolers that typically cost more than other hard coolers. Investing in a rotomolded cooler, however, is a great choice in the long run because these coolers are known for their durability and longevity.
Coolers can get pricey, soaring up to the hundreds of dollar marks or even thousands. That’s why at Patriot Coolers, we make products that fit into every lifestyle, budget, and adventure.
What Cooler Wall Materials Do You Need?
Cooler walls are typically insulated with the use of various types of foam. Air gaps are filled with foam which then hardens as it sets, adding durability to the cooler.
Used in the making of most high-quality hard coolers is an insulation called polyurethane foam. This is a denser type of foam, consisting of fewer air pockets. Since this foam hardens, it makes coolers like the 20QT and 50QT Rotomolded Coolers nearly unbreakable as well as bear-resistant.
Insulated walls are important because they work to keep warmth out. These walls slow down the process of convection or the transfer of heat throughout a space — the insulated walls of your cooler work to protect its contents from being affected by heat.
Tips For Packing a Cooler
Now that you’ve narrowed down your cooler search and hopefully discovered the right cooler for your summer, we’ll discuss some tips and tricks for packing your cooler. If done the right way, the contents of your cooler will stay fresh all day long.
A cooler will only store as well as it is packed, so let’s take a look at some proven tricks for packing food and drinks:
Tip #1. Select a Quality Cooler
One of the first steps to consider when packing a cooler to last all day or all week long is to select a high-quality, well-insulated cooler. Not all coolers are created equal, and neither are cooler manufacturing processes. When discussing hard coolers, we recommend rotomolded coolers because of their incredible insulation and uniform wall thickness.
Rotomolded coolers are made by simultaneously rotating and heating plastic as it fills a mold. It is then cooled as it conforms to the shape of the mold. The process of rotating the plastic as it cools results in all the cooler walls being the same thickness. This means that there are no weak spots or walls of the cooler, making it equally protected on all sides from the elements.
Tip #2. Chill Your Cooler Beforehand
Talk to anyone about cooler safety and they will tell you this is your first step when packing your cooler. If you store your cooler in the shed or garage for the majority of the year, you are most likely dealing with a warm or room temperature cooler. This means that you’re already at a disadvantage when it comes to preserving ice for longer.
Bring your cooler from storage and place it inside the coolest part of your house. Do this approximately a day before packing your cooler. Depending on the state of your cooler upon removing it from storage, you’ll want to take some time to clean it out before moving it inside.
You can also choose to pre-chill your cooler, which just means filling the cooler with cold water or a bit of ice so that the inside of the cooler becomes cold. Right before filling the cooler with food and drink, pour all the water out through the cooler drain.
Tip #2. Freeze Food When You Can
Freezing choice foods before packing your cooler will help preserve it for longer periods. This will most likely include meats and any food that you are not planning to use immediately. Refrigerate all other foods you plan to put inside your cooler to keep internal temperatures cool.
Tip #3. Alternate Between Layers
When packing a cooler, the typical rule of thumb is that you want to have a 2:1 ratio of ice to cooler contents. This ratio is often achieved by alternating between a layer of food or drink and a layer of ice.
The bottom layer of the cooler should be covered with block ice. You can buy block ice or make modifications for this step. Some people recommend filling a baking dish or casserole dish with water and freezing that as a way of improvising. Since this may take a long time to freeze, consider making your block ice a day before your trip.
While block ice may take longer to make at home, it is worth the investment of time. Block ice takes longer to melt than ice cubes, meaning the contents of your cooler will stay cold longer.
After filling your first layer with block ice, pack in the foods you have prepared for mealtime. This will most likely include the meats you have frozen the night before. Fill this layer with the meals you have prepared beforehand. Once you have packed this layer of your cooler, you can cover it with more ice.
Typically drinks will be your next layer so that they are easily accessible. Some may also choose to bring a separate cooler for drinks. Since drinks are frequently accessed, meaning the lid of the cooler is opened more often, the inside of the cooler tends to warm up quicker.
The top-most layer of your cooler will typically consist of snacks and quick bites. These are kept cool but do not require as much protection from outside temperatures because they are consumed quickly.
Tip #4. Keep Your Cooler Closed As Much as You Can
This may sound like an obvious one, but the more a cooler is opened, the more it is exposed to outdoor temperatures that will melt ice quicker. This is why many long-time campers recommend bringing two coolers. A cooler of food will keep ice longer than a cooler of food and drinks because drink coolers are opened more often.
If bringing two coolers isn’t convenient or within the budget, remain conscious of how frequently you’re opening your cooler. Organizing your food and drinks into multiple sections or different layers allows you to more quickly reach for desired items. This decreases the amount of time that the cooler is kept open, minimizing the amount of warm air in your cooler.
Tip #5. Keep Your Cooler in a Shaded Area
While insulated walls protect the contents of your cooler from outside temperatures, it doesn’t hurt to keep your cooler out of direct sunlight. Keeping your cooler in a shaded area for the duration of your trip will add an extra level of protection for your cooler’s contents.
Tip #6. Fill Your Cooler to the Brim
One of the quickest ways to melt the ice inside your cooler is to leave air gaps. Leaving room in your cooler means that the ice is going to work hard to cool the air, melting the ice in the process. Avoid pockets of air when possible, and make sure you’re achieving the 2:1 ratio of ice to contents.
Packing a cooler to last all day long comes down to a specific methodology. While coolers are meant to preserve their contents, strategically packing a cooler can keep food and drinks for long periods.
Following proven tips and tricks can result in a foolproof cooler experience and the most memorable adventures.