How to Pack a Cooler to Keep Cold Longer

Learning how to pack a cooler for camping, road trips, and more importantly – vanlife, is a useful skill that will save you time and money. If you’ve chosen to use a cooler like we did (as opposed to a 12V fridge setup), limiting the amount of times you need to stop to buy more ice is of utmost importance. Read below to learn how to pack a cooler with ice most effectively – to keep your food from spoiling, and you on the road!

how to pack a cooler with ice

The best way to pack a cooler with ice:

1. Start with a cool cooler. – not one thats been sitting in a warm car, attic, etc.

2. Ideally put in cool items to begin with. The transfer of energy (in this case, heat), causes the temperature of everything inside to average out. So if you put a room-temperature six-pack inside an ice-cold cooler, its going to raise the entire cooler a degree or two. 

3. The bigger the ice chunks, the slower they’ll melt. If you find the ice “blocks” at your local gas station, grab one or two of those for the base of your cooler and fill in the gaps with ice cubes.

4. Food you wish to keep frozen should be placed directly on the ice base (the lowest level possible). If you have items that you simply want refrigerated, consider placing a light towel in between the frozen layer of food and whatever you wish to put on top.

highlight-arrowPro-tip:While not as readily available (and significantly more expensive), Dry ice wrapped in newspaper at the base of the cooler will help keep your regular ice frozen for 2-3 additional days!

5. Air is the enemy. If you have space leftover at the top (remember, heat rises), put a towel on top of everything before you close the lid. Bonus points if you chill the towel beforehand.

highlight-arrowPro-tip:If you have the space, do what we did and consider having a smaller cooler (we used a Coleman) for drinks and other items we’d access on a more frequent basis. Theyre not exactly perishable, so melting ice isn’t a huge concern, and it means you wont be opening up your “main” cooler as often, keeping real perishables cold even longer.