How to Pack a Cooler

Follow these Pro Tips and don’t let an unorganized pack spoil your good times.

October 14, 2019
woman opening a Yeti cooler in the back of an SUV with camping gear scattered around the trunk

Coolers are a must-have item for tailgating, trips to the beach or just enjoying the outdoors. While keeping your items cold is one thing, keeping them safe is another. An improperly packed cooler can leave your snacks soggy and can even risk spoiling any perishable food items. Limit the liability and learn how to pack a cooler right from the start with these chilled Pro Tips.


Before you begin to pack your food and beverage, make sure your cooler is up to the task. While soft-sided coolers can be great for an evening trip, they might not be your best option for longer adventures. Look to pack any food requiring extensive refrigeration in a hard-shell cooler. These models feature thicker insulating walls better equipped to keep your meals safe and chilled.

You should also try to pack one food cooler and one beverage cooler. Odds are you’ll reach in for a drink more often than a snack. This can let out the cold air quicker, posing potential problems for perishables like meat and cheese. If you have the opportunity, pack two coolers, or try and limit your trips into the chilly container.


Clean the interior of your cooler with a disinfecting wipe prior to packing. This can make for a clean base and help lessen the chances of your food spoiling. You should also bring your cooler inside and refrigerate your food and beverage the night before your adventure. These techniques can help better preserve your ice packs, as everything starts out at similar temperatures.

Speaking of ice, you should also make your ice blocks prior to packing. When making ice for longer trips, the bigger the block the better. Freeze some water balloons or water bottles for a jumbo chunk of ice. If using the water bottle technique, only fill them three quarters of the way to allow the ice to expand. The larger ice chunks will take longer to melt, helping you keep your cooler cold longer.


The essential part to packing a cooler efficiently is the layering system. A good balance between ice, food and beverage can help your cooler perform at its best.

Build your foundation with your pre-made ice blocks, followed by a quick layer of ice cubes. Next, you should load your frozen meats and meals (well-sealed). Keep these items as close to the cold bottom as possible.

After another thin layer of ice cubes, feel free to pack the food you’ve designated to eat first. Items in this category could include snacks, day-one meals, lunchmeat and other goodies.

Lastly, place your perishable items – eggs, vegetables, fruit, etc. – on top and coat them with a final layer of ice cubes if possible. This is also where you should place your beverages if you’re limited to a one-cooler setup.

BONUS PRO TIP: A cooler will work best when filled to maximum capacity. Try and organize your cooler so your items reach the top of the container. You can fill any open space with ice, towels or foam pads.


You’ve put a lot of effort into organizing your cooler, so the last thing you’d want to see is that effort go to waste. To make sure your food stays fresh longer, try and store the cooler in a shaded area. Also, limit the amount of times you open the lid. Get in and get out. Finally, don’t drain any melting water during your adventure or event. This can help preserve the cold temperatures within.

A properly packed cooler can make your next outdoor activity that much easier. Stack your snacks efficiently with help from these cool Pro Tips.

Before you think about packing your cooler, you must have one first. Use these Pro Tips on what to look for in a cooler and chill out in style.