ice cooler with drinks and male hands

How to Pack a Cooler to Keep Everything Icy Cold All Day

Coolers are supposed to keep ice frozen, drinks icy cold, and food safe and ready to enjoy anytime, anywhere. But as you may have experienced, things don’t always go that way. That time you opened the lid to find sodas, sandwiches, cheese, and disappointment floating in a mirky sea of disgust. That’s why it’s important to know the simple basics for how to pack a cooler.

ice cooler with drinks and male hands

How to Pack a Cooler

As the weather heats up, even the most highly-rated cooler may struggle to avoid a meltdown. You can put those fears to rest with these easy tips for how to keep ice, food, and drinks cold in a cooler—even as temperatures rise.

Bring It

The first rule for how to pack a cooler: Bring the cooler with you to get ice—right to the ice machine or into the store—and put the bags inside right away. You don’t want to give the ice an opportunity to meet up with warm air.


More Than You Think

Always buy more ice than you think you will need. Your goal is that when the cooler is packed and ready to go, there is as little air space as possible. You want it filled to the brim, and that means all of that dead air space filled with ice.


Both Versions

Buy both an ice block and cubes/chipped ice. The ice block will lay the foundation, and the cubes and/or chips will fill in the air gaps.


At the Bottom

Make certain that the ice block is placed at the deepest part of the cooler, preferably at the bottom. This maximizes its effectiveness in maintaining a low temperature throughout the cooler. Placing other items on top of the ice block helps to insulate further and keep the contents cold.




Layer Up

Add a layer of drinks on top of the ice blocks. Mix flavors throughout so you can always have a chance to find what you want.

Next, a layer of ice cubes/loose ice on top of the drinks, then add another layer of drinks or food items.

Keep layering ice and drinks until the cooler is filled to the top. This will minimize airflow causing ice to melt faster.


Close the Lid

It might be tempting to leave the cooler’s lid propped open as a convenience, but that’s the worst option if you want the food and beverage contents to stay icy cold for hours on end.

Instead, make certain that you —and everyone else using the cooler—closes the lid quickly and tightly after every use. Keeping the warm air out means the ice will remain frozen longer, and the cooler contents are icy cold.

And there you go—how to pack a cooler to make sure everything in there stays icy cold!


Best Value Cooler

If you’re looking for a versatile cooler that can accompany you on weekends away, car-camping trips, tailgating adventures, or serve as a reliable backup in case of a sudden power outage, this cooler is your ultimate workhorse. Cools for up to 5 days!


Best for Long Camping Trips

If you’re in need of an exceptionally durable cooler for extended camping trips and don’t mind sacrificing a small amount of interior space for enhanced insulation, this is the perfect choice. It guarantees virtually indestructible performance while keeping your items cool for even longer durations.


Best Inexpensive

Get this if you need a temporary cooler. Although it’s recommended to have a sturdier and reusable cooler, the growing popularity of the Igloo Recool makes Styrofoam models obsolete for this big reason: Igloo Recool is made from wood pulp, which makes it 100% compostable.


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5 replies
  1. Birgit Nicolaisen says:

    We save the ice packs from our Home Chef deliveries. They are great for layering the bottom of the coolers to keep things really cold for a long time. You have to be careful they don’t get holes in them or the goo oozes out when they melt.

  2. Patricia Goff says:

    Depending on how far we are travelling I have frozen our tea and other drinks (not soda) and put them in the cooler. They usually start unfreezing by the time we get to our next stop.

  3. Joan says:

    “……disappointment floating in a murky sea of disgust.”
    Hahaha, Mary your expert wordsmithing made my evening!

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Well … thank you! Apparently you can identify. I experienced this when our younger was 6 mos. and our older 2 yrs. Tent camping. Sleeping bags on the ground. WINDY Colorado Springs KOA. Loaded everything into the tent to keep it from blowing away, and took off for the day. Came back. Dinner time. Everyone cranky. The tent? About a block away upside down and yes my description of cooler contents had soaked our sleeping bags. We did the unthinkable … took the bags to the KOA Laundry Room and threw them into the dryers. Yep. At least they came out dry. Everyone survived. And that is the day I made a pledge to my hubs: I will never ever live in Colorado. Don’t even think about it. Haha! As you know, yep … we moved to Colorado 8 years ago. I justify the decision with “At least it’s not Colorado Springs where it gets very windy!” 🙂


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