How to Pack a Cooler

Just like packing a car or a suitcase, there’s a subtle art to packing a cooler. It’s all about getting the layers just right and making the most of Every. Single. Inch. Follow these tips to pack like a pro.

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Photo By: Tomas Espinoza, Tomas Espinoza, Tomas Espinoza

Photo By: Tomas Espinoza, Tomas Espinoza, Tomas Espinoza

Photo By: Tomas Espinoza, Tomas Espinoza, Tomas Espinoza

Photo By: Tomas Espinoza, Tomas Espinoza, Tomas Espinoza

Photo By: Tomas Espinoza, Tomas Espinoza, Tomas Espinoza

Photo By: Tomas Espinoza, Tomas Espinoza, Tomas Espinoza

Photo By: Tomas Espinoza, Tomas Espinoza, Tomas Espinoza

Cool Cooler

Bringing everything but the kitchen sink just isn’t an option when you’re packing a cooler. Even a big one. Here’s how to layer it with easy access and maximum chill in mind.

Layer 1: Deep Freeze

First, lay pre-frozen ice packs along the bottom to help keep the cooler’s interior ice-cold all day long.

Layer 2: Goodies for Grilling

Next, build on the deep-freeze layer by adding all the grilling meats, it's best if some are already frozen. You probably won’t need these until later in the day, so packing them on the bottom makes sense.

Layer 3: Spacing + Sponges

This layer is all about puzzling together your condiments and other refrigerated items. You'll need tiny ice packs to squeeze in between these items, here's an easy way to make your own: The night before, place water-filled sponges in plastic sandwich bags and put them in the freezer. When it comes time to pack your cooler, lay the frozen-sponge baggies in between jars and bags to keep it all as cold as possible. BONUS: When it’s time to clean up, you’ll have plenty of damp sponges!

Layer 4: Grab + Go

This next layer should include drinks and favorite snacks. The closer to the top you keep these items, the better. The faster someone can grab what they need out of the cooler and replace the lid, the better. Pour ice in between the drinks to help keep them chill. Pre-make as many snacks as you can so that they’re easier to grab and go. The banana pop is a great example, simply insert a popsicle stick into a peeled banana, then freeze.

Layer 5: Container-Friendly

Consider keeping all the grilling condiments — like lettuce, tomato and onion — packed away in their own small containers so they stay fresh and avoid being crushed over the course of the day. This also makes it easier to lay out your spread. Don’t forget to include a larger basket to wrangle several smaller items. The faster you can lift them out, the sooner you can close the lid on the cooler. PRO TIP: Leave the buns on top. A smashed burger is never a good look!

Kids-Only Cooler

Now that you have a PhD in cooler packing, go ahead and make a smaller version for the kiddos, too. Start with smaller freezer packs in the bottom, throw in small containers of healthy snacks like grapes and cheese, then top it all off with ice and organic juice boxes.

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