Knowing how to pack a cooler for camping is not as simple a task as it might seem, and it’s an important part of having an enjoying camping experience. How do you keep the ice from melting? How do you ensure your food doesn’t end up sopping wet with dirty water? How do you pack enough food into a small space so you don’t run out before you are ready? Below we will talk about how to pack a cooler for camping, including which food and drinks to bring along with you and how to keep them fresh and dry during your trip.
Depending on the weather outside, you’ll need more or less ice in your cooler. Ice comes in:
Blocks last longer and tend to make less of a mess.
Cubes will melt faster but are good for putting in drinks.
If choosing to pack your cooler with blocks of ice, put the blocks in on the sides before adding food and drinks. If choosing to pack your cooler with cubes, leave the cubes in their bag (and maybe even a second bag).
Whichever ice option you select, consider putting the ice into a container where the water runoff can be kept off your other food, and even used for fresh water or solar shower water.
Choosing food items for your camping trip
One easy option for camping food is to select precooked foods which ensure you don’t end up with issues undercooking or having them go bad during your trip. There are a number of brands which sell camping meal options already pre-cooked and bagged. They don’t need to go in a cooler at all. Add water and voila, you’ve got beef stroganoff or chicken cordon bleu to serve and impress your friends. These pre-made options tend to be priced in a medium/high range though. For more budget friendly options, consider making something such as camping burritos or tacos.
Burritos are one of my favorite options for camping. Just about any ingredients can be put in a burrito shell and cooked over a fire (in tin foil or a pan). Some items which keep well in a cooler are:
- Pre-cooked burgers or veggie patties
- Pre-cooked rice
Basically, these are items that can be packaged separately or that won’t absorb water.
When packing burrito or taco tortillas, you do want to keep them cool, but they won’t be any good at all if the ice gets them wet. One option for these (and lots of fresh camping food) is to put them in a mason jar that seals, or double bag them in ziploc bags.
Important note: Eggs can be messy
While eggs are a wonderful breakfast food (and there are lots of fun ways to cook them while camping, like inside an orange peel!), they aren’t necessarily a good choice to put in a cooler. If they break you’ll end up with an unfortunate mess to clean up, and possibly have ruined some of your food.If you plan to bring eggs along, one option is to hard boil them before you go, then put them in a ziploc bag. If bringing raw eggs, consider buying an egg storage box from a camping/sporting goods store.
When choosing drinks, consider smaller packages which reseal, take up less cooler space than large boxes, and can be stuffed into open spaces in the cooler. Some considerations:
Cans are easier to pack than bottles, and you can break them down to pack them out after your trip (Leave No Trace!). They also tend to be less expensive than bottles.
Milk can go bad and get pretty gross if you didn’t pack enough ice.
Some fruit drinks come in single-serve metal packaging, which makes them very easy to store in your cooler.
To cool or not to cool
The more items you can bring which don’t need to be kept in the cooler, the more space you’ll have for items that absolutely must be kept cold. Consider bringing a milk crate or box for non-cooled foods, like cans… and don’t forget a can opener!
Hopefully you now have some good ideas of the do’s and don’ts of how to pack a cooler for camping. Now it’s time to go and enjoy the great outdoors! Have fun out there, watch for bears (if you’re in bear country we recommend doing more research on how to pack for this), eat, drink, and most importantly enjoy your trip!