How To Pack A Cooler For Camping Like A Pro

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The editors of Sunset Magazine are no strangers to the great outdoors — the western U.S. has some of the best camping in the country, and Camp Sunset is your foolproof guide. Heed their expert tips on staking out your campground, constructing a smart living area, building cooking fires and sleeping under the stars. You're going to need a cooler full of cold, dry food if you're going to camp Sunset style, so follow their expert tips and enjoy your long weekend in the woods!

Reprinted with permission from Camp Sunset

Your goal: food that stays cold, organized, dry, and unsquished, with no massive ice melt by day 3. And don't forget that bringing two coolers — one for food and one for drinks — is ideal if you have the space.

Keep everything cold

Make ice blocks

(They last way longer than cubes.) At least 24 hours ahead, stash two to three large (8 by 10 inch) refreezable ice packs, like ones made by Arctic Ice, in the freezer. Or fill two soft-sided 96-ounce Nalgene canteens three-quarters full with water (to leave room for expansion) and freeze flat.

Pre-chill food and drinks

This helps ice stay cold. Freeze meat in marinades, and pack seafood frozen. They'll act like extra ice in the cooler and keep longer.

    Pack like a bag boy—or girl

    Put fragile stuff on top

    Think eggs, lettuce, and herbs.

    Stash loose items in a plastic tote

    This is the spot for yogurts, that spice jar of ketchup, bags of meats and cheeses, and anything you don't want to lose in the ice. Seal the tote with a lid.

    Put ice blocks on the bottom of the cooler

    Other heavy items, like meats frozen in marinade, and boxes of cut-up fruit, go at the bottom too.

    Fill in empty spaces

    Dump ice cubes into the cooler to fill in spaces between items.

      Conserve space

      Remove excess packaging

      Cut an egg carton in half if you need only six eggs. Seal bacon in a plastic bag but leave any cardboard behind. Stash a single cube of butter in a small container if that will be enough. Fill an empty spice jar with ketchup so you don't bring the whole bottle. You get the idea.

      Pre-prep produce

      Rinse lettuce and herbs, then wrap in paper towels and a plastic bag. Peel and chop bulky fruits like pineapple and melon, cut bell peppers into strips, and package them in containers.

        Keep food organized and dry

        Seal meats, cheeses, and eggs in plastic bags

        Foods will stay dry even when ice starts to melt a bit. (But be sure these and all highly perishable foods, like mayo, stay very cold.)

        Label everything

        Containers marked with masking tape and a Sharpie mean the family can help themselves while you hang out in a hammock.

          Keep the cooler in the shade

          The ice will last twice as long if you set coolers in the shade once you're at the campground.