When it comes to food during a camping trip, your goal is for is to stay 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. Here's how to pack a cooler like a pro, according to the editors of the new book Camp Sunset.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.