How to Pack a Cooler the Pelican Way
Though not complicated, packing a cooler is a task that involves some considerable forethought and strategy. We’ve all experienced the dreaded soggy butter boxes and floating soda cans, but prevention comes down to two important factors: selecting the right cooler and packing it properly. The first one is easy if you use a Pelican cooler. The second one takes a little bit of practice and planning, but it’s practice and planning that goes a long way.
Here’s the Pelican guide to how to pack a cooler so your food and drinks stay perfectly cool and dry no matter where the cooler-worthy adventure takes you.
Pick the Right Cooler
Your packing job is only as good as the cooler itself, so be sure to spend some time selecting the right one. Reserve your heavy-duty hard coolers for the times when you don’t have to go too far and need a reliable, lasting cooling vessel for serving lots of people. If you need a high-capacity cooler and will have to walk far to your final destination (such as the beach or campsite), grab a hard-sided cooler with wheels. If lightweight portability is your main desire, use a make a bleach-free disinfectant using white vinegar and hydrogen peroxide if you’d prefer something gentler. For the absolute coldest possible interior, you can even freeze your cooler beforehand. A deep freezer (suits smaller coolers) or a below-zero garage in the middle of winter will work perfectly for this.
Consider Dry Ice
Dry ice is an incredible tool for keeping food and drinks ice-cold for long periods of time, but it’s not right for every application. It is ideal for many situations because it gets colder than regular ice and stays dry, so it doesn’t leave refrigerated or frozen food items soggy. Read our guide on how to use dry ice in a cooler if you’re interested in keeping the ice dry. The rest of this guide covers packing a cooler with regular ice or ice packs.
Pack the Cooler
Now it’s time for the fun part — loading! For the longest ice retention and maximum coldness over time, start with cold items. Remember, there is no such thing as cold — only the absence of heat. Starting with warm or room temperature items will immediately begin to slowly melt your ice. Pack COLD! You can even start with frozen meat, bottles of water and non-carbonated drinks.
- Place all cans and bottles on the bottom of the cooler. Organize logically and don’t just throw everything in willy-nilly! We like to start with stronger drinks to one side (IPAs, hard seltzers, etc.), and gradually create a full spectrum of beverages, ending with the lightest drinks, such as water or soda. Remember: Heat rises, so the bottom of your cooler will be the coldest. It’s also where the melted water will settle, so don’t put anything fragile or sog-prone at the bottom.
- Add a light layer of ice. The reason we apply a light layer on top of the cans and bottles is to make sure we fill any gaps or spaces. This layer not only keeps the drinks cooler but also keeps them more securely in place. This method will help you keep your items organized in transit and utilize the cooler's maximum capacity.
- Add the final layer of ice. If you're only packing the cooler full of drinks, you'll want to fully submerge them in ice, filling the cooler all the way to the top. If you’re also going to bring food or other cold items that you don't want to get soggy, leave enough room on top of the ice for those items or invest in a cooler basket that keeps these items high and dry. You may consider tossing non-beverage items in heavy-duty zip bags for an extra layer of protection.
- Pack the Cooler — Now it’s time for the fun part — loading! For the longest ice retention and maximum coldness over time, start with cold items. Remember, there is no such thing as cold — only the absence of heat. Starting with warm or room temperature items will immediately begin to slowly melt your ice. Pack COLD! You can even start with frozen meat, bottles of water and non-carbonated drinks.
Pack Smart, Stay Cool
An improperly packed cooler is a serious bummer that could result in wasted food and wasted money. But following this guide will help ensure that your essential packable items stay in perfect condition. You will always have fresh food and drinks on hand wherever you’re headed, whether it be the tailgating lot or the deep wilderness.