How to Pack a Cooler for the Weekend

It's almost Friday evening, which means, for me, its time to pack the cooler for the weekend. I've developed a habit of filling up my cooler right before the weekend starts, so that my ride operates as a full-time weekend kitchen.

If you're like me, you like to use weekends to get out, escape and explore. One of the problems is always food. Whether you're out for a day or a full weekend on the road, food often forces you back to restaurants, or home, or worse - eating gas station snacks. This is especially true when you're on the road with others, who will often have their own very specific food requirements or simply don't like a PB&J and banana for lunch. Hunger ups the cost of days out on the road, and it cuts short the best days by forcing us back to civilization.

Here is my simple routine of packing a cooler right before the weekend starts. I have this entire process down so that it takes me only fifteen minutes (and a very reasonable grocery bill) to prep my cooler for the weekend.

Pack Your Cooler on Friday Night: Groceries, Frozen Water Bottles and ice

How to Pack your Cooler

Pack your cooler effectively for two to three days of travel.

I try to pack my small-sized cooler for about 4 meals - usually two breakfasts and two lunches. Here are some tips for your cooler.

  • Don't be tempted by a large cooler if you're not serving a large group. Smaller coolers fit a weekend just perfect, while larger coolers require way too much ice.
  • Get the best cooler you can get. The Yeti Roadie 20 Cooler, for example, has extreme thermal qualities, with thick 2 inch insulated walls. A good cooler is the first step to keep your ice from melting significantly the entire weekend.
  • Learn who sells the coldest ice in your neighborhood. While all water freezes at thirty-two degrees, ice gets colder in colder temperatures. Higher quality ice is stored in lower temperatures. A good cooler will also be durable enough to handle dry ice.
  • In warm months, try to keep your cooler stored in the coolest place in your house or garage. If the cooler is warm when you place ice in it, it will melt much faster.

Liquids Upright, Spaced out, then Pack the Ice.

I keep my cooler (and plates, forks, knives and cutting board) in the back of my Jeep, which is effectively my kitchen. I just pack the weekend's food right into the cooler in the grocery store parking lot. But there are some tricks to packing the cooler.

  • Freeze a couple of your water bottles or anything else you can get cold before you pack your cooler; this helps keeps the cooler cold throughout the weekend. You can even freeze all your water in place of ice altogether.
  • Place your water bottles and other upright items in first. Don't be tempted to lie them flat, because fishing them out of the ice can get difficult.
  • Place other items that need to stay very cool between the water bottles.
  • Pack the ice around the water bottles until the cooler is nearly full.
  • This should create a 'shelf' in your cooler for your more fragile items - dairy, fruits, vegetables and condiments.
  • The more tightly packed your cooler, the better you'll retain ice. Learn to shop for your groceries to fit the cooler as perfectly as possible.
  • Pack food in leak-proof containers.
  • Avoid packing raw meat in the same cooler as the rest of your food. Avoid packing paper and carboard packaging.
Pack Your Cooler in levels.

Pack Your Cooler in levels. Use frozen water bottles in place of ice when you can.

Your Car is Your Kitchen.

I like to keep a full basic 'kitchen' in my Jeep. Here is all I need in order to serve good meals for a full weekend.

  • Camping Plates
  • Camping Silverware
  • Camping Cutting Board
  • Camp Salt and Pepper
  • Napkins and paper towels
  • Ziploc bags of different sizes.
  • A small trash bag for compost and trash.