How to Pack a Cooler to Keep Everything Icy Cold All Day

BY Mary Hunt TIMEJuly 18, 2023 PRINT

Coolers are supposed to keep ice frozen, drinks icy cold, and food safe and ready to enjoy anytime, anywhere. But as you may have experienced, things don’t always go that way. Remember that time you opened the lid to find sodas, sandwiches, cheese, and disappointment floating in a mirky sea of disgust. That’s why it’s important to know the simple basics for how to pack a cooler.

As the weather heats up, even the most highly rated cooler may struggle to avoid a meltdown. You can put those fears to rest with these easy tips for how to keep ice, food and drinks cold in a cooler—even as temperatures rise.

Bring It

The first rule for how to pack a cooler: Bring the cooler with you to get ice—right to the ice machine or into the store—and put the bags inside right away. You don’t want to give the ice an opportunity to meet up with warm air.

More Than You Think

Always buy more ice than you think you will need. Your goal is that when the cooler is packed and ready to go, there is as little air space as possible. You want it filled to the brim, and that means all of that dead air space filled with ice.

Both Versions

You need both an ice block and cubes/chipped ice. The ice block will lay the foundation, and the cubes and/or chips will fill in the air gaps.

At The Bottom

Make certain that the ice block is placed at the deepest part of the cooler, preferably at the bottom. This maximizes its effectiveness in maintaining a low temperature throughout the cooler. Placing other items on top of the ice block helps to insulate further and keep the contents cold.

You can easily make your own ice block by freezing 3 or 4 inches of water in a large container a size and shape that will fit easily in the bottom of the cooler. Plan ahead, as this could take a few days to freeze rock hard.

You can also freeze water in empty milk cartons and plastic bottles or jugs. Both are mess-free and can go right into the cooler.

Layer Up

Add a layer of drinks on top of the ice blocks. Mix flavors throughout so you can always have a chance to find what you want.

Next, add a layer of ice cubes/loose ice on top of the drinks, then add another layer of drinks or food items.

Keep layering ice and drinks until the cooler is filled to the top. This will minimize airflow, causing ice to melt faster.

Close The Lid

It might be tempting to leave the cooler’s lid propped open as a convenience, but that’s the worst option if you want the food and beverage contents to stay icy cold for hours on end.

Instead, make certain that you—and everyone else using the cooler—closes the lid quickly and tightly after every use. Keeping the warm air out means the ice will remain frozen longer, and the cooler contents are icy cold.

And there you go—how to pack a cooler to make sure everything in there stays icy cold!

Dear Readers: We would love to hear from you. What topics would you like to read about? Please send your feedback and tips to

Mary invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, “Ask Mary.” This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.” COPYRIGHT 2022 CREATORS.COM
You May Also Like