Pro Tip: Cooler Management on Rafting Trips
Packing the coolers is a very important part of your camping or rafting trip. Meal times are where everyone comes together to remember the day, and enjoy the comfort of a delicious meal in the great outdoors. Coolers are the reason we can cook fun, home-cooked meals in the backcountry instead of just eating canned beans the whole trip. In order to get your food to camp safely, you need to pack your coolers properly.
There are a lot of ways to pack a cooler, and some things you need to take into consideration before you start.
- How many coolers do I have to work with?
- How can I organize my coolers?
- How much ice do I really need?
- Is it really going to all fit?
How much ice do you use for a cooler?
The simple answer is as many as possible. Block ice last much longer than ice cubes in a cooler. You can typically find blocks at any grocery store or gas station I like to fit as many ice blocks as possible into a single layer at the bottom of the cooler.
Ice on the top or bottom of a cooler?
It is best to put ice on the bottom of the cooler. This way, it keeps the food cold without being in the way when you have to look for something. Ice on the top would also get everything soaking wet as it melts. A layer of ice on the bottom is all the cooler power you'll need.
Which cooler keeps ice the longest?
There are a lot of good coolers on the market at the moment. The most famous right now is Yeti, they make well-engineered coolers that will hold ice for a long time. They come at a pretty steep price though, Yeti is known for putting very large numbers next to the dollar sign on their products. Other options that are just as good without breaking the bank are Canyon Coolers, Rctic coolers, and Orion coolers.
The amount of coolers you have to work with makes a huge difference in how you choose to pack. If you only have one cooler, I like to organize it by meal if possible. That way, all the things for each meal are in the same area of the cooler, limiting the amount of time you have to spend searching for items. If you have multiple coolers, there are two main schools of thought:
One way to pack multiple coolers is to divide your food into different types, and give each type its own cooler. This method works very well if you have a flexible menu and want to choose what to cook each day. It makes it easier to find what you're looking for, and keeps you from spending lots of time searching with the lid open while your precious ice melts away.
The other method to packing multiple coolers involves putting all the food for day one in one cooler, all the food for day two in another, and so on. On longer trips, this can be combined so that one cooler holds days 1-3, another holds days 4-6, and so on. This method works very well for longer or hotter trips where you're concerned about your ice lasting the whole time. By leaving that day 6-8 cooler closed until day 6, you preserve most of the ice in that cooler.
How do you keep food dry in a cooler?
Nobody likes pulling things out of a cooler that have been sitting in water for two days. Soggy food can take that delicious meal you were planning and turn it into a slimy mess. One option is to drain the water from your coolers. This is a heated debate amongst cooler packing nerds.
You can also create a platform out of plywood cut to fit into the bottom of the cooler and propped up on stands can keep your food out of the puddle. There are also cooler hanging baskets options as well. Frozen water bottles/jugs area great way to keep your cooler dry and also can be used as drinking water once melted.
Space Saving Tips
If space is limited, it's often helpful to remove food from the packaging it comes in. Boxes and large, air-filled bags take up unnecessary space in your cooler. I also like to pre-cook things and put them in Tupperware. Not everything needs to be packed in a cooler. Items like ketchup, mustard, bell peppers, and eggs might be refrigerated at home but can to be packed into a dry box. Having a separate cooler or drag bag for drinks also helps with space and helps your ice last longer.
Food shopper - designate a person, or two, that shops from coolers
Keep cooler in the shade - do what ever you can to keep cooler in the shade
Frozen food - if it can be frozen freeze it before putting in in your cooler
Covers - wet burlap or even a paco pad can help keep your cooler from baking in the sun
Comment below with your favorite cooler, or other tips and tricks for cooler packing!