Using two coolers is the best arrangement. Use one for beverages that will be opened more frequently and one for foodstuffs that will be opened less often. Food will stay fresh much longer packed in a separate cooler. Match cooler sizes to the size of the group and the amount of time you plan to be out. If you’re camping, a 54-quart cooler should provide ample room to store food for two or three people for two days, especially if meals prepared later in your outing are made from canned or dried ingredients

Packing a cooler to maximize efficiency doesn’t require a degree in rocket science, but a good game plan and common sense will ensure that goods stay fresh and ice lasts as long as possible. Try these helpful tips:


  • Prechill drinks and foods – Ice lasts longer when items in a cooler are already cold. For instance, a six-pack or a gallon of liquid at room temperature melts about 1 1/2 pounds of ice just to cool down. Prechill coolers by placing a few ice cubes inside an hour or so before loading your cold beverages and food.


  • Put ice in last – Cold air travels down. Load cans and bottles first, then cover with ice for maximum cold-keeping.


  • Use crushed or block ice – Crushed ice cools food and drinks fast; block ice lasts longer. As an alternative to block ice, prefreeze drinking water or juices in clean milk jugs. They’ll help keep foods cold and provide a handy source of cold beverages as they thaw.


  • Put foods in “chronological” order – Pack foods that will be consumed last on the bottom and work upward, storing first-used and often-used items on top. Store perishable foods like meat and dairy products directly on ice. Keep foods dry by using sealed plastic containers or zip-closure plastic bags.


  • Keep coolers out of the sun – Ice lasts as much as twice as long in the shade. To keep warm air out and cold air in, open the lid only when necessary and close it right away. While traveling, pack picnic blankets, sleeping bags or clothing around the cooler to insulate it even more.


  • Don’t drain cold water – Water from just-melted ice keeps contents cold almost as well as ice and preserves the remaining ice much better than air space. Drain the water only when necessary for convenient removal of cooler contents or before adding more ice.