1. If possible, pre-chill your cooler. This may mean storing it in an open freezer overnight if you have access to it. If not, put a few ice packs in it overnight. Close it tightly. Then when you go to use it the next day, the inside of the cooler is already cold.
2. The most important thing to consider when packaging the cooler: COLD AIR SINKS! This means that the things you want to keep cold the longest go in first. For a typical camping trip, that means frozen solids that you won't be using until later in the trip - frozen meat, vegetables, sweets, and stuff like that. It goes to the bottom.
3. Sprinkle frozen water bottles between these items at the bottom for maximum cooling. They will keep the cold and fill the space. Cold material filled with refrigerant stays cold better, thanks to much more openings than a partially filled cooler has space to accommodate hot air each time it is opened. Another advantage of frozen water bottles is that you can drink them after thawing.
4. Your primary ice goes just above frozen items and water bottles. Large chunks of ice melt slower than cubes, so use block ice whenever possible. A few large blocks with frozen water bottles filling the gaps are ideal.
5. Food that you will want to reach more often comes on top of the bulk ice. Condiments, hot dogs, cheese, butter, eggs, bacon, milk, etc. -things that go in and out several times a day.
6. This is a little-known but important trick. Put some kind of insulating mat over this base layer. It could be a piece of wool blanket, an old foam sleeping pad, or something similar. It should be cut or folded to fit as customarily as possible inside your cooler. Then, when you open the lid to get something, lift the insulation mat high enough to find what you're after. When you're done, put the mat back in place. You won't believe how much of a difference this makes in keeping the cold in and the heat out.
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