I know it sounds simple enough, grab a cooler and throw a bunch of crap in it, add ice, done. The fact is, there is a little bit of a science to properly packing a cooler to optimize your festival from start to finish.
Get The Right Cooler
Cooler technology has come a long way in the last several years and it is awesome how long the newer coolers can keep things cold. There are so many options these days but we have found the Hydro Flask coolers to be the perfect combination of the right cost, features, and quality.
There are a ton of options out there these days but, regardless of which brand you get, or already have, the below tips should help you make the most out of your cooler.
Prep For Packing
When packing your cooler for the festival road trip you will want to get everything that you plan on putting in the cooler and the cooler itself as cold as possible before hitting the road.
Typically what we will do is place the items that we can freeze into the freezer, other items should go in the fridge rather than being left out at room temperature. Also, filling your Nalgene bottles to about 90% with water and then freezing them is a great way to help keep things cool and get some ice cold water over the next day or so.
If your cooler is small enough or your fridge is big enough you will want to put it in the fridge or freezer if you can to cool it down. If your cooler has been sitting outside or in the garage for the last several days or weeks and you throw a bunch of ice in it, it will melt much faster as it is fighting to cool down the cooler itself in addition to your goodies.
If your cooler won’t fit in the fridge I would recommend putting it in front of an ac vent overnight so the cool air blowing on it will cool it down a good bit, making it stay colder longer.
Freeze What You Can
As mentioned above, if you have the freezer space, you can freeze a few Nalgene bottles and put those in the cooler in place of ice to keep your items cold for the drive.
This saves you money on ice for the beginning of the trip and also allows you to have super cold water. Water frozen in bottles will not melt as fast as ice, buying you some time with materials you already have.
Ice Packs have also been a game changer for us. These last much longer than ice and are reusable. If you want ice for your beverages then combining the two is the way to go. We have several of these ice packs from Hydro Flask and they are amazing.
Gather The Goodies
Now that you have prepped your cooler and the goodies the day before it is now time to gather up everything you are putting in the cooler. If you have beer, sodas, waters, Gatorade, and food, for example, take a few of each of the drinks and pack those. This way you can have a little of everything cold and ready to drink.
Don’t fill your cooler with beer and leave the rest in the floorboard of the car. Put the beers on the bottom and the non-alcohol drinks towards the top. If you pack the cooler in the back seat of the car you can reach in a grab cold drinks during the road trip so you want the non-alcoholic drinks to be the easiest to grab.
This method also keeps the beer ice cold at the bottom of the cooler so you can pop a cold one when you safely arrive at your festival.
As far as food goes, there are some items that have no problem rolling around in a cooler but for most, you need to keep them separated from the general population. It has taken me too many failed experiments to remember to put food either in a separate cooler or a special container.
Here’s an example of why: Let’s say you buy a bunch of cheese to make delicious camp-side grilled cheeses. You open the cheese, use a few slices, and throw the cheese back in the cooler. The next day it is likely your cheese is nothing but a soggy pile of cheese looking crap.
There may be one or two usable slices and the rest is yucky. All you have to do to prevent this problem is to pack your food in Tupperware containers or dry bags. If you have space you can put it in a separate cooler all together and just use multiple freezer packs to keep it cold.
Ice, Ice, Baby
During the weekend you will definitely have to fill up on more ice. Just remember when you get new ice bags to leave a little in the bag rather than pouring it all in the cooler.
This allows you to use the still bagged ice to make mixed drinks or whatever sort of cold drinks you want without having to use the dirty ice that everyone is sticking their nasty hands into.
Also, keeping the ice sealed and packed in the bag helps it last much longer than if it is all spread out. It’s science.
Keep the cooler in a shady spot so that it doesn’t melt as quickly. If you leave it in the car it will likely get super hot when your car turns into an over mid-afternoon, so pull it out and store it someplace cool if possible.
If you cooler is exposed, getting a small lock won’t keep out everyone, but could keep people from quickly snagging a beer on you.
If you do pack the cooler in your seats make sure and put a towel or tarp under it so you don’t get that awesome mildew smell by the end of your trip.
Save That Ice Cold Goodness
Once the ice melts and it’s all water, do not just dispose of this. Cold water can be an asset to you. Keep a little in the cooler to mix with the new ice and keep everything constantly cold.
If you drain the water out you can put it into containers and use if to wash dishes, clean off your feet, or anything else you may need extra non-drinking water for.
Having a little cold water in the bottom of the cooler can also be helpful for cooling you off at hot summer festivals. I like to dip bandannas or small towels into the water and throw them on the back of my neck or on my head to bring my temperature down a few notches.
Well we hope that this guide to packing your cooler for your next music festival adventure is useful. If you are prepping for your next music festival adventure, be sure to download the ultimate music festival packing list.