Cookouts, camping trips, days at the beach — they're all fun and games until you pop open the lid of your cooler and find a sea of mostly melted ice, soggy sandwiches, and questionably spoiled potato salad. It's the kind of disappointment that can send you from hangry to straight-up seeing red, ready to stomp on sandcastles and react to even the simplest questions with a kind of vitriol normally seen only on a Real Housewives reunion special.
It's time to squash that frustration before it happens. These clever cooler hacks will help you avoid a less-than-desirable lunch — and ensure that a party foul doesn't ruin your fun.
1. Line Your Cooler Like This.
Reflectix, an aluminized bubble wrap, is often used to insulate homes, but some campers swear by it to keep the inside of their coolers even cooler — especially if you keep opening and closing the tub every 10 minutes (which, if you're hosting a party, is more like every three minutes). One blogger went all-out lining her cooler with the stuff, and said she still had ice on hand on day three of her road trip.
You can find it at most home repair stores or on Amazon.
2. Bust Out the Big Balloons.
Larger ice takes longer to melt, which is what makes this hack so brilliant: Fill and freeze water balloons, then nestle them around the drinks and food you need to keep cool. Once the balloons have totally thawed, you've got all the ammo you need for an epic water balloon fight. (Just don't start before the ice has fully melted, unless you're some kind of monster.)
Make things even easier using Bunch O' Balloons or a similar product, which lets you fill up a ton of water balloons at once.
3. Or Create Your Own Ice Block.
If water balloons aren't your style, you could also create one massive block of ice to store in the center of the cooler, using an airtight plastic container, like a Snapware box. Fill it with ice, freeze it, and place the entire container in the center of your cooler, arranging the food around it. When it melts, it won't gush water all over your goods. Put the most perishable items closest to the ice block, Starling Travel recommends.
4. Create a Dry Zone.
Sometimes, you need a layer of added protection, separating your beloved Publix subs (or whatever you're eating that day) from ice, drinks, and other things that could turn your lunch into a squishy, soggy mess. Once your ice and libations are packed, place a layer of cooling racks on top of them, then add your meant-to-stay-dry foods. They'll stay cool — and intact.
5. Upgrade Your Wheels.
Make like it's 2002 and pimp your ride. And by "ride," we mean rolling cooler. Instructables has a complete tutorial for adding a set of supersized, heavy-duty wheels that can glide easily over sand, rocks, and gravelly parking lots.
6. Go for the Glow.
As your party rages on into the night, bust out some glow sticks and add them to the cooler itself, so when you open the lid, not only will there be a majestic glow — you can see what the heck's in there without fumbling for your cell's flashlight feature.
7. Transport Eggs the Easy Way.
If you're camping and want to whip up an omelet the next morning, skip the carton of fresh eggs and try this hack instead: Clean out a water bottle or other plastic container, put a funnel on top, and crack eggs into it. You can use a Sharpie to mark how much liquid is in the container with every 2-3 eggs, making it easy to pour out just enough to make a three-egg omelet, or a single-egg scramble.
8. Make Every Inch Matter.
Use stick-on Velcro strips to attach a gallon-sized plastic bag to the inside of the cooler's lid. In it, you can store light, easy-to-forget essentials, like napkins, straws, cutlery, and even hand sanitizer. One Good Thing by Jillee shows you how it's done.
9. Stop Second-Guessing Yourself.
Sticking a mini thermometer on the inside of your cooler can help you gauge how warm your food's getting — and when you're better off tossing that egg salad, so you don't toss your cookies later.
10. Seal Things Off.
If you really, really want to keep things cool for as long as possible, you can also buy a thin sheet of foam — or trim an old yoga mat you've scrubbed clean — and lay it on top of the food as an extra bit of insulation. Doing that, and keeping the cooler out of direct sunlight, can help everything stay chill, so you can be, too.