Aug 05, 2023

The Cooler Lid Hack That Will Keep Ice Cold All Day

Packing a cooler is serious business. Not only is your cooler the key to keeping beverages cold for your tailgate party or camping trip, but it's also often the primary source of refrigeration for perishable foods. Sandwiches, meats for grilling, and cheese should be kept below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent foodborne illness, according to the USDA. When it comes to keeping a cooler cold, "air is the enemy," according to Yeti. A homemade second lid (of sorts) will keep the cold air in the cooler when you open the main lid, and you can slide your hand under the pad or open just a corner to get out the things you need. All you need is some foam padding or a roll of two-sided reflective insulation, and a pair of sharp scissors.

When you're out enjoying a picnic or spending a day on the boat, there's nothing worse than a warm cooler full of melted ice. The drinks get warm, sandwiches get gross (especially those with mayonnaise), and the whole cooler becomes a heavy useless object to be dragged back to the car. If you're heading out for a long afternoon, overnight, or any occasion where you'll be relying on the cooler for several hours, you can keep food and drinks cooler for much longer if you make a second layer of temperature protection.

Whenever you open the lid of a cooler, you're exposing the insides to warm air. You have to open the lid throughout the day, of course (otherwise, what's the point of bringing the cooler in the first place?). You can cut down on temperature loss, however, by cutting out an insulated pad to place on top of your food. The pad will keep warm air from spilling into the cooler when you open the lid, and you'll only need to move a small part of the pad each time you reach in to get what you need.

Any sort of flexible, waterproof, insulating material works well for a cooler pad, especially double-reflective insulation, which you can get at the hardware store for less than $10 a roll. If you have an old yoga mat laying around, that works great, too. To cut the right size pad, measure the length and width of the opening of your cooler and draw a rectangle that is a ½-inch smaller on each side than the opening on a large piece of paper to make a pattern (butcher paper works great).

Tape the pattern to the insulation and cut it out with a pair of sharp scissors. If your cooler has rounded corners, you can clip them off to make the pad fit — that's all there is to it.

Once you have your pad cut and ready to go, pack your cooler tightly, making sure that there's no air inside the cooler, and pop the pad on top before you close the lid. When you're ready to grab a cold drink, leave the pad on top when you open the lid, just snake your hand underneath or flip a few inches to the side. If you're handy with a pair of scissors, you can even make a double-layer pad with "flaps" by cutting one layer in half along the width and gluing the two pieces to the other layer to make a hinge in the middle. Just leave about a ¼ inch of space between the two cut pieces when you're gluing them to the top layer.

If you use a cooler pad you should find that your food stays cold much longer, even if you don't have the money to spend on an expensive high-density cooler. If you're cooler shopping, however, remember that bigger isn't always better. It's important to keep a cooler full to keep the air out, so unless you're feeding a big family, choose a smaller model so that you don't end up with a lot of extra space.

With a little strategic packing — and your new cooler pad — you'll never have to worry about warm sandwiches or spoiled hot dogs again.