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How to Keep Food Cold While Camping (13 Effective Tips)

Whether you love to camp in the woods or beside a refreshing body of water, camping is something that helps you de-stress. Add to this some fantastic food, and you are all set for a great camping experience. 

However, keeping your food fresh and cold can be challenging. This article will show you how to keep food cold while camping, so your food won’t go to waste.

Luckily, there are several tips you can use to keep your food cold for a long time. So, without further ado, let us check out the tried and true methods that work well to keep food cold. 

Freeze Your Meals in Advance

One of the first things you can do is freeze your meals ahead of time. Freezing the meals in advance is a great way to ensure that your food will stay fresh longer. 

However, you should keep in mind that not all ingredients can be frozen. So, try your best to freeze whatever you can before you start your journey. 

Freezing your food extends the life of your perishable items for a long time. Some food items that freeze well and can be carried to your campsite include:

  • Cooked or raw meat
  • Fruit
  • Butter
  • Blanched vegetables
  • Cookies
  • Milk and yogurt

A word of caution, let your food cool down before you put it in the freezer. Then, make sure you wrap it up properly to avoid freezer burns. 

Start with a Cold Cooler

One mistake most campers make is to place their food in a cooler that hasn’t been cooled in advance. 

Simply throwing your food and some ice into the cooler won’t keep your food cold for long. The key is to bring down the temperature of the cooler before you start packing the food. 

Blue Igloo cooler on the floor

Get a bag filled with some crushed ice and place it inside the cooler and allow it to sit for a couple of hours before you pack your food. Open the cooler after an hour or two and check if it has cooled down. 

If it hasn’t reached your desired temperature, add some more ice until it does.

Of course, some of the ice may have melted, so it’s essential to refresh the cooler with new ice before packing your food for the trip. Then, finally, pack all the food you need into the cooler. 

Starting with a cold cooler will help keep the ice and food colder, longer.

Use Dry Ice

Instead of placing ice inside the cooler, you can replace it with dry ice to keep things colder longer. Before doing that, make sure you wrap up the food and dry ice with butcher paper or newspaper.

This ensures that there is no damage to the icebox or the food. 

When using dry ice, safety is a must. Don’t touch the dry ice with your bare hands. You must wear high-quality gloves when handling dry ice.

Also, you need to keep in mind that dry ice releases carbon dioxide, and it can be dangerous when inhaled. So, even at the campsite, store your dry ice cooler away from the tent, children, and pets. 

Buy Ice Packs

If you hate the mess created by melting ice cubes, ice packs are a great way to keep food cold when you are camping. Moreover, ice packs can be reused the next time you plan a camping trip. 

Most ice packs are crafted from non-toxic materials and keep your food fresh for as long as 48 hours. However, the time span can vary depending on the surrounding temperature. 

Ice packs to keep food cold while camping

If those pice packs do not fit your budget, you can create your very own DIY ice packs for your upcoming camping trip. Simply fill in a ziplock freezer bag with water. 

Make sure you don’t fill it to the brim, or the water might leak out of it. Then, put these water-filled ziplock bags in the freezer, and then once they are frozen, put them in the cooler with your food. 

Also, ice packs can be used as a first-aid item if anyone gets a booboo.

Use Frozen Water Bottles

Another creative way to keep your food cold when camping is to use frozen water bottles. It might seem tempting to pick up some bags on your way, but ice bags tend to melt very quickly and might leak into your food. Nobody wants soggy food when they are camping.

Frozen water bottles can be used to keep food cold while camping

While ice packs are great for shorter camping trips, frozen water bottles are excellent for longer journeys. Using frozen water bottles can help keep the food fresh and cold for a long time. 

Moreover, you will have a lot of fresh and chilled water to consume once the ice in the bottle starts to melt. 

Keep Your Cooler Out of the Sun

The first thing you need to do when you reach your campsite is to find a shady spot to keep the cooler. Direct sunlight can heat up the cooler and cause the food to warm up very fast. 

You might have to move your cooler to different locations depending on the sun’s position throughout the day. 

A location that is shaded at 8 am in the morning might experience blazing sun at 11 am. So, keep that in mind while you enjoy camping. To add to the insulation of the cooler, you can cover it with the help of a tarp or blanket. 

Invest in a High-Quality Cooler

Before you practice any of the tips above, the first thing you need to do is head over to your local big-box store and invest in a high-quality cooler. 

A cheaply-made cooler might seem like an ideal investment for a camping trip but might not last very long. Think for the long term. Your cheap cooler won’t keep the food cold regardless of how much ice you use throughout the trip. 

There are often a ton of options when it comes to choosing a cooler. For example, you can choose from a high-end cooler to cheap-priced styrofoam.

You might also choose to invest in fiberglass or electric coolers that can be hooked up to your car battery. 

Some high-end coolers feature additional shelves, thermometers, wheels, handles, and drainage plugs.

The cooler that fits your needs may vary depending on several factors, including your budget, camping duration, or personal preference. Steel and fiberglass coolers help keep the food cold for multiple days. 

A cheap styrofoam cooler may seem appealing because it is lightweight and easy to carry, but it won’t keep ice and food cold like a high-end model. 

Regardless, you need to ensure that the cooler has proper insulation and keeps the food fresh and cold for the entirety of the camping trip. 

Don’t Drain the Cooler

As the ice melts inside the cooler throughout the day, you might have an urge to drain it all out. However, you don’t have to do it right away. The melted, cold water will still help maintain the temperature inside the cooler. 

You don’t necessarily have to drain out the water as long as you haven’t kept any unwrapped food in the cooler. 

Organize the Cooler for Efficiency

When camping, you don’t want to spend the entire day unpacking and re-packing the cooler just to get one thing. Moreover, opening the cooler frequently will let all the cold air out.

To avoid this from happening, make sure your cooler is organized and tightly packed. 

  • Start by laying out the first layer using crushed ice or a block of ice. It is recommended that you use an ice block if the trip is longer than a few days. 
  • In the second layer, layout your cold or frozen meat. Ensure that the meat is kept inside sealed packages. Doing this ensures that the food doesn’t get contaminated as the ice starts to melt. 
  • If your cooler is big with enough space, layer out more ice above the meat layer. 
  • Now, place all your dairy products on top of this ice layer.
  • If you have any other food items to store within the cooler, place them in the next layer. Make sure the food is properly sealed in a ziplock bag or container. 
  • Ensure that the top layer has food items that are consumed more often, like condiments, drinks, snacks, or sandwiches. 

So, if you were wondering how to keep food cold while camping, this is the way to do it.

Pack the Cooler Tightly

Once you are done packing the cooler with all your essentials, you need to check for any open space. If there are empty pockets in the cooler, fill them up with ice. 

Doing this ensures that the vacant spaces do not warm up. If your cooler isn’t packed tightly, there is more space for warm air to pass throughout and spoil the food. 

Get some extra ice packs or frozen water bottles to ensure you leave no space vacant. 

Block of Ice vs. Bags of Ice

It is recommended that you place a block of ice inside your cooler when the trip is longer. Ice blocks tend to melt slowly as opposed to crushed ice. 

Ice cubes in an ice bin

The ice will melt faster with an ice bag, given its exposure to warm air from outside. However, with a block of ice, the core is insulated and protected from the heat from the outside.

This helps keep your food cold for longer, and the ice melts pretty slowly in comparison. 

Double Wrap Meat

Taking meat can be a challenge when you go camping as it tends to spoil quickly. However, who doesn’t want meat when you go camping?

One thing you can do is use aluminum foil or freezer bags to wrap your meat. Doing this will prevent the liquids from the frozen meat from getting into other food items as the meat starts to thaw. 

Keep a Thermometer Inside Your Cooler

A great way to make sure your food stays cold and fresh is to keep a thermometer inside the cooler. This ensures that you can monitor any drop in the cooler’s temperature. Get a standard fridge thermometer and place it inside the cooler. 

These thermometers are pocket-friendly and give you readings between -40°F to 120°F.

When you are opening the cooler to get to your food, check the temperature. Don’t open the cooler every few hours just to see the temperature, as cold air will escape. 

If you see the temperature rising, try to get some fresh ice packs if available in the area. If not, try to eat the food that will spoil the soonest.

Conclusion

One of the most fun parts of camping is eating great food. There are three steps to keep your food cold while camping. 

First, make sure you’re using a cooler that’s large enough for all of the food and drinks you’ll be bringing with you on your trip. 

Next, fill it up with ice or other cooling material such as dry ice. Finally, pack your items in the order they need to be eaten first, so everything stays fresh until it’s time to eat. 

These simple tips should help ensure no one goes hungry during their next camping adventure. In addition, be sure to have a backup plan and bring plenty of non-perishable food items as well.

Let us know if you have any questions or comments below.

Steve and Kris
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Steve and Kris are avid campers, outdoor lovers, and founders of Camp S'more Worry Less. When they are not camping, they enjoy other outdoor activities, including fishing, kayaking, and hiking with their family. Read more.

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