Planning a camping trip? You’ll want to know how to keep food cold while camping because it could make all the difference in whether you have a fabulous or miserable experience. Here are 13 icy cold tips to help you keep your food cold when camping.
Eating food that’s above 4 °C (40 °F) or lower poses the risk of food poisoning. And no one wants to get sick while camping.
So, let’s get started!
For food safety, your cooler should maintain a temperature of 4 °C (40 °F) or lower, according to Health Canada.
This is the single more important decision to keeping your food cold. Don’t buy a cheap cooler – no amount of ice will keep your food chilled during your trip.
There are lots of different types of coolers on the market, ranging from cheap styrofoam to high-end steel or fiberglass coolers and electric types that hook up to car batteries. Some of the more expensive kinds come with handy features like thermometers, shelves, handles, wheels and drainage plugs.
What type of cooler should you buy? This depends on factors like your budget, personal preference, and how long you plan on camping. Fiberglass and steel coolers are designed to keep food cool for several days, but styrofoam coolers weigh much lighter. This is something to consider if you plan on carrying one for long distances.
You should choose a cooler that is well insulated and will keep your food cool for the duration of your camping trip.
Keep reading because I’ve got more tips to show you how to keep food cool while camping no matter which cooler type you use.
2. Pre-chill your cooler
Don’t start your camping trip off with a lukewarm experience. Help your cooler keep your food cool longer by chilling it the night before or a few hours prior to your trip.
You can do this by filling it with a bag of loose ice or frozen ice packs. When you’re ready to travel, you can empty the cooler and transfer your refrigerated food to a pre-chilled environment as opposed to a room-temperature one.
If you have the space, you can put your whole cooler inside your deep freeze. This will help your ice last longer – because it only has to maintain the cool temperature instead of lowering it first.
Choose long-lasting ice
Sure, you can use the loose ice found at gas stations and grocery stores, but it will melt quickly, and then you’ll have a cooler full of water and soggy food items.
It’s best to use large blocks of ice that you place in the bottom of your cooler. Large ice blocks will take much longer to melt, keeping your food cool longer.
Even better, make your own ice blocks by freezing water in plastic water bottles or milk jugs about four days before your trip.
What about dry ice? If you’re camping in the United States, you can find dry ice at many grocery stores. This is a good option because it lasts the longest while also keeping your food dry, but it requires careful handling.
Dry ice will burn your skin and crack your cooler unless you first wrap it in newspaper. Also, don’t place any food items next to dry ice that you don’t want to be frozen because dry ice will freeze whatever is directly next to it.
Freeze your food
Kill two birds with one stone by freezing your food a few days ahead of your camping trip.
The frozen food can be used as ice blocks. Plus, your food will stay cold until you’re ready to cook it at your campsite.
Use ice packs
Use ice packs to help keep your food and drink items cool longer. You can buy manufactured ice packs online or at grocery and camping stores. These ice packs can be reused over and over again and stay cold for up to two days.
If you don’t want to spend any extra money, you can make your own ice packs by freezing water in ziplock freezer bags.
Frozen bags of vegetables also make good homemade ice packs. Plus, you can eat the contents when you get ready to cook them. Oh, and ice packs come in handy to reduce swelling if you get injured while camping!
Two coolers are better than one
If you have space, bringing two coolers on your camping trips is recommended to separate food from drinks.
Opening a cooler frequently will cause it to lose cool air quickly. So, when the kids keep going to the drink cooler for another drink, you can rest easy knowing the food is staying cold in the other cooler.
Pack your cooler tight, and pack it right!
When you’re camping, you don’t want to have to search through frozen food looking for a particular item. Neither do you want to open your cooler too frequently. So, to avoid all this, it’s best to pack your cooler the right way.
Begin your first layer with block ice or crushed ice. (Block ice is recommended if your trip is more than a couple of days).
Next, lay frozen or cold meat on the ice. Make sure that it is contained in sealed packages so that it doesn’t contaminate other foods when it defrosts.
If you have space, add another layer of ice on top of the meat.
Now add any dairy products you have directly on the ice.
Next is other food items that are in sealed in their own container or ziplock bag.
The top layer should be foods that will be consumed first or most often such as drinks, condiments, sandwiches and snacks.
After you have your food packed in the cooler, make sure that every air pocket is filled with an ice pack to keep cold air going downward to the bottom.
Keep your cooler in the shade
Once you arrive at your campsite, place your cooler in a shady spot, away from direct sunlight. You may occasionally need to move the cooler in different areas throughout the day as the sun moves across the sky.
For extra insulation, cover your cooler with a blanket or tarp.
Bring along non-perishable foods
Things like canned foods, protein bars, dried fruit, and trail mix as well as a gallon of fresh drinking water can all be stored without a cooler.
Don’t drain the cooler unnecessarily
Even after the ice melts in the cooler, the cold water continues to keep the food cold. As long as you have space, try not to drain the water from the cooler.
Freeze (most of) your drinking water
If you are car camping, you might decide to bring your drinking water.
Of course, you could just boil river water. But if you are bringing lots of ice, why not freeze water that you can drink when it thaws?
Cook your food before leaving
Cooking some of your camping food in advance will make it easier to manage your coolers. This can help some food keep longer. Not to mention how nice it is to have some food ready to go after setting up camp on your first day!
And if you freeze your prepped meals before leaving, they can also serve as cooling ice for the rest of your food.