Have you ever gotten food poisoning?
If you haven’t, good for you! But know, it is something you want to avoid at all costs!
The risk of food poisoning is higher when on a camping trip since there isn’t proper refrigeration in the outdoors.
That’s why I’ve put together a quick list of 12 tips on how to keep food cold when camping.
- Don’t Bring Perishable Food
- Invest in a High-End Cooler
- Bring Two Coolers
- Prep and Freeze Your Meals Before You Go
- Get Bags of Ice
- Make Homemade Ice Packs
- Freeze 90% of the Water You’re Bringing
- Organize Your Cooler
- Keep Your Cooler Out of the Sun at the Campsite
- Use Evaporative Cooling for Your Produce
- Pack Some Dry Ice
- Bring Backup Meals Such as Freeze-Dried Dinners
Keep reading to learn how to implement each of these methods and keep your camping food fresh the entire time…
How to Keep Food Cold Camping – 12 Tips
1. Don’t Bring Perishable Food
Simple, right? Still, it can be difficult living without a fresh meal for a few days in the outdoors.
While fresh meat and dairy will go bad quickly without refrigeration, there are alternative foods you can bring to the campsite to get your protein fix.
For meat, you can always opt for summer sausage or beef jerky.
As for the cheeses, you’ll want to avoid any “young,” soft cheese like mozzarella or brie.
Instead, bring a firm, aged cheese like cheddar or gouda. When I’m camping with my wife, I like to bring some crackers and wine too!
2. Invest In A High-End Cooler
It may seem pointless to spend a few hundred dollars on a quality cooler, but they do keep your food cold longer and safe to eat.
The more expensive camping coolers tend to have thicker walls and better insulation than Styrofoam coolers, which helps prevent ice from melting.
While I don’t tend to bring too many perishable food items to the campsite, our Yeti Tundra Haul Cooler joins us on most camping trips.
Leaving it in the back of my Subaru Outback and opening it about every few hours, the ice inside stays solid for about 3-4 days.
3. Bring Two Coolers
If you have enough room, consider packing two separate coolers: one to keep your food cool and a cooler for drinks.
Since drinks tend to be consumed more frequently, it only makes sense to keep the two separated.
This way, you’ll prevent any warm air from spoiling your food when all you need is a cold drink!
Related: Camping 101 for Beginners
4. Prepare and Freeze Your Meals Beforehand
Your meal planning will benefit from this nifty trick to transport your camping dinner!
By freezing meats, vegetables and other perishables, you are able to store them longer.
If you are camping in a location far away from home, choose frozen food items at the grocery store as opposed to the fresh section.
5. Get Some Ice
The easiest way to fill a cooler with ice is by going to the local gas station and grabbing one of those 20 lb. frozen blocks of ice. You know, the ones you have to slam on the ground ten times to break up into loose ice cubes.
6. Make Your Own Homemade Ice Packs
Instead of going to the store to buy those weird blue gel flexible ice packs, you should already have most of the ingredients in your home to make them yourself.
If you are looking for a flexible ice pack, freeze dish soap in Ziploc plastic freezer bags like the video below…
If you would like a rigid ice pack, you can soak sponges in water, then throw them in the freezer.
7. Freeze 90% of Your Water
If you don’t want to create an ice pack, freeze most of the water that you plan on bringing to the campsite.
The frozen water bottles will serve as a temporary ice pack, and once thawed, you have cold water to drink!
8. Organize Your Cooler
Pack your food cooler tight. The less empty space, the longer it will stay cold.
As for how to pack your cooler:
- Start with a bottom layer of ice.
- Next goes any foods that you have frozen.
- On top of that, another layer of ice packs.
- Finally, place the rest of your items on top and sprinkle in some ice cubes to fill in the gaps.
9. Pay Attention to Where You Place Your Coolers
I know it might sound obvious but try to keep you cooler in the shade if possible. Just like your car turns into an oven in direct sunlight, so does your cooler.
10. Use Evaporative Cooling For Produce
Interestingly enough, you don’t need a cooler to keep produce fresh on your camping trip.
By utilizing a technique known as “evaporative cooling,” fruits and vegetables can last days without refrigeration. Here’s how:
- Add the produce to a porous sack (burlap, mesh, etc.) and wet the entire bag.
- Hang it in a shady area with a breeze.
- When the sack dries, simply wet it again (usually 2-3 times per day).
11. If All Else Fails, Use Dry Ice Packs
If conventional methods aren’t working for you, try dry ice packs to keep your cooler cold.
At -109℉, the frozen carbon dioxide will keep your food cold for at least a couple of days.
Dry ice is not something you can pick up at the gas station, so ask Google to find your local suppliers.
The video below is a great example of how to use dry ice for camping…
Before you place the dry ice in your cooler, wrap it in newspaper and place it on the bottom.
Put cardboard on top of your dry ice and then a layer of cubed ice.
From there you can start packing your cooler with all your delicious camping foods!
12. Always (And I Mean Always) Bring Backups
Even if you follow all of these tips perfectly, problems can arise. Plan for all possibilities by packing plenty of extra food and water that will not spoil.
A great option that only requires boiling water is freeze-dried meals. Everyone has different taste buds, so you might have to try a few before you find the ones you like.
I always carry a couple of CLIF bars and a water filter (like this one from LifeStraw) with me to the campsite.
If I don’t need them, that’s fine, but they could literally be lifesavers.
Wrapping It Up…
Experiencing the outdoors should be about spending time with your loved ones and soaking in the serenity of nature. Not worrying whether your food is going to spoil.
Improperly storing your meals may lead to some serious health problems.
With a little experience following these tips on how to keep your food cold camping you might save not only the food but your entire camping trip from turning rotten!