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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 your food spoiling 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 while 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
Continue reading to learn how to implement each of these methods to keep food cool while camping…
12 Ways to Keep Food Fresh Camping
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!
PRO TIP: If you do decide to go with dried meats and firm cheeses, consume plenty of water since these products are high in sodium.
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.
Plus, a quality cooler can help you keep food from freezing when you go camping in the winter. You might as well get as much bang for your buck year round!
PRO TIP: Keep a thermometer inside your well-insulated cooler to ensure that the temperature remains around 40℉.
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!
PRO TIP: If you have a large chest freezer at home, consider freezing the coolers beforehand. This will give them a head start at keeping your drinks and food cold. You can even put a couple of frozen gallons of water in a separate cooler to prep it before your trip.
4. Prepare and Freeze Your Meals Beforehand
Your best bet to keep your food cold in a cooler for two days or more is to prepare and freeze your meals before you leave. 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.
PRO TIP: Cook your food in advance and then freeze them. You’ll be able to reheat the frozen meals over the campfire and not have to worry about any contamination.
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.
PRO TIP: If giant bags of ice is your only option, make sure all your meals are in leak-proof freezer bags. That way, when the ice melts, your food doesn’t get soggy.
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.
PRO TIP: To lower the freezing point of water, add a bit of salt or alcohol to your ice pack liquid mixture.
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!
PRO TIP: Don’t freeze all of your water in case you need it for an emergency.
8. Organize Your Cooler
Pack your food cooler tight. The less empty space, the longer it will stay cold. Here are 4 tips to help you organize your camping 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.
PRO TIP: Place what you will be eating first on the top of the cooler, that way you won’t have to dig deep into the ice. Plus, your other frozen foods will have less contact with the warm air.
9. Pay Attention to Where You Place Your Coolers
I know it might sound obvious, but the best way to keep your cooler cold camping is to place it in the shade if possible. Just like your car turns into an oven in direct sunlight, so does your cooler.
PRO TIP: For an extra layer of protection, drape a sheet or blanket over the cooler to help keep the sun’s rays from beating down on it.
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).
PRO TIP: You can also dig a hole in the ground at the campsite to store produce, but I’m not a fan of this method, since insects in my food really bug me.
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!
PRO TIP: Use dry ice with extreme caution. Always handle while wearing insulated gloves.
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 with your camp kitchen essentials.
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.
Our go-to freeze dried meals to take camping are…
- Peak Refuel (I like Chicken Pesto Pasta)
- Mountain House Adventure Meals (Creamy Mac and Cheese is my favorite)
- Readywise Adventure Meals (Veggie Chili is tasty… if you haven’t noticed, I like chili and pasta)
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.
PRO TIP: Not just for camping, but in case of any emergency, always keep a gallon of water and some non-perishable snacks like trail mix in your car.
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 food cold while camping, you might save not only the food but your entire camping trip from turning rotten!