How to Keep Food Cold While Camping

Camping is one of the most enjoyable activities. Whether in large or small groups, as a pair or individually, it is one of the best escapes.

From casual camper to bushcraft experts, the United States provides one of the most diverse choices for this outdoor adventure.

Every camper will tell you that one of the highlights of any camping trip is an open fire and roasting food.

Man Pouring Ice

There is just something cooked on a campfire that seems to make anything more delicious to eat. Avid campers can also get quite creative with what they cook.

Most camping trips will last a day or two but could even stretch to a week. The longer the trip, how to keep food cold while camping becomes more of a concern. Spoilage is often the cause of a bum stomach while in the outdoors and can ruin the fun.

How to keep food cold when camping is not difficult, as long as you have the proper equipment. Planning also plays a role when making sure you eat safe, fresh food. It also all depends on your preferred method of keeping food safe to eat.

Having a Meal Plan and Strategy

There are many ways to keep food cold. Dry ice for camping is one option. It is carbon dioxide in solid form, so be very careful and handle it with care (more on this later in the article). It is recommended that a dry ice pack is situated on top as the cool air tends to settle low in a compartment. (Read What to Do While Camping)

Unlike regular ice that melts into liquid, dry ice will turn to gas (a sublimation process). Dry ice emits a fantastic amount of cooling capacity and can last much longer than regular ice.

How to Pack a Cooler with Dry Ice

Fortunately, you may use any cooler with dry ice. Whether it be made of Styrofoam or a more expensive insulated model is perfectly fine, as long as it has a ventilation system.

Regardless of your cooler type, try to eliminate space areas since this will make dry ice sublimate faster. To make it last longer, fill spaces with newspaper or Styrofoam blocks.

Allow the drainage cap on the cooler to be loose. Since dry ice sublimates, gas can accumulate within the cooler.

Leaving the lid a bit open prevents damage. If you have a roto-molded or plastic cooler, leave the drainage cap a little unscrewed. The gas that cannot release will result in pressure build-up, weakening the plastic.

Opening and Closing a Cooler

Need I also say that your cooler should be closed? The opening of coolers happens too often. Pulling the lid open releases the cold out, allowing warm air to get in. Plan what you will take out or place inside, so the opening is minimized.

Ideally, I recommend that you open your cooler once or twice a day. A good schedule is in the morning when it is least warm, getting breakfast and lunch meals for the day.

Baby Open Cooler

Dry Ice Cooler Tips

Be forewarned that dry ice is exceptionally cold. Protective leather or gloves are a must-have to avoid freezer burn. Adults would be well advised to keep kids away from dry ice to avoid unwanted harm or accidents.

Since dry ice sublimates (rather than melts), turning into vapor, it reverts to its original form, carbon dioxide gas. While not inherently hazardous, the absence of adequate ventilation in a closed space (like a vehicle) could result in shortness of breath and even blacking out in extreme cases. Place your dry ice cooler in a well-ventilated area at the campsite or in your vehicle.

Carbonated drinks should not store with dry ice as they could explode.

Before placing dry ice in a cooler, I always wrap it in a few sheets of towels, newspaper, or I may put it in a brown paper bag. By doing this, I am taking extra precaution that it will not be accidentally touched. This practice not only avoids freezer burn but also adds extra insulation, which makes it last longer.

Proximity plays a role in dry ice as food items nearer. It will be colder. Hence, arrange food and drinks in an order in which you desire coldest to warmest.

Another trick to situating dry ice in a cooler is to keep the frozen food below (since cold settles to the lower area).

For convenience purposes, you could also place food on top. For functional cooler usage, place food on top that you will cook or first (or that needs chilling rather than freezing), and place the food you wish to use later on your trip on the bottom side of the dry ice (which will likely freeze).

Further Meal Planning

Besides having cooler techniques to keep your food always cold and fresh, there are still other strategies. One is to make sure that raw food like meat or poultry is already frozen before your trip. This way, your cooler can be just on maintenance mode.

Another thing I do that helps so much is freezing food in anticipated portions. This way, once you bring out something to cook, you do not unnecessarily thaw what you will not be eating. What comes out of the cooler is only what you need for the day.

Other Meal Options

Finally, there are many other options where you can avoid the issue of keeping food cold altogether. The first is to bring canned goods. Many seasoned campers and bush crafters do this when they want less fuss about eating. Another popular option is dehydrated foods like noodles and hearty soups.

At any rate, if keeping food cold and frozen is your thing, there are many options available to you. Other than dry ice, there is regular ice that you can use too. There are also sophisticated coolers that run on many different power sources that you can choose. (Read A Parent’s Guide to Camping with Kids)

Remember that to avoid any food poisoning situations, keeping fresh, perishable food cold or frozen is something you cannot compromise. Oh, and make sure that on your camping trip, you bring an empty stomach!

How to Keep Food Cold While Camping