How To Keep Food Cold When Camping: Best 10 Tips

Have you ever wondered how to keep food cold when camping? If so, you have landed on the right page.

We all love the experience of camping. It is as simple as that. You’ve got the right equipment and packed it in the boot of the car ready for a great weekend ahead. But one thing that many seem to forget is how to store your food and drinks properly, especially to avoid any unwanted illnesses that end up ruining your trip.

So, we’ve prepared a list of 10 things to do to keep your food cold when camping. 

1. You’ll need a cooler: try not to skimp out either

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has recommended that you store all foods at a temperature of 4 degrees Celsius (40f) or lower to ensure that it is safely stored. 

That’s why you will need to take a cooler. 

It doesn’t matter too much on the type of cooler that you get. Whether you go for a fibreglass or steel cooler which could keep your food and drinks cool for several days. Or you could go for a Styrofoam cooler which just tends to be a bit lighter. 

Essentially, you need one that will keep your food cool and regulated. Most cheap coolers don’t tend to last for too long – but the more expensive ones are designed to keep the temperature inside suitable. If your budget allows, you can buy a cooler that has an inner thermometer and regulator to ensure the safety of your food. 

2. Bring a Second cooler

Yes, that’s right. You’re more than likely going to need a second one. 

Having designated coolers for your foods and drinks is essential when spending a few days away from home camping. We’ll get onto it in a bit, but if you’re constantly going to your cooler for a drink, the opening and closing of the lid can affect the temperatures in your cooler. That is why you should have a separate cooler for each. 

In the first cooler, have all of your foods. It is best to layer multiple items on top of each other for easy access and put the essential items at the top to avoid rummaging around and leaving the cooler open for too long. 

Essentially, you want to minimize the amount of time the cooler is open and that’s why we suggest that you bring two. 

3. Keep it closed as much as possible

I’ve referred to it throughout, but it is super important that you don’t keep going to your cooler to open and close it. 

If you think of it scientifically (don’t worry, we won’t go into the nitty-gritty stuff) but the escaping of cold air and its replacement with warmer air means that the ice inside will melt in a shorter time. If the ice melts quicker, your food and drinks will not last as long.

That’s why we said earlier its best to have two containers; firstly, for your drinks because they should last enough for you to drink them cold. As you’re more likely to approach a container for drinks you’d open the cooler more often. If this was in the food container, it wouldn’t last as long and could lead to the spread of bacteria. And no-one wants that. 

4. Prepare your meals before you add them to the cooler

It’s safe to say that everyone likes a ready meal after a long day at work and you can’t be bothered to cook. But when it comes to camping it’s slightly different.

If you prepare your meals early on, it makes storing it far easier – so you don’t need to store mince separately from cold pasta when you can add it together. It helps with storage but not only that it will keep for longer. 

Always make sure to preheat your food before consuming, make sure that frozen meals or foods are set to rest at the bottom of the cooler (where it is coldest) so that it can remain frozen for longer. 


5. Dry Ice Packs Will Save Your Food

If you’re going for a longer trip, dry ice packs will be the one for you. You’ve already bought a great cooler that can insulate the air around it well, so all you need now is something to make it cold inside. This is where icepacks come in handy

Dry Ice Packs can last up to 3 days. yes! Not 3 hours like some of the cheap icepacks that you can buy, but days. This will keep your food and drinks cold for the whole trip.

Just make sure that you don’t cheap out on the price. When it comes to camping you get what you pay for. 

6. Think about where you place your cooler

It’s a bit of common sense really. Just don’t put your cooler with all your freshly cooled foods and drinks in the sun. As good as your cooler may be, the rays of the sun are probably more powerful and can melt your ice packs if left in the sun for too long. 

Just find some shade and place your cooler there. If you can’t find any shade for any reason, you can always place it inside your tent – hot weather tents are perfect for this because the layers should protect it from any heat. 

It is just about being sensible. Don’t put it anywhere that is too hot where the cooler may become warm. 

7. Perishables are great but try to avoid them

Fresh meat and vegetables may seem like great options when going on your trip. However, they tend to go bad rather quickly compared to other foods. 

That’s why we’d urge you to be careful and if you must bring them, then eat them quickly. You will also have to store them incredibly well. Bacteria tend to thrive in meats especially when not stored correctly, so if you want to stay safe then try to avoid. 

If you must eat meat, you can try other versions that tend to last a bit longer like beef jerky, beef sticks or biltong are great alternatives. 

8. Freeze a large bottle of water

If you freeze a 2l bottle of water at least a week before your trip and keep it in the freezer until you go, it will become a great form of healthy drinking water that could last you a while.

We suggest a larger bottle as it contains more volume and therefore it is harder to defrost over time. A smaller bottle could go from ice to water in less than 24 hours. 

A larger bottle will defrost over time, giving you super cold bits of water as it defrosts over time. Make sure to leave it in your cooler, and preferably at the bottom where the icepacks will be. 

9. Add Salt to Last Longer

You may have heard of pirates or men on boats soaking their foods in salt as a storage option. This is for a reason and many extreme campers will know this trick.

Essentially, if melting water mixes with salt it becomes colder than the ice itself. That means as it flows around the cooler, or when the water meets your food, it will keep it cold. 

That being said, don’t put too much salt in your foods; it just won’t taste very nice.

What we’re saying is that adding salt to your frozen water will keep the water frozen for longer. 

10. Always have a back-up plan

You should include a sort of emergency supply of food and water. 

If you’re left without food and water it can become rather dangerous, especially if something bad happens. 

That’s why we suggest you bring along plenty of non-perishable foods (like energy bars) and things like that for just in case

A large gallon of water will be sold in most stores and adds a great option in case you run out of freshwater. It doesn’t have to be too cold; water is water at the end of the day and only serves to hydrate you. 

How to keep food cold when camping: conclusion

We’re not telling you what you should or should not do. At the end of the day, it is your choice on what you bring. But you wouldn’t want to be enjoying the most amazing camping trip with picturesque views and energetic activities, for it to be ruined by some spoilt food. 

Just remember to be sensible when picking what you will eat and remember our top tips for how to keep food cool when camping. 

Have fun!

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I have been a keen outdoorsman since the age of 5, being exposed to the wondrous mountains of the Lake District, UK. Hiking has become more than a hobby for me as I completed survival skills training and competed in endurance challenges across Europe.

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