How to Keep Food Cold When Camping

How to Keep Food Cold When Camping

I love camping in remote places and try to camp for as long as possible and I know you will be wondering do I store food. The trick is to keep food cold. In this blog, I will be sharing my top 11 tips on ‘how to keep food cold when camping.’

I have been camping for the past ten years and have made my fair share of mistakes while storing food. Due to this I either had to end my camping earlier or rely on ready-to-eat packaged food. Keep reading to save yourself from the trouble I had to go through!

11 Tips of How to Keep Food Cold When Camping

How long the food stays healthy and fresh while camping depends majorly upon how the food is stored. There are various ways to increase the life of food such as drying, salting, boiling, etc. However, my favorite method is keeping the food cold. There are various ways to keep food cold while camping. 

You can pick and choose according to your requirement and the materials available and the number of days you will be camping for. 

How to Store Food While Camping

  1. Ice packs

Ice packs are a great way to keep food cold when you don’t have access to a refrigerator. You can buy them from a store or make one of your own using water, rubbing alcohol, sponge, or anything else that is available. Simply follow this tutorial on wikiHow to know how to make an ice pack.

Ice packs are easily available and easy to make. They are also reusable and can be used for various camp trips as they help keep food and drinks cold. However, they are a good option only when your camping stay is for a short duration that is for two days max. Seal the ice packs well or they might turn out to be quite messy.  

  1. Dry Ice

The first time I heard the name dry ice, I kept wondering how can ice be dry, and little did I know that it is so popular too! It is a cooling agent in the form of solid carbon dioxide which can keep food cold without creating any mess.

Dry ice can freeze the food too, hence it is important to use it properly. I prefer buying a solid block of dry ice and keep it at the bottom. The layer immediately next to this is of the foods that I want to stay frozen and the top layer is of the foods that I want cold, not frozen. If you can’t find a block, dry ice pellets will do the same job too.

There are a few precautions one must take while handling dry ice as it can give frostbite along with other dangers that it possesses. Read here about all the precautions you must take while handling dry ice.

  1. Salt 

If you belong to a region that experiences snow, then you will know that adding salt to ice or snow will make it melt faster, so why has it made it to the list? The trick here is to make two sets of ice in two different containers. Add salt to water in one container, and freeze the other one without ice.

Use the saltwater ice to line the outermost perimeter of the vessel that you will use to store food, followed by normal ice. Saltwater ice melts first, in turn drawing the heat from normal water ice. Due to this, the normal ice stays frozen longer than usual.

Although this is a pretty effective technique, it is not my favorite because it involves a lot of work!

  1. Freezing the food

The best and the easiest way to keep food cold while camping for a short duration is by freezing the food that is required.  

Buy all the vegetables and fruits that you will need a day prior. Wash them thoroughly, put them in a plastic bag. Keep all the food items in the freezer. Remove them from the freezer just before you are ready to leave. 

It is best to carry the frozen food in a thermocol ice box. 

  1. Using a cooler

When people who love camping ask me, ‘how to keep food cold when camping?’ My immediate answer is- invest in a good quality cooler.

Cooler is the most efficient way to keep food and drinks cool for a longer duration. They also come with a lot of added benefits. You do not have to carry a number of ice packs, deal with leaky bags and so much more. Coolers can also be used to keep snacks fresh at home.

How long will food stay frozen in the cooler depends on the type of cooler. Depending upon the requirements, one can choose a hard cooler or a soft cooler. There are various factors one must consider while purchasing a cooler but the most important ones are the type of insulation and material used.   

  1. Two is better than one!

How long will the food stay frozen in a cooler not only depends upon the type of cooler but also how we use it.

When my kids were young and we would go camping, even after using the best quality cooler, my food would no longer stay cold because they would constantly open the cooler to get juices. This interfered with the insulation by letting the cold air out and hot air in. Of course, I could have yelled and stopped my kid from doing so, but we would go camping to relax and didn’t wish to bother my kids while having fun!

This is when I decided to use two coolers instead of one. We kept the frequently needed items such as water bottles, fruits, and snacks in one cooler while other items such as vegetables, meat, frozen food, etc. in another one. This ensured their longevity. 

You can also buy two small coolers instead of one larger one to have the same benefit. Buying one soft cooler and one hard cooler is a good option too.

  1. Plan your meals

This is in connection with the previous point. Plan your meals on the basis of the number of days you will be camping.

Arrange them in the cooler with the one that you need immediately at the top and the one you will need later at the bottom. This will ensure that you get the products you need quickly without keeping the cooler open for a longer duration thereby protecting the cooling. 

  1. Placement of the cooling devices.

No matter what device you use for cooling, as soon as you reach your campsite keep your cooling devices under shade. If you can’t find shade, at least keep them away from direct sunlight under a damp towel.

This is the best way to keep cooler cold for long without doing much as it helps keep the temperature immediately outside the cooler low too.

You may also like: Food to Bring Camping

  1. Pack the cooler like a pro!

Make sure that the cooler is packed completely and properly. Start by adding ice packs to the bottom of the cooler, then the items you will need the last, followed by another layer of ice packs or frozen foods as they too act like ice packs. 

This ensures that the food between the layers stays cooler for a longer duration.

  1. Cool the cooler!

People ask how to keep food cold when camping and then I see them doing the biggest mistake- dumping all the food in the cooler just before leaving. One has to start prepping for camping days before we actually go.

One important thing is to pre-chill the cooler. The way to do that is by adding cool water or loads of ice into the cooler a night before you leave for camping. This saves the coolness that would be spent to decrease the temperature of the cooler the next day and is also a great way to keep the cooler cold.    

  1. Temperature check! 

This one time we went camping for a long duration, we had layered the cooler well, everything was well taken care of except one thing which ruined our entire camping experience- the temperature of the cooler.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep checking the temperature of the cooler or any cooling device that you are using to ensure that the food stays fresh for a longer duration. 

The temperature of the cooling device should always be as low as possible; however, try and keep it at least below 0 degree celsius.


What is the best way to keep food cold when camping?

The best way to keep food cold when camping is by using coolers since they keep the food cold for a longer duration without creating any mess.

What can I do if I don’t have a cooler?

If you do not have a cooler or any other device at hand, you can use a thermal bag to keep your food cold. Add some ice packs in the bag before adding food.

Can a cooler keep food cool without ice?

Yes, while ice makes the cooling better, the cooler can very well function without ice.

How to keep food cold without any cooling device?

When you don’t have any cooling device and the camp stay is short, simply dig a hole in the ground, dampen the soil with water. Pack the food in a waterproof bag or damp cloth, put it in the hole, and cover it up with another damp cloth. While this is not the best way, it’s messy yet fun to do!

Final Thoughts

Before understanding how to keep food cold when camping, we need to understand how long do we want the food to stay cold. There are various ways in which the food can be stored, the easiest one is freezing the food however, it has low durability. 

The best way according to me is by investing in a good quality cooler if you camp often. If not then ice packs, thermal bags, and dry ice will do the job. 

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