When you’re on a camping trip, you’re going to need to take some food with you whilst you’re out there. Dry foods like pasta and couscous are fine, but they don’t really hit the palet so well if you’re out there for a while. Taking a long some luxury items like cheese, meat, fish and fresh veg can make all the difference to your time in the outdoors. But, you’ll need to keep this food cold while camping, so it doesn’t go off before you have a chance to eat it. So, what are the best ways to keep food cold while camping?
The first step to keeping food cold while camping is bringing along a cooler, and a high end one at that. A high-end cooler will keep things cold for days and days. They are thicker, heavier, and far more insulated than a low-end cooler meaning your food will have a much better chance of staying cold. You will have to pay a bit more for a high-end cooler but they are more durable and will outlast a lesser cooler, so you’ll get your return on investment. Plus, once you experience the benefits, you’ll be happy you paid that little bit extra.
The next thing to think about is what you put in your cooler and how to pack them. But before we get into that, let’s think about bringing more than one cooler.
The likely hood is that you’re going to want to bring some drinks along on your camping trip too, and a cold drink is always far more delicious than a warm one unless we are talking about coffee and tea. It’s best to have one cooler for drinks and one cooler for food. This way things are kept tidy, plus you won’t risk any contamination. You’ll also tend to open your drinks cooler more often than you’re food one, and it’s important to keep them closed as much as possible.
Make sure warm air doesn’t get into your cooler. When you open a cooler, you are letting all the cold out and allowing a lot of warm air to get in. Your cooler has worked hard to get the air to that temperature, and by opening it up too often, you are making it use up all the available refrigeration a lot faster. This will result in all your cooling aids melting a lot quicker than necessary, and therefore affecting how long your food with stay good for.
You should only open your food cooler once or twice a day. It’s wise to open it in the morning while it’s not hot outside and take out breakfast and lunch for the day. You can make both of your meals at the same time, having a nice cooked breakfast and then making a packed lunch for later on.
You should plan every meal for your entire trip and try to pre-make as much of it as you possibly can. You can then either freeze them or keep in them in the fridge at home before putting them in the cooler before you leave. If you’re planning on bringing things like steak, bacon, and sausages, freeze them in daily portions so you can just take one portion out the cooler, close it and not have to open it again.
When planning your meals, plan to eat them in terms of coldness. Start your camping trip eating your cold fresh food and end it eating your frozen foods. This means you’ll be able to keep the colder things in the cooler for longer, therefore giving your cooler as much refrigeration energy as possible.
Now that you have planned your meals, its time to pack them properly. This is easy. You should pack your food based on two things; when you’re going to eat it and how cold it is. The colder the food the deeper in the cooler it should go. So any frozen food should be at the bottom and any cold food should be above it. Now, if you have planned your meals as per our suggestions above, you should be eating the food at the top first and working your way down through the cooler to eat your frozen food last.
This doesn’t always work, as you may want bacon with breakfast every day, hence the suggestion of freezing it into daily portions. If this is the case, make sure your bacon portions (or whatever it may be) is at the top of the freezer section of your cooler.
Outside of meal planning, you’re going to need to add some cooling aids to your cooler. The first thing you want to do is make your cooler is cold before the trip even starts. The best way to do this is to bring it inside and 12 hours before your trip, fill it with cold water and some sacrificial ice and leave it overnight. Then just before you pack it, dump the ice and water and pack your ready cooled cooler.
Now it’s time to add some ice. If you’re going on a long trip, dry ice is the best choice as it will last the longest and emits more coldness than any other form of ice. Be careful though as it will freeze anything it touches, including your fingers. If you don’t have access to dry ice, then block ice or freezer packs are best.
If you don’t have the ability to make block ice, then fill up 2-liter water bottles 3/4 of the way full and freeze them for 48 hours. Then use these as your base. The great thing about this is that you can drink them if you need to.
All of these take much longer to melt than ice cubes and you should form an ice layer at the base of your cooler with your chosen block ice/dry ice/frozen water bottles. Then it’s time to stack your food on top in the right order. Once you’ve added your food, now it’s time for ice cubes. These are great at filling the gaps, but they will be the first to melt. Whatever you do, don’t drain any meltwater from the cooler, it’s better and colder to leave it in there.
Your cooler should be the last thing you pack. Everything should be in the car ready to go before you start packing it. Once it’s packed, make sure not to place it in the trunk of your car if you can avoid it. Trunks tend to get much hotter than the seating area of cars and you wouldn’t want to undo all your harder work on the journey to your camping spot. Try placing it in the back seat and ensure it’s kept cool through using the windows or AC.
Salt reduces water’s melting point and keeps it much colder for longer. This handy little trick was used by our ancestors before fridges were made. Adding ice to your base layer of cooling aids will help them last longer. Maybe don’t put it in the drinks cooler as no one likes a salty beer.
This is pretty obvious, keeping your cooler out of the sun is going to help it stay colder for longer. If there is no shade available then put it in your tent. Or you can get a damp towel and leave it on top to protect it. If it’s cold outside, then leave your cooler in out in the cold as much as possible. Naturally, you don’t want any scavengers opening it though, so make sure it is secure.
Even if you do everything right, things can still go wrong when you’re camping. Your cooler of cold food could get knocked over and spill, opened up by some hungry creatures, the list goes on. Your meat and dairy could also go off and pose a risk of giving you food poisoning on the trail. Therefore, it’s best not to solely rely on your fresh food. You should always bring backups that aren’t going to perish like some pasta and pesto or noodles. This way you’re covered no matter what happens. And if you’re in need of a protein fix, things like beer jerky are a great option.
The only way to truly know your cooler is doing its job is by having a thermometer. You can get a cheap thermometer for a few dollars and by using it you’ll always know if your food is safe to eat. Pack it at the top of the cooler so you can easily check it each time you open it to know if all your food is still safe to eat.
In the end, keeping your food cold while camping all comes down to owning a high-end cooler and packing it right. If you follow all the steps we have laid out for you, you should be able to go on a multi-day camping trip and have the pleasure of eating delicious fresh food most nights. Remember your thermometer, plan, and pack well, and you should be golden.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.