Keep food cold when camping

How To Keep Food Cold While Camping

A camping trip is arguably the most incredible experience you can get in your lifetime. However, many things can go wrong in your camping expedition if you don’t plan properly and in advance. One of the main challenges you could experience is keeping your drinks and food cold. In fact, not storing your food under the right temperature can lead to food poisoning, and you don’t want that on your trip, do you?

10 Tips For Keeping Food Cold While Camping

In this no-nonsense article, we’ll take you through some of the top tips on how to keep food cold while camping. Let get started!

1. Bring Along A High-end Cooler

Bringing along a cooler box should always be at the top of your camping agenda. However, it all boils down to your budget and preference as coolers come in different prices and capacities. Most high-end products tend to have the best features like better insulation and thicker walls, which effectively prevent the melting of any ice. Keep in mind however that you’ll have to pay a bit more for these services. Additionally, it’s advisable to keep a thermometer inside the cooler as this will help you ensure the temperature remains around the recommended 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

The camping cooler that I use for keeping food cold is the Thermik High-Performance cooler from Amazon. I especially like this cooler for longer camping trips that are two days or longer. I will bring this one when it’s a hot summer trip as it does provide longer cooling for food. It will allow you to go on a 5-day camping trip without worry. You also have the benefit of a drink cap opener, cooler shelves, drink holder, and most importantly a 5-year warranty.

Thermik High Performance Roto-Molded Cooler, 45 qt, White
  • Rugged one piece rotationally molded construction with textured top lid and soft damage proof latches
  • Thick urethane insulation keeps ice for 5+ days, the same retention performance as Yeti and Rtic
  • Freezer grade lid seal with vacuum release button to prevent stuck lids

2. Two Coolers Can Do

This is also another important point that most experienced campers never forget. That aside, it’s always best to bring along two coolers – one for food and drinks in the other. As you’ll eventually find out, the benefits are quite numerous. Apart from ensuring that your food stays in a better condition, taking this precaution also makes sure that all your drinks and food are properly organized. It’s always best if you can quickly identify your drink or food cooler.

For drinks, I like the Coleman 70 Quart. It provides more than enough space for juice, beer, and even a bottle of wine. When I go camping with friends and family, we use the Coleman as the designated drinks cooler as it can hold up to 84 cans of beer and can keep our beer cold for a 5-day camping trip. It also comes with four molded drinks holders so you might even spill fewer tins of beer!

Coleman Cooler | Xtreme Cooler Keeps Ice Up to 5 Days | Heavy-Duty 70-Quart Cooler for Camping, BBQs, Tailgating & Outdoor Activities
  • Xtreme Technology; Insulated lid and extra wall insulation keep ice up to 5 days in temperatures as high as 90°F
  • High Capacity: Holds Up to 100 Cans
  • HAVE-A-SEAT LID: Closed lid supports up to 250 lb.

Having two coolers is an essential tip if you want a perfect camping trip and also want your fresh foods to stay fresh while also having cold drinks.

3. Don’t Open Your Cooler Too Much

For obvious reasons, the cooler keeping your drinks is likely to experience heavier traffic due to regular opening and closing. Because of this, cold air is lost while at the same time warm air gets in. The warm air getting in might end up melting the ice, so be careful not to open the cooler unnecessarily.

In short, having two coolers ensures that the food cooler is used only when necessary, while you refresh your glasses when you wish. It’s a win-win scenario!

4. Prepare and Freeze Meals Before you travel

Preparing your meals/food in advance can turn out to be a godsend as this will also ensure that your food is kept for longer. With that being said, always ensure that you properly reheat your food before eating. Frozen meals should also be placed at the cooler’s bottom. It goes without saying that perishable food should be eaten early on your camping trip to avoid unnecessary wastage of food.

When my wife and I go camping, she will prepare some small hand meals that can be put in our cooler and then quickly heated using our camping cooking equipment. One she especially likes is a mixed vegetable noodle jar which we add hot water and have a delicious meal. Other favorites of ours are cold pasta salads, banana bread even homemade chili con carne.

5. Use Dry Ice Packs

Inside your cooler, you’ll need long-lasting ice packs. Of course, you wouldn’t like to keep your drinks or food in any container, would you? Moving forward, the first thing to do is to buy a freezer bag from any local store. Proceed to fill it with two cups of water and one cup of rubbing alcohol. However, don’t use a big cup, because you’ll need to make lots of ice packs. Finally, before sealing the freezer bag, get as much air as possible out. This is a badass trick to help your food and beverages stay cold throughout the camping trip.

Dry ice packs are a great addition to your camping gear but check the quality of ice packs you buy. Like most things in life you get what you pay for so cheap ice packs are usually low quality.

The ice packs I find myself using on most camping trips are the Cool Coolers ice packs. They are relatively cheap and small enough so don’t use too much precious space within your cooler. I would suggest buying more than you think you need, they do use less space than you think so you will be able to pack a few more in there.

Cool Coolers by Fit + Fresh, 4 Pack Slim Ice Packs, Space Saving Reusable Ice Packs for Lunch Boxes or Coolers, Single Pack
  • SLIM & POWERFUL: Taking "extra chill" to the next level! Each measuring at 4.75” x 0.5” x 5”, this set of four ice packs are slim enough to fit in a fully packed lunch bag, yet powerful enough to stay cold for hours. Long-lasting, reusable, and durable. Food and drinks stay fresh on the hottest day of the year!
  • DURABLE FOR ANY OUTDOOR ADVENTURE: Avoid a leaky beach cooler bag or camping tote! Reusable, long-lasting and durable, food/drinks stay clean and dry on any outdoor trek. Make them a necessary part of your beach or camping accessories -- guaranteed you won't be able to hit the road without 'em! To maximize cooling power, freeze each ice pack overnight before next day use.
  • ENDLESSLY VERSATILE: Packing a lunch for work or school? No sweat! Pack one (or more!) in your insulated lunch bag, lunch box, baby bag, or picnic tote to keep items extra cold -- and colorful. Unlike regular ice that inevitably melts over time, these slim freezer packs were designed to keep your salads crisp and sodas cold without the mess of regular ice. For best results, stack multiple ice packs at the top and sides of your insulated bag!

6. Add Salt

Surprising, right? Well, this’s the secret trick that I’m pretty sure only expert campers know about. That being said, adding salt can reduce the water’s melting point. In fact, when melting water mixes with rock salt, the water becomes colder than even the ice. In this case, your food and beverages also retain coldness. However, as the saying goes, “too much of something is poisonous”, so don’t add too much salt. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t like that salty taste on your food or beer.

This tip is something you can try if you want freezing water, but be sure not to overdo it as too much salt isn’t a great choice.

7. Avoid The Sun As Much As Possible

This is a no-brainer because the sun and ice can never work together. This aside, you need to ensure that your cooler is always under shade during your camping trip to avoid any direct contact with the sunlight. Some campers usually prefer to leave their coolers in the car until the party begins, especially during hot seasons when the temperatures are high. During colder seasons, however, you’ll have less to worry about as your cooler might end up even retaining more coldness. Also, be mindful not to keep your cooler close to any hot part of your car.

8. Freeze Your Drinking Water

Freezing your water in a 2L plastic juice container for at least one week before your camping trip is also another important trick to remember. Make sure the water is frozen solid before setting out on your trip. Nonetheless, it’s possible to do this a night or two before your trip but be guaranteed your ice will melt faster (within 24 hours). To sum it up, large ice bottles will take longer (a couple of days) to defrost, ensuring that you always have clean, cold drinking water.

I like to freeze a few large jugs of water if I am on a 3 or 4 days camping trip in the summer as it gives us cold water for a few days.

9. Avoid Perishable Food

Although it could be difficult to stay without a fresh meal during your camping trip, this can still turn out to be worth the risk. You can choose other meals to quickly get your protein fix without necessarily depending on fresh meat and dairy. This is because fresh meat and dairy can go bad quickly without refrigeration. If meat must be part of your daily diet, you can always opt for either beef jerky or summer sausage.

Try to avoid any soft cheese such as brie or mozzarella and instead carry firm, aged cheese such as Gouda or cheddar. Don’t forget to consume lots of water if you decide to go with firm cheeses or dried meats, because they’re pretty high in sodium.

10. Don’t Forget Backups

This is one crucial point that should be at the back of your mind when preparing for your camping trip. To begin with, always bring along some non-perishable snacks as well as a gallon of water for emergency purposes.

Some favorites of mine include trail mix, protein bar, homemade energy balls, and tinned foods. You can thank me later!


Nothing comes close to the experience you get when on a camping trip with your loved ones. Not worrying about whether your food or beverages are going to spoil can only add to your relaxing experience. In short, keeping your food cold on your trip will not only save you the food but also avoid embarrassing and deadly scenarios such as food poisoning.

2 thoughts on “How To Keep Food Cold While Camping

    1. Nate Payne Post author

      Hi Alex,

      That is a great idea! If it were me I would try a bright color to try and reflect the sun light and heat away.

      That being said, any color would work better than not having one at all.

      I will give this a try soon and report back!

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