How To Keep Food Cold When Camping

How to Keep Food Cold when Camping

If you're an avid camper and you enjoy eating good food, chances are you've come across the issue of needing to keep food at a certain temperature before. If you want to keep your food nice and cold while camping, you'll find some tips on how to do this safely and efficiently in this article!

Of course, camping can be quite tricky. There's a lot to think about when it comes to keeping yourself safe, let alone keeping your food safe too. 

Obviously, a lot of campers choose to take frozen food on trips as it keeps longer and most foods can be frozen. There isn't always a gas station where you can go and grab a snack from though, so you will want to keep your food as cold as you can. 

In order to do this though, you'll need a lot of planning and you'll need a good selection of camping gear essentials to make this happen. However, it's also important to know a good tip or two about how to keep the food safe as well. 

The Best Ways To Keep Food Cold While Camping

1. Invest in a good-quality camping fridge

You'll probably feel quite overwhelmed if you just do a quick Google for "best camping coolers. So we'd like to give you a tip or two for which ones are good quality! You want to be certain that you're not just using a normal car fridge, as this usually isn't strong enough to ensure that your food stays at the right temperature.

One of the most popular coolers is the Yeti Tundra, a highly insulated cooler that has a great level of ice retention, meaning that it will keep your ice cold and keep the food inside at the right temperature too.

YETI Tundra

They are really good quality, and with regards to their insulation, it has a layer of ice called Permafrost surrounding the lining of it inside. This means that even if exposed to warm air, this layer will not be compromised, which will keep the cooler functioning optimally.

If you're looking for a cooler that prioritises durability over anything else whilst also maintaining a good temperature for keeping your food cold, then you might be interested in the Igloo Yukon cooler for camping instead.


This is quite a high-end cooler and can keep food cold for a long period of time with its estimated 8-day ice retention. Its selling point is definitely the strength of the cooler itself, made of highly durable materials and useful for a quite intense camping trip. 

2. Take multiple coolers with you

Another great one of these tips is that it may also be a good idea to take multiple coolers with you if you're thinking about taking quite a variety of consumable items. Having two coolers can allow you to separate food and drink items.

You're probably wondering why you might need to do this, and this is due to a few reasons. Firstly, you'll be drinking a lot more than you're eating and if you're opening your cooler frequently to get drinks, the ice will melt almost certainly much quicker than expected.

Bring two coolers to use one for drinks and the other for food

It's a good idea to keep these drinks in a separate cooler to ensure that the amount of warm air that gets into contact with your food does not affect the quality of your camping food.

As a result of this reasoning, some campers like to take two coolers on their camping trip, with one being a special drinks cooler and put their drinking water in that cooler to ensure that their water bottles stay cool.

Ice in these specialised products will probably stay frozen for longer and putting block ice in these will be a better idea than putting them next to food, as when they melt, they can make food soggy. 

3. Freeze your food and drink beforehand where possible 

To maintain the integrity of your food, you might want to use a chest freezer to bulk freeze food and drink before your camping trip. Alternatively, some people actually choose to freeze their coolers before they use them. 

Leaving your cooler at the bottom of the freezer while you're preparing for camping can help to keep the base temperature of the cooler stable and keep your cooler and keep your food cold when camping. 

If you have quite a large amount of liquid that needs to be taken, you might store these in milk jugs or in ice bottles to freeze them safely before your trip. 

freezer bag

Additionally, if you've made food that doesn't fit in any of the boxes you have already, you can buy freezer bags from the grocery store to store large amounts of food - just a tip, especially if you're the one cooking for your camping trip! They are also great to keep food separate in your cooler, too.

These are obviously just a few ideas and just some of the tips to keep your cooler working well. Other campers may have other tried and tested methods that work for them, like varying the methods of storing ice in their cooler. 

4. Use dry ice

Dry ice can be a bit scary for some people that have never used it before and there are definitely some key rules to remember when handling it. If you're going to place it in a cooler with your food and drink, then you must ensure that you never handle it with your bare hands. 

Upon placing it, you also want to be careful that you put it on top of all the items in your cooler and then wrap it in a newspaper. Dry ice can protect perishable food and raw meat by keeping them at a stable temperature and overall, just doing a really efficient job at keeping food cold when camping. 

Of course, this is just one option and not every camper will have a cooler that can accommodate dry ice. If you do choose to use dry ice for keeping food cold though, keep on ensuring that you follow our tips, as dry ice can be quite dangerous, giving off carbon dioxide which can cause complications when not used properly. 

5. Keep your cooler in a shady place

When you arrive at your camping trip destination, to keep food cold for longer, one of the first things you want to ensure you do is put the cooler in the shade. A shady patch of grass will have less exposure to the sun and will keep the bottom of the cooler at a lower temperature for longer. 

If you really can't find an area that isn't heavily affected by the sun or by warmer temperatures then you can always cover the cooler with a blanket or a large tarp to reflect any heat away from the cooler to keep your food cold. 

6. Use ice-packs as well as coolers

Ice packs and using a freezer bag or a thermal bag can also be a great option for those who don't have a cooler when they're on a camping trip. Using a freezer bag won't keep food at a stable temperature as long as a cooler would, but if you put ice packs inside them, they can definitely match the capacity for at least a few days. 

Positioned correctly, an ice pack can actually be really useful in keeping food cold while camping. Additionally, where two coolers aren't available due to price points being out of a camper's budget, you might consider buying styrofoam coolers from the grocery store or gas station. 

styrofoam box

These trap air efficiently enough to store food for a couple of days, if you need to keep food cold while camping. You can fill them with ice cubes, and there is obviously also the choice to make your own ice as well if you need to. 

Additionally, you can always buy a bag of loose ice from a gas station too, if need be. Some campers use a styrofoam cooler specifically for drinking water to keep their drinks cool. 

7. Pack your cooler properly 

How to Pack a Cooler

It's always important to pack your cooler properly to ensure that food doesn't get soggy and that there is no risk of cross-contamination. 

Camping food should always be categorised as follows: first a layer of block ice, then your raw meat items, then another layer of ice, then your dairy products, then another layer of ice, then any items that need ice packs such as sandwiches and quickly accessed food, then a final layer of ice and your most accessed items, such as condiments and such things. 

If you have a separate, preferably high-end cooler for your drinks then you'll want to keep them surrounded by an ice pack, so as to keep the drinks as cold as possible. 

These are just some of the tips you can use when it comes to using ice packs for keeping food cold while camping and obviously, there are plenty of right ways to do it. 

Some people still like to take completely frozen water bottles with them on these camping trips to ensure that the ice doesn't melt so quickly. This might be a good solution if you find that an ice pack or ice cubes just isn't doing the job well enough. 

8. Put a thermometer inside the cooler

Just to keep an eye on how well the cooler is doing its job, it's always a good idea to put a thermometer inside so that you can track exactly how cold or how warm each cooler or freezer solution is at any time.

This will allow you to keep food cold much more efficiently, as the temperature will let you know if anything has gone wrong with the way you've packed your food and drink. 

9. Bring non-perishable food or pre-cook meals 

As mentioned in our food safety tips, it's always important to try your best to avoid taking perishable food on trips like this.

This is a tip that we definitely advise you to follow, as this is one of the simplest ways to avoid coming into any situations that involve food poisoning.

Pre-cooked meals can also eliminate the chance of food poisoning, especially if they have poultry, as there is less chance for any contamination.

10. Do not drain your cooler

If you're finding that your ice packs have melted and there is a lot of water at the bottom of the cooler, we would definitely advise that you don't drain it!

Even if the ice has melted, this will not lower the temperature of the cooler drastically and will indeed still keep food cold.

If you have extra ice packs stored in another cooler, of course, you can always replace the ones you originally put in the cooler to ensure that you keep food cold but as always, this is just a tip and you may find a much more efficient way that works for you to keep food cold on your camping trip!

Why Choosing A Good Food Cooler Is Important

Cooler for Camping

A food cooler is arguably the best way to keep your food cold while camping. Whether you're car camping or just regular camping -you should never cheap out on your cooler.

A poor quality cooler will not only compromise food safety but will also not work well - no amount of ice can fix a low cooling capacity.

Below you can find some guidance on how to best utilise a cooler to ensure that it's keeping food cold and that your camping trips for the future can go smoothly. Just as a reminder, any products listed here may be listed due to an affiliate commission program, but we can ensure the quality and reputation of any coolers we suggest!

Food Safety Tips While Camping

Obviously, you don't want to get sick while you're camping - that takes all the fun out of it! So here are a few tips to keep your food safe and healthy for consumption.

Food Safety Tips While Camping

Do not cross-contaminate

Especially if you're carrying meat and poultry-based items, you need to make sure that you can keep them separate from other food items. 

The risk of salmonella is increasingly high when you're out camping, as the main ways to store food aren't available. Avoiding this cross-contamination when it comes to meat can make sure that these specific items, including meat, stay safe. 

Use a thermometer

If you're taking a selection of hot and cold foods out on a camping trip with you, then you need to ensure that you keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.

It's useful to have a thermometer with you on these trips so that you can track the temperature of both kinds of food respectfully. Always check what temperature meat needs to be kept at, too!

Eat perishable foods immediately after being defrosted/unrefrigerated 

If you have some perishable food items among both of these categories then you'll want to make sure that you either eat these within a couple of hours or throw them away a few hours into your camping trip.

There isn't really an option when it comes to food like this, especially if you're trying to prevent sickness.

Sanitize everything 

Another key way to ensure nobody gets ill to ensure you're keeping everything clean - not just yourself, but the utensils that you're using and your food storage solutions, too.

While you're on your trip, to keep food safe you should make sure that you have disposable anti-bacterial wipes and even a hand sanitiser to ensure that you're getting rid of as many harmful bacteria as possible.

It's also important to ensure that old food doesn't cross-contaminate with uneaten food, so ensure you have trash bags to throw away any of your leftover food and rubbish.

How to Keep Food Cold When Camping
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