How to Keep Food Cold When Camping

How to Keep Food Cold When Camping
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Who doesn’t love, eat snacks with loved ones, talk with them around the campfire, and sleep under the stars? I sure do! Camping is a recreational activity where campers take up temporary residence in the outdoors, usually using tents or specially designed or adapted vehicles for shelter.

But, during camping, one can face unique challenges in maintaining food safety, such as keeping food cold both during travel. Micro-organisms begin to grow in cooking as it warms up. During extended camp-outs, it is especially challenging to keep the food as cold as necessary.

Now the question arises on how to keep food cold when camping? I have included some best and innovative solutions that will surely make your camping journey comfortable and enjoyable. 

1. Select Long-Lasting Ice

Ice comes in different forms. You have to choose smartly, which will be the best which makes your camping time more comfortable. Some of the types are listed below:

1. Loose ice/Ice cubes

You can free ice cubes at home or buy local ice from gas stations for your camping trip. But the main drawback of these ice cubes or local ice is that it gets melt quickly, leaving your cooler full of water and your food soggy.

2. Large blocks of ice

Large ice blocks are the excellent selection and answer to the question of how to keep your food cold when camping. Place large chunks of ice at the bottom of your cooler. They will take much longer time to melt, keeping your food cold for a longer time.

3. Dry ice

Dry ice can be found at different grocery stores and is the solid form of carbon dioxide. It is used generally as a cooling agent. Its advantages over regular ice include lower temperatures than that of water ice and not leaving any residue.

But, it would help if you took precautions before adopting this option. Dry ice will burn your skin and crack your cooler unless you first wrap it in the newspaper.

4. Freezing Drinking Water Bottles

This option is ideal for keeping your food cold when camping. You can freeze water in plastic water bottles. You can use them in cooler. When the ice melts, you can drink chilled water too. So a 2 in 1 option is available.

2. Use Ice Packs

You can use ice packs to keep your food and drink items cool longer when camping. This option is cheap and can be afforded by everyone. Two kinds of ice packs are available:

1. Home-made ice packs

Home-made ice packs are the best option for those who want to save money and do innovative things. You can make your ice packs by freezing water in zip-lock freezer bags.

2. Manufactured ice packs

I will advise you not to buy those weird gel packs from the store, which usually comes in blue. They will melt and mess your whole cooler up, as I have already tried it.

You can go to “thermal ice packs”, as they are very useful and functional. They are also great for saving money. Thermal ice packs are pretty popular so you can find an ideally sized one anywhere.

There are many advantages of manufactured ice packs which are listed below:

  • Readily available at grocery and camping stores.
  • Budget-friendly
  • It can be reused over and over again.
  • Stay cold for up to two days.

Choosing the Right Cooler for Camping

This is the most crucial decision you should make wisely and intelligently to spend your camping time with more comfort and without any hassle. To save money, never go for cheap coolers. Invest for the best, which will surely provide you with long-lasting results and excellent productivity.

You should consider the following factors before buying the best cooler for your camping trip:

1. Types of Cooler

There are different types of coolers available on the market which are listed below:

  • Hard-Sided Coolers

These coolers are constructed from a hard outer case designed to reinforce a thick inner layer of insulation, designed to withstand a wide variety of environmental conditions, which is a plus point. The prices of hard case coolers can be as low as around $50 and as high as $500.

  • Soft-Sided Coolers

These coolers are built to retain ice for a day or two, and some soft case coolers can retain ice for up to four days. The advantage of these coolers are, they are lightweight and easy to carry. 

  • Backpack Coolers

Backpack Coolers are ideal for those who want to spend minimal time camping and want to carry as much weight as possible. They are compact, portable, and light in weight. 

  • Electric Coolers

The electric cooler is a new type of camping cooler designed to serve the category of those who are always on the move. They are relatively expensive when comparing to the other types of coolers available.


2. Capacity

Capacity refers to the volume of a cooler, and it is often measured in quarts. Some manufacturers also measure theirs in gallons, liters, and cans. It is essential to take into account the purpose for which you want to use the cooler. 

  • Small Capacity Cooler:

When a camping cooler is categorized as a small one, it means that it ranges between 10-35 quarts.  

  • Medium Capacity Cooler:

Medium capacity coolers offer a capacity of between 35-55 quarts. 

  • Large Capacity Cooler:

Large capacity coolers offer a capacity of between 55-75 quarts.

3. Ice Retention

Ice Retention is the ability of the cooler to preserve ice for a given period. Generally, the manufacturer quotes on the label of the cooler its ice retention duration. The longer ice retention period cooler is more convenient for extended camping trips. The more extended the ice retention period, the more expensive, the cooler is.

  • Weight

This is the most crucial factor to be considered when buying the best cooler for camping. Because the weight greatly determines the portability of the cooler. A heavy cooler makes it difficult to carry. The weight of the cooler will greatly affect the ease with which it can be carried.

  • Cost

Cost is the most crucial consideration to be taken into account. Everyone wants to buy a budget-friendly cooler. As the quality of the cooler increases, the price automatically increases. To save money, don’t go for inferior quality coolers. Investigate well and choose wisely the budget-friendly cooler.

  • Portability

Portability is defined as the ease with which you can transport something from one point to another. The three most important factors determining the portability of an item are weight, presence of wheels, and compactness. The presence of handles and the nature of their construction can go a long way in determining how portable the cooler is.

  • Durability

Durability is one of the essential characteristics of any product. It is hard to think of a product whose durability you won’t desire. When it comes to camping coolers, durability is a key feature that you cannot afford to compromise. This is because the environmental conditions your cooler faces require it to be up to the task.

  • Easy to use

Ease of use is an extremely important factor. Before you select your cooler, make sure that you are comfortable with its user-friendliness. 

I reviewed a hundred of products to give you the 7 best Ice coolers for camping. I have selected these 7 best coolers for camping in below list:

  1. RTIC Cooler (RTIC 65 White)
  2. Pelican Elite 70 Quart Cooler
  3. Engel 65 High-Performance Hard Cooler
  4. Coleman Cooler
  5. YETI Tundra 35 Cooler
  6. Igloo 28 Quart Iceless Thermoelectric Cooler
  7. Driftsun 75 Quart Commercial Grade Insulated Cooler

You can read the full review over here.

Two Coolers are Better than One

If you have space and budget too, bring two coolers on your camping trips is recommended to separate food from drinks.

The drinks cooler is likely to have heavier traffic. This heavy traffic will mean that the cooler is regularly opened and closed, and warm air gets in as cold air goes out. With two coolers, you can ensure that the food cooler is only opened when necessary.

Pre-chill your Cooler

If you have space, you can put your whole cooler inside your deep freezer. This will help your ice last longer because it only has to maintain the cool temperature instead of lowering it.

Pack Your Cooler Tight, and Pack it Right

This solution is one of the answer of how to keep food cold when camping. You should always keep your cooler tight to keep your food frozen for a long time. Pack it in a right way includes the following steps listed below:

  • Put the layer of block ice or crushed ice.
  • Lay frozen or cold meat on the ice. Ensure that it is contained in sealed packages so that it doesn’t contaminate other foods when it defrosts.
  • Put another layer of ice on top of the meat.
  • Lay any dairy products directly on the ice.
  • Next is other food items that are sealed in their container or zip-lock bag.
  • The top layer should be foods that will be consumed first or most often, such as drinks, condiments, sandwiches, and snacks.

Keep your Cooler in the Shade

Place your cooler in a spot having maximum shade, away from direct sunlight. You may occasionally need to move the cooler in different areas throughout the day as the sun moves across the sky. For extra insulation, cover your cooler with an umbrella.

Don’t Drain the Cooler Unnecessarily

Even after the ice melts in the cooler, the cold water continues to keep the food cold. Try not to drain the water from the cooler as long as you have space


To conclude, you should ensure that your food stays at about 4°C or 40°F during your camping trip. Take special care during warm weather; otherwise, not only can you lose your precious food, you or your camping partners might experience symptoms of food poisoning (God forbid). I hope you have received some valuable information and tips on how to keep food cold when camping. Have a safe and pleasant camping trip! 

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I am Steve Hudson. I write about Fishing, Climbing, Hiking, Backpacking and Camping here at Living Ambition.

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