Every time you venture into the wild, you’ll have to bring along some packed food. Cooking outdoors is a lot of fun, but it is also trickier than cooking at home. So if you decide to bring along pre-cooked meals, you need to know how to keep food cold while camping.
Pre-made meals are a fantastic way to grab a bite in the wild. It saves time if you need to give your food a quick roast before eating. Also, by correctly preserving your food, you’ll protect it against spoilage and bacteria. In the end, your family will have a healthy and delicious meal away from home.
The Upside of Bringing Your Cooler to a Camping Trip
Because most camping sites do not have electricity, the best way to keep your food chilled is by using a cooler. If the weather is sunny, there’s no escaping your cooler. You’ll need some chilled drinks, water, or some soda to keep hydrated.
However, your icebox is not just for toasty weather. Even if it is cold outside, a solid cooler will preserve your food throughout the camping trip.
There are plenty of ways to keep food cold while camping. If you are using a recreational vehicle in the wild, it’s a lot easier. Most campervans have a handy refrigerator inside for preserving chilled food. Also, modern camping sites have electric cables that you can attach to a fridge.
However, if you’re heading into the wild, you won’t find modern amenities. Nevertheless, here are eight guaranteed tips on how to keep your food cold while camping.
1. Make Sure the Cooler Is Cold Before Packing With Food
Did you know that your cooler also needs to be pre-cooled before heading out? That is because your box will keep your food chilled more efficiently by maintaining a stable internal temperature. It takes more energy to bring warm food down to the correct temperature.
Before hitting the nature trail, make sure that the cooler gets a fair bit of chilling the night before. You can easily do this by placing a few ice packs inside it for a couple of hours. If you have a large freezer, you can also place the entire cooler inside.
2. Freeze or Chill Your Food Before Heading Out
Your cooler is not a refrigerator and isn’t suited to freezing food. It is merely a device that is well insulated to maintain a stable internal temperature. Therefore, only pack pre-cooled food inside the box.
You have to chill both food and drinks before packing. Where possible, opt for frozen items, especially meats. When loading the bites, always use airtight freezer bags. These packs take away the risk of any edible material defrosting and ruining other bits inside the box.
3. Keep the Cooler Away From Direct Sunlight
If you want your cooler to work optimally, keep it away from direct sunlight. The sun’s energy will melt ice and any frozen food inside your icebox. Additionally, your food will get unexpectedly warmer than usual, increasing the chances of it spoiling.
When storing your cooler, make sure to keep it in a shaded area. Your camping tent is a fantastic place to store your food. If you drove to the campsite, you can also store your cooler inside the vehicle.
Keep in mind the movement of the sun while camping. As the day progresses, shadows also shift, and you’ll also need to move your cool box to escape direct sunlight.
4. Bring Your Ice Blocks
You can get a bunch of ice cubes from the convenience store. However, you are better off carrying your equipment.
Store-bought ice cubes are smaller and have plenty of air pockets embedded in the frozen water. They tend to absorb heat faster and melt quickly.
If you want a long-lasting way to keep food cold while camping, you should bring your ice. Ice blocks are bigger than cubes and will keep your food colder for longer. They also do not have air trapped inside, so they will melt more slowly.
When packing ice, make sure the freezer bag is airtight. You don’t want any water leaking into your food while you are camping. To speed up the freezing process, you can add a bit of salt into the water. Others will add some dishwashing soap. The general idea is to decrease the freezing point of water.
You can also consider using milk jars when making ice blocks. The water conforms to the shape of your milk jar, producing impressive ice blocks.
5. You Can Also Use Dry Ice
What about dry ice? Not many campers recommend dry ice despite its efficiency. Dry ice is ultra-cold stuff and is a pretty solid option if you want to keep your food and drink cold.
Additionally, if you use dry ice, you are going to avoid cluttering your icebox. Unlike regular ice, the substance doesn’t turn into water when it melts. Instead, it evaporates into carbon dioxide, which means that you won’t have a mess to clean if the temperature rises.
Nevertheless, dry ice is not the safest option. It is significantly colder than regular ice cubes, and you will need insulated gloves to handle it. Also, as it melts, the gas produced is toxic to both pets and humans.
Usually, as dry ice melts, carbon dioxide gas is released. The gas causes a buildup inside your cooler, and you’ll have to open the lid to ease the pressure regularly.
If the sun is shining brightly, opening the cooler’s lid every now and then only raises the internal temperature. You’ll compromise the freshness of your food while camping.
6. Properly Pack the Food Inside Your Cooler
How you arrange your food inside the cooler will determine how long the food will stay cool.
You need to know how to keep food cold while camping as you pack your belongings. Usually, the most fragile foods should go at the bottom. These are the things that should stay frozen because they can spoil quite fast.
You have to freeze perishable foods like meats before you place them in your cooler. Generally, protein foods should be at the bottom. You can then place the dairy products on top of the steaks.
It’s best to pack the items that are least likely to go bad, such as most carbs, on the upper levels. Meanwhile, snacks and other condiments that you are likely to consume early on in the trip should go on the top deck.
When packing, you can also layer the food with ice. Place a layer of ice cubes or even a solid block at the bottom. Put the meat on top of them, then cover them with another layer of ice. Repeat this process for all the layers if you’re planning a long trip or simply like your food to be cold.
You don’t want to fill your icebox with too much food. On the other hand, you can use as much ice as possible to keep things chilled in the box. If you’ve got any extra space, fill it with ice cubes.
7. Don’t Open Your Cooler Too Frequently
Every time you open your cooler, a bit of warm air seeps in and raises the temperature. The shift isn’t noticeable, but your frozen food will start thawing if you keep popping the lid open.
Ideally, the internal environment should remain undisturbed for as long as possible to maintain the frigid conditions inside the box.
Campers who know how to keep food cold while camping keep their coolers closed as much as possible.
Bring along non-perishable foods like canned food, fresh or dried fruit, and protein bars. These are super convenient because you don’t have to store them in the cooler and save room for the items that absolutely need to stay cold. What’s more, you won’t have to keep opening your cooler to retrieve the food.
How to Keep Food Cold While Camping When You Don’t Have a Cooler
If you’re going hiking, there is a high chance that you won’t be hauling a food cooler around. One fully packed backpack is quite a load, and there is no need to burden yourself with more. So a cool box is out of the question.
So you’ll be left wondering how to keep food cold while camping? There are plenty of methods that don’t require an icebox.
One foolproof way to store your food on a camping trip is by using a thermal bag. They work the same way as coolers but are much smaller and easier to carry. The bags will keep your food chilled for longer once you put in some ice cubes. Like coolers, make sure the items have been pre-frozen before packing.
If you don’t have a thermal bag, you can fashion a DIY cooling box. Use a cardboard box and aluminum foil as the insulating material. Then you can pack it with ice cubes to keep things chilled inside.
Lastly, you can skip the frozen meals and just bring along non-perishable foods. If you are looking to travel light, you are better off with snacks and some dried fruits. And canned meals can make any camping dinner worthwhile.
Food Safety Tips to Consider While Camping
Every time you are out camping, you are dangerously exposing your body to millions of tiny bacteria. You cannot see them, but these minute creatures pose a real threat to your health. You increase this danger if you are carrying food with you. The last thing you want is to contract an upset stomach while out in the wild.
To keep harmful bacteria at bay, you can keep your food as sanitized as possible. Use cling film that prevents air pockets from developing around stored food. This air encourages microorganisms to thrive, so try to eliminate it.
If you are taking meat with you, make sure you cook it properly before packing. Use high heat to prepare the food, then make sure to freeze it afterward. Once frozen, place it on the bottom level of your cooler. There should be plenty of ice at the bottom, and your food will mostly stay solid until you decide to thaw it out.
If you want to know how to keep food cold while camping, consider separate storage for your food. Doing so prevents cross-contamination. Meat and dairy products are excellent breeding grounds for bacteria. When things go wrong, you certainly don’t want to lose all your food to spoilage.
You are better off carrying two coolers. In one, you can pack drinking water and other refreshments. Also, you can use the first box for light meals. In the second icebox, place your meats and vulnerable food items.
Camping is a worthwhile activity that will bring a bit of excitement to your life. If you are bringing along the entire family, you’ll need to know how to keep food cold while camping.
Why do you think refrigerators are such a big hit all over the world? The cold is an excellent preservative that keeps food fresh for longer. Sadly, you cannot haul your fridge to the campsite. But you can still bring an icebox that works just as well. Follow the tips in this article to keep your food chilled whenever you are going camping. Remember, the longer it stays cold, the longer you can stay out in the wild. Nothing beats knowing that your food and drinks are not going to go bad.