Unless you plan on eating powdered food and tinned rations for dinner every night, you’ll want to bring along some food that needs to be kept cold.
Mastering how to keep food cold while camping can be an art though, and it’s not just enough to grab any old cooler and think it’ll get the job done.
How do you keep food cold while camping? The best approach is to use a camping cooler, but it needs to be the right material, size, and features to make it camping-friendly.
Other options for bringing cold food along include thermal packs, freeze packs, or a portable car fridge, depending on your camping style and destination.
With a carefully planned cooler, you’ll have access to an even bigger range of food and drinks, making camping feel like less of a chore.
This guide covers all of your options for how to keep food cold while camping, so it’s up to you to figure out which suits your outdoor style best.
Why Is Cold Food Important for Camping?
Camping is a time when we throw off the shackles of our everyday lives and escape into the wilderness for some fun and relaxation.
Although traditionally about scaling back what we live on, that doesn’t mean anyone wants to be without tasty food for a few days, so you need a plan to bring it along.
Dried meals and tinned beans can only get you so far on a camping trip, and if you’re like most people, your idea of camping also involves cooking sausages on the campfire or having some natural yogurt to top your granola and fruit with.
If you want to bring along some soda or cold beers, the need for cooling equipment becomes even more pressing.
Thankfully, there are lots of products out there designed for this very purpose, with the portability and convenience that campers need.
The most popular approach is to use a cooler, but it’s not as simple as throwing whatever foods you want to bring along and pouring some ice over the top, as it needs a lot more planning.
The best investment you can make for camping is a cooler that will suit your style, including whether you have facilities at your campsite or go as remote as possible, how many people are in your party, and what types of food and drink you want to take.
With these in mind, you can start searching the market for a camping cooler that’ll tick all of your boxes.
The Right Cooler for the Job
Not all coolers are created equal and this is something you’ll realize when you’re shopping for one to take camping.
A camping-friendly cooler has a unique set of requirements to one that you’d take to the beach for the day, so knowing what to look for will ensure your food stays cold for as long as possible.
A quality camping cooler should be heavily insulated with thick walls, be designed to keep contents colder for longer, have security measures in place to prevent theft and tampering from the wildlife, and have the right amount of portability to take it to the campsite.
The size of the cooler will be dependent on how long you’re camping for, but you should aim to have room to spare and not cram it full of freezer blocks and food.
Extending Your Cooler’s Cold Time
Even with the best intentions, our coolers might not be as efficient as we need to be on a camping trip. To get a little more chill time out of your favorite cooler when you’re stuck in the wilderness, use these tips:
Use freezer blocks: This is not the time to buy a bag of ice cubes and throw them into the cooler. Invest in a few larger freezer blocks that do a better job of staying frozen and keeping your food cold, rather than cubed ice that will melt sooner, seep water into your food, and leave you with a huge mess to clean up.
Packing is key: The bottom of the cooler is usually the coldest, so reserve this for the foods that need it. You’ll also have to think about what foods you’ll be eating and when so that you can pack the cooler according to accessibility. Items that need to be accessed regularly can stay on top so you don’t have to spend a lot of time with the cooler open and sifting through it.
Use two coolers: Two is always better than one when it comes to camping coolers, and if you can afford the bulk, take another along. With two coolers, you can store food in one and drink in the other which saves it from being opened all day whenever someone gets thirsty.
Keep it moving: Don’t just plant your cooler somewhere and call it a day, but have a plan to move it around as the sun’s direction changes. You never want your cooler to be in direct sunlight so find a shady tree and make sure it’s always undercover so the contents are staying colder for longer.
Other Options for Storing Cold Food
If you’re not able to get your hands on a camping cooler or just don’t want to lug one around, you do have some other options for keeping food fresh.
Here are a few other ideas for storing cold food and drinks efficiently in the great outdoors.
Defrost on the go: By planning out your meals and having the portions frozen in separate bags, you can go days sometimes without needing a cooler. Depending on the temperature and the type of food you’re carrying, this is an easy way to bring food from home and let it thaw out naturally before it’s time to cook. You’ll need to make sure you’re doing it safely and never letting any of the food get warm, otherwise, it could be dangerous to eat.
Freezer packs: A few pre-frozen freezer packs can be carried along on your camping trip and stored next to the foods you want to keep cold. They’re relatively lightweight and with a slim profile so they pack away easily, and will stay frozen for up to 24 hours to buy you, and your chilled food, some more time.
Portable car fridge: Compact car fridges can be run through your car’s battery or the power source at the campsite, and they use either 12/24 DC or 110V AC power to do so. These smart designs account for the fact that you might lose power in the great outdoors and they’ll still keep your food frozen for up to 10 hours even if it turns off.
Frozen water bottles: Kill two birds with one stone and freeze a bunch of large water bottles to take on the trip. This will give you access to freshwater but also a handy way to keep food cold, as you can store both of them together.
Keeping Cool While Camping
There’s no need to go without your favorite foods while camping just because you don’t have a refrigerator on standby, and with a little savviness, you don’t have to.
A camping-friendly cooler is the smartest option for chilling food out in the wild, so spend a little time choosing one that suits your camping style and you’ll be grateful that you did.
It may seem as though there’s a never-ending list of supplies that one has to take to make a camping trip successful, but if you plan it right, you can get away with just a few key things.
To find out more about packing for your next outdoor adventure, we’ve answered some FAQs that can give you a head start.
Can I Bring a Generator Camping?
A generator is a common camping item that people can bring along for portable access to electricity.
With different sizes and capacities to choose from, you need to ensure your generator matches the power requirements your campsite has, and that it’s portable enough to take camping.
How Much Food Should I Take Camping?
Planning a camping menu means assessing the caloric requirements of each person and making sure they’re met with a range of nutritious but tasty foods.
Adults usually require between 2,000 and 3,000 calories a day, but this should include a variety of foods so that you’re getting enough protein and carbohydrates to equip you for the activities you’re doing.
How Much Weight Should You Carry When Hiking?
The rule of thumb is to carry around 10% of your body weight in a backpack when hiking but there are some exceptions to this rule, including the climate and the type of backpacking.
As a guide though, you should never exceed this 10% and ensure that it’s been packed with correct weight distribution.
George Cummings enjoys connecting with nature, meeting new people, and making friends from all over the world. RVing and camping create the perfect opportunity for [him/her] to take part in these activities. After spending several years on the road and exploring the great outdoors, George Cummings shares some of his best pieces of advice on how to make the most of your time while camping. TourTheOutdoors is his way of helping outdoorsy individuals like [him/her] start on a right footing with amazing recommendations and buying guides.