9 Tips On How To Keep Food Cold While Camping Multiple Days

by Julie | Last Updated:   May 4th, 2022
9 Tips On How To Keep Food Cold While Camping Multiple Days
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Spring is in the air and it’s about that time when we are all tired of being cooped up inside because of the cold. The itch to get outdoors has become near irresistible, and with summer well insight and not far out of reach, you can start making your plans. It’s time to pull out the camping equipment and reassess. The weather will only be getting warmer from here on out, so get situated and get ready to plan a camping trip!

When it comes to camping, there is much that needs to be done in order to be prepared for your trip. How you pack and prepare is the most important step because that can determine how well your camping trip will go.

One of the most vital things for you to pack will be food. Ah, the dilemma that this can cause because not everyone knows what they can bring and what they shouldn’t, what will spoil fast, and what will last. Most of us all the struggle of how to keep food cold while camping. Don’t worry, we are here to give you some tips on how to do just that!

There are quite a few things you can do and try that will help to keep food cold for longer. This way you can eat like kings and queens while enjoying the great outdoors. So, let’s hop to it!

Don’t Bring Perishable Food

The first thing is first, don’t bring food that will spoil and go bad on you. Experienced campers will know and well understand this from their own past experiences. So, for those just starting out and wanting to get into camping, we are here to give you some tips to save you from the trouble and fiasco that can ensue when you don’t pack the right food, and pack it correctly.

As much as you’ll want fresh food like fresh meats and dairy products, they can spoil quickly and will not last. If you’re insistent to have fresh food like eggs and bacon for breakfast or grill up some chicken for dinner, we would suggest you pack enough for your very first-day camping. Keeping it properly cold and having your first-day kick off with a meal like that will be okay. It will not keep any longer, so don’t attempt to have more than that for however long you plan to stay.

Some examples of perishable food you shouldn’t bring are:

  • Fresh and uncured meats
  • Dairy products
  • Soft cheese like mozzarella
  • Fresh fruits and veggies (unless you eat them quickly before they spoil)
  • Bread (unless you’re just on a weekend trip)
  • Avoid too many snacks that contain a high sodium content (you’ll have to be vigilant to drink lots of water when eating salty foods)

Otherwise, there are plenty of alternate foods for you to choose from that will make excellent meals, call on some creativity, and will actually last you for your duration of stay.

These kinds of nonperishable foods are great to bring camping:

  • Dried meats like beef jerky
  • Cured and firm cheeses like gouda and cheddar
  • Pepperoni and summer sausage
  • Rice
  • Pasta of any kind or shape
  • Dried fruit
  • Precooked and frozen meats
  • Cereal
  • Peanut butter
  • Energy bars, granola bars, fig bars, etc.
  • Trail mix or gorp
  • Whole grain tortillas
  • Canned foods
  • Pancake mix

The list could go on, but these are some of the things you could bring camping and not worry about them spoiling or going bad on you. You can get away with more if you have an efficient way of keeping food cold as well.

Check out this video for more examples on what food to bring and what kind of camping meals you can have:

Cooler boxes: The Coldest for Camping

How To Keep Food Cold While Camping

The most popular and common way of keeping food cold while camping is using a cooler or really two coolers. They are incredibly convenient and a good cooler can keep food cold for days even, especially when packed appropriately. You can get away with bringing more perishable foods as well if you have a way to keep them cold. You don’t want your food in your cooler temperature to get above 40 degrees Fahrenheit because that is when the perishable food will indeed start to go bad.

So, there is actually much to discuss on coolers if you are planning on using them and are able to if weight isn’t a problem. There is the matter of having an actually good and well-insulated cooler, ways to keep the food cold inside the cooler, how to pack the cooler so the food stays chilled for as long as possible, and much more.

It would be in your best interest to bring at least two coolers. This way you can have them separated as a drink cooler and a food cooler. This will be easier than trying to fit everything in one, which isn’t like it’s not doable but can be a bit tricky.

Invest In A High-End Cooler

A quality cooler can save you a lot of time, disappointment, and inconvenience in the long run. Having the right cooler could make the difference in whether or not your food items remain safe to eat. There are a lot of coolers out there and sometimes people will get away with even styrofoam coolers that you can pretty much find at and store or even a local gas station.

And to be honest, they aren’t half bad. Styrofoam coolers are well insulated and they’re lightweight, but they don’t have the best lids on them, they tend to not be very secure, and aren’t the most durable. You could get away with using a cheap styrofoam cooler on weekend camping trips every so often, but they are not good for long-time and avid campers.

You want large, durable, well-insulated coolers that are renowned for their thicker walls and ability to keep food chilled for days. They may come at a bit of an expensive price, but if you’re staying at a campground for sometimes weeks at a time and go camping several times a year, not just once or twice, then it’s worth the investment. The best-known brand names are Yeti coolers, RTIC coolers, Coleman, and IGLOO.

Then, thanks to technology, there is always another route to go when choosing the right cooler. Yes, in fact, there is such a thing as an electric cooler. Almost crazy to think of, but they do indeed exist. Just like the great brand name camping coolers listed above, they also tend to be on the pricy side.

However, they are literally like portable fridges or freezers that you can bring with you. They run on a battery and are pretty efficient at keeping your camping food cool. So, just maybe an electric cooler may be just the right option for you.

So, there are plenty of options out there. You don’t have to settle for some cheap, poorly made cooler, you can find one that will last you for a lifetime and will keep food cold longer than any other. It is an important piece of camping gear after all and could save you from a bad bout of food poisoning.

Pick Up Some Ice Packs (or make your own)

Ice packs are a necessity for, well, keeping your cooler cold. Luckily there are all kinds out there for you to choose from like the hard-pack ice packs, soft ice packs, dry ice packs. You can get them almost anywhere online or at the grocery store. If you would rather, then you could always make your own ice packs too.

There are several different kinds of ice packs that you can make at home that will all work to help keep your food cold.

  1. Ziplock freezer bags: are pretty much self explainatory. You can use a ziplock bags to make ice packs by using water. Fill the bag to 3/4 full and the seal it and put it in the freezer.
  2. Rice ice packs: Using a cloth, you can makeshift a pouch to fill with the rice and stitch it closed, then put in the freezer.
  3. Sponge ice packs: Wet a clean and thick sponge, then seal in a ziplock back and place it in the freezer.
  4. Then there is always the option of simply filling a ziplock bag or multiple with ice cubes which works just as well.

These are just a few simple ways to make your own ice pack. They also function great for injuries or sore muscles so it’s great to have them with you in general.

To know more about how to make these different kinds of ice packs then check out the following DIY guide:

Freezing Water Bottles

You’ll be needing plenty of water for your camping trip, so why not give them a dual purpose? By freezing your water bottles, you’re effectively creating large ice blocks that you can put in your cooler and will help it stay cold longer.

You can efficiently pack these frozen water bottles turned ice blocks into both your drink cooler and food cooler. Combining them with other ice packs and dumping bags of loose ice cubes will certainly ensure the cold air inside your cooler will last longer and keep the food cold.

You can even freeze large jugs of water as well to work as even bigger ice blocks, but a few of them can make your cooler real heavy, real fast!

Pre-cool your cooler

Sounds kind of funny I know, but this is an actual trick that works. If your cooler starts out cold, then it will stay cold for longer. So how do you cool a cooler without trying to cram it in your freezer (which it likely won’t fit)?

Well, that’s easy! You just buy bags of loose ice cubes from the store, you know the ones, and keep them in your cooler so they can keep the temperature right where it needs to be, so it’ll be ideal when you begin packing your food into them.

This helps a lot when you plan on trying to bring raw meat and other perishable food. You really want them to stay frozen as long as possible so they’ll last.

Prepare And Freeze Your Meals Beforehand

Bringing precooked meals and meats with you is the safest and best option that will surely help to prevent you from getting food poisoning. That is something we’d all like to avoid happening on a fun camping trip! By having these frozen foods with you, they’ll also function much like frozen water bottles. They’ll assist in the cooler temperature remaining the same.

It’ll also just be much easier cooking up a premade meal on all your camping trips. Camping food can be just as enjoyable as any other meal especially when you’re creative with it and when you already have some of the key ingredients already prepared and frozen in the cooler.

Don’t forget to bring backup meals and other food just in case some of the stuff you bring does indeed go bad, or doesn’t turn out the way you want it to!

How To Properly Pack Food Into Your Cooler

How you pack it is just as important when it comes to if the temperature remains nice and chilled. You want the cold air to stay for as long as possible, so packing efficiently so that your ice pack and ice cubes do their job properly is a pretty big deal. You don’t want to open up your cooler to find melting ice on basically the first day of your camping trip.

The best way to pack your cooler is to:

  • Put the bottles of water you froze on the bottom or your ice packs can go here too. If you have two coolers and you designate one as the drink cooler and one as the food and snack cooler, then the layering will be similar. You can keep frozen water in your food cooler, it just adds as more block ice.
  • Dump a pack of ice over the top of them so that it forms a layer.
  • Then put your desired meats and frozen meals on top of the layer of ice.
  • Pour another bag of ice on top.
  • The top layer will be where things like fruits, vegetables, and snack items will be. All the important and perishable food will be more tightly packed into the ice to stay cold for your extended stay.

Keeping your perishable food cold while camping is difficult, which is why people who are staying for more than 3 days will pack other foods that can actually last. However, packing your cooler efficiently and having layers of ice and frozen water and frozen food item will all help the longevity of freezing cold air staying inside of it.

Check out this video here for more tips on how to pack your food in your cooler so it stays cold:

Keep Your Cooler Out Of The Sun

This should come as a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised. Just because you might have a good cooler that is efficient at keeping frozen food, well, frozen but don’t underestimate the power of the summer sun.

You never want to leave your cooler sitting out in the sun, always put it in a shady and sheltered place so it’s not getting beat to death by the blazing heat. It’s one thing if it is out in mildly warm air and out of the sun, then the cooler will work properly as it should, but if you combine warm air and direct sunlight, then you’re going to have melting ice and thawing frozen food in no time.

Which is the last thing you want to happen. Pay attention and find a good spot to leave your cooler during the day so everyone can access it easily, and it still can maintain its cold temperature and your frozen food items.

Final Thoughts & Takeaways

Knowing how to keep food cold while camping is rather important and having a good cooler is an essential piece of camping gear to complete just that. Besides, when you’re camping in the summer heat you don’t want warm drinking water, you want to be able to reach in a pull-out and ice-cold water bottle to quench your thirst and cool you off.

There are a lot of different foods you could bring that could go bad if they don’t stay cold, which is why you should always be prepared with alternative options.

Don’t forget that it can be beneficial to have a separate cooler for your food and another for your drinks. This is more efficient because you want to open the lid to the cooler as little as possible, and if you have everything mixed into one then people are going to be going in and out of them constantly getting drinks or snacks, and just letting all the cold air out and the hot air in. You want to keep food cold camping, so think smart and be prepared.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long will a cooler keep food cold?

Bringing a cooler is the best way to ensure your food stays cold while camping. Though how you pack it and how you keep it cold can vary. You can use homemade ice packs or store-bought, bags of ice cubes, block ice, or dry ice wrapped in newspaper. By using these items and cooling methods you can efficiently keep the inside of your cooler cold for three days up to a week.

How to keep food cold while camping without a cooler?

It is difficult to keep food cold without a cooler, to be honest. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try some creative methods. Like using a cardboard box or drawstring bag and lining them with gel ice packs to keep food cold. You could also try evaporative cooling methods like wetting a towel and draping it over your food box, or by keeping your food in a fabric bag that is good at absorbing water and wetting it to then hang it on a tree limb. When the water evaporates it cools what is inside.

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I was fishing before I could walk and it's been a family tradition for centuries. Fishing is my life, or at least as long as I can remember. In the Lake Champlain International Fathers Day Fishing Derby, not only have I won first place twice but also third place! Also, in addition to majoring in Wilderness Recreation Leadership, I also happen to be a licensed camping, hiking, and hunting guide for NY.