Camping should be a relaxing experience. It’s about taking in nature and the peace — not about rushing off to the store to buy bag after bag of ice. Keeping food cold, especially perishables like raw meat and fruit, can be a real challenge when camping. But with these helpful tips and expert advice, you can rest easy knowing your main dish hasn’t gone bad.
Here Live Enhanced explore some ideas about how to keep your food cold longer on a camping trip, using some tried-and-true tricks and a few convenient pieces of gear, too. Once you learn how to keep food cold while camping, you’ll stress less about wasting meals and be more willing to make gourmet dishes for you and your camping companions.
Invest in a Quality Cooler
First and foremost, it’s crucial to invest in a high-quality cooler. While your dad’s Coleman might be a cherished piece of your camp gear, it doesn’t hold ice nearly as well as a more modern cooler with wheels. Newer models are designed with features like two-inch-thick polyurethane insulation and freezer-grade gaskets that can provide 10 days of ice retention.
Choose the Right Ice
Before you head out to the gas station for a bag of ice, know that choosing the right ice goes hand in hand with how long your food stays cold. While it’s an easy option and one we’ve all used, it will melt far quicker and there are better alternatives. An ice block, for example, has fewer edges and will stay frozen far longer.
Dry ice is another fantastic option to keep your food cold longer. Learn how to use dry ice in a cooler properly and safely and you’ll never use anything else. Be sure to wrap the dry ice to prevent it from damaging your cooler. Again, a high-quality cooler is sealed well enough to contain dry ice and withstand the gaseous output.
Cool the Cooler and Prefreeze Items
Prefreeze everything! Yes, even the cooler, if possible. If you have a deep freezer and the cooler is compact enough, place it in and let it freeze before your camping trip. Also, be sure to freeze any foods and drinks, too. Having everything go into the cooler nice and cold will ensure it stays that way. This also goes for bottles of water. Freeze water bottles and drink them as they begin to melt. The one advantage? It won’t leave melted ice at the bottom of your cooler.
Afraid an ingredient or main dish won’t be thawed in time before you need to cook it? Have a plan and pull out items a few hours ahead or the morning you plan to cook burgers, steaks or what-have-you. The only thing you truly can’t freeze is carbonated drinks, for apparent reasons.
Fill Your Cooler to the Brim
Essentially, you want to reduce the amount of air trapped in your cooler, replacing it with ice or frozen items instead. The more space there is for air to move about, the quicker your ice will melt and food will thaw. Not sure you can fill it with that much food or drinks? Trick question — you’re not supposed to. Ideally, your cooler should be filled with 60 percent food and the rest ice.
Then, place your food and drinks close to the bottom and top it off with an extra layer made of a thick towel, cut-to-size piece of styrofoam or even cardboard or newspaper.
Pack the Cooler Properly
Packing your cooler to the brim will ensure minimal airflow that can lead to melted ice and thawed foods. However, there’s more than one way to pack a cooler properly. For instance, you need to position a layer of ice at the bottom of the cooler to maintain coolness all around.
Above the first layer of ice, you should then place the frozen meat. This is mainly for safety purposes. Should the meat accidentally thaw, it could leak and contaminate foods. But if it’s placed in the base of the cooler, there’s less chance for contamination and food poisoning. After placing the frozen meat, add another layer of ice. Again, don’t take any chances here.
The next layer above the meat should be your sealed and packaged foods (frozen, if possible). Follow this layer with the more delicate foods and items on the very top. This could be things like eggs or even fruits and candies.
Take Two Coolers
If you have the means and enough car space, take two coolers: one for food and perishables and the second for drinks. Why? Think about it: at camp, you are constantly diving into the cooler to retrieve a drink or beverage. And each time you do, more cold air escapes. So, instead of having your food share the same space as the beer, give it a fighting chance and separate the two items. This way, you can grab as many drinks as you like without worrying about food going bad.
Keep Your Cooler in the Shade
This might go without saying, but keep your cooler out of the sun and in the shade. Tuck it beneath the picnic table or at least under a sunshade or tarp, but do what you have to do to keep your food cold longer.
The only exception to this rule? Avoid placing it in the car. Even if that’s the only source of shade, your food, ice and cooler will not be able to withstand the heat.
Ready to Pack the Cooler?
Have a camping trip on the horizon? With these tips and tricks, you will know exactly how to keep your food cold longer on a camping trip. Playing it safe with your food and keeping it from spoiling, melting and more can not only prevent a mess in your cooler, but ensure everyone’s safety. Knowing how to pack a cooler and keep items cold can also give you the confidence to cook healthy, more delicious meals.