How to Keep Food Cold While Camping

how to keep food cold while camping

How you can keep food cold while camping is by separating drinks and food into two different coolers, pre-chilling the food cooler and freezing any food a few days prior to your camping trip. By planning every meal, you can pack your food away more practically. Don’t use loose ice and add large blocks of ice instead as well as ice packs.

Read on to find out the best ways to keep food cold and more, such as why you should separate your food and drink, as well as why planning your meals makes for more practical packing, etc.

How to Keep Food Cold While Camping:

Bring a Cooler or Two

Obviously, the best way to keep food cold while camping is by using coolers. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I am not talking about just any cooler, but a high-end one like yeti or grizzly. These are thicker, heavier, and more insulated – giving your food a better chance of staying cold for longer.

Obviously, high-end coolers cost more but it is a worthwhile investment since they are also more durable. Trust me, having a good and reliable cooler is a must when going on multi-day camping trips in the summer.

It’s more practical to always take at least two coolers when camping. This is so that you can use one for food and the other for drinks. Doing this has many benefits – everything is more organized, there’s no risk of contamination, and this will keep the food cold.

Coolers tend to be opened for drinks multiple times, and by doing so you let the cold air escape and allow warm air to get in. This way, your food cooler gets left alone and can stay colder longer.

For my drinks, a 50 Quart is usually more than enough for juice, beer, and even a bottle of wine if you wish. A cooler of that size can hold up to 84 cans of beer and keep them cold for days.

There are many types of coolers, and there is no perfect one for everyone because it completely depends on your budget, personal preference, and particular needs.

Fiberglass and steel coolers can easily keep food cold for days, but they are heavy. Always consider how long you think you will need to carry the cooler for, and also how much weight you can handle. I also sometimes get the question how to store food while camping, well coolers are basically the ideal choice because they are sealed and keep everything cooler for longer, one thing that I recommend is keeping them in a shaded areas for longer ice retention.

Pre-Chill & Freeze

You can help your cooler stay colder for longer by chilling it the night before or a couple of hours before your camping trip.

This can be done by filling it with a bag of loose ice or frozen ice packs and empty it out before you leave.

If you are lucky enough to have enough space in your freezer to put the entire cooler, go ahead.

Also, you should freeze all the food you plan on taking with you before your camping trip. That frozen food will double as ice blocks in the cooler for a while.

Plan Meals & Pack Properly

Plan every meal for your entire trip and pre-make anything you can. Either keep the food in your fridge or freezer until the camping trip.

If you intend on taking food such as steak, sausages, and bacon then you should be freezing daily portions for efficient defrosting.

You should leave eating any frozen food for the end of your camping trip, so that this food can stay at the bottom of the cooler keeping everything else cold. For the beginning of your trip, focus on meals that consist of cold and fresh food.

Now, you can pack your cooler in the most convenient and practical way. With frozen food packed at the bottom and cold food on top, you can eat your way down the cooler thanks to proper planning.

The daily portions thing doesn’t work for everyone; for instance, if you want bacon with your breakfast each morning. This is why it’s important to plan every meal first, then you can work out how to pack everything, and stick to your plan.

Long-lasting Ice & Ice Packs

Large blocks of ice take much longer to melt than loose ice does. Nobody wants a cooler full of soggy food.

You can make your own ice blocks by freezing water in plastic water bottles or milk cartons a couple of days before the trip. This way you won’t end up with any water at the bottom, and you’re left with safe water to drink already bottled.

If you prefer, you can just throw a couple of ice packs into your cooler or make your own. All you need to do is freeze water in a zip-lock bag. Frozen bags of vegetables are also a good substitute.

Ice packs come in handy in the case that someone gets injured and needs to reduce any swelling.

Without a Cooler

So how to keep food cold without a cooler? If you do not have a cooler, or simply want to try camping without one, you can use a thermal bag.

Thermal bags keep food cold longer if you pack them with ice and frozen/pre-chilled food, just like coolers.

If you don’t have a thermal bag either, you can easily make one as they are really simple to do; insulate a cardboard box with aluminum foil and using something to close the top. This method does not hold a candle to coolers, and is only really useful for picnics or one-night camping trips.


Adding some salt onto the blocks of ice you have in your cooler reduces their melting point, keeping them colder for even longer. Just be sure that all your food and any drink is sealed.

Avoid Perishable Food

Don’t take soft cheeses with you, such as mozzarella and brie. Only take firm and aged cheese like cheddar, so that there’s a better chance of staying fresh. Make sure to drink lots of water because firm cheeses and dried meats are high in sodium.

If you can’t go without eating meat, try opting for summer sausage of beef jerky while you’re camping.  

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you keep food cold for 3 days camping?

Use a high-end cooler for your food and have a separate one for drinks. Plan out each and every meal you intend to eat throughout your camping trip, and freeze all of it beforehand.

How do you store food while camping?

In leak-proof containers in the cooler. You can even wrap some of the food in foil before putting it in a container.

How do you keep food cold while traveling?

In the case where you have a long time in the car ahead before you actually get to camping, then you should be packing your cooler with ice on top and things like pre-chilled food or drink at the bottom. This is because cold air travels down. Any perishable foods such as dairy and meat should be stored on top of the ice, and kept inside zip-lock bags or sealed containers.

How can I make my cooler cold for 3 days?

Pre-chill your cooler by keeping ice in it a few days before you go camping, or stick it in your freezer if you have one that is big enough. Make sure to add ice packs and/or large blocks of ice along with your food.

How long will a cooler with ice keep food cold?

A cooler filled with large blocks of ice can keep food cold for two days. If you ensure to pack your cooler properly, keep it in the shade, and don’t open it often there’s a chance the food will stay cold for longer.

How long will a cooler bag keep food cold?

Adding ice packs or a similar alternative can keep your food cold for three more days.

Related Posts –

Coolers like Yeti but Cheaper

Best Camping Coolers

Orca Cooler Review

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