How to Keep Food Cold While Camping?

Are you planning on a brand-new camping trip? Of course, you will bring some food with yourself, as you will need to have energy while out camping. If your camping trip lasts for a couple of days, you might be wondering how to keep food cold while camping. We’ve had the same concern before our first longer camping trip, so we had extra motivation to research solutions to that problem.

This guide is a product of our research and testing in the outdoors. In the following paragraphs, you will find ten tips on keeping your food cold while camping, that we think of as most important.

Now, let’s get you ready for your next camping trip!

1) Invest in a High-End Cooler

Portable cooler for camping

This is the most important decision when you think about how to keep food cold while camping. While cheap coolers might be tempting, they won’t be effective at keeping your food cold during a lengthy camping trip. Lots of campers think it is pointless to invest several hundred bucks on a cooler. In the end, you get what you pay for, and that’s making your food safe to eat for extended periods.

For instance, we’re beer lovers and there is nothing worse than sipping a hot beer. Having a portable cooler ensures your beer is always cool while camping. Don’t forget that!

There is a wide range of coolers on the market. What you choose will depend on your budget, feature preferences, and camping trip duration. Some coolers have thermometers, and cap openers, among other features. If you are camping for a couple of days, choose fiberglass and steel coolers. Styrofoam coolers are cheaper and lighter, which is awesome for backpacking trips.

The ultimate decision should revolve around good insulation to ensure that your food is cold for a few days.

Pro Tip: Always keep the temperature in the cooler around 40 Fahrenheit (4 Celsius). Put a thermometer inside to track the temperature.

2) Chill Your Cooler a Night Before Camping

Most of the time, you will put your food and drinks in a cooler that isn’t cold in the first place. That’s why it’s crucial to pre-chill your cooler before your camping trip.

To do that, put a bag of ice or ice packs in a cooler a couple of hours before you start packing. Before you pack the cooler, you can throw the ice out. Now, the cooler won’t be on room temperature, but on a sub-0 temperature by default. That way, the food will stay cold like it did in the fridge or a freezer.

Pro Tip: If you have space, insert the whole cooler in a deep freezer. The ice will last longer, as it will need to maintain the chilly temperature instead of lowering it first.

3) Buy or Make Ice Packs

Ice packs will keep your food and drinks cold while camping for a longer amount than regular ice. You can buy them online on in most grocery stores. What makes ice packs awesome is that you can reuse them time and time again. They will stay cold for at least two days.

If you don’t want to buy ice packs, there are also some DIY ice pack solutions! Actually, you have most of the ingredients at your home. The process is straightforward, soak a sponge in the water, then put it in a freezer. For a more tensile ice pack, freeze dish soap in a freezer bag.

Pro Tip: You can also use frozen vegetable bags as ice packs. Plus, you can eat them after they defrost!

4) Use Frozen Water Bottles

Frozen bottle

Don’t want to bring ice packs? No worries! You can freeze most of your bottled water instead. They can serve as a temporary ice pack, and once they are defrosted, you are left with some freshwater!

Frozen water bottles stay frozen for longer than regular ice cubes. For example, frozen 2L water bottles can take a couple of days until they fully defrost. Make sure to freeze your water bottles a week before your camping trip for the best effects.

Pro Tip: Don’t completely freeze all of your water, as you don’t know when you will need to drink it the most.

5) Freeze Your Food Before Camping

Frozen food

If your camping trip takes place a large distance away from home, make sure to cook your meal at home and freeze it. Make sure to put the frozen food at the bottom of your cooler to last there for longer. When you are ready to eat, you can just grill the food at the campfire, with no risk of contamination.

Pro Tip: When buying food at a grocery store for a camping trip, put your focus on the frozen food section. Yes, it doesn’t have the taste, but it has the permanence going for it.

6) Use Two Coolers

If you have more space and budget, it is smart to take two coolers with you, as the benefits are significant. With that in mind, you can organize one cooler exclusively for beverages, and the other solely for food.

Obviously, the cooler with beverages will be opened more often and will get warmer faster. Bringing two coolers will prevent unnecessary hot airflow to the food cooler, as it will be opened only when necessary. This method indeed results in much less stress! For camping, there is no better way.

7) Pack Your Cooler Tight

Make sure that there is almost no empty space in the cooler. The rule of the thumb is: emptier equals cooler.

The best way is to pack your cooler in layers:

Layer #1: This is the bottom layer, where you want to put a layer of ice.

Layer #2: Put your pre-frozen food on top of the previous layer. Make sure to put that food in sealed packaging so that it doesn’t contaminate other food when it defrosts.

Layer #3: Put another layer of ice.

Layer #4: This is the top layer. Ideally, you would want to put the food that you will eat first here. If there are any gaps, fill them with more ice to keep food cold when camping.

8) Keep Your Cooler in the Shade

Sun and ice are two extremes and are not a good combination in the camping context. After all, you don’t want your cooler to become a stove. Make sure to put your cooler away from the direct sunlight, which means that you will need to move it a few times during the day.

Pro Tip: You can put a blanket or a tarp over the cooler to keep the heat away.

9) Try Dry Ice

If you want to keep your food cold while camping for a couple of days, you should opt for dry ice. Essentially, it is carbon dioxide, frozen at -109 Fahrenheit (-78 Celsius). You cannot find it so easily at gas stations, but it is prevalent around grocery stores. We recommend that you Google for it to check the availability of it in your local stores.

With dry ice, you have to be more careful than with regular ice cubes. You should always put it on top of your food and never below your food. Make sure to always wrap it in a layer of paper before putting it in your cooler, so that it doesn’t blow your cooler open.

As this is carbon dioxide, handle it with heat proof gloves so that you don’t burn your hands. Another suggestion is that you never store it near your tent to keep its fabric safe.

Pro Tip: Put dry ice near regular ice to keep the regular ice frozen for a more extended period!

10) Pack Backup Food

Canned food

Well, it’s always best to think ahead, especially with camping! You never know what might happen – maybe your food will get spoiled, or your ice will melt. That’s why it is essential to bring backups such as:

  • Protein bars
  • Snacks
  • Canned food or other no-cook meals
  • Gallon of water


Now, you know about some ways of how to keep food cold while camping! In the end, it’s all about enjoying the outdoors, either solo or with your loved ones. You don’t want to worry about your food spoiled in the back of your head, don’t you?

We hope you found this guide useful, and as always, good luck out there!

About Antonio

I’m Antonio, a passionate traveler, and outdoor lover who’s running this website. I started this site to share my passion for camping, traveling, and bikepacking.

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