How do You Keep Your Food Cold When Camping Without a Fridge?

How do You Keep Your Food Cold When Camping Without a Fridge? So you want to go camping, and you are without a Fridge? How do you keep your food in a cooler from getting all wet when the ice melts?

keep your food cold while camping collage

That is the very issue we had to deal with last summer on a two-week-long trip through Indiana. It was hot enough that our fridge couldn’t keep up, and our food was starting to spoil.

How do You Keep Your Food Cold When Camping Without a Fridge?

We asked the experts and came up with a whole host of ideas for the next time we take a long trip. We will plan for the fridge to fail and end up being just fine.

Ice it

  • Dry ice – This seems like a great idea, but it is pretty costly and only available in certain places. The downside? It only lasts 18-24 hours or so. It will not “melt” and water down your food, but isn’t a long-term solution. To find dry ice in your area, do a google search for it. 
  • Layer it – If I’m going to be out for several days (which we do a lot), I buy a five or 10-pound block of dry ice, put it on the bottom of the cooler, and cover it with a layer of regular ice. Nothing will melt, and your cooler ice will last for 4 or 5 days. While dry ice can be a little pricey but you’ll make up the difference in saved ice and supplies by layering.
  • Sprinkle salt over your ice. The chemical reaction will slow down the melting process.
  • Use milk jugs – Fill them almost to capacity and pop them in your freezer before a trip. It will act as an ice block a little longer than the dry ice and will not water down your food as it thaws.
lady holding ice

Seal it

  • Vacuum seal it – You can vacuum seal meals that you know will be in the cooler longer, and that will keep the water out. You can also make foil-pack meals, and then vacuum seal them. We freeze those ahead of time. We do that on longer camping trips, put those items on the bottom, and stack them. 
  • Put everything in plastic Ziploc bags – but make sure they aren’t “slider” tops. Those will let the water in. You can also use a plastic container without the lid on top of ice for cold cuts, butter, etc.
  • Keep it sealed – put a bag of ice on the bottom of the cooler and one on top of the food, but do not open the bags of ice! 
  • Box it up – Food goes in a plastic tub with a lid that sits on top of the ice. Inside of this plastic tub goes one or two layers of corrugated cardboard to insulate the food from the condensation that will come through the bottom. Then you load the food into the tub. 
  • Use jars – try putting everything, meat cheese, condiments, etc. in wide-mouth, quart canning jars with lids. They are the only thing we have found that does not let water in. 

Stack it

  • Build a shelf – Use tops to large pieces of Tupperware and create a shelf over the ice. Keeps all the food you don’t want to get wet, above the ice. 
  • If you don’t have large lids like that, get the shelves from the local dollar store — kind of like the ones that go in a freezer. 
  • Use cookie cooling rack – same principle as the previous two ideas. 

containers for food

Get Fancy

  • Drain it – If you have a drain plug on your cooler, keep it open, so the water drains out and refill as you need to. 
  • Try these 3X Lg. Zero°F Cooler Freeze Packs.
  • Use two different coolers; take a “dinner” cooler and a “drink” cooler. Make sure they are both labeled, so no one opens the dinner cooler for anything because they can easily find their drinks. That helps keep the ice longer.
  • Reflection – Try covering your ice chest with a silver tarp. You won’t believe how long your ice will last because that trap reflects the sun. 
  •  If you want to avoid all of that hassle, check out SnomasterUSA. They’re the best! All stainless steel, full cooling plates instead of wrap-around coils so there’s no temperature varies depending on how you pack your cooler. It has a voltage cutoff, so you don’t accidentally kill your battery.

    It comes with a solar chargeable remote control and insulating cover. They’ve been around for over 20 years in South Africa. It’s one of those things that you either know about them, and you need one because you do long-haul off-road expedition-type trips, or you don’t even know that they exist. 

Can you think of any tips we might have missed? Please let us know if there is something different that works for you!

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