Camping is such a wonderful experience. Taking a break from mundane life and immersing yourself in nature is a great way to relax and disconnect. But what’s camping when there isn’t any s’mores, grilling, or barbecuing, and a whole lot of cold beverages of your choice to keep you properly hydrated?
To do proper cooking on a camping trip you’ll need to bring some fresh ingredients with you. Keeping the ingredients cold and preserve their freshness can be a difficult task though, because how do you manage to keep it cold when you’re in the middle of nowhere? Is it even possible, and if so, what are your options?
No need to worry. We’ve got you covered. We have laid out nine practical tips that you can do so you’ll get nothing but yummy meals on your next camping trip. We also included an alternative that you may want to consider purchasing. So pack your collapsible water bottles, your backpacking tent, a lightweight air mattress, and other equipment you may need on your trip – soon you’ll be on your way!
Buy the Right Cooler
The cooler will be the most important thing on this list. Without a cooler, it might not be possible for you to bring along the fresh ingredients that you need for your dish. Unless you decide to stop by a market minutes before you reach the campsite and cook it immediately.
For starters, you can check out the Coleman Rolling Cooler. Coleman has been a well-known brand that delivers, especially with their coolers. The Coleman Rolling Cooler has a capacity that can hold 50-qt and can support the weight of up to 250 lbs. The Xtreme technology used on this cooler allows you to keep the ice for as long as five days. It will really come in handy for long camping trips.
The Coleman Rolling Cooler is just one of the many out there in the market. When you are checking out coolers, there are three things we want you to remember that will help make sure that you can keep the inside cold.
There are a number of cooler types out there with different construction to provide insulation. Make sure to check up on this at it will greatly dictate how long you can keep the heat out from your contents.
The usual way that coolers are constructed is by sandwiching a thick layer of foam. The varying thickness of the foam affects its insulation. So the thicker the foam is, the better the insulation will be, however it also means that it will increase the bulkiness of the cooler. New technologies of insulation are now rising such as the rotomolded products like the Thermik High Performance Cooler that help extend the life of your ice. It has a rubber gasket around the lid of your cooler which makes for a great seal on the lid.
One of the most important parts of the cooler is the drain. During your time out in the wild, ice will for sure melt and will create a pool of unwanted water at the bottom. You have to take that water out as it will increase the melting of the rest of the ice. Check if the drain is right at the bottom so you don’t have to tilt your cooler all the way to pour out all of the water.
Another way to keep in the cold and keep out the heat is the lid. Make sure that your lid has an air-tight seal and, if possible, it has a gasket for better insulation. A regular lid-to-body seal would be fine for shorter camping trips (trips that are less than five days).
Chill the Cooler Beforehand
Yes, you read that right. You’ve got to chill the cooler the night before you leave for the desired camp site. Before any eyebrows are raised, I do know it sounds impossible to stick a cooler in the fridge, especially if your cooler is huge. But it can be done, trust me.
Prepping your cooler will allow you to start with the appropriate temperature to keep your food fresh. What happens if you don’t chill the cooler beforehand? You’ll be placing your product in the chest with room temperature. For sure there will be a few melted ice before you even leave your home.
There are two simple things that you can do to make sure that your cooler is pre-chilled. Firstly, find the place in your house that is cooler than the rest. It can be a room with air conditioning or even your garage will do. The next thing is to place ice packs or loose ice inside, and that’s it. Just make sure the ice packs you placed are extras so in case it melted, you can opt not to include it when packing. Also, don’t forget to drain the cooler before placing the food inside.
Freeze the Food
Freezing your food beforehand will help greatly in keeping the cold temperature inside the cooler for a long time. You do not only have freshly made food for your meal, but you’ll also have additional ice for your cooler. But, please, do not freeze everything. Some produce isn’t meant to be frozen, such as your fruit and vegetables, mayonnaise, cream-based products, and so on. You can, however, chill them a little bit so they’ll add-on the cold in the cooler.
Separate Frozen Food From Drinks
Having two separate coolers for your food and drinks may sound space consuming, not to mention the fact that you may have to purchase another cooler, but hear me out. There are two reasons why this is beneficial to you.
The first reason is that it would help keep the cold temperature inside your food cooler. How you ask. Simple, it’s because beverages are most likely the items that are constantly being taken out. It would mean that the cool is opened more often, letting in the heat. Separating the drinks would mean that the food cooler will be opened less, keeping the food fresh.
The second reason is for food safety. In our article on Best Ways to Prevent Poor Food Safety, we have mentioned that raw food should always be separated from the rest of the items, especially your beverages as it can easily cause cross-contamination.
Choose Your Ice
There are a lot of choices on what type of ice you will use. Plan what type of ice you will use for your trip. Here are some of the options of ice you can choose to place in your cooler before your camp:
Loose Ice Cubes
This type is the easiest to obtain, you can make them at home or you can easily buy large bags at your local gas station. Although it’s very convenient, it is best to use it in a cooler with an open drain as it easily melts and may cause your food to have a pool party. Your food will, for sure, turn soggy and less tasty. Barbecue soup, anyone?
Ice packs are my favorite go-to items for coolers. It is reusable, colder than your usual ice, relatively long-lasting, and doesn’t make a pool in the cooler, not to mention the wide variety of features each brand has. These are excellent for your food cooler, for sure.
Cooler Shock has a wide range of ice pack sizes to choose from. So whether you need a big ice pack for you huge cooler or just a tiny one for your lunch box, they got it. Their line is very affordable but still delivers a long-lasting and superior cooling. It is a great ice pack to start with.
Frozen Water Bottles
You can opt to reuse your plastic water bottles for this one. Fill up a water bottle with water, freeze it and it would be similar to your ice packs. What’s great about it is that, unlike your loose ice, it wouldn’t create a huge mess in your cooler. So it’s great for your food cooler. You can also choose to freeze your drinks beforehand too, that way the cold will last longer.
Although this is much tricky ice to handle, it keeps the food cold better than your regular ice. It doesn’t just keep the food items cool, it actually keeps them frozen. Place the dry ice on top, and you can place regular ice on the bottom. But take note to buy them only hours before you leave for camp as it can easily turn back into a gas, and use gloves when handling dry ice.
Arrange the Contents
Like all things in life, a little organizing would do good. Don’t just throw in your food and call it packing and then spend an ample time rummaging in your cooler finding the ingredients you need. You’ll be allowing heat to enter the cooler and that’s not what we want.
There are two things I want you to remember about this. The first one is to know where you placed your items, this way you won’t rummage through your cooler finding what you need. Second, and the most important, is that you place the foods that are regularly needed on the top. Don’t put your berries at the bottom if you know you’ll constantly snacking on them. This way, you don’t have the cooler open for a long time.
Fill-Up Your Cooler
A compact cooler is better than a spacious one. The more there are extra spaces the easier it is for heat to come in. I’m not saying that you should pack food that is good for three days when you’re only going out for a night, although it is a good idea if you ask me. Anyway, you can fill those spaces with more ice and ice packs to keep it packed and intact.
Did you know that salt can depress the freezing point of water? Now you do! According to the article from Sciencing, salt can cause the freezing temperature of water from 32oF to as low as -6oF. This means that ice can be colder than it normally should. It’s good to add salt in your frozen water bottle to have a colder temperature. Just make sure you don’t drink it though.
Keep it Away From the Sun
The heat from the sun can hasten the increase in the temperature inside the cooler. Placing it inside your car may also not be a good idea as the insides of the car can get humid and very hot really quick. It’s best to take it with you and place it under the shade of a tree or a canopy, move it as often as needed to keep it out of the heat. Placing a white cloth on it may also help as white tends to absorb less heat.
Melted ice at the bottom of the cooler can catalyze the melting of other ice in the bunch. Every once in a while make sure you drain the pool of water on the bottom of the cooler. It’s also a good practice to refill the ice every 24 hours to make sure that the cooler stays full and the melted ice gets replaced.
Invest in a Portable Fridge
If you plan to make camping a part of your lifestyle and you have a car, you may want to look into buying a portable fridge or an electric cooler. It’s much more convenient than using your regular cooler as you don’t have to think much about how to make sure the temperature stays cold. This is especially important if you would go camping for days rather than spending a night or two out there. However, it will drain the juice of your car battery, so it is something that you will have to consider when buying an electric cooler.
Congratulations on reaching this part! We know that it must be overwhelming after reading all those tips and tricks. But don’t worry; the best teacher is still experience. What we gave you is a guide for you and others who are new to this. Eventually, as you camp more, you’ll figure out what works best for you. So don’t be afraid to take or add things in the equation. Make your next camping trip the best with freshly cooked food on your plates.