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Keeping your food fresh while your camping can be a struggle, especially if you are wilding it and camping off the grid. It doesn’t need to be so complicated though, and there are plenty of ways to extend the life of your food at the campsite. Keeping your food cool is the best way to do this. If you have a good method of chilling your food products in the wild, you will never have to eat another tin of soup or beans ever again!
In this article, we will help you understand how you can keep your food cold while camping using a variety of techniques and equipment. There is a method of chilling for everyone here from the lightweight backpacker all the way to the luxury glamper. After this read, you will be able to bring your favorite steak, chicken, and vegetables with you on your next multiday trip! Enjoy.
No Power No Problem
If you have no access to power at your campsite, don’t worry, there are a few options available to you that will keep your food cool for a day, a weekend, and even a full week! It doesn’t matter if you are the camper who is on a budget, you will still be able to keep your food cool for at least a few days of your trip. If you have a bit of a higher budget, you will even be able to store your food properly for a week or more!
In order to cool your food down to a refrigerated temperature without a power source, you need to find a way to keep an area cold enough for a long period of time. The best way to do this is by using ice! The classic freezer pack and cool bag/box does wonders when you are camping and this simple trick can keep your food cold overnight, for a couple of days, and even up to a week.
Soft-sided cool bags are the cheapest option. If you load a good quality cool bag up with plenty of fridge packs and keep it in a shaded area at your campsite, you can expect chilled food to stay cold for 2 days (3 at a push). They are a great option if you are going camping over the weekend or plan on stopping to get groceries mid-week on a week-long camping trip.
Freeze your water bottles and store them in your cool bag so they keep the rest of your food cold, they will eventually defrost giving you a cold drink. Freeze meat products before you leave the house, so they stay cooler for much longer. A slow defrost is fine for most meat products and you can add a day on to your cool bag’s chill time by doing this. Limit the amount you open your cool bag to help keep the heat out and the cold in. Only open your bag up when it is absolutely necessary and get all the food out for the meal you are cooking at once.
Cool boxes are more effective at keeping your food chilled for longer. A well-insulated hard-walled cool box that is loaded with block ice and frozen water bottles will stay chilled for 7 – 10 days if used appropriately. Cool boxes are best kept in the shade like their soft-shelled cousin the cool bag, but they are much less susceptible to defrosting from external heat. Cool boxes are a great option if you are going camping for a week without a power source and don’t expect to visit any grocery stores for the duration of your trip.
There are a few things you can do to make sure your cool box stays cold for over a week and you should load them in a similar way to a cool bag. Freeze your water bottles and purchase some large ice blocks, this will help prolong your chill time immensely. If you are bringing lots of meat, make sure the cuts you will use on the first few nights are chilled and freeze up the rest, so they defrost slowly. Like the cool bag, store your cool box in the shade and keep opening it to a minimum. If you load up and take care of your well-insulated cool box this way, then you can expect a minimum of 7 days at refrigerated temperatures.
Chilling Your Food in a Hiking Backpack
When you are out hiking, keeping your food cool can be a pain because you can’t exactly bring a cooler up the mountain with you! Of course, you won’t be bringing Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant with you on your hike either, so how do you keep a small amount of perishable food chilled in your backpack all day?
Keeping food items cold in such a small space is difficult, especially for a multi-day hike. My first piece of advice is to bring as much non-perishable food as possible. If you really can’t live off of cured meats, dry grains, and hard bread for the duration of your hike, then consider freezing your food before heading out. Freezing a steak, chicken breast, or pork chop and storing it in a small insulated bag inside your backpack will help it last throughout the day until you reach camp at night at least.
If you are hiking with a backpack that features a water bladder system, consider filling your bladder up with as much ice as possible. This is a great way to stay refreshed in the hot weather and it also acts as a cool pack. If you have any perishables you can slide them up against your icy water bladder for an all-day chill.
Getting food to stay chilled for more than a day inside your hiking backpack is a bit more difficult. As I said earlier, bringing non-perishables is your best bet but sometimes there is nothing better than a freshly cooked meal at camp after a long day’s hike. The only way you can do this is with a small soft-shell cool bag. Obviously, space and weight are a big concern when you are hiking so consider how you will keep things cool wisely.
Instead of putting freezer packs in your cool bag to chill your food, instead, freeze some of your water supply and store that in there. This way you are not wasting space and weight with something that is useless once de-frosted. Freeze your food products before you head out on your hike, this will ensure they stay cold in the cool bag for more than 24 hours.
Chilling your food this way will make sure it lasts as long as possible and stays cold for more than a day, however, chill time can be affected greatly by the weather conditions on your hike. If it is the height of summer and you are hiking in 90-degree heat, then don’t hold to much hope for your chilled food products. If it is much cooler outside, then you can expect your food to last for much longer.
Long-Term Cooling When You are Camping
If you are looking for a food cooling system that is a bit longer term, then your best bet is to go for a powered unit. Understandably, if you are camping off-grid then you may not have immediate access to power (if any), so how do you get around this?
One of your options is a gas-powered camping refrigerator box. These fridges are run off of small camping gas bottles that connect to the cool box. This type of refrigeration box can keep your food cold for as long as you desire, providing that you have enough gas to keep up with your usage needs. This kind of system usually comes with a mains power plugin as well so you can get your fridge to a fully chilled level before leaving the house. Doing this will save you money on gas and keep your refrigerator cooler for longer.
Your other option is a 12v camping fridge with a camping leisure battery kit and solar panel. Products from companies such as Goal Zero and Jackery will provide you with a reliable power source and an easily connectable solar system to charge your batteries. This is a great way to keep your food cold indefinitely and once you have spent the money on the initial setup you get free power and food cooling! The only problem is you have to rely on the sun’s light to get a consistent charge on your batteries in order to keep them topped up.
Another option is using a camping generator with an electrical cool box. This is not the most efficient way of cooling your food, but it is pretty reliable. Whenever your cool box needs chilling you simply put some fuel in the generator and let it run for a few hours. The only problem with this is noise, and if you are camping around other outdoor-goers I’m sure they won’t be too happy with a generator running every day. If you are on your own in the wilderness though, this is a great option.
Combining all of these options with a 3-way camping refrigerator is your best bet if you are camping long-term or traveling in a small camper, overlander, or converted van. A 3-way fridge gives you the ability to use gas, mains hook up, and 12-volt power. This gives you the option to run your fridge on gas bottles when it is overcast, solar when the sun is out, and mains power or a camping generator when all else fails. This method is by far the most reliable way of cooling your food when camping but it is more for the permanent van lifer, RV’er, or full-time camper.
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