How do you keep food cold when tent camping?

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Jay Elliott

Chief Camping Officer

Keeping your food at a safe temperature can be one of the biggest challenges when tent camping. This article explores the different ways you can keep your food cold when tent camping in a tent and what is best in different situations.

Different ways to keep food cold when tent camping

Keeping food cold when camping can be tricky if you do not use the proper techniques or the right items to keep your food cold. There are different ways to do it and even DIY techniques but for this article, let’s discuss these three:

Cooler Bag 

Cooler bags are bags lined with reflective and insulating materials like aluminum foil and foam that keep your food hot or cold. It also preserves food as you go on your camping trip. These bags are:

  • Easy to carry
  • Easy to store
  • Easy to clean

Cooler bags are not bulky, and you can bring them without much trouble. However, there are a few downsides to cooler bags:

  • Less effective than iceboxes
  • Limited storage
  • Material can be prone to tears
  • Melted ice can leak unless it’s waterproof

How long does a cooler keep things cold?

A cooler bag has an ice retention rating, indicating how long it can keep your food at its ideal temperature.

These ratings can go up to 24 hours. However, the tests done to determine the rating are usually made in ideal conditions.

These numbers are considerably lower in real-life situations, especially if you’re bringing a cooler bag in hot weather.  


Iceboxes are made of hard molded plastic. There are also ones made out of metal. The interior of the icebox is insulated, and it has the ability to keep your food and drinks cool for hours, days even.

It is also durable yet easy to clean. But as with all things, there are also cons to using iceboxes:

  • Heavy, not ideal for long treks
  • Good quality iceboxes can be expensive

How long does an icebox keep ice from melting? What impacts on how long the ice lasts? 

There are a few things that impact how long ice lasts in an icebox:

  1. Type of ice used 

You can use dry ice, ice cubes, or block ice. Dry ice lasts for up to 24 hours in an icebox, ice cubes last for about 2 days, while block ice lasts the longest at 5 to 7 days.

Warning: Be careful of dry ice as this can burn your hands or skin. Wrap in newspaper before putting it in your icebox.

  1. Proper packing of food

Make sure to pack your food in the icebox tightly. This prevents any space for warm air from circulating. The order should be ice, meat, ice, dairy, and other food items, food that is consumed first or most often, and another layer of ice.

  1. Icebox placement

Place your icebox in a cool, shaded area away from the sun. For more insulation, cover your icebox with a blanket or tarp.

Camping Fridge

Camping fridges are a more modern way of keeping your food cold while camping. These appliances are basically portable fridges that you can take with you during trips. With a camping fridge:

  • You don’t have to worry about maintaining temperature
  • No worries about getting more ice or the ice melting
  • There are freezer options for your meats
  • No danger of food spoiling

However, camping fridges also have downsides to them:

  • Needs a portable power source
  • Expensive
  • Hard to clean
  • Heavy
  • High maintenance

How to keep food cold when camping without electricity?

When camping without electricity, an icebox or a high-quality cooler keeps your food at optimum temperature. Make sure to pack it properly by pre-freezing your food and packing it tightly with block ice.

How do you keep food cold if you are backpacking?

 If you are backpacking, a cooler bag is best for keeping food cold. It is portable and easy to store, but make sure you get a high-quality one that is waterproof with a high ice retention rate.

Whenever possible, stop and buy ice for your cooler bag. Remember that food has to maintain an ideal temperature of 4℃ for safe consumption.

Pre-Freeze Your Food

 A great way to keep your food cold is to pre-freeze it and then eat as it thaws. This ensures that you are eating your food at a safe temperature while your frozen food also serves as an ice block for your icebox or cooler. Pre-freezing your bottled water also does this same thing. 

What’s the cheapest way to keep food cold when camping?

The cheapest way to keep food cold when camping is to pre-freeze and then use an icebox or a cooler. Just remember to put block ice in with your food to make the cold last longer.

What is the best way to keep food cold?

A camping fridge is ideal if you want the best way to keep your food cold. It freezes your food and maintains the ideal temperature, so you don’t have to worry about melting ice or food poisoning if your food goes bad.

However, camping fridges are also expensive and require a power source for them to operate. 

Unless you are at a campsite with electricity, then you’ll have to hook up your fridge to your car’s battery. If you do this for a long time, then your car battery could drain, and you risk being stranded.

In the long run, camping fridges are ideal to have, especially if you’re going on a long camping trip with access to electricity. However, on short camping trips, utilize an icebox or a cooler bag.