Don’t leave your cooler at home when going winter camping. It’s perfect for keeping food from freezing. Other things you can use include your sleeping bag, a campfire, a heater, or a thermal bag.
Below is a complete guide on how to keep food from freezing when winter camping (and what to do if it freezes).
Why Frozen Food Is A Problem When Winter Camping?
Unlike at home, you don’t have hours to spend cooking when camping. Preparing frozen food takes longer because you have to thaw the food first.
Having to thaw frozen food also consumes more fuel, which increases the cost of your camping trip or leaves you without enough fuel.
Another more serious reason you don’t want frozen food is that you always want to have ready-to-eat food when winter camping.
Your body uses a lot of energy to keep you warm. Going hungry because all your food is frozen makes you colder.
If you’ve also been hiking or doing some other activity, the combination of fatigue, sweat, and hunger increases the risk of hypothermia.
Having an energy bar you can quickly eat to boost energy levels or powdered soup you can instantly turn it into a meal can be a lifesaver.
That said, having frozen food doesn’t always mean disaster for your camping trip. In fact, in milder winter weather, you may need to keep fresh foods frozen.
Further below, we have some tips on how to deal with frozen food when winter camping.
Can A Cooler Keep Food From Freezing?
A cooler is the best way to keep your food from freezing. The same insulation it offers during summer to keep food cold and fresh is also useful in keeping food from freezing.
A cooler keeps food cold or frozen by insulating it from ambient temperature. The inside of the cooler stays cold and keeps most of the ambient heat from getting in.
During winter camping, you want to keep the inside of the cooler warmer than the outside to prevent food from freezing.
Here are some tips for packing a cooler for winter camping.
- Don’t add any ice to the cooler, whether it’s ice blocks or an ice pack. The aim is to keep food from freezing. If you are carrying fresh food, the cold temperatures outside will be enough to keep the food cold and fresh.
- Don’t mix frozen and fresh food in the cooler. The frozen food will quicken the freezing of the rest of the food. If you have to carry frozen food, pack it separately in another cooler or container.
- Add hot water to a metal or plastic water bottle (use a non-insulated bottle) and put it in the cooler along with the food. It’ll help keep the inside of the cooler warmer for longer.
- When you go camping, keep the cooler in the car or tent. Do not leave it outside exposed to the cold temperatures.
- Double insulate the food by placing it inside a thermal bag before putting it in the cooler. You can use an insulated lunch bag, but make sure it can fit inside the cooler. Alternatively, use smaller insulated sandwich or ziplock bags.
One thing to keep in mind is that the cooler cannot keep out all the cold. If it’s really cold outside, the food inside will eventually freeze.
You can prevent this by constantly adding fresh hot water bottles to the cooler to maintain a higher temperature.
It’s also important that you use a premium cooler with good quality insulation. The better the insulation the longer food will stay without freezing.
Other Ways To Keep Food From Freezing When Winter Camping
Don’t have a cooler or don’t want to carry one? Here are other ways to keep food from freezing.
- Carry your food inside a thermal bag. This is suitable for an overnight camping trip, since a thermal bag cannot insulate food as long as a cooler box. Add a bottle of hot water to the bag to help keep the food from freezing.
- Keep food close to a source of heat. This can be a campfire when you are outside, a heater when inside the tent, or a wood stove heater if you are hot tent camping.
- Keep food close to your body. The body heat will keep it from freezing. If you are hiking, keep food in the backpack closest to your back. You can also put snacks inside inner pockets.
- At night, keep food inside your sleeping bag. Note, however, that you cannot use this technique in places with bears or wild animals as they’ll come looking for the food inside the tent. In most places, however, bears hibernate during winter.
How to Keep Eggs From Freezing When Winter Camping?
If you’d like to eat fresh eggs when winter camping but are afraid the eggs will freeze, here’s an easy hack.
While still at home, crack the eggs and put them in a ziplock bag, a Nalgene bottle or any insulated bottle or container.
Put the liquid egg in the cooler with the rest of the food to keep it from freezing.
You can also let it freeze and then thaw it later by putting the bag or container in hot water.
If you have a good quality cooler, you can pack the eggs whole without cracking them in the cooler. They’ll, hopefully, still be unfrozen by the time you get around to cooking them.
How To Thaw Frozen Food When Winter Camping?
If some of the food gets frozen, there are a few ways to thaw it.
Unlike summer camping, you can’t leave frozen food out in the open or in the cooler to thaw on its own when you are winter camping. You’ll be waiting a long time.
Instead, you have to expose it to a source of heat.
The fastest way to thaw frozen food when winter camping is to drop it in a pot of hot water. Put the food inside a ziplock bag or a small container and place it in hot water.
The other option is to position the food close to the campfire, stove, or heater.
You can thaw your breakfast overnight by leaving it next to the heater or placing it in the sleeping bag with you (assuming you are not in a place where bears are active in winter).
What Is The Best Food For Winter Camping?
Instead of struggling to keep food from freezing when you go winter camping, you could carry food that’s less likely to freeze or doesn’t freeze at all.
If you are a frequent backpacker, you are already familiar with these foods.
They include instant meals, dehydrated foods, and dry foods like beans and nuts.
In addition to not freezing, these types of foods have a couple other advantages:
- They take up less space compared to fresh food, while providing a comparable amount of bulk and calories. This is useful if you are backpacking or don’t have a lot of space in your vehicle.
- They are easy and quick to prepare. Most require just adding hot water and they are ready to eat.
The most popular foods like chicken, beef, pasta, Mac and Cheese and others are available in freeze dried options. So you can have just as much variety in your meals as you would if you packed fresh food.
Don’t forget to carry powdered milk and instant coffee or tea for your hot beverages.
The best place to get dehydrated food packs is at the store. If you want to cut costs, you can dehydrate the food yourself at home. Here’s a helpful video if you want to try it out.
How to Keep Water From Freezing When Winter Camping?
Having drinkable water when winter camping is really important. You may not feel it but you still sweat when it is cold.
Dehydration increases your risk of hypothermia.
Here are the best ways to keep water from freezing when winter camping.
- Put water bottles in the same cooler you put your food. Heat the water fast and put it in the cooler while it’s still hot. The water will go longer without freezing and will also keep food from freezing. Drink the water over 12 hours and replace it with more hot water.
- Carry the water in an insulated water bottle like Nalgene. A well insulated water bottle can keep water liquid and warm for several hours. It’s perfect for a winter hike.
- Put hot water in a thermos. Vacuum flasks have better insulation than insulated water bottles. They can keep hot water piping hot for hours. This provides water to drink, make tea, and cook instant meals without having to light the stove again.
- Keep your drinking water close to your body when hiking. At night, keep the water in your sleeping bag. Just make sure it is well sealed to ensure it doesn’t spill.
- Add salt to the water. Salt lowers the freezing point of water so that it doesn’t freeze at 0C/32F as usual. This keeps the water liquid as it gets colder. You can also add a little bit of alcohol to the water. It has the same effect of lowering the freezing point.