Camping Food Planning
For many campers, food plays a big part in our camping trip. It doesn’t matter what type of camper you are, whether you like to backpack or hike into the wilderness for a few days or spend a few weeks on your favourite family campsite, I bet, planning what you are going to eat while away gets some serious thought or conversation.
Apart from the weight of the food itself and how you are going to get it to the site (even if you are carrying your food every day), and what you are going to be cooking on the one major factor on what you will be able to eat while camping will depend on how you are going to store your food while away.
If backpacking, as well as the weight you are going to be wanting to take as much dry and non-perishable food as possible. This is due to the restrictions of keeping perishable items at a safe holding temperature while in your backpack with everything else.
For the rest of us campers there are many variables we need to take into consideration when planning what food we will be taking on our camping trips and that is what this post is going to discuss. The last thing we want to do while away camping is to give ourselves food poisoning or even an icky tummy, especially if you’re a fair walk from the toilet block.
That is why it is important to know how to properly store your food while away and this includes knowing about safe holding temperatures, knowing about what the weather will be like while you are away as this can have a big impact on your food, especially if you are using non-powered coolers or coolboxes.
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Keeping your food at the correct temperature while camping is essential to stop any bacteria multiplying. By not storing your food correctly you risk bacteria growing on food, cross-contamination of foods, food spoiling and possible food poisoning. The last thing anyone wants while camping is un upset stomach let alone food poisoning.
No matter how you choose to store your food while on a camping trip the one piece of equipment that is essential is thermometers. Whether it’s a cool box, iced or electric or a mini-fridge you should always ensure the correct temperature by using a thermometer in all coolboxes and fridges you use while camping. If you use a small electric fridge with a tiny freezer compartment you should use a separate thermometer in the freezer if you are using it to hold food. There are many different types of thermometers, these are ideal and a good price too.
Temperatures for fridges and cool boxes should be kept at no higher than 4°C and freezers at -18°C and using thermometers is a great way of ensuring this. These should be checked a few times per day as the OUTSIDE temperature can have an impact on what is happening INSIDE cool boxes and fridges. By regularly checking temperatures you will know if and when you will need to adjust the thermostat in fridges or change ice blocks in your cool box. This is especially important in the summer or hotter months due to outside temperatures being so far above the recommended temperature for storing food.
Keeping Things Cool
There are many ways you can keep things cool or refrigerated while camping and there are many items you can purchase to help with this. What you decide to use to store your food while camping may have many contributing factors such as what type of camping you do, where you camp, and your budget. We will look at many of these options as we continue and give some pros and cons to each. Remember what suits one person or family may not suit another. Many things can be taken into consideration from what type of food you will be eating, whether you preprepare or cook fresh and where you camp (will there be somewhere with EHU or somewhere to refreeze your ice blocks).
Some campers also use more than one of the following options depending on how much food/drink as well as the above considerations. It can be a good idea to keep your food and drink separate where possible. You will often need access to drinks and refreshments more often than you will your food. It is worth noting that each time you open a bag, box or fridge you are disturbing the inside temperature.
Cool Bags – These are great to use alongside cool boxes or fridges and allow for extra storage, especially if away during the summer. Cool bags are ideal for storing your drinks as you will need to access this several times a day and this will save fluctuating temperatures around your food. The Size of the cool bag you will need will depend on the size of your camping party. This means working out how many people and how many drinks per day for each person. You will also need to decide whether you are storing all the drink for the duration of your trip or are going to fill the cool bag each day with what will be required for that day.
It will surprise you just how much liquids we can consume in a day, especially when the weather is hot. For this reason, we tend to restock our cool bag each night for the following day, replacing ice blocks too, allowing them to chill well overnight before we are needing to consume them. Ice blocks can then be changed in the morning again to keep everything cool throughout the day.
Cool Boxes – These are much like cool bags only rigid. I would say they do keep your food cooler or colder for longer than a cool bag and that is why we choose a cool box for our food. Cool boxes come in both non-electric (only using ice blocks) or electric where they can be plugged into 240V mains or 12V leisure battery or charger. These are especially good if you camp mostly with electric hook up on sites and camp for longer than a weekend. This is a much cheaper option than a fridge and there is no need to continually refreeze those ice blocks as often. It is a little more expensive for an electric cool box but we think it is also a worthy investment as that way you can use it any way you choose – ice blocks or hooked up to 12v or 240v mains.
We love this Hi Gear 45l Capacity cool box from Go Outdoors. With its neat cable tidy compartment, internal dividers, wheels and pull handle making it easier to transport. Within the cable tidy compartment, it also has a power control dial so you can set it at whatever temperature you need.
The cool thing about this box is that it can also be used to keep food warm. So when not camping if you ever need to transport any hot food for parties or get together you can simply use this. This has an RRP of £120 but is currently selling at £80.
You can buy the Hi Gear Cool Box Here.
Fridges – for those who love to camp for extended periods of time fridges are most commonly used. Depending on how and where you camp and if you want the option of using a fridge when camping without electric hook up will determine which type of fridge you buy.
Some people will buy small tabletop fridges to use while camping and these are ok as long as you remember you must leave them to sit for a few hours before plugging in after transport. These are a relatively cheap option and many come with a small freezer compartment. These are ideal for freezing up your ice blocks to use in cool boxes and bags if needing more food or drink storage space.
This one from Amazon is a great choice and price with Mini freezer compartment and shelved interior. This comes in black white and silver so you can choose a colour to match your set up.
If like us you sometimes want to get away somewhere a little less busy and are not going to have electric hook up available the best type of fridge to invest in is a three-way fridge. This runs on both 12V and 240 V electric or gas. These fridges are most commonly used in campervans and caravans but are ideal for campers too. Especially those who camp as a family and need the extra fridge space.
This 3-way fridge from Quest has a 41L capacity and if not using electric can run both on propane or butane gas. It is a chest fridge meaning
it opens from the top and comes with ice cube trays, which are always handy for the hot summer camps.
It is always good to have a look and see what deals are on offer at the time of purchasing any bigger item. Take into account when you will use it, how many people will you be feeding/storing food for in it, will you want to be able to use it on and off-sites, at home and away?
Some time spent thinking will help you make the right choice in the end.
Ice or Ice Blocks?
When using cool bags or boxes it is important to know how you are going to keep them cool. Some people use ice while others use ice blocks. Some leave it to chance to see what the site is like. The one tip we would give all campers who are using cool bags or boxes is to check whether the site has a facility where you can refreeze your ice blocks and to always carry spares.
Another tip is to check what the weather is going to be like while away camping as this is going to have an impact on how long those ice blocks are going to stay frozen, even inside your bag or box. Tents can become extremely warm in the summer and this will affect cool bags and boxes so you should always try to store them in a cool part or shaded part of the tent, like under tables or kitchen areas. Even if this means using a few towels over the bag or box, try to keep direct heat off it.
We would always suggest using ice blocks over ice as they tend to stay frozen longer and keep the cool box cooler for longer than ice will. Ice will also melt and leave you with a pool of water at the bottom of the cooler and this risks spoiling food.
So if cool boxes or bags are your preferred method of storing food we suggest investing in these. Although some cool boxes may already come with one or two we suggest that you buy some extra.
It is important that you always have spares. This means that if you have, say 2 in your cool box at a time you will want two spares, as these 2 can be put into a freezer to replace the other two when the time comes. You do not want to be having to freeze the same two ice blocks every night and leaving your cool box without. You need to keep the temperature of your coolbox as consistent as you possibly can.
We love these ones, the fact they are interlocking and therefore won’t leave your bag or box with warm spots. These are great in cool boxes where you can essentially build a freezer in the bottom of your box and store your items that need refrigerated at the top. You can buy them here.
Food Storage in a Cool Box/Bag or Fridge
Now when you are storing food in a cool box, cool bag or chest freezer, even an upright front opening fridge it is important to make sure you store your foods correctly inside them. This is to both give them the temperatures they need and to save food from becoming contaminated from other foods.
Firstly, I would recommend repackaging the food you are taking. Only take what are going to use, this will help you to save space and keep things better organised. Much prepackaged food takes up unnecessary space, they are packaged this way to protect them while being transported and to avoid the many people that handle them before they hit the shelves contaminating them.
So if you are only going to use 4 slices of sausage only take four. Only going to use 1/2 a bag of cereal only take that amount. Same with meats, salads, fruits and whatever else you may take. It may be worthwhile investing in some good quality food storage boxes or some reusable food bags just for your camping trips.
Once you have repackaged everything it is time to pack your food away. We would recommend that this is done just before you leave unless you have you are able to plug in and keep things cool overnight before you go. REMEMBER to cool and get whatever you are putting your refrigerated stuff into to a suitable temperature before filling. This saves food temperature going up and down and reduces the risk of spoiling.
Another good idea is to use a cooling rack or grill rack to separate your frozen foods from cooled foods. Make sure all your frozen foods are in sealed, watertight and airtight containers as these will be placed at the bottom of your cooler. Above that will be your fresh meats, poultry and fish. Again these should all be repackaged into non-spill bags. Reusable ziplock bags are great for this, remember to take all the air out the bag before closing it. Then at the top will be all your fresh fruit and veg and any ready to eat items. Again it is worth repackaging these yourself into food containers or bags.
Ensuring all your food is placed in airtight and watertight containers and bags helps to stop cross food contamination and keeps everything completely separate. The last thing you want is juices from red meat running into your salad or frozen meal.
Where to Store Your Food Storage Items
This may sound a little strange but where you choose to store your food storage containers i.e. fridges, cool boxes, cool bags and dry food storage within your tent really does matter. Outside temperatures WILL have an impact on how hard your fridge or cool boxes and bags have to work at keeping your food cold.
For this reason, you want to try and store these items in a shaded area of your tent where possible. Under tables, out of direct sunlight is a good option. You can also cover these items with some towels to help keep them a little cooler in really hot weather.
If you have a spare bedroom pod that you may use for placing a toilet in during the night, consider cleaning it once the toilet is emptied in the morning and using this are to store cool boxes, fridges and food boxes during the day. The fact that these are ofter darker, in some cases now blacked out will help keep the temperature a few degrees cooler.
What About Dry Foods?
Some consideration also needs to be given to where you are going to store your dried/fresh but not refrigerated foods. Things like bread, cereals, sweets etc. Most good camping kitchens nowadays have great storage compartments under them that zip closed but have mesh panels to let air in too. These are great but if you need a little extra space or your kitchen doesn’t have this with it you are best to store these items in a sealed container.
A lidded storage box is good for this, especially the coloured plastic ones. It will keep most strays and bugs out while keeping your stuff fresh. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures if it hasn’t happened to you of stray ducks, geese and the likes just helping themselves to what is in your tent. I’m sure they can sniff out bread and other goodies from a mile away and won’t hesitate in helping themselves when your back is turned.
Another good reason for storing your food in a lidded container is to stop moisture from getting to it. I’m sure you are aware of how easily condensation can build up in a tent at times and if you have dry foods just laying around it WILL soak up some of this moisture. Apart from going soggy, it will also start to mould especially in warmer weather. See how you can reduce condensation in your tent here » »https://campmehappy.com/how-to-avoid-condensation-in-your-tent
You can also pop in an ice pack if it is particularly warm weather if you not wanting it to freeze or make anything too cold or wet simply wrap loosely in a dish towel before placing it inside. This will help keep the inside of the box a good few degrees cooler and your food fresher.
We hope that this post has helped you to choose the best way for you to store your food while camping in a safe and hygienic way. As we mentioned at the start of this article for many people a big part of their camping trip is having some great camping food. Whether this be on a gas stove or campfire the food you cook needs to be uncontaminated, of good quality and fresh to provide you with a delicious, filling meal that you enjoy.
By storing your food correctly it will save contamination and spoiling. We can’t do anything about the weather while camping and although we love it to be warm and sunny it can play havoc with food storage so be sure to check your temperatures a few times per day and adjust your storage or settings on boxes accordingly.