Are there any tips for keeping food cold and storing it well when you are just working with what you can carry on you, generally without much special equipment? Like, for the most part, making use of what is available from a grocery store.

For example: you can pick up bags of ice, but they’ll melt, so you’ll need an easy way to dump out the melted water, and it’ll be heavy, so you might not want to carry it around.

Or, maybe there are certain thermal containers that can keep stuff at a very even temperature, so that if you just take it out of the grocery store fridge, it stays colder at least a bit longer? Or put some frozen food in there with it, to thaw? If you don’t have a special cooler bag, is there a material that’s decent to use as an insulator, like clothing / cloth, or brown paper bags?

Or, are there foods that are known to not spoil that quickly when opened at room temperature, like bread, cheese, fruits, etc.? What else?

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    It will depend on the temperature where you are, around here now the average temperature is close to a fridge, next week it might drop to freezer temps. Can you indicate what temperatures you can expect?
    – Willeke
    Commented Jan 6 at 19:43
  • "Have a roadie 24 with yeti ice and frozen water bottles. Sits outside from 9 to 5 in 105+ heat and keeps drinks cool for about three days." reddit.com/r/YetiCoolers/comments/15k4fsg/…
    – Mazura
    Commented Jan 7 at 15:25
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    I occasionally have transported deep-chilled champagne bottles in the middle of a bunched-up down sleeping bag or -jacket. They stay cool for hours. The middle of your sleeping bag roll would in general be a good place to keep things cool, but of course only until you need the sleeping bag. (But then, nights are often cool anyway, so cooling is not so urgent.) Commented Jan 8 at 14:09
  • @Peter-Reinstate Monica Hauling champagne bottles up to one's base camp! Ah, memories! Best if there is snow at the base camp! Champagne chilled in wild snow tastes so much better than champagne chilled in a wine cooler. Or maybe everything tastes better when camping or backpacking?
    – ab2
    Commented Jan 8 at 20:25
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    @ab2 I totally agree but admit that I was not hiking with the champagne but merely traveling the city to a party. Sorry. If I ever propose that (hiking some desert in the south west with champagne and two glass glasses and a ring) would be the way to do it in style though! :-) Commented Jan 8 at 20:32

4 Answers 4


Buy food that doesn't go off quickly.

  • Canned food.

  • Dehydrated food. Contains no water, and light to carry.

If you buy fresh food, eat it first.

When camping I make an improvised refrigerator (it won't be cold like a refrigerator, but cooler than ambient temperature):

  • Put some water in a bowl.

  • Place the food item in the bowl (inside another container if needed).

  • Drape a wet cloth over the food container.

  • Allow the edges of the cloth to sit in the water.

  • Place the bowl in the shade in the draftiest place.

  • Evaporation will cool the water in the cloth around the food.

  • Replenish the water in the bowl as needed.

You didn't say you are camping.

Three friends of mine travelled from UK around Europe in a tiny Renault van and they took a 12 volt battery operated refrigerator with them. Modern versions draw about 1 amp on average, which is about the same as two old-style parking light bulbs.

You can buy these for more or less than 100 GBP.

  • How many times did you need a jump because you ran the car battery down. 'traveled around Europe' is one thing; a two day hike is a no. If you haven't stated the car in two days, it won't. (good) RVs will have a 'house' battery and a genset to charge it, and the 'car' battery. With the option of an interconnect to start the 'car' with the house battery. - "Break shoes!" is my fav quote from BB, but it's also stupid that you'd have to make a battery to start an RV.
    – Mazura
    Commented Jan 7 at 15:20
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    @Mazura they didn't need any jump starts. After a day's travel the car battery was fully charged, and could sustain 15 amp-hours taken out overnight. Had they gone on 2 day hike I am sure they would have taken the food with them and switched off the frig. Commented Jan 7 at 16:26
  • @Mazura no generator, no driving, several days off grid. With the right fridge of course. Either a 12V compressor fridge (<1A when running, runs <25% of the time with a thermostat) or a 3-way fridge that uses 12V when driving, 230V if available, or gas (butane/propane).
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 7 at 17:34
  • The cheap 12v portable fridges tend to be thermoelectric with is high power usage
    – Separatrix
    Commented Jan 9 at 8:36

@Willeke mentioned the essential point: what is the temperature range where you will be? My experience is backpacking in the US West at 10,000 feet elevation and above (3,050 meters). It hardly ever freezes there in summer, but some foods keep well up to about 2 weeks if insulated (e.g., by being wrapped in clothing) when you are on the move, and if stored deep in a place of permanent deep shade when you are camped (easy to find because of the omniprescence of semi-sunken large boulders).

But even so, freeze dried food, dried food, dried fruit, cheese, crackers, bread, trail mix, and a few canned delicacies, will be the reliable staples for a trip of 2 weeks or so without resupply. Furthermore, a diet of fresh food is too heavy to carry for a trip of more than a few days. The truly fail-safe extra food on a long trip is the body weight you can afford to loose.

The one unsettling experience we had was with canned frozen orange juice, which we carried as a luxury. After two weeks or so, the orange juice fermented, and we had orange juice wine. I do not recommend it.

As I said, this is based on spring-summer-fall travel at over 10,000 feet in the US West.

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    Note that hard cheeses don't need refrigeration (USDA) though I know from experience that Cheddar goes oily in a warm tent.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 7 at 12:54
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    accidentally fermented apple juice is much nicer - it happened to me once on a hike, and the surprise cider wasn't bad
    – Aaron F
    Commented Jan 8 at 20:43
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    @Aaron F I'll remember that! The orange juice wine was undrinkable..
    – ab2
    Commented Jan 10 at 22:14

These days I have a campervan with a fridge, but in earlier car camping days I used a well-insulated bag or box, either with ice packs (also called freezer blocks) if I could get them refrozen, or bought ice (or obtained for free by asking at the fish counter in a supermarket, when there was none for sale - it was fresh, not fishy).

The trick to buying ice and using it for cooling is to get fairly small quantities, and put it in a wide-necked container, such as a nalgene bottle. That keeps it from getting everything wet, and means that if it started for for human consumption, you can drink it when it's melted. This works for hiking too, when it's a waste of weight otherwise.

Your insulated container can be improved by further wrapping it in clothing, but condensation can make things damp. That's not great if your evenings get cold after hot days, and you need your warm layers.

At a static camp, I've used the old scouts' trick of standing the cool box outside in the shade in a breeze, with a wet towel over the top (one end hanging in a bucket of water keeps it damp). The evaporation of the water gives cooling. I've even done this in an office with no fridge, as my colleagues' milk spoiled on a hot day otherwise. When hiking I've wrapped a water bottle in a damp towel on top of my backpack - hot conditions only as it tends to get your neck wet. This really only works well if the humidity is low.

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    In the old days they would use a canvas water bag, which was slightly porous so that evaporation would keep the water cool. Possibly water bags made of animal skin have a similar property. I think the "western genre" type drum-shaped water botle may have had skin facings (like a drum) with a more rigid perimeter to keep its shape. Unglazed earthenware jugs may also do the same job. Commented Jan 7 at 22:46
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    @WeatherVane there's been some interesting research in the last few years about traditional unglazed pottery used to keep food cool and reduce waste, so it definitely works
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 8 at 6:57

I just wrap food in clothes I’m not wearing and put it in the bag where I also have my quilt. This provides some protection during the hotter parts of the day. Good enough to make bell peppers or cheese last a day or two even in summer.

Of course adding some ice bags would improve things but they’d also be heavy and you run the risk of condensation and/or leaks.

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