Outdoor Horizon is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission.

How To Keep Food From Freezing When Winter Camping

Camping in the winter presents unique challenges. It’s especially important to eat well in cold weather, but it can be difficult to keep food from freezing on chilly nights. Luckily, there are numerous ways to prevent your food from freezing when camping in the winter.

To keep food from freezing while winter camping, begin by bringing items that are less likely to freeze in the first place. Store your food in an insulated cooler when you aren’t cooking, and use heat sources like your body and the campfire to keep food warm between meals.   

Of course, there’s a lot more that savvy campers should learn about food storage in cold-weather conditions. Read on to discover everything you need to know about keeping your food fresh and defrosted, so you can camp with confidence this winter.

The Importance Of Eating When Winter Camping

We need to eat no matter the season. Our bodies require fuel to perform even the simplest of tasks, from sitting to breathing to sleeping. It all burns calories. However, sometimes we burn more calories than other times.

Camping is one of those activities that has a lot of built-in calorie-burners. Hiking to the campsite, pitching the tent, gathering firewood, and traipsing through the forest all take a tremendous amount of energy. To make sure you can handle it all, you need to eat regularly.

Cold Weather Takes A Bite

Camping in cold weather means you need even more calories. Why is that? As you eat, your body springs into action and begins the digestion process. This is a laborious task, and your metabolism gets a jumpstart as it starts to work. You might not feel it immediately, but this rise in metabolic rate means your core temperature goes up as well.

In essence, eating helps keep you warm. But since your body is already cold from the weather, it takes a bit more fuel to fire up the furnace. That means you’ll need to eat additional calories to stay comfortable during wintertime. If you don’t eat enough, you’ll get cold very quickly.

Not eating properly while camping in the winter can get dangerous. You’ll feel lethargic, which means slower reaction times and less energy for maintaining camp. Your body temperature can start to drop as well, and this can cause unsavory conditions like hypothermia and frostbite to take hold. The bottom line? If you want to stay safe and have fun, you need to eat!

What Food To Bring Winter Camping

When you’re camping in the winter, you want easy and wholesome meals that provide a good source of energy. However, not every food is a wintertime food. If you want your food to stay free of ice, you need to think outside the traditional box.

Consider carefully whether your chosen item will freeze and become inedible. Many classic camp foods like hot dogs and bread have a high water content and freeze fast in cold weather. Once your eats are covered in ice, they won’t be accessible to you immediately. You’ll need to put in work to defrost them.

This can encourage you to eat in an unbalanced way, or even worse – not eat at all. Instead of relying on freezable foods, you need to bring items that won’t freeze easily in icy weather. So, what kind of cuisine should you bring to combat the cold?

Dry Goods

Dry goods are already a camping staple, but they’re especially beneficial for wintertime adventures. These items take you back to the basics. They can be a great source of energy and provide you with every macronutrient you need. They can also be pretty tasty when prepared correctly.

Pasta, rice, oatmeal, and lentils should always be in your winter camp kitchen. These foods don’t have any water content in them, so there is very little danger of them freezing. When you’re ready to eat, you’ll need to boil water to cook them. It’s a simple and easy way to stay fueled up.

You should choose dry foods wisely, because some won’t be as convenient as others. For example, split peas are a great protein source that cooks quickly at camp. However, larger beans like lima should be soaked before cooking. The soaking water can freeze in cooler temperatures, so it’s better to focus on smaller legumes for winter camping.

Dehydrated Foods

Dehydrated foods can be your very best friend in the wintertime. These snacks have almost all the water removed from them, so they take much longer to freeze. And when they do get frozen, they thaw out faster than fresh foods that are full of liquids.

Dried fruits, jerkies, and nuts pack a mean energy punch. Choose “harder” dehydrated fruits or fruit bars, along with some protein bars for when you need a quick energy fix. Beef or turkey jerky is a great option for protein on the trail, and even those who don’t eat meat can partake with various vegan jerky options.

You can pick up your own dehydrator for under $100 if you want to try it out yourself. Dehydrate your own fruits, choosing varieties that are in-season to help you save on money. You can even experiment and get creative with making your own jerky as well!

Freeze-Dried Foods

Freeze-drying is a relatively new process. Freeze-dried foods are flash-frozen before their water is sucked out in a vacuum chamber, which preserves nutritional value and helps foods retain flavor. It also keeps food from freezing in cooler temperatures.

Freeze-dried ready-meals are a very convenient option for winter camping. Many outdoor stores stock these meals, and they have a variety of fun and diverse cuisines. You can also get your own freeze-dryer if you’re a die-hard hobbyist, but keep in mind that one of these units usually costs thousands of dollars.

Wintertime Staples

Many hikers don’t have the time or money for dehydrated foods and freeze-dried meals. If that’s the case with you, why not try out some popular wintertime staples which hold up well no matter the weather? Items like hard salamis and processed cheese slices may not be the greatest for your arteries, but they won’t freeze up on you—plus, you’ll need to eat extra calories to warm up anyway.

Take along cans of tuna, salmon, or sardines packed in oil instead of water. Water freezes at the drop of a hat, but foods packed in oil don’t give up that easily. Additionally, treats like chips, popcorn, crackers, and cookies won’t freeze like snack cakes and chocolate bars will.

Frozen Meals

Frozen meals might seem like a weird suggestion, but hear me out. Camping in the wintertime means that some of your food will probably freeze. Why not cut out the middle-man and bring food that’s already frozen? You’ll need to heat it up again anyway, and buying frozen meals means you’ll be assured of the food’s quality.

When you’re buying frozen food, be sure to get varieties that don’t require a microwave. Microwavable plastic usually can’t be heated up over a campfire, so it’s better to buy boil-in-a-bag foods. That way, you can just put them in the camp pot and heat them up. You could also make your own frozen meals at home, so you know exactly what’s going in your food.

5 Ways To Keep Food Insulated When Winter Camping

1. Use Your Body Heat

Your body heat is your best tool. It’s the only constant source of warmth you have besides the campfire. If you’re hauling fresh food to a frozen campsite, tuck it underneath a few layers of clothing and leave it closer to your skin. Your core temperature will prevent food from freezing solid, at least during transport.

2. Store Food Inside

Once you get to the campground, don’t leave your food lying around outside. Instead, store it inside the tent where the temperature remains higher throughout the day. When the night comes, it’s especially important to stow your snacks inside the tent. Wrap your food in a few layers of clothing to insulate it even further, and you’ll have access to defrosted snacks the whole time.

3. Set Food Near The Fire

Especially if it’s chilly, you may end up spending a lot of time sitting around by the fire. Placing your food nearer to the heat source will help keep it from freezing. You can do this even if you’re cooking over a camp stove. Since the temperature will still remain higher closer to the heat, the same principle still applies.

4. Shake Things Up

Just as moving around helps you stay warm, moving the food around may help it stay warm as well. This holds especially true when it comes to liquids, so giving your water bottles a quick shake every now and then is a smart move. It helps warm it up enough to prevent from freezing quite as quickly, and it breaks up any ice that has already formed.

5. Pack A Thermos

A thermos acts as a great insulator. It will keep warm liquids warm, so pack a thermos to store hot drinks and soups. You can also use it to soak beans and legumes during the day. If you boil water and put it in the thermos, you can leave the thermos next to your other food as well. This could cause some heat transfer and help keep everything just a little bit hotter.

Will A Cooler Keep Things From Freezing?

A cooler can keep things from freezing when camping in the winter. A cooler provides insulation around whatever is inside it. It doesn’t actually heat foods up or cool them off, it only blocks out temperatures from the outside. This means it can help prevent the food inside it from freezing.

The items you put inside the cooler retain their original temperature, because the cooler’s thick walls and top keep the elements from encroaching on your precious cargo. Of course, a cooler can’t protect your food completely. There’s only so much it can do, so it’s important to buy a solid product and pack it well for the most optimal effect.

Quality Construction Matters

Even a low-quality cooler made of Styrofoam or flimsy plastic will give you some protection. And this is perfect for campers who don’t go out that often in the wintertime, because it saves them money. However, die-hard winter campers should consider investing in a high-quality cooler.

Higher-end products that are made to withstand tundra-like conditions are out there on the market. These can run you several hundred dollars, but they work wonders for keeping foods defrosted. Get one with a lock-sealing lid and extra-thick walls for additional protection.

How To Pack Your Cooler

The way you pack your cooler also has a direct impact on how it will function. The best time to pack is when the food is warm or at room temperature rather than when you’re already outside in the cold. Consider wrapping your foods up in some extra clothing or a blanket as well.

If you’re truly dedicated, you can purchase a set of hot-water bottles and heat them up in the microwave before you leave. Toss them in with the food to keep the temperature inside the cooler even warmer. As they cool off, you can simply heat up more water at camp – voila! No chance of frozen food here.

Final Thoughts

To keep food from freezing while winter camping, pack the smart way. Bring along foods with a low water content, and make sure you have a well-insulated cooler to store your snacks. As long as you take care to maintain a warm storage place, you’ll always have access to nourishment when you need it.