How to keep food from freezing when winter camping

by | Sep 15, 2022 | Food

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When Ross and I went on our very first hot tent camping trip in -35°C (-31°F) weather in the middle of February, we definitely learned a thing or two about the effects of extreme cold. But one of the things we didn’t know going into it was how to keep food from freezing while winter camping.

I’ll never forget trying to slice up a nearly rock solid tomato for our fajitas one night, or trying to crack an egg only to realize that it had turned to slush inside its shell. These are the kinds of things you don’t often think of until you’re out there experiencing it for the first time.

How long does it take for food to freeze?

A mix of frozen berries.

A two-inch thick piece of food will start to freeze when temperatures hit 0°C (32°F) within a couple of hours. If your food is less thick, or the temperatures drops well below that freezing mark, it will freeze more rapidly.

Keep in mind that the windchill will also affect how quickly your food will freeze. For example, if the temperature is -15°C (5°F) but there’s a strong wind blowing, the windchill could make it feel more like -27°C (-17°F). In that case, your food would start to freeze even faster.

It’s just like being in a giant freezer. As long as your food is exposed to the cold air, it will eventually start to freeze.

So how do you keep food from freezing when you’re winter camping and can’t get out of that giant freezer we all call winter’s chill? Well, your main option is to simply create a barrier between your food and the cold air.

Here are some suggestions on how to do exactly that.

Put your food in a thermos

A thermos with its lid off sitting in the snow.

This is probably your easiest option. Almost everyone has at least one thermos lying around somewhere, which is great because not only do they trap heat in—they also keep cold air out.

Some of the things we really like to bring on our winter camping trips are energy bars, candies, chocolate, and beef jerky. All of these things can be tough to chew on and even put you at risk of breaking your teeth if they’re frozen.

But by placing them in a thermos, they’ll mostly maintain their original texture. Just makes sure the lid of your thermos is screwed on tight so no heat escapes.

Wrap your food in clothes or blankets

A vintage wool blanket with belts wrapped around it and a carrying handle.

This is a pretty popular method among winter campers, but it may not be as effective depending on the material and size of the clothing item. It can also be a bit messy if you’re not careful.

Something like a wool or fleece sweater or blanket would work best. These materials are great because they’re insulating.

We recommend double bagging your food in plastic bags first just in case of any leaks. You may also want to consider placing fragile foods in containers before you wrap them up to prevent them from being crushed.

Build an insulated box or container

Fitting the upper lid portion over the lower part of the pot cozy.

If you want to get really serious about keeping your food from freezing, then you can build your own insulated box or container. This is probably the best option if you’re planning on doing a lot of winter camping.

We recommend building a cozy in the shape of your container out of Reflectix. Reflectix is a material that’s used in construction and is basically just a bubble wrap insulation. It’s lightweight, easy to work with, and does a great job of reflecting heat.

It’s also very affordable and can be found at most hardware stores. You can also get it on Amazon.

Go ahead and check out our DIY pot cozy tutorial to see how it’s done. This is primarily for keeping food or water hot after cooking, but it works the same way for keeping food from freezing.

We actually made two extra Reflectix cozies for our Nalgene bottles to prevent our water from freezing when we’re out in extremely cold weather. Works like a charm!

It’s probably easier to make a cozy for a round container, but it’s likely possible to make them for square or rectangular containers as well. You just may need to do more cutting and taping to create all the corners.

Make an insulated pouch

Cutting the Reflectix out to fit the pot.

You can also use Reflectix to make a pouch for food storage—similar to the shape of a freezer bag.

It’s just important to make one side slightly longer than the other so you can fold the top in itself like an envelope. This will help create a seal and keep the cold air from getting in.

In fact, pouches are probably easier to make than cozies for containers because there’s no messing around with getting the shape exactly right to fit around another object.

You can make big pouches, small pouches, and medium-sized pouches. Whatever floats your boat!

They’re great for storing everything from snack foods, to fresh veggies, to even fresh meats you want to keep cool (but not frozen). Just keep in mind that pouches are more prone to being crushed compared to containers.

Use a high-quality cooler for cold foods

A cooler filled with food.

If you’re not interested in going the DIY route, then you can always just bring along a cooler for your cold foods. This is probably the best option if you’re camping with a group of people and need to store a lot of food.

However, it’s not a great option if you’re trying to minimize weight and bulk. Bringing a cooler along is best suited for trips that involve car camping or basecamping in the backcountry with a way to easily transport heavy gear (such as via sled or snowmobile).

You may be able to get away with just about any cooler that has a tight seal, but we recommend getting one that’s specifically designed for camping. These coolers will have thicker walls and insulation to keep food cold in extreme temperatures.

One of our favourites is the Yeti Tundra 65. Yeti coolers are certainly expensive, but it’s a good investment if you plan on camping a lot and bringing a cooler along with you.

Just keep in mind that you’ll want to pre-chill your cooler before heading out on your trip. This can be done by filling it with ice and letting it sit overnight.

Tip: If it’s going to be extremely cold—like -15°C (5°F) or below—we recommend not leaving your cooler outside overnight. When we did (in much colder overnight temperatures), we found that everything inside froze anyway.

Bring dry or dehydrated food to limit the hassle of freezing


Of course, one of the easiest ways to prevent food from freezing is to simply bring food that doesn’t freeze in the first place. This includes things like uncooked pasta, nuts, crackers, cereal, and pretty much anything else that has little to know moisture content.

These foods don’t need to be refrigerated or kept cool, so you can just store them in your backpack without having to worry about them freezing solid. They’ll also help you save on weight and can be eaten as is or cooked with hot water.

We recommend checking out our list of dehydrated camping meals to get some ideas of what foods you can bring along. These meals just need hot water to rehydrate, so they’re perfect for winter camping.

Bring foods that you can safely cook from frozen or thaw easily

Hash browns in a pan on ice.

Last but not least, another option is to simply bring food that can either be cooked from frozen or thawed easily. This might include food items like chicken breasts, hamburger patties, sausage, hot dogs, bacon, hash browns, and anything else you can find in your grocery store’s freezer section.

Of course, you’ll need to have a way to cook these foods while camping. This usually isn’t an issue if you’re car camping and can bring along a portable stove or grill. Same goes for hot tent camping where you cook everything over your wood stove.

But if you’re backpacking, a canister stove is probably going to be useful for boiling water—not necessarily cooking foods from frozen. Even if you tried it, you can bet that it would probably take quite a a lot of fuel.

For this reason, winter backpackers should probably avoid bringing food that needs to be cooked from frozen or thawed first. Instead, focus on bringing food items that can be stored in an insulated container/pouch and eaten as is, or only need hot water to rehydrate.

And that’s it! These are just a few of the ways you can keep food from freezing when winter camping. By using one or a combination of these methods, you’ll be able to enjoy all your snacks and meals no matter how cold it gets outside.

Do you have any other tips on how to keep food from freezing when winter camping? We’d love to know! Leave a comment below and share your experience.

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Elise & Ross

We’re Elise and Ross, avid backcountry campers and outdoor adventurers! We started Gone Camping Again as a way to share our knowledge and experience about wilderness living and travel. Our hope is that we inspire you to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer!

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