How to keep milk cold when camping

by | Nov 12, 2022 | Food

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Milk is one of those staple items that can be hard to give up when you’re planning a camping trip. Since milk needs to stay cold, it can be tricky to keep it from spoiling during your trip.

If you can figure it out though, it’s probably worth it. Milk makes the perfect addition to camp favourites like:

  • Cereal
  • Oatmeal
  • Coffee and tea
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Cookies
  • Pancakes
  • S’mores
  • And more!

If you’re planning a multi-day camping trip specifically in the summer when temperatures can sore to 90 or even 100 degrees, you’re going to need a plan to keep your milk cold. Here’s what we recommend.

Use lots of ice cubes, blocks, or packs in your cooler

Ice cubes.

This is probably your most straightforward option. If you’re bringing a sizeable cooler to keep other food items cool, you’re going to want to fill it up with ice cubes, ice blocks, ice packs, or a combination of these.

Keep in mind that the bigger and thicker your ice cubes and ice packs are, the longer they’ll take to melt. So if you want to keep your milk and other food items cool for up to two days, use big ice cubes or blocks.

You can even freeze certain food items—like meat—and put them in your cooler to help keep your milk and other foods cold. They’ll slowly thaw over a couple of days.

Store milk in a thermos

A stainless steel thermos.

Thermoses are designed to keep hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold, which makes them ideal for storing milk while camping. This is a great option if you’re not bringing along a cooler and need a short-term solution to keeping milk cold for a few hours.

If you are bringing a cooler, you can still place your thermos in there for a double-duty cooling effect.

To ensure your milk stays extra cold in a thermos, pre-chill the thermos by placing it in the freezer for an hour or filling it with ice water for a few minutes. Then, pour out the water (or ice) and immediately fill it with milk. Screw on the lid tightly and place the thermos in your cooler.

Wrap your milk carton or container in aluminum foil or a wet towel

A roll of aluminum foil.

If you don’t have a thermos, or would rather save your thermos for hot beverages, there are a few other tricks you can use to keep milk cold.

One is to wrap the entire carton or container in aluminum foil. The foil will insulate the milk and keep the temperature low.

Another option is to put a wet towel or cloth soaked in cold water over your milk container. This will create a sustained cooling effect.

Ideally, both foil or wet cloth-wrapped milk should be placed in your cooler.

Consider freezing your milk and taking frozen milk camping

Frozen cubes of milk.

This isn’t for everyone, but it’s certainly an option. Although you can safely freeze milk for up to six months, the texture and taste might not be as great when thawed.

As milk thaws after being frozen, it can separate and become grainy. This won’t make it unsafe to consume, but it might not taste as good.

That said, freezing milk is a great way to keep it cold for an extended period of time—plus, you can use the ice as extra cooling power in your cooler.

Use dry ice in your cooler as a last resort

Dry ice.

This is a more extreme measure, but if you really want to keep milk cold for an extended period of time (up to two days), dry ice is your best bet.

To use dry ice, first pre-chill your cooler by putting it in the freezer for an hour or filling it with ice water for a few minutes. Then, place a layer of dry ice at the bottom of the cooler.

Next, put your milk container on top of the dry ice. Be sure to leave the lid off or slightly ajar so that the gas can escape. Finally, put more dry ice on top of the milk and close the cooler lid tightly.

You can get dry ice from some grocery stores, but you might have to call ahead to order it.

Keep in mind that dry ice is incredibly cold and can cause burns. Use caution when handling and be sure to keep it away from children. Also, be sure the cooler is well-ventilated so the gas doesn’t build up and explode.

Ditch your regular cooler for an active or passive cool box

A cooler filled with food.

Thinking about upgrading your cooler? If you are, now’s the time to start looking into an electric cooler.

Active cool boxes use ice packs or gel packs and a fan to circulate the cold air and keep things chilled. These are more expensive than regular coolers, but they’re worth it if you camp often and need a reliable way to keep milk and other perishables cold.

Passive cool boxes don’t have a fan, but they’re often better insulated. This means they can hold ice for longer periods of time without needing to be refrozen as often.

Just keep in mind that because these are high-tech coolers, they often come with a higher price tag and come with electrical requirements (i.e. you’ll need a power source to charge them up).

Bring shelf-stable milk instead

Two boxes of milk.

Shelf-stable milk, also called UHT (ultra high temperature) milk, has been heated to a high temperature and then sealed in a sterile container. This kills any bacteria that might be present and extends the shelf life of the milk.

Shelf-stable milk doesn’t need to be refrigerated until it’s opened, which makes it a great option for camping. Once open, however, it should be treated like regular milk and stored in a cool, dark place—like your cooler.

If you can find it, shelf-stable milk is a great option for camping. For instance, you can get organic shelf-stable 1% milk boxes with vanilla flavouring from Amazon, which are perfect because they come in single servings (so you’re unlikely to need to refrigerate leftover milk after opening).

Just keep in mind that it be more expensive than regular milk and might not be available in all stores.

Swap cow’s milk for plant-based milk

A carton of almond milk with a glass and bag of almonds.

Speaking of shelf-stable milk, there are all sorts of different plant-based milk options you can find in stores these days, including soy milk, almond milk, cashew milk, and coconut milk.

Since plant-based milk doesn’t contain dairy, it doesn’t need to be refrigerated before opening—which means you don’t need to pack it in your cooler.

Just keep in mind that some plant-based milks (like soy milk) can go bad quickly once opened, so you might want to consume it all in one sitting or pack single-serving containers.

Other plant-based milks (like almond milk) have a longer shelf life and can be stored unopened at room temperature for months.

The downside of course is that plant-based milks don’t taste the same as cow’s milk, so if you’re a dairy fan, this might not be the best option for you.

Try powdered milk or creamer

Powdered milk.

This is the ultimate milk hack for ultralight camping and multi-day camping trips. Powdered milk or creamer doesn’t need to be refrigerated and can be mixed with water when you’re ready to use it.

Powdered milk has a long shelf life (usually one to two years) in powdered form and is incredibly lightweight, making it a great option for backpackers. Once mixed with water, however, it must be kept cool and will only last for a few days.

You might have trouble finding it in grocery stores, but you can find it online—like Hoosier Hill Farm Whole Milk Powder on Amazon (among many others).

If you mainly use milk or cream for coffee or tea, you could also consider getting a powdered creamer—like Coffee Mate. I’m personally a big fan of this one and use it every morning in my coffee on camping trips.

The really great thing about powdered milk and creamer is that you can use just as much as you need, making it perfect for camp recipes that call for small amounts.

Just keep in mind that it doesn’t taste exactly like fresh milk (although it’s pretty close) and you may need to spend some time mixing it well to get rid of any lumps.

Avoid bringing milk altogether if you can

Two people carrying a cooler to a campsite.

Don’t like any of the above options? Well, there’s always the option of planning to bring meals, snacks, and beverages that don’t require any milk at all!

Camping requires sacrificing some of the comforts of home, and that includes having access to refrigeration. So, if you’re really set on bringing milk (or any other perishable item), be prepared to get creative with how you’ll keep it cold.

As you can see, there are plenty of options for keeping milk cold when camping—as well as shelf-stable options that take the hassle out of needing to keep milk cold at all times.

So, the next time you go camping, be sure to choose the option that best suits your needs. And most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy the experience!

Keeping milk cold when camping FAQ

How do you store and carry milk while camping?

You may be tempted to bring your milk in its carton, but that could be a problem if you want to prevent leaks and skills. Instead, transfer the milk to an air tight, leak-proof container. Go for plastic over glass to prevent breakage.

This camping-friendly pitcher is leak-proof and made with BPA-free plastic, making it perfect for storing milk and conveniently pouring the amount you need out of its spout.

How long does milk last while camping?

That depends on how you’re storing it. If you’re keeping it in a cooler with ice, it can probably stay cool for 24 to 48 hours.

Of course, this depends on how big your cooler is, what kind of cooler it is (a.k.a. how well it insulates), how often you’re opening and closing the cooler, the outside temperature, and the other items being stored inside the cooler—including the size and thickness of your ice cubes or ice packs.

Two days is generally the limit for keeping most foods and beverages cool in a standard cooler. We’d recommend planning to consume your milk within that time frame.

How do you keep milk cold for three days or longer while camping?

To keep milk cool longer than the general two-day maximum with most standard coolers, you’re going to a more high-tech cooler like an active or passive ice box, which is designed to keep stored items cool for up to several days.

Unfortunately, active and passive ice boxes aren’t the most practical options for campers because they’re large, heavy, expensive, and require charging of the battery.

Can I use frozen water bottles in my cooler to keep milk cooler?

Yes, this is another option to regular ice cubs or ice packs that can help keep your milk cold. The benefit is twofold—your milk stays cold and when the water bottles thaw, you can drink them.

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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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