Keep a cool head packing a cooler for extended camping

Posted April 25, 2012, at 5:48 p.m.

Q: My husband and I are planning a monthlong camping trip. Do you know of any way to keep frozen foods frozen for an extended period of time?

We don’t have a freezer in our camper. We plan to have a cooler with only frozen food that we would open only once or twice day. Should we wrap stuff in newspaper? Fill the cooler with dry ice? SUSAN H., via email

A: It shouldn’t be that difficult to keep frozen food for an extended period of time in a cooler if you plan ahead.

First, make sure you have a durable plastic cooler with an insulated lid, good latches and a tight seal. Several manufacturers have what they call super-insulated coolers, such as the Yeti Tundra Cooler, Coleman Xtreme Cooler or Igloo’s Max Cool series. If you’ve already got a cooler that you like, make sure the lid and latches fit snugly.

Next, add some insulation. Desertusa.com recommends lining the cooler with Reflectix (aluminum bubble wrap), which is found in home improvement stores. It says to cut pieces to line the bottom, sides and lid of the cooler on the inside.

Others use newspaper to insulate the frozen food. My wife and I have topped off the food in our coolers with newspaper for insulation.

Remember to plan ahead. If you know someone with a walk-in freezer, ask if you can put the cooler in the freezer overnight before you pack it. If that’s not possible, put it in a cool garage.

Make sure all the frozen food that you will be taking is rock-solid frozen and has been in the freezer for a week before packing.

Make out a trip menu so you can pack the food quickly and in reverse — last in, first out. By having the food organized, you don’t have to open the cooler and constantly dig through everything, which lets cold air out and warm air in.

Pack the food, top it off with dry ice (read the instructions for handling) and seal up the cooler.

Some people using older coolers seal the cooler shut with duct tape if they aren’t going to open it for several days.

If you can get by with the fresh food in your camper’s refrigerator, leave the cooler shut as long as possible. Also, pack all your other food and beverages in the camper’s fridge or another cooler.

If you’re going to be camping during the early season with cold nights, leave the cooler outside, maybe under your camper. Make sure critters don’t get in it.

The days are cool in spring, so the cooler can remain in the shade under the rig. You can also throw wet towels over the cooler it to keep it cold. Outdoors stores have canvas cooler covers that can be soaked with water and put over the cooler.

When you get food out of the cooler, do it quickly and take out meals for two or three days. That way you won’t be opening the cooler often.

You can put the frozen meals in the camper’s fridge and they will act like blocks of ice to keep other things cool.

This should get you by for several weeks with frozen food, depending on the season and day and night temperatures.

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