boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew

As anyone who has been camping for more than a night or two can attest, keeping your food supplies refrigerated long-term is not very easy. Ice cubes are effective, but after a few days you end up with your food swimming in a large amount of dirty water. Reusable ice packs of the sort used for shipping insulin or keeping injuries cold will avoid the waterlogging problem, but they only last about a day.

You can solve the problem by using mostly non-perishable foods, but there are three main disadvantages:

  • Canned goods work well, but they are heavy and you end up eating canned food.
  • “Regular” non-perishable food is usually very expensive.
  • You can’t have a good campout without seared animal flesh. That just isn’t possible in a non-perishable form.

My family is planning a major campout in Yellowstone next year. While we were in the initial discussion phases, I hit on the possible solution of using dry ice. I’m not sure how well this will work – it may require some experimentation. Some questions that need to be answered:

  • The cooler’s plastic material probably was not designed to deal with the subzero temperatures dealt out by a block of dry ice, which could result in cracking or even breakage. Is this really an issue? If so, how can it be avoided? Would wrapping it in an old towel solve the problem? Is styrofoam subject to these problems?
  • Is it possible to have some food in the same cooler frozen and some refrigerated? Perhaps this could be accomplished if the dry ice is put into a towel, placed into small styrofoam coolers for frozen items with either the lids missing or holes punched in near the top, which is then placed into a larger cooler for the refrigerated items. Gravity would have a tendency to keep the coldest gas inside the smaller coolers.
  • Would dry ice provide relatively consistent cooling through a four or five night camping trip?
  • If you use enough regular ice to provide ample cooling, it takes up a lot of room, requiring either a huge cooler or lots of small coolers. Would a good supply of dry ice take up less space?
  • No matter what cooling method is used, keeping the lid closed is critical … but is this more or less of an issue with dry ice?
  • If the rest of these questions can be worked out, is dry ice cheap enough to make it worthwhile?

Has anyone ever tried camping with dry ice and had any success? Any recommendations about where to get experimentation supplies real cheap? Would anyone like to collaborate on the project?

5 responses to “boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew”

  1. DON’T Try dri-ice. You will end up with forever frozen eggs, pickle pops and general yuck, not to mention frost bite from trying to drink a cool one. The best that we ever did was to take the motorhome and rough it that way. My advice, get a couple of the new weekender coolers and shop localy for a couple of days at a time. If you are going to West (yellowstone) then you pay a little more (OK a lot more) but not as much as buying the food at home throwing it away in Yellowstone and rebuying it in Yellowstone. Take dried and boxed things(they are lighter) and supplement them with fresh: ie yummy mac n cheese and even better hamburger helper (yummmmm). Eat lots of cold cuts, you will be suprised how much Kathy will NOT want to cook after dragging Ben out of hot pots and away from guisers and saving Audrey and Jacob from the kreepe crawlees at least hourly. Take the kids for a 10.00 hamburger once, encourage them to spend their allowance on junk food, lots, then you don’t have to feed them. If you insist on taking food to be cooked over campfires every day then invest in a two week spa vacation for Kathy as a peace offering and apology for having to bundle her up in the white suit (you know the one, it’s the one that the sleeves tie in back) and throw her on top of the van and lash her down to keep her from chopping off any apendage of yours that she can get her hands on. Happy Camping!!

  2. I’m not sure where to get a good straightjacket. I’d appreciate any pointers for that too!

    This is going to be a group campout – a four night family reunion almost a year from now. We’re probably only going to have to cook two meals, but we’ll be cooking for about 50-60 people. That should be easier than cooking three times a day for one family.

    It may turn out that dry ice is just not feasible, but I plan to do some experimentation to find out!

  3. I’ve worked some with dry ice and it isn’t as bad as you might think. I don’t think it lasts as long as regular ice, though–so maybe a combination of both. You can buy it at most Albertson’s and all Wall Marts for about $5 per pound. One pound is a fair amount of dry ice–certainly enough to do some tests with. One side benefit of dry ice is the carbon-dioxide gas as byproduct. This will displace the oxygen in the cooler and help preserve perishables (acts as a descicant).

    One tip about dry ice I’ve found is to not allow it to actually touch other items. I keep it wrapped up in a damp towel. It seems to last longer that way and keep the cooling more even.

    So you know, Consumer Reports tests coolers by filling them with ice, drinks etc. and leaving them in the desert of Death Valley. They then time how long it takes for the temprature to rise to a “spoilable” temprature. Last time I looked at a report I belive all the coolers lasted a couple of days.

    The cooler I’ve always wanted to get is a Coleman that uses a peltier device powered by the cigarette lighter to cool the cooler. This eliminates the need for ice because you cool it down to freezing and then unplug it until you need to cool it off again. This also has the benefit with a DC change to warm the cooler and keep it warm. I wish I had that cooler.

  4. Nat you are right, dri ice doesn’t last as long as wet ice, and it is not good to come in contact with things, wet ice is more prediciable.Shawn, a family reunion is a little different than just camping. Not much, but there will be more opportunities to keep a cooler supplied with ice. I have always found that buying localy is more logical, the things are fresher and the amounts are better guaged. No inadvertantly spoiled stuff is even a more attractive reason.

  5. from my experience (week long scouting excursions), most food will typically last a week or so under regular ice provide that the melted is replaced with fresh ice as it melts.

    we used multiple coolers. beverages were usually kept in one, meats, cheeses, etc. in another. fresh eggs will keep for relatively a week. there are containers that you can get from any respectable outdoors store to help protect them during transport, not to mention the paper cartons get soggy quickly.

    you can always “pre chill” your cooler in advance. ice it down for a day or so before, or, if you have a large enough freezer option, stuff it in there.

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