This camping and travel blog is written by a solo, camping obsessed lady camper hailing from the west of Northern Ireland.



Managing your cool box

The following information is primarily about standard, insulated cool boxes that do not run off electric. There are such things as electric cool boxes too, see below.

Note on 12v/electric mains cool boxes: 

An electric cool box does not work like a fridge, if you expect ice cold wine, beer or water you will be disappointed. They tend to work at 16 to 18 degrees below ambient. So you get a 22 degree day, the cool box will keep food to 6 degrees. Your fridge at home is around 3 to 5 degrees. You can buy, for £180 and upwards, a camping fridge that works off electric or gas and will cool things just as well as your home fridge does. 

Rule #1 Start four days before you need the cool box.

There's no point packing your cool box on the day you go camping, filling it up with food and expecting a few ice packs to do the job. Start about four days before by putting frozen 2 litre bottles of tap water and ice packs in the cool box, preferably enough to fill the space. If you don't have enough to do that, fill up the empty spaces with  bubble wrap or even scrunched up plastic bags. No empty spaces please!

When the bottles thaw, replace them with new ones and also new ice packs. This second lot won't thaw just as quick. This is called 'priming' your cool box.

Rule #2 Fill up with frozen food.

Did you know milk freezes really well? Make a Chilli or a Spaghetti Bolognese before hand and freeze these too. It'll take a day or so to thaw out but then dinner for night two is sorted! Frozen bacon and sausages means day 3 breakfast. Ensure all other food is at least chilled in the fridge. Don't put room temperature food in the cool box that you've been working on getting cold for the past few days.

Rule #3 Don't open the cool box!

Consider using a second cool box for drinks and snacks (such as chocolate bars) so that you are not opening your main cool box every five minutes. Especially worth considering if you have kids! You can buy a second, budget cool box for this purpose, or you can double line an ordinary cardboard box with bin liners, put tin foil all around the inside, fill with ice and your drinks and drape a wet tea towel on top. Keep a smaller container of milk in here too if you are a serial coffee or tea drinker.

Rule #4 Buy often, buy local.

Don't bother trying to manage your weekly groceries like you would at home. When you go out for the day, plan a trip to the butchers or shop on the way home and buy just what you need for that evening and the next morning. Don't give the sausages time to go off.

Rule #5 If the campsite offers ice block freezing, use it.

Even better ask them to freeze two litre bottles of tap water AND ice packs. Even when the water starts to thaw, it will be lovely and cold to drink. They may even have a fridge for campers to use, in which case make sure you have a permanent marker pen to hand to put your name on everything!


Tip #1 Fill up with ice.

Ice is really cheap, I've seen it for 99p in some shops. You can double bag the ice to stop it from soaking everything, although chances are it will to some extent. A cool box with a plug at the bottom is especially useful if you use ice. Having some ice in freezer bag means ice for drinks too! It is unlikely you'll want to use the dirty ice that is swilling around the bottom of your cool box.

Tip #2 Mind how you pack.

It goes without saying heavy things to the bottom and lighter things at the top. Even if you are not using ice, condensation means the bottom is most likely wet. Plastic containers such as milk or bottled drinks, or even tins (beer, soda etc) are best placed in the bottom with butter and eggs on the top. Try not to have packaging with cardboard in it near the bottom as it will become wet through.

Tip #3 Vac pac.

Your butcher will  likely have an industrial type vacuum packer, and most will be happy to vacuum pack your meat in portions if you explain that you want it for a camping trip. The meat will last longer, and the packaging will not leak. If you freeze it before hand it will act like a ice pack as well.

Tip #4 Wash lettuce before you leave home.

And place in a ziploc bag along with a single sheet of damp paper towel, you should get at least three days out of it. In fact, much of your veg preparation can be done at home and stored in ziploc bags. Double bag chopped onions or everything will smell!

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