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How to Keep Ice Cream Frozen While Camping This Summer

Summer is the perfect time for camping and enjoying the great outdoors. Also the time for a frozen treat! But can you have both when camping? You sure can, and today we will show you how keeping ice cream frozen while off-grid is possible!

We spend most of our time off the grid and have written lots of articles about enjoying the luxuries of life anywhere you roam, so let’s look at some tips and tricks for keeping your moose tracks, cookies and cream, and rocky road as cold as possible while camping this summer. 

Grab your spoon, and let’s dig in!

Can You Have Ice Cream While Camping?

Of course, you can! You could go get it fresh and eat it before it melts, but your probably asking if you can take a carton along. It might require a bit more prep or special equipment but it is possible to keep ice cream frozen in a cooler. However, the hotter the temperatures, the more challenging it will be to prevent softening or melting.

It’s going to require a cooler of sorts, with some special considerations if you want ice cream, so if you can’t carry a cooler, then opting for a different dessert option may be best. Cookies, rice crispy treats, or trail mix may be better options. On the other hand, it can be much more feasible if you’re in an RV since they typically come with freezers.

Mom dad and son eating ice cream
An ice cream in the summer sun is the perfect camping treat.

How Long Will Ice Cream Last in a Cooler?

The amount of time ice cream will last in a cooler depends on several factors. You’ll need to consider the temperature of the cooler, the quality of its insulation, and the type of ice cream. The International Dairy Foods Association recommends storing ice cream below 10°F (-12°C). Doing so will keep ice cream frozen solid.

There’s no hard and fast rule about how long it will last in a cooler. Ice cream typically softens in temperatures above 10°F (-6°C). If you leave it in temperatures above 30°F (4°C), it’s only a matter of hours before your ice cream will be soup.

The starting temperature of the Ice and ice cream will be one of the biggest determining factors. Ice can be at temperatures far below freezing and you want it as cold as possible. We will talk about ways to make ice colder. With cold ice and some techniques we will share many times you can get 24 to 48 hours out of ice cream. With dry ice, this can extend to almost a week.

The latest trend is using electric coolers. Many electric coolers can keep ice cream frozen indefinitely as long as you are able to provide power either from a plug or your vehicle.

Pro Tip: Let your inner chef shine while camping by using our Complete Guide to Cooking Over a Fire.

Family camping with cooler
Your camping cooler will keep your ice cream frozen for a short period of time.

Tips for Keeping Ice Cream While Camping

If you want to take ice cream with you while camping, there are some things you can try. However, these are temporary solutions only suitable for shorter trips. They may not keep your ice cream at freezing temperatures in the same way as an RV freezer. Let’s look at a few tips to help your ice cream last as long as possible while in the great outdoors.

Use Dry ice

One way to keep ice cream while camping is to use dry ice. You can typically purchase this from grocery stores and other specialty retailers. Dry ice is usually around -109°F (-78°C). Wrap the dry ice in a towel or newspaper before placing it into your cooler to chill your ice cream. This will help prevent dry ice from contacting the ice cream or other items. Never touch dry ice with your bare hands and always wear protective gloves or use tongs when handling it.

A typical cooler will require between five and 10 pounds of dry ice. Place the dry ice on top of your ice cream and the contents of your cooler. We like to mix regular ice in around the contents at the bottom to provide a more temperature conduction medium. The dry ice will also keep the regular ice from melting; however, once the dry ice is gone the regular ice will work for a short bit longer. If you notice the regular ice melting its time to eat the ice cream quick!

In a standard cooler, we have been able to keep items well-frozen for about 4 days using dry ice. With a thicker insulated cooler like Yeti or Orca we have managed over a week!

COLD ICE CHEST FOR A WEEK!

Use Salt

As we mentioned above Ice can exist at temperatures far below freezing. Adding salt to the ice will help keep it colder longer.

Adding rock salt lowers the freezing point of water. While this might seem backwards, salt will melt your ice faster, however it will be colder when it melts. Basically adding salt (lots of it, handfulls) will drop the melting point of ice from 32 to around 0F. This means your cooler will be wet sooner, but much colder for longer as the ice will not rise to 32F before melting.

While this will extend your hard ice cream time it will not extend your overall ice cream time. The second law of thermodynamics still applies and heat will make its way in. In fact this method might actually shorten your overall ice cream duration, but you will have more time at colder temps.

Basically using salt on your ice is a great method if you want to use the ice cream within 24 hours of putting it in a standard cooler. Keep in mind that the ice will melt and be much wetter. The ice cream will need to be in the water to be cold, so you may need to put it in a bag or waterproof it first.

Pre-Freeze the Cooler

Pre-freezing the cooler can help make your ice last longer. A warm cooler will send its warmth into the ice wasting valuable time. So start off with it cold!

Set your freezer to the coldest setting (-10 or below if possible) and use this super cold ice. Place frozen ice packs or water bottles inside the cooler and secure the lid for several hours or overnight. This is sacrificial ice and you want to replace it before adding the ice cream.

Remove the first ice and add the ice cream to the cooler and use any additional ice or ice packs to help keep it cold. You’ll then want to limit how often you open the cooler as much as possible.

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Keep the Cooler in the Shade

There’s a reason we look for a shady tree to sit under when it’s hot outside. By keeping your cooler in the shade and away from the sun, you can help avoid it heating up. This gives you the best chance of keeping your ice cream frozen and delicious during your trip.

If there are no shade trees around, create one. Use a tarp, canopy, or other material to create some shade. Store your cooler inside during the hottest part of the day. You can also cover the cooler with a blanket or towel to further insulate it from the elements.

Little boy eating ice cream
Don’t get stuck eating ice cream soup! Use dry ice in your camping cooler.

Use a Thick Insulated Cooler

When choosing a cooler, look for one with thick-insulated walls. This helps the cooler retain the cold air as much as possible. These also typically have air-tight lids that prevent cold air from escaping and warm air from penetrating the cooler. 

We mentioned Yeti earlier, but Orca, Pelican, and RTIC are solid choices. These brands help keep ice cream cold while camping, fishing, at picnics, and on trips to the beach. 

Keep Cooler Closed

Ultimately, the best way to keep your ice cream cool while camping is to keep your cooler closed. Constantly opening and closing the cooler will allow cold air to escape and warm air to get into the cooler. The temperature will quickly increase, and your ice cream will be soft in no time. 

Make sure you plan accordingly and bring a minimal amount of ice cream. You’ll likely want to use it as quickly as possible and not have any leftovers. Surely no one will complain about eating a second helping of ice cream.

We also suggest you avoid storing anything in the cooler with the ice cream you don’t need. This reduces the chances that you’ll need to open the cooler unless necessary. If possible, store the ice cream by itself in a designated cooler.

Woman setting up camping cooler
Enjoying ice cream while camping isn’t easy, but it is doable.

Portable Freezers and Ice Cream

RVers have an advantage as most campers come with freezers. However, it’s crucial to note that most absorption-style fridges in RVs struggle to do the job. Temperatures in these freezers typically hover in the 20s. While this may be cold enough for your RV freezer to prevent ice cream from turning into soup, it’s much softer than the freezing temperature most people prefer.

For the best chance of having rock-hard ice cream in an RV,12V or residential refrigerators are the best option. These units are much more capable of reaching single-digit temperatures.

In addition, portable 12V fridge units have become exceedingly popular and are great at keeping ice cream cold. They of course need a battery, generator, or power plug to operate, but many times can operate on batteries for days. We have always carried one of these coolers with us and use it both as a fridge or freezer as needed.

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Pro Tip: If your RV fridge isn’t getting cold enough to keep your grocery cold, Try These Troubleshooting Tricks to fix it.

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Enjoy Hard Ice Cream While Camping

Enjoying ice cream while camping may not be easy, but it can be a fun experience. Follow the tips and tricks we’ve shared today, and you can indulge in your favorite frozen treats outdoors. Bring plenty for everyone and share with us if we’re camping nearby. There’s no better way to end a day of epic adventures than with a bowl of delicious Butter Pecan or Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream. 

What’s your absolute favorite ice cream flavor? Tell us in the comments!

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About Cait Morton

Co-Founder, Logistics Queen, Business & Content Manager, and Animal Lover

An Upper Peninsula of Michigan native (aka a Yooper), Caitlin is the organization, big-picture, and content strategy queen of our operation. She keeps everything orderly and on track.

With a background in Business Management, she supports and helps channel Tom’s technical prowess into the helpful content our readers and viewers expect. That’s not to say you won’t find her turning wrenches and talking shop – RV life is a team effort. She keeps the business and the blog moving forward with a variety of topics and resources for our audience.

Believe it or not, she is rather camera shy, though she co-hosts the Mortons’ personal videos and The RVers TV show.

Caitlin’s passion lies in outdoor recreation and with animals. Some of her favorite things to do are hiking, biking, and getting out on the water via kayak, SUP, or boat.

She also loves the RV life due to the fact that you can bring your pets along. Sharing information about safely recreating outdoors with your whole family – pets included! – is very important to her. Because of this, Caitlin spearheaded the launch of HypePets in 2023.

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