If you’ve ever camped for more than a few days, you’ll know how hard it is to keep milk and any other food cold for a long time.
Even your standard Friday-Monday camp can mean waking up to curdled milk.
With the best will in the world, all cool boxes will begin to warm up after a few days, and suddenly your Monday morning tea is looking more like a Monday morning yoghurt.
So, how can you keep milk and other foods cold without an electric hook-up?
We’ve come up with 6 tips from all of our many decades’ camping to give you some of the best ways to avoid curdled milk!
Six Tips For Keeping Milk Cold
- Get a good and high-quality cool box
- Prepare and treat your cool box properly
- Meal plan correctly
- Swap out ice and ice packs
- Use a stream and go natural
- Avoid cold foods and milk altogether
Get A Good And High-Quality Cool Boxes
This is probably the most important tip we have here: there is no real replacement for a decent cool box!
Coolboxes are generally made up of a box of insulation covered in plastic. There are three types of cool boxes you can choose from passive, active and 3-way fridges.
Passive cool boxes
Passive cool boxes (or coolers for our American friends!) are the standard no-frills boxes you can pick up just about anywhere during camping season, and in most camping shops year-round.
Just because you can pick up a cool box from Tesco or any other supermarket, it doesn’t mean you’ve got a good deal, sadly. It is worth spending a bit more on a better cool box if you’re going to be camping for more than a few days.
Cool boxes like the Coleman Xtreme coolbox can keep your food cold for up to 5 days away and they’re a great option for family campers.
Active Cool Boxes
Active cool boxes are the upgrade to a passive cool box, but the same rules of cheap vs. quality apply. Active cool boxes have a standard I2v plug and some kind of integrated fan system to keep the box cool.
Some active cool boxes also come with a standard 240v mains plug too, and when on mains electric they work really well.
The main thing to take away from that is that the fan system keeps the box cool, it will not cool the box down so it is always advisable to start cold -we’ll discuss that a bit later.
It is very important to note that a 12v box needs power. It may seem obvious to plug it into the car, but this will drain your car battery very quickly and lead you into more trouble, or waste petrol (plus it’s not very good for the environment to keep your engine on all the time).
If you’re going to go for an Active cod box, the Explora 24L 2 in 1 Electric Cooler is a great option. If you want to plug it into the 12v socket, you’ll need a leisure battery and 12v adapter socket.
A 110ah leisure battery will run an active cool box for around four days if you unplug it overnight. If you add in a set of solar panels to your setup, and this could last a lot longer.
Three Way Fridges
Three-Way Fridges really are the creme de la creme of cool boxes!
These can usually work off of an electric hook up, 12v leisure battery, or gas cylinders, and they are really, really good!
The obvious downside to these fridges is that they are really expensive, you’ll be looking to spend around £180+, usually around £250, for a good three-way fridge.
Most people won’t have a need to spend so much on a cool box, but if you do need to keep things cool reliably (diabetic medication for example) then these are a fantastic option and work off of gas for when you’re off-grid.
Prepare And Treat Your cool boxes Properly
Once you’ve chosen your cool box, the next step is to know how to sort and prepare your cool box.
Most cool boxes, passive or active, work best to keep things cool rather than making them cool, so you’ll want to ensure that your milk and other food supplies are cold BEFORE they go into the cool box.
We would even suggest freezing your milk and as much food as you can before you pack up and go.
Having milk pre-frozen has been a cold food camping hack for many years, but what’s great about this is that it’s SO reliable!
Even the cheapest cool box should keep frozen milk chilled from Friday through to Monday in a normal British summer, and the same goes for food like frozen mincemeat or frozen bacon!
Freezing the food you can is a great camping hack, but there are a few more ways you can get the most out of your cool box:
10 Ways To Make Your Camping Cooler More Efficient:
- Keep it out of the sun – leave it in a shady spot and not inside your tent or porch
- Line the inside with foil
- Drape a damp tea towel over it and keep it wet -only do this on a passive box, not an active box.
- Pack an active box loosely to encourage airflow
- Pack a passive box tightly to discourage airflow
- Use ice blocks or shop-bought ice
- Don’t open it more than you have to
- Pack your cool box at the last possible moment
- Wrap it in a space blanket to reflect the sun
- Pack it in the order you’ll need to use it – Friday’s food at the top, Monday’s at the bottom
Make A Meal Plan
We know, there is nothing remotely sexy or spontaneous about planning your camping menu in advance, but planning what you’re going to eat and when has two major benefits:
- You know you will always have food regardless of your fridge or cooler situation
- Planning can help keep your cool box cool(er)
Planning your meals in advance means you can factor in the likelihood of your milk going sour due to a warm cool box, and you will be able to avoid that “does this bacon smell off to you?” conversation on Monday morning.
Of course, it is much easier to plan ahead if you know your cool box and its particular limits, so this one may take some trial and error.
Another great hack is to remember that warm air rises and cold air falls.
Pack the food you are going to eat last at the bottom of the cool box and your first night’s dinner on top. This means less rummaging and a slightly extended cool time for the foods on the bottom.
Swap Out Your Ice Packs
This tip does depend entirely on the campsite, but we think it’s safe to say that most of the bigger sites have somewhere you can freeze ice blocks.
This allows you to rotate your ice blocks around your coolbox and keep it cooler for much longer.
If you are lucky enough to have this facility on-site, make sure you write your name on your ice block. Fabric plasters are actually excellent for this but apply it whilst the ice block is thoroughly dry (usually before it’s been frozen).
One ninja tip we were told when researching this article is to have double your ice blocks (or bottles of water, they make good substitutes).
This way you can freeze one or two blocks as soon as you arrive and have them ready to swap out when the ones in your cool box have defrosted.
Be aware, some campsites charge you to freeze ice blocks, and some will have an honesty box or charity donation system for the use of the freezer.
Use A Stream and Go Natural
This little hack has been used for time in memoria!
It’s certainly not one that you will be able to use at every campsite, or in every situation, but if you can use a stream to keep your food cool, it’s probably the most reliable option aside from an electric hookup!
Using a stream requires some set-up, it works best with a string type bag or canvas bag, the idea is to let the water pass through the bag.
You’ll need to make sure your food is in waterproof bags (reusable silicone sandwich bags will be fine) and I’d suggest bagging your milk bottle too, just in case!
Once you’ve got your milk and food secured, make sure your bag is secured to something so it doesn’t float away!
A good solid tree is usually best, but a dog spike or a big rock will work just as well. Do make sure that your rope is strong (paracord is good for this) so there’s no risk of it snapping and your food going floating down the stream!
The old bucket trick
One variation on the stream idea is to use a bucket filled with water and a damp towel on the top. Put your milk and other sealed food into the bucket of water and keep the towel on top damp. Keep the bucket in the shade at all times.
This option does work, in a pinch, sometimes. If it’s really hot (August bank holiday!) then we’ve found this only really works for a few hours.
You can also try the earthenware jug/flower pot inside another flower pot with a layer of damp sand between them. That’s been shown to work quite effectively… but who has space for two large terracotta flower pots in with their camping gear?!
Avoid Taking Cold Food Altogether
If you’ve tried all of the above, and you’re still finding your milk is curdled come Monday, then you may need to rethink your food plans.
Now, I am absolutely a coffee for breakfast kind of person, and there’s no way I’m going to have coffee without milk, so I meal plan around my cool box abilities.
Depending on where I’m camping, this could mean taking UHT milk, tins of condensed or evaporated milk, dried milk, or buying fresh milk daily.
There are many ways we meal plan to ensure we have the right food options, including switching to a no-cool box camp.
Usually, we aren’t able to buy milk every day because we’re staying at ruined castles at a reenactment, and quite a way away from a local town or shop, but this is probably the best option if you can as you’ll be introducing cold food to the cool box and you’re more likely to be able to pick up some ice and/or a frozen pie at the same time!
Condensed milk and UHT milk are fine options for when you’re trying to keep food cold when you’re camping. Both make a good substitute for milk in coffee and tea, but remember that condensed milk is very sweet!
Both UHT and tinned milk will need to be kept cool once they are opened, but if you are planning to open your milk on Monday morning, just before you pack up your tent to go home, you’ll probably be safe to pop it in the now-warm cool box and stick it in the fridge when you get home.
Dried milk is a great alternative and it’s not too bad once you get used to the taste. Personally, I wouldn’t want it on my cornflakes but it serves coffee and tea well.
How to use dried milk when camping
Mix a little milk powder with some warm water in a separate cup, then add cold water once it’s dissolved. Once you’ve got a liquid that looks like milk, add it to your tea or coffee or over your cornflakes.
Never add the powder directly to your drinks because it will end up a floating mess and look pretty nasty (it will taste fine though, just a bit chewy!).
The bonus with dried milk is you can make up only as much as you need rather than needing to keep a pint of milk cold.
Be warned: dried milk DOES have a shelf life.
You seem to only be able to buy it in rather large containers, so I’d suggest getting used to using it at home (I use it where milk is called for in things like cakes) or keeping it in a mylar bag/mason jar with an oxygen absorber.
Of course, no meal planning would be complete without a decent pub lunch factored in, the bonus being you don’t have to keep any extra food cool for that!