How To Use Dry Ice In A Cooler

What’s the secret to an enjoyable camp? Keep your food (and beer) cool for the entire camp! If you are going completely off the beaten path with no access to shops, you may consider using dry ice, but may not be sure how to use dry ice in a cooler.

Here are the 12 steps to use dry ice in a cooler:

  1. Use a suitable cooler
  2. Consider using two coolers
  3. Buy the right amount of dry ice
  4. Freeze your food ahead of time
  5. Make sure to wear protective gloves
  6. Wrap the dry ice in brown paper
  7. Create a barrier between the dry ice and your food
  8. Place the ice at the top or the bottom of the cooler
  9. Pack your food and ice strategically in your cooler
  10. Minimize air gaps using newspapers
  11. Keep your cooler in a cool place
  12. Dispose of the dry ice safely

1. Use A Suitable Cooler

Dry ice is not like regular ice; it is Carbon Dioxide (CO2) frozen below 109° F. Consequently, when the Carbon Dioxide warms, it doesn’t melt but instead sublimates and releases CO2.

It is important to use a cooler with adequate ventilation and insulation to prevent the CO2 from building pressure in the cooler and exploding. Dry ice should be treated with special care, and if you don’t have a proper cooler, we suggest using other methods for cooling your food instead.

For regular campers, we recommend investing in one of these quality coolers:

  • Yeti Tundra. Available in three sizes (35, 45, and 65), perfect for camping, fishing, and other adventures. The Tundra 45 holds 28 cans of beer with ice included.
  • Yeti Roadie. Smaller than the Tundra and more suited for road trips. Available only in one size and tall enough for wine bottles.

2. Consider Using Two Coolers

If you are camping in a group of four or more, one cooler likely won’t provide enough storage. While one cooler should suffice for two people, consider using two coolers if space allows.

The benefit of two coolers is that one can be used to keep the dry ice and regular ice, like a freezer, while the second cooler is used for food and drinks.

Take regular ice from the first cooler to place in the second as needed. Using the coolers this way slows the sublimation of the dry ice and removes the risk of freezing your food.  

3. Buy The Right Amount Of Dry Ice

You don’t want to fill too much of your cooler with ice, but you also don’t want food to warm halfway through the camping trip. Knowing exactly how much dry ice you need allows you to use your cooler space effectively while keeping your food cool the entire time.

As a general guide, you need twice the amount of ice than food/drinks or a ratio of 2:1 ice to food/drinks. This will ensure that your food and beverages remain cold for the entire length of your trip.

4. Freeze Your Food Ahead Of Time

It’s a good idea to freeze any food you plan to take with you about two days before your trip. By freezing your food beforehand, you keep the temperature in your cooler low, which will slow the sublimation of the dry ice.

The added bonus of freezing ahead of time is that it helps you stay organized and gives you enough time to buy any more refreshments should you need them.

5. Make Sure To Wear Protective Gloves

Dry ice is very, very cold! So cold that you can seriously burn your hands if you are not careful. It is crucial to wear protective gloves, such as insulated rubber gloves when handling dry ice.

Have burn ointment handy in the case that you do burn yourself. Dry ice burns are treated the same as you would a regular burn. Rinse the burned area under lukewarm water and treat with burn ointment if needed. Seek medical attention for frostbite or severe burns that risk infection.

6. Wrap The Dry Ice In Brown Paper

Wrapping your dry ice in newspapers or brown paper serves two purposes. Firstly, it insulates the dry ice and slows the sublimation process. Secondly, the newspapers protect against the ice should you accidentally touch it.

Two or three layers of newspapers will do, but you can add more. If you plan to place the dry ice at the bottom of your cooler, you can wrap the ice thick enough to fill the entire surface area, minimizing air gaps.

7. Create A Barrier Between The Dry Ice And Your Food

Sure, you want your food to be cold, but frozen food will be inedible. To avoid frozen food, you need to prevent direct contact between your provisions and the dry ice.

While the newspapers around the dry ice will help somewhat, it won’t be enough. A towel, folded double, works great as a buffer and will prevent your food from freezing. You can use the towel to clean the cooler at the end of your trip, so two stones!

8. Place The Ice At The Top Or The Bottom Of The Cooler

Many people place the dry ice at the bottom of the cooler as it is more convenient and you reduce the risk of accidental burns from handling the dry ice.

Placing the dry ice on top will keep your goods cooler for longer as cold air sinks. However, you will need to handle the ice more often. Choose what works best for you.

9. Pack Your Food And Ice Strategically In Your Cooler

To keep your food and dry ice cold for longer, you need to open your cooler as seldom as possible. Pack the goods that you will use last or least often at the bottom to avoid taking everything out for that one item down below.

When you need to take food out for lunch, take everything you need out at once to keep opening and closing at a minimum.

10. Minimize Air Gaps Using Newspapers

The less air in your cooler, the slower the dry ice will sublimate, keeping your food cool and your trip pleasant.

Effective use of space when packing will minimize most gaps. You can use crumpled-up newspapers or brown papers for any other air gaps that remain after packing.

11. Keep Your Cooler In A Cool Place

High-quality coolers such as Yeti coolers will keep your goods cool even in full sun, but a cool spot does help. Keeping your cooler in a shaded area will keep the contents cooler for much longer! After all, the sun is a source of heat.

You can create a shaded area with a tarp or hammock or even place the cooler inside your tent if there is no shade.

12. Dispose Of The Dry Ice Safely

When you need to dispose of the dry ice, it is important to do so properly and safely. Carbon dioxide poisoning should not be taken lightly!

The easiest way to dispose of dry ice is to leave it outside so that it can sublimate. You will need to watch it to ensure that no children or animals touch the ice before it sublimates. If you cannot leave it outside, place it in a well-ventilated room.

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Author at Wilderness Redefined camping website

James has been escaping to the outdoors for as long as he can remember. This first started in family camping trips but soon turned into adventure camps and hiking through the Scottish Hebrides. Now he has turned towards trying to make camping more comfortable and accessible.