Camping with dry ice is, quite simply, much better than camping without it. Dry ice has several properties that make it able to do things that regular ice just can’t, like go up to two weeks before sublimating (check out our FAQs if you’re not sure what that means).
Frozen Co2, or what we call dry ice, is a fascinating and fun substance that will improve your camping experience in more ways than one.
In this post, we’ll cover how to use dry ice for camping. As you’ll see, there are several uses for dry ice on the campsite, some that you’ll expect and some that will surprise you.
1. Always Stay Safe When Using Dry Ice
More of a necessity than a tip, I want to start by going over the safety issues that dry ice presents. If mishandled or misused, dry ice can cause serious injury or death. Luckily, dry ice is very safe so long as you follow some basic precautions. I mean, it’s certainly no more dangerous than fire, and we’re all used to using that when we’re camping.
👉🏼 Always Use Dry Ice in Open Spaces
When dry ice sublimates, it returns to the gaseous state of carbon dioxide. Needless to say, Co2 is not healthy when there is too high a concentration in the air. Breathing in too much Co2 causes symptoms like headaches, drowsiness and inability to focus, shortness of breath, and tiredness. Spending extended periods in high Co2 environments results in loss of consciousness and even death.
These harmful symptoms can all be avoided by enduring that you don’t store dry ice in an enclosed area. Airflow allows the Co2 to escape and be replaced by oxygen, but it can build up if lots of dry ice is sublimating in a closed area.
For these reasons, make sure not to keep a cooler filled with dry ice in your tent or trailer. When you’re driving to the campsite with dry ice, it’s best to keep it in an outside area, like a trailer or roof rack. If you have to keep it in the trunk, make sure the windows are open.
👉🏼 Always Use Barriers to Handle Dry Ice
Dry ice is so cold that it can burn you if it comes into direct contact with your skin. Your skin will react in the same way to freezing temperatures as it would react to extremely hot temperatures.
You should always wear gloves and a long sleeve shirt when you’re handling dry ice. It’s also a good idea to wrap the dry in a barrier or put cardboard over it when it’s at the bottom of a cooler. That’ll prevent you from accidentally touching directly when digging through the cooler to find something.
👉🏼 Always Store Dry Ice Safely
Especially if you’re camping with young kids, you want to be aware of where you are storing your dry ice. There shouldn’t even be the opportunity for someone to get hurt by accidentally touching it. If the kids are older, it’s a good idea to educate them about dry ice and its safety issues.
2. Keeping a Cooler Cold for Days or Weeks
The most often-used and most important use for dry ice while camping is keeping your food cold. You will be able to maintain a much lower temperature for a much longer amount of time when you use dry ice to keep food cold.
I can’t answer the question: how long does dry ice last in a cooler? There are so many variables involved. It depends on the quality of your cooler, how much dry ice you have, and the frequency with which you’re opening the cooler. At the upper limit, a large block of dry ice stored in a well-insulated container will last for a week.
As a rule of thumb, five or so pounds of dry ice will last about 24 hours, while 15 pounds can last up to a week.
The best dry ice cooler is one with a lot of space, which will allow you to pack in a large block of ice. The more ice you have, the colder your cooler will be and the slower that your dry ice will sublimate.
How much dry ice for a cooler? There’s never enough.
Another useful tip is to fill the empty areas of your cooler with crumpled newspaper. This reduces the amount of air that your dry ice needs to keep cool and helps the dry ice last.
👉🏼 How to Pack a Cooler with Dry Ice
The best way to pack a cooler with dry ice is by wrapping it in a newspaper and laying it along the bottom of the cooler. If you have more than one block, keep them as close together as possible so that the two pieces of dry ice can cool each other down.
Then, you want to put all the food you’d like to keep frozen directly on top of the dry ice. The frozen foods will then not only stay frozen, but they’ll also help keep the dry ice cold. (If you haven’t noticed yet, maintaining a temperature around your dry that’s as cold as possible is the name of the game). Above that layer, you can start to put in beverages and foods that don’t need to stay frozen.
Lastly, you want to put many layers of newspaper in the open spaces, which will keep your dry ice stable and frozen.
3. Use Dry Ice to Freeze the Fish You’ve Caught
Many campers look forward to fishing more than any other outdoor activity. There are some days when you seem to catch a fish with every cast. Indeed, you’ll soon catch more fish than you can eat for dinner that evening. In those cases, rather than stopping or beginning to do catch and release, you can freeze the extra fish in a cooler with dry ice.
The fish will flash freeze, so it’s a very safe way of preserving it for later.
4. Make a Natural Mosquito Trap
As we’ve covered, dry ice gives off carbon dioxide. One particularly annoying creature that happens to love Co2 is the mosquito. That’s how they’re able to find us and the other animals that they use as a food source. However, you can make an excellent mosquito trap using the Co2 that dry ice gives off as bait.
Now, first of all, don’t use a dry ice trap for mosquitoes inside your tent or any other enclosed space. That isn’t safe!
You can read all about how to make one of these effective traps at the link or watch this Youtube video to see how it is done using Co2.
5. Make a Portable Air-Conditioner!
If you have some extra dry ice hanging around and are suffering from the heat of a summer day, you can combine it with a battery-operated fan to quickly cool yourself down. Just put a small block of ice on an outdoor table and put the fan behind it, so that the cold air surrounding the dry ice blows over you.
One note is that this is a way to lose a lot of dry ice very quickly since it will be out in the heat with you. No insulation will help keep it cold. But it’s a nice thing to do when you’ve got plenty of dry ice on hand.
Once again, don’t try to use this method to cool down an enclosed area like a car. You need to be outside so that the Co2 that the dry ice releases can disperse into the surrounding atmosphere.
6. Use it for Cooking!
If you’re having trouble getting a fire going or don’t want to deal with the bother, you can cook on dry ice. Just make sure the ice you’ve bought is food safe, and you can take advantage of a process called cryogenic cooking. Remember how I’ve been saying not to touch dry ice so that you don’t get burnt? Well, that’s the same process for cooking meat products.
You can cook many outdoor staples on dry ice, such as steaks, hamburgers, and many other kinds of red meat. Seafood, like shrimp and tuna, also cooks very nicely when placed directly on dry ice. Some of the most famous restaurants in the world are starting to use this method. Why not give it a try then while you’re out in the woods?
7. Make Some Awesome Cocktails
If you’re more of a glamper than anything else, you might want to bring along some dry ice to impress your friends with amazing cocktails. Not only does dry ice cool down a drink to very low temperatures, but it also creates the famous misty special effect.
Check out this recipe.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few of the answers to the most frequently asked questions about dry ice.
1. How To Avoid Huge Cooler Messes?
The biggest cause of cooler messes is the water that results from melting ice. Maybe a baby carrot or something else blocked the drain (or your cooler doesn’t have one), but in whatever case, you can open a cooler to find a soupy mess inside. The best way to avoid such a disaster is by using dry ice instead of regular ice.
If you still want to have some regular ice on hand for beverages or whatever else, you can avoid these messes by storing them in combination with dry ice. The much colder temperature will mean the ice melts much more slowly.
2. Does Dry Ice Melt?
Dry ice doesn’t melt because it’s not a liquid. Rather, dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide gas, so as it warms up, it returns to a gaseous state.
3. Where to Buy Dry Ice?
Dry ice is a little more challenging to get your hands on than regular ice, which you can buy at just about any gas station. Most large stores will carry dry ice, such as Safeway, Walmart, and Costco. However, it’s not something that they’ll all have all the time, so it’s a good idea to call ahead to see if they carry the product and have it in stock.
One more note is that some stores will only sell dry ice to people over 18 years old. No law requires this, but grocery stores choose to do it because of the potential danger of dry ice.
4. How Cold is Dry Ice?
Dry ice is much colder than regular ice. Its resting temperature is -109.3 degrees Fahrenheit or -78.5 degrees Celsius, making it so cold that it can burn you.
5. What is Dry Ice Made of?
Dry ice is composed of carbon dioxide gas at temperatures below -109.3 degrees Fahrenheit or -78.5 degrees Celsius. So it’s not really ‘made’ of anything. It’s just a naturally occurring substance.
6. What does ‘Sublimate’ Mean?
The process of sublimation refers to the process of a frozen substance turning directly to gas rather than moving through a liquid state. It’s the analog to melting.
7. How to Store Dry Ice?
Dry ice is difficult to store because it needs to be kept at very low temperatures to stay stable (i.e. below -109.3 degrees Fahrenheit or -78.5 degrees Celsius). However, the ice will last longer before sublimating the more insulation you have, which can protect the ice from the high ambient temperature.