Dry ice is an incredible substance with lots of useful applications for camping. I was curious about dry ice and what you could do with it and learned a few things and compiled them here for you!
1. Make a Freezer AND a Refrigerator for Camping (Make a Supercool Cooler)
The temperature for dry ice is around -109 degrees Fahrenheit. Because normal ice is formed below temperatures of -32 degrees Fahrenheit, dry ice can bring down the temperatures in your cooler much lower than normal ice can.
Because of this, if you bring two coolers, and pack one cooler with dry ice and the other with normal ice, then you will effectively create a freezer and a refrigerator!
Having a freezer while camping can be a huge boon if you are planning on camping for an entire week or more. Some foods (particularly raw meat) should be frozen as long as possible before cooked and not hanging around in a soggy cooler. Additionally, if you want to be the popular campsite, you can bring frozen foods like ice cream or popsicles and keep them in your supercool freezer.
How To Avoid Huge Cooler Messes
Even if you aren’t going to be camping for a week, and are only going to be out for a few days–sometimes it’s a big pain in the neck to have a cooler full of water that you have to fish your cheese sticks out of.
There are many ways to keep your food dry in a cooler. In fact, we wrote an entire blog post on this! Check out some easy DIY methods to keep your food dry in your cooler.
One easy way to make your cubed ice last longer is to use dry ice!
2. Keep a Cooler Cool for Up to 2 Weeks!
Dry ice, pound for pound, actually doesn’t last as long as regular ice. However, because of its very cold temperatures, you can use a large block of dry ice to keep your regular ice frozen for a lot longer! If you have a large cooler (or even better, a cooler dedicated to keeping ice cold that you can use to refill your other ice chest), then you can use very large blocks of dry ice that will last throughout the week. The bigger the dry ice block, the longer it will preserve your ice.
Besides using dry ice, you can do some simple methods to keep your ice lasting as long as possible. One being ensuring your cooler is as insulated as possible. If you can keep your cooler in the shade and add additional insulation, then you will extend the life of your ice.
3-5 lbs of dry ice will sublimate (turn into CO2) within 18-24 hours. This means if you bring more than 15 lbs of dry ice, then you will be able to make your ice stay solid for several days.
3. Keep Your Food Super Cold With Your Powered-Down Portable Camping Fridge
If you are in an RV, or you are a serious car camper, then you may have a portable fridge specifically for camping! (If you want to know more information about camping fridges and their costs, check out our article here)
The problem with a portable fridge is that you are now relying on it for your cold food, and thus you are now reliant on electricity to ensure you can keep your food cool. This isn’t the end of the world if you can get your hands on some dry ice.
Often, portable fridges are not intended to use normal ice, as they are heavily insulated and getting the insulation wet will actually disrupt the performance of the portable fridge.
Because dry ice sublimates to CO2, you don’t have to worry about getting things wet!
Since you’re camping, you may or may not have access to electricity, so rather than having to run your fridge off your battery (something you can only ever pull off for 1-2 hours without draining your car battery), or use an external battery, you can use dry ice to keep your food super cold during the duration of your camping stay.
Remember, dry ice is not great for cooling drinks because it cools them down too much. If you are ever using dry ice for your food, make sure your food is the kind of food that can handle potentially becoming frozen. Frozen drinks can explode causing your drink to become a slurry slushy mess inside your cooler.
4. Freeze Your Game Fish
According to the Coleman sponsored American 2017 Camping Report, 47% of people who went camping in 2017 said fishing was in their top 10 list of sports.
A lot of people love fishing. What happens though if you’re far from home, and you catch the huge lunker on day 1 out of 3 of your camping trip, and you are planning on eating your delicious fish when you get home? Dry ice can come to the rescue here.
Because of dry ice’s extremely cold temperatures, you can use dry ice to flash freeze your fish. This will allow your fish to be preserved for longer without the meat going bad.
5. Dry Ice Can Protect You From Mosquitoes!
Mosquitoes have receptors for carbon dioxide (also called CO2) , the chemical us humans exhale as we breathe, and for our general skin smells (source), that’s how mosquitoes can find us!
Dry ice is simply frozen carbon dioxide, and can be used as bait for mosquito traps. The mosquitoes are drawn to the mosquito trap and away from your skin, allowing you to enjoy your camp chair by the fire without a swarm of mosquitoes around your face.
How to Make a Natural Dry Ice Mosquito Trap
You can easily make a dry ice trap for mosquitoes by suspending some dry ice above (remember, CO2 sinks) a container with a narrow entrance.
- Newspaper (for covering the dry ice to be safely worked with)
- At least 5 lb of dry ice (this simulates 1 adult human)
- Gloves to handle dry ice
- 2-liter Plastic Soda Bottle
- Enough water to fill a quarter of the 2 liter bottle
- A tiny bit of soap to break the surface tension of the water
With all your materials ready, follow these steps to make your own quick mosquito dry ice trap:
- Cut off the top of the 2-liter bottle where the bottle begins to taper and become thinner towards the top. This will allow this cut-off top to rest inside, upside down, inside the 2-liter bottle.
- Fill the bottom of the 2-liter bottle with water containing a little bit of soap in it. The mosquitoes will touch the water and will sink to the bottom because of the broken surface tension.
- Place the bottle in the ideal location away from where humans will hang out.
- Hang the newspaper wrapped dry-ice above the inverted 2-liter bottle entrance (as close as you can). As the dry ice sublimates (turns into gas), it will sink into the trap. Use your gloves handling dry-ice so you don’t cause any damage to your skin.
That’s it! You have a mosquito trap to hopefully take the attention away from you as you are out camping.
6. Cool Down Your Canopy Area With Dry Ice
Dry ice can potentially be dangerous in a tent because dry ice sublimates to CO2, which can be extremely dangerous if it builds up in enough quantities. However, if you have a canopy or a picnic table where you will be hanging out, and you’re done with your dry ice in your cooler, then you can use your dry ice with a portable fan to quickly cool off! Without insulation, dry ice will sublimate quickly, however–so try this knowing that it won’t last for too long.
7. Make the Other Campers Jealous: Homemade Root Beer with Dry Ice!
If you buy food-grade (not just the normal block dry ice you use to keep your cooler cold) dry ice, you can use dry ice for recipes! One easy and fun recipe is root beer. You can make your own carbonated root beer using the carbon dioxide in dry ice. See here for an easy recipe.
Things to Be Careful of from Dry Ice
8. Dry Ice Needs a Ventilated Area
All things considered, dry ice is very safe to use, as long as you are in a well-ventilated area. Enclosed spaces, including tents and cars, and even sealed coolers can present a safety hazard.
If you’re in a car, particularly a newer car that’s sealed very well, make sure you crack your windows, or that your AC is not recirculating air but instead getting air from the outside. Fortunately, if you’re going camping, nothing beats getting some of that fresh air in your car on your way to the campsite!
If you leave dry ice in an extremely airtight cooler where you can clamp the lid closed for long periods of time, because CO2 will build up, which can damage the cooler and even harm others. This is very unlikely since you probably brought a cooler so you could use it–just something to be aware that dry ice doesn’t melt into water like ice does, but instead expands into a gas form. Most coolers pop open really easily, so this isn’t something to worry about.
9. Not Safe To Handle Without Insulation
Dry ice is pretty cold. So cold in fact, that exposure to dry ice can cause frostbite. Dry ice is in fact used to freeze warts off by some doctors (although liquid nitrogen is favored for this). Since it’s cold enough to freeze warts off, you don’t want to handle dry ice without gloves on your hands or some other insulation between you and the dry ice.
10. Sometimes Difficult to Find
Where you can find ice at most gas stations in the United States, dry ice is not nearly as easy to find in all locations. Some grocery stores sell dry ice, and you can find it usually at Walmart or other major retailers. Party shops will sell dry ice near Halloween, even.
This may not help if you are in the middle of nowhere, so you can’t count on finding dry ice after you arrive close to your camping destination.