Can You Use Dry Ice For Camping?


With summer right around the corner more of us will be hitting up our local campgrounds for a fun filled family camping trip. Of course you bring along the old camping staples like hot dogs and smores over the open fire, but why stop there? You might as well add a little bit of variety into your life.

If you’re anything like my family, you end up filling up your coolers with more food than you could possibly eat (boy do we try). With all that food we end up going through a lot of ice.

Every morning I end up waking up before the rest of my family and running up to the store for ice. It’s nice to be able to go grab a coffee and get away from the kids for a bit, but it gets old fast on a long vacation.

That got me thinking about other options. Dry ice seemed like the perfect alternative and you wouldn’t have to worry about soggy food. There has to be a reason why people don’t seem to be using dry ice on camping trips.

Can You Use Dry Ice For Camping?

Ever watch the Wizard of Oz? Watch the scene where the witch says “I’m Melting”. That was probably the first time you saw dry ice in action. Other than melting witches, what can you really do with dry ice?

Can you use dry ice for camping? You can use dry ice in your camping cooler, but there are risks. Dry ice can burn your hands, explode in a sealed cooler and suffocate you if left in a sealed room/car without proper ventilation.

However, if you take proper precautions and handle the dry ice safely it’s well worth the slight risk. Read the “Working Safely With Dry Ice” safety sheet from the University of Washington and watch the video below for safe handling directions.

Don’t Use Dry Ice Around Young Children!

Ever tell a child something is hot only to watch them touch it anyway? The second they see the cloud of smoke billow out of your cooler they’ll be all over it. It’s all fun and games until someone ends up at the emergency room with a severe dry ice burn.

Do you really want to play cooler police all weekend? Using dry ice around young children just isn’t worth the risk. Just buy one of those generic Yeti coolers that keep popping up. They’re cheaper than the Yeti’s and hold ice for like a week.

My cousin bought one of those RTIC coolers you always see at Walmart and absolutely loves it. He fills it up with ice every Monday and just leaves it in the back of his truck. Since he works in construction it was perfect for him.

Where Do I Find Dry Ice?

Finding dry ice is easier said than done. It’s expensive to ship since it can’t go in planes and not all that popular. You’ll have to call around for a bit to find a local source.

For some odd reason my dad knew of like 20 different places that sold dry ice locally. Makes you wonder how a man that’s never bought dry ice in his life knows so much about it.

You can usually find dry ice at most big grocery stores. My local Walmart, Costco, Giant Eagle and Home Depot all carry dry ice. Might be able to get it for free at small mom and pop ice cream stores and bait shops.

What Kind of Cooler Can You Use With Dry Ice?

Make sure the cooler that you buy is “Dry Ice Compatible”. You could end up accidentally making a dry ice bomb if you’re not careful. If you put dry ice in a sealed container it will explode.

Unfortunately dry ice coolers are usually somewhat expensive. All dry ice coolers come with a pressure release valve to prevent a build gas build up and explosion. Storing dry ice in a regular cooler can definitely end badly!

If you do decide to use a regular cooler (don’t recommend it) just make sure you vent the lid a few times per day. This should help prevent a gas build up.

Dry Ice Will Freeze Your Food/Beer

Just keep in mind that anything that’s close to the dry ice will freeze pretty darn fast. Organize your cooler so meats and frozen items are near the dry ice and beer, eggs, fruit, etc is on the other side. You don’t want to end up with a shattered 6 pack of beer all over your cooler.

How Much Dry Ice Do I Need?

Dry ice usually comes in a 10-inch square that’s 2 inches thick and about 10lbs. In your typical 40 quart cooler you should use at least 2 blocks(20lbs) of dry ice. Just line them up along the bottom of your cooler and you’re good for at least 4 days.

How Long Does Dry Ice Last in a Cooler?

Honestly, a small chunk of dry ice won’t last much longer than regular old ice. Generally speaking, dry ice will sublimate(turn into gas) at a rate of 5lbs per 24 hours when stored in a cooler. So a 10lb block of dry ice will last you about 2 days.

On longer trips you’ll need a very well insulated cooler preferably with a pressure release valve. Expensive coolers made by Yeti, RTIC, and Pelican, Etc are usually dry ice compatible. Igloos Yukon and Sportsman lineup of coolers are much cheaper if you’re looking for budget options.

How Much Dry Ice For 40 Qt Cooler?

DaysDry Ice (in lbs)
1 Days20 lbs (2 Brick)
2 Days30 lbs (4 Bricks)
3 Days40 lbs (3 Bricks)
4 Days50 lbs (4 Bricks)
5 Days60 lbs (5 Bricks)
6 Days70 lbs (6 Bricks)
7 Days80 lbs (7 Bricks)
Chart explaining how much dry ice you need per day in a 40 Q

Larger coolers will obviously need more dry ice. Plan on using two 10 inch(20lb total) bricks of dry ice for 24 hours in a standard 40 quart cooler. For every additional day you will need to add another 10lbs of dry ice to 40qt coolers and 20lbs to 80qt.

The longer your trip is the more dry ice you will need. The following table should help you figure out how much dry ice you actually need. This is assuming a standard size 40 quart cooler.

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