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Safe Food Storage for Camping & Backpacking


Thesurvival camping and outdoorsy lifestyle are the best. That is, until you get back from your hike, exhausted and starving, to see a bear or some other wild animal has ransacked your camp and eaten your food.

Now you have to cut your trip short or make your way into the local town for more food because your camping food storage fell victim to wildlife. To ensure this doesn’t happen to you, you must prepare and educate yourself on the best practices for food storage for camping and backpacking.

Keep reading to learn more about camping food storage and how you apply similar techniques to backpacking.


Why Should You Practice Good Camping Food Storage Habits? 


camping gear


Properly storing food while out in the wilderness will protect it from mammals of all types, as well as insects. Nothing is worse than noticing a bug in your drink or seeing bite marks on your favorite snacks. We recommend camping food storage containers to prevent insect infestation and to keep your food fresh and unaffected. 

In addition, food left out in the open will go stale quickly and attract more wildlife to your campsite. This is also true for backpacking. Even if you only leave your backpack for a few minutes, it is still vital to take precautions.

There are a variety of tactics you can employ to protect your food, many of which we will talk about in the following sessions. How you prevent wild animals and insects from getting into your food will depend on the context, be it while you are RV or car camping, backpacking through remote wilderness, or throwing your food out at home.


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The Dangers of Human Food for Wildlife

When a bear steals food from your campsite, your first concern is probably “Well, what am I going to eat now?” and not “I wonder how mymac and cheese will affect the bear?” This thought process is normal. However, don’t forget to consider wildlife safety as well. 

Now the question is—what are thereasons why (intentionally or unintentionally) feeding or allowing wildlife to eat human food is bad? 

One reason is, wild animals who are dependent on our food will start becoming risk-takers. They become emboldened every time they successfully find food. For example, bears who learn to love human food will do almost anything to get it.

If your food sack is in the tent while you are sleeping, instead of packed into bear-safe containers, a bear may be incentivized to tear open the tent in search of a midnight snack. Unfortunately, this puts you and all the other campers with you at risk of being mauled for startling the bear and simply being in the way.


bear warning signage


Another reason human food is bad for wildlife is that our food is not designed for wild animals. Many human foods come with add-ons, like preservatives, that wild animals cannot process. Therefore, it can cause dietary and health issues.

The last reason to not feed animals human food and to follow camping food storage guidelines is that animals will be attracted to the area. Habituated and out-of-place animals may cause an imbalance in the local ecosystem. This may lead to in-fighting amongst animal species and unnatural competition between species.

Even worse, habituated and potentially dangerous animals—like bears and mountain lions—that get caught within urban zones looking for food may be at risk of being killed. If, by allowing our camping food to be stolen, we contribute to a mother bear becoming a nuisance animal, the authorities may be forced to put her down for the safety of wilderness visitors. The last thing we want to do is make that happen!


Camping Food Storage 101: Tips and Best Practices for Keeping Your Food Fresh


camping cooler


Storing food properly does not have to be complicated; once you get used to it, it simply becomes another part of your campsite setup. The first type of food to address is nonperishables, such asfreeze-dried vegetables or canned green beans.

The best way to store nonperishables is in a plastic container or plastic bucket. Why plastic? Plastic is a relatively strong material that is still lightweight for easy travel.

For example, Valley Food Storage's plastic buckets are easier to transport because of the handles. Valley Food Storage offers a seven-serving long-term food kit with 6–8 days’ worth of food in a water-resistant bucket! This is perfect to just grab and go for any camping trip, or even hang on a branch to keep away from prying paws.

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Not only is it water-resistant, but it’s also scent-proof! This is extremely helpful for keeping woodland critters from food storage sleeping quarters.

Bear Boxes for Camping Food Storage

The best option for keeping your nonperishables safe is a metal box bolted into the ground, typically referred to as a bear box. Many well-developed State or National Park campgrounds located in “bear country” will install bear boxes in every campsite. In bear country, usage of the bear boxes is not just recommended, but mandatory.

Another option, if you are willing to invest a little more in the camping lifestyle, is aportable metal box. Remember, though, that just because it says portable in the name does not mean they aren’t heavy! Therefore, a metal bear-safe food storage container is best for onsite camping where you can have a vehicle close by (to make transportation easier).

For perishables, a bear-safe cooler that locks is essential. A portable refrigerator may be a good investment if you frequently camp with an RV or van; but if you are just looking for a simple camping storage solution, a bear-safe cooler works just fine!

Of course, you will have to replace the melted ice so that your food doesn't spoil. Most campgrounds sell ice, which makes it easy. However, when camping in more remote locations, where a resupply of ice is unrealistic, you may want to limit how much perishable food you bring.

Lastly, to keep wild animals out of their food supply, some people even prefer to leave theircooler in a locked car to prevent smelly foods from attracting wild animals. However, this strategy is open to debate—intelligent bears can break into cars if they are hungry enough. 

However, you cannot leave your food in the car if you’re backpacking, so what now? How do you protect and store your food while backpacking? Let’s find out.


Food Storage for Backpacking: Lightweight and Compact Options for the Trail

The last thing you need is extra weight to lug around when you are out backpacking. So how do you protect your food from being raided and eat yourtomato soup with peace of mind?

Bear Bags for Backpacking Food Storage

You buy the ultimate bear-safe food storage; that's how! The best and most efficient way to store food while backpacking is with a bear bag. 

Bear bags for camping and backpacking are made of polyethylene, which is more resistant to bear claws and traps food aromas.Bear bags are extremely lightweight and fold up nicely, which makes them perfect for backpacker food storage. 

If you want extra protection for your bear bag, you can purchase an aluminum liner that will protect your food from being smashed, even if a bear does access the bag. 

Bear bags are similar to cinch bags. For reference, a bear bag looks similar to a portable hammock. Some backpackers think all you do is toss yoursurvival food kit inside, throw the bag over a tree limb, and tie the rope to the base to keep it secure.

However, it’s not that simple—bears can climb, right? So what's the best way to hang the bag so a bear cannot reach it?

  • The bear bag must be hung on a branch 10 feet away from the trunk.
  • The bear bag must be hung on a branch at least 15 feet off the ground.

If you are backpacking through an old forest environment, finding a tree that fits within these parameters should be relatively easy. But what about backpacking through environments above the tree line, or with smaller trees? Or in areas where bear bags are not allowed? 

Using Bear Canisters for Backpacking Food Storage

Another excellent option for safe food storage andsurvival rules during backpacking is a lightweight bear canister. These are designed for carrying food in bear country and are great for protecting you and your food!

Some backpacking areas in bear country require bear canisters. Bear cans are sometimes the only answer for bears who have figured out how to retrieve hung bear bags.

Bear canisters protect your food in two ways. For starters, they have a locking mechanism on the top that prevents bears from being able to unscrew them. Plus, they are constructed with ultra-tough plastic, preventing them from being torn open by bears and smaller animals. The robust plastic also prevents food aromas from attracting wildlife.

Bear canisters are an easy-to-use storage solution. Just put all food and scented items in the canister and place it in a remote location away from your campsite. If a bear finds the food, it'll bash the canister around for a while, but eventually leave frustrated.


Tips To Not Attract Animals to Your Campsite


backpacking in the mountains with freeze dried food


  • Never leave food, trash, or empty food storage containers in your tent.
  • Leaving food unattended (even just to go to the bathroom) is asking for trouble.

  • While camping and backpacking, try to refrain from using scented deodorants, colognes, and perfumes. Anything that smells unnatural may attract wild animals. The more you smell like dirt and campfire smoke, the better.
  • Do not dispose of uneaten food or wrappers near your campsite. Store all trash and uneaten food in a separate bear bag from your other food in the bear box or cooler.
  • Cook and eat food at least 200 feet away from your campsite (or where you are sleeping). This also goes for storing food—the further away, the better.
  • Thoroughly read the campground or trail rules. There may be specific procedures regarding food while you are camping in different locations due to wildlife, climate, and safety.
  • Scented items like toothpaste and deodorant can also attract animals. These items should also be kept in a bear can or bag.

  • In the worst-case scenario, keeping some bear spray on your person when camping and hiking may be best.

Final Thoughts: The Importance of Proper Food Storage While Camping and Backpacking

The three primary camping and backpacking food storage solutions are: locked cars and bear-safe coolers, properly hung bear bags, and bear canisters. 

Remember—the most crucial factor to consider is your safety. Food is replaceable, but your life is not. Therefore, never put yourself in the way of a bear or other wild animal to protect your food. 

Instead, take proactive measures to keep you and your food safe by preplanning your camping food storage. 

Now that you know how to protect your food while camping, it’s time to get out there and enjoy the outdoors. Be sure to follow the trail and campground rules. Stay safe and happy camping, folks!

If you liked this article and are interested in more helpful information, visit ourPractical Prepper Blog.