The camping and outdoorsy lifestyle is the best…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 that may also fall victim to kleptomaniacal wildlife. In order to ensure this doesn’t happen, it is important to prepare and educate yourself on the best practices for camping and backpacking food storage.
As you know, properly storing food while out in the wilderness will protect it from not only larger mammals, but insects as well. Nothing is worse than noticing a bug in your drink or seeing bite marks on your favorite snacks, so it is best to use camping food storage containers to keep those ants and beetles out.
Food left out in the open will go stale more quickly and just attract more wildlife to your campsite. This also goes for all you backpackers—even if you are only leaving your backpack for a few minutes, it is still extremely susceptible to the wild and should be protected.
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 my mac and cheese will affect the bear?” This thought process is completely rational, but it is important to consider wildlife safety as well.
Why is feeding or allowing wildlife to eat human food dangerous? Wild animals who are dependent on our food will start becoming risk-takers. This means bears who learn to love human food will do almost anything to get it.
If your food sack is in the tent with you instead of some sort of bear-safe food storage while you are sleeping, this will not prevent the bear from ripping your tent open in order to take the food. This puts you and all the other campers with you at risk of being mauled for simply being in the way.
Another reason human food is bad for wildlife is that our food is not nutritional enough and can stunt the growth of young animals, in addition to causing severe health issues for wildlife of all ages.
The last reason to not feed animals human food is that other animals will be attracted to the area. This causes an unnatural imbalance in their ecosystem, which can lead to fighting.
Now that you know why you shouldn’t leave your food out while camping or backpacking, let’s talk about how to store food while camping or backpacking.
Storing food properly does not have to be difficult, and once you get used to it, it just becomes another part of your campsite setup. The first type of food to address is nonperishables such as freeze-dried strawberries or canned green beans.
The best way to store nonperishables is in a plastic container or plastic bucket. Why plastic? Plastic is a fairly strong material that is still lightweight for easy travel.
Valley Food Storage's plastic buckets are easier to transport because of the handles. Valley Food Storage offers a 72 serving long term food kit that comes with 6-8 days worth of food in a water-resistant bucket! This is perfect to just grab and go for any camping trip.
Not only is it water-resistant but it’s also scent-proof! This is extremely helpful when it comes to keeping wondering woodland critters away from sleeping quarters!
The very best option for keeping your nonperishables safe is a metal box that is bolted into the ground. Most campgrounds will offer these and should be used if possible.
Another option, if you are willing to invest a little more in the camping lifestyle, is a portable metal box. Keep in mind, though, that just because it says portable in the name does not mean they aren’t heavy!
For perishables, a cooler that locks is essential. If you are someone who camps frequently, a portable refrigerator may be a good investment. If you are just looking for a simple camping storage solution, a cooler works just fine!
You will just have to keep up with the melting ice so your food doesn’t get warm. Most campgrounds sell ice, but if you are the “stranded-in-the-middle-of-nowhere” type of camper where there isn’t a place to get it, you may want to limit how much perishable food you bring.
A metal bear-safe food storage container is best for onsite camping where you are able to have a vehicle close by (to make transportation easier). The first goal of your camping food storage containers is to eliminate the scent of food. This is what attracts animals to your campsite.
The next goal is to keep animals out if they do somehow smell the food while maybe you are cooking or unpacking. To keep wild animals out of your food supply, your container will need to be locked tight when you aren’t using it. Some people even prefer to leave their cooler in a locked car to prevent scent attraction and food stealing.
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…
When you are out backpacking, the last thing you need is extra weight to lug around. So how do you protect your food from being raided and eat your tomato soup with peace of mind?
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 are made of polyethylene that bears cannot get open.
Bear bags are similar to cinch bags. All you do is toss your survival food kit inside, throw the bag over a tree limb, and tie the rope to the base of the tree to keep it secure.
Obviously, bears can climb, so why would you hang the bag? Hanging the bag protects YOU, not the food. The most important tip for food storage is to keep food away from yourself so you aren’t collateral damage in the bear's hunt for food.
If you want extra protection, you can purchase an aluminum liner that will protect your food from being smashed, even if a bear is beating around the bag. You can also purchase an odor-proof bear bag that will stop trouble right in its tracks, and not attract bears in the first place.
Bear bags are extremely lightweight and fold up nice and small, which makes them perfect for backpacker food storage. For reference, a bear bag looks and feels similar to a portable hammock.
Another great option for safe food storage during backpacking is a lightweight bear canister. These are designed for carrying food in bear country, both to protect yourself and your 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.
Do not dispose of uneaten food or wrappers near your campsite. Store all trash and uneaten food either in a separate bear bag or along with 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.
Burning trash is a great way to dispose of it when you are backpacking. As Smokey would say, never leave a fire unattended!
Thoroughly read the campground or trail rules. There may be certain procedures regarding food while you are camping in different locations due to wildlife, climate, and safety.
Wash yourself with non-scent soap before your camping or hiking trip. Animals are smart and can recognize the scent of humans. Some animals may have Pavlov’ed into associating the smell of humans with food.
If you want to be extra careful to not attract animals, cover yourself in baking soda after your shower or in between washes. Baking soda is a natural odor eliminator that can be used in a pinch!
In the worst-case scenario, it may be best to keep some bear spray on your person when camping and hiking.
When it comes to good camping and backpacking food storage solutions, there are many. The most important factor to consider is your own safety. Food is replaceable, but your life is not.
Never put yourself in the way of a bear to protect your food, because you will lose every time. Keep you and your food safe by preplanning your camping food storage. You don't want to fall victim to a growling stomach because of a trickster bear!
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!