How To Store Food While Backpacking

When you're backpacking or camping, understanding safe and proper food storage techniques is essential. Not only does it ensure that you have food when you need it, but it also keeps your food safe and prevents you from attracting predators to your campsite. There are several tips to keep in mind to help you with backpacking food storage. 

Importance of Food Storage While Camping and Backpacking

Keeping your food safe and secure while spending time outdoors is important for several reasons. Not only does it ensure that your food remains at a safe temperature for eating, but it also keeps away predators. The following reasons can help you better understand the importance of proper food storage while camping and backpacking.

  • Bears and other mammals are drawn to food smells. Bears can be quite dangerous to humans, plus it's illegal in many areas to have your food where it's accessible to the wildlife. While opossums and raccoons may not be as dangerous as bears, they are still drawn to human food sources and can become quite a nuisance if they find a reliable food source. 
  • Changes in temperature can cause bacteria growth in perishable foods. It's essential to keep your foods at safe temperatures by keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Food-borne pathogens grow most abundantly at temperatures between 41 degrees Fahrenheit and 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Be conscious of safe food-handling practices, especially when it comes to raw meat. It's important to have a safe and effective method of cleaning your hands and your camp utensils.
  • Quality camping and backpacking equipment that's designed for safe outdoor use can help you prepare and store your foods to prevent bacteria growth and keep them safe from curious wildlife.

Finding good food storage gear, and understanding safe food storage methods, can ensure that your camping and backpacking trips are successful and enjoyable. You want to be sure your food doesn't spoil, while also protecting your food supply from predators and other wildlife.

Safely store your food on a backpacking trip

While backpacking, it's advisable to take mostly non-perishable foods, especially if you're hiking far into the backcountry. Many seasoned backpackers prefer to take seasonings and basic meal prep items to prepare foods they can hunt, catch, or forage for in the wild. Knowing the edible foods in the area you plan to travel to is very useful and can help you in case your planned food storage system fails for some reason.

Bears love to scavenge for human food. Other wildlife, while not as dangerous, can also get into your food if it's not stored properly. Hanging food high in a tree is one of the best ways to keep it safe from curious animals. There are also bear-proof coolers that are made of extremely strong materials that can keep your food not only safe from bears, but also at a safe temperature. For hanging food, choose a food bag that is secure and durable.

General Food Storage Tips

It's a good general rule that you should always leave your campsite in as good of shape you found it in or better. This is especially true when it comes to food trash and scraps. Always clean up after yourself and remove all food waste. Here are some other important tips to remember when it comes to storing your food.

  • Be aware of the local regulations for the area in which you're camping or backpacking. Some states have very specific rules on how food should be stored.
  • Metal bear boxes are a great option at campgrounds. They provide protection for your food and can discourage bears and other animals from hanging around the area.
  • Some places allow you to store your food in a vehicle, which can be a good option to keep it away from wildlife. Be cautious though, as this is illegal in some areas. 
  • Metal food lockers or bear canisters are specifically designed to store food when you're in the backcountry. They can be heavy and cumbersome to carry with you but are ideal for keeping food safe in many circumstances.
  • If you have no other option, you can hang your food from a tree. There are specific ways to do this to help prevent wildlife from accessing your food source. Be sure to hang your food away from your campsite. 
  • Always clean up any trash and food debris once you leave a campsite or backpacking area. Food debris and food-scented trash is dangerous for wildlife and when they have regular access to it, they can lose their natural fear of humans. This is a dangerous situation for the bears and the humans alike.

What Is Considered While Backpacking?

The upfront investment in quality food storage gear can be pricey, but most products are well-made and designed to be used for years as long as you take care of them and store them safely when not in use.

Proper food storage is not only designed to keep your food secure but also helps keep you safe. Bears and other wildlife are known for seeking easy food sources. They are drawn to the smell of most human foods, and since bears are omnivores, they will eat nearly anything. A bear canister or bear-proof hanging bag may seem like a pricey investment when compared to other more conventional food storage methods, but they are made with very durable materials and are designed to reduce enticing smells to help keep wildlife away.

During long backpacking or camping trips, you may have access to bear poles or lines that are specifically designed to keep bears away from your food. When planning your backpacking trip, you can research which areas are equipped with these added measures of protection. It may limit the areas in which you can camp, but using one of these food storage methods can better protect your food.

Food Storage in a Campground

Campgrounds offer added protection over camping in the backcountry in most cases. If you're camping in an area with lots of large predators like bears, be sure to inquire if your campground provides bear-safe lockers or boxes for food storage. If not, you may need to take your own bear bag or bear canister. Some campgrounds may allow, or even recommended, you to store your food in your vehicle during the day or night. It's always helpful to check with the campground to understand their regulations and their advice on food storage options.

  • Wash foods and food storage items away from your tent to prevent enticing odors that may lure bears and other wildlife to the area.
  • Dispose of food scraps in an approved waste receptacle away from your campsite. Bears have a very keen sense of smell and have no problem locating even minute sources of food.
  • Some types of foods are better for camping than others, especially when it comes to long-term stays. Think of using preserved meats, cheeses, and other foods that don't require refrigeration for long-term stays. 
  • Powdered foods and dry goods are also a good option since they are easy to store, they don't put off a lot of food odors, and they don't need to stay cold.
  • Most produce is best stored in paper bags separate from other types of foods. This helps prevent over ripening and keeps pungent foods from contaminating other foods with off-putting smells.
  • For the adventurous type, it can be helpful to plan on foraging, fishing, or hunting for much of your food when out in the backcountry for longer periods of time. Not only does this lessen the work when it comes to storage and prep, but also ensures that food is fresh and safe for consumption.

Avoid Fecal-oral Germ Transmission

Being in the backcountry or in a campground is no time to ignore good food handling practices. If you don't follow good food handling rules, you may find yourself quite ill with gastrointestinal issues. It's important to always wash your hands after using the bathroom, even if that bathroom is outdoors. There are products specifically designed for sanitizing hands when you're in the wilderness. Most campgrounds even have bathroom facilities or at least running water so you can wash your hands.

Hand sanitizer is a cheap and easy-to-carry item that works well when you don't have access to soap and water. Remember when washing your hands outdoors, don't contaminate the fresh water supply, and don't clean your hands near your food preparation area.

The best way to prevent fecal-oral transmission when camping or backpacking is to keep your toilet area away from your food preparation area and always wash your hands thoroughly each time you use the bathroom. Use a separate towel when drying your hands from the one used to dry dishes and food prep items. It's also helpful to avoid sharing easily contaminated foods with others. Things in large bags like chips, trail mix, and other snaky-type items should be doled out to individuals rather than have each person reach their hand in the bag.

How to Keep Cooler Food From Spoiling

There are many tips and tricks you can use to keep your cooler food from spoiling. Use the following information on your backpacking trips to ensure that your perishable foods are kept at a safe temperature.

  • Invest in a good cooler. There are plenty of brands and styles. Some are compact and lightweight, which makes them better for backcountry usage. Others are larger and capable of holding more foods, which makes them a better option if you have access to campground facilities. 
  • Insulate your cooler food with frozen bottles of water or juice. They provide cooling power while frozen and hydration once they thaw.
  • Use long-lasting ice packs that are designed for camping or backpacking trips. They come in various sizes and shapes so you can choose the ones that work best for your cooler based on size. 
  • You can add a small thermometer to your camping gear so you can check the temperature inside your cooler anytime. This lets you know when food is approaching an unsafe temperature so you can use it up or make changes to keep it cool.
  • Many foods freeze well ahead of time, which gives you the option to freeze some of your foods or meals so they don't thaw or get to an unsafe temperature too quickly.

How To Handle Raw Meat in Camp

You should always be extra cautious when handling raw meat outside a traditional kitchen setting. Cross-contamination is a concern so you should be sure to never use the same preparation tools or containers for raw meat as you would use for vegetables or other foods. Many experienced campers and backpackers have a designated cooler, tools, and containers that are only used for raw meat. It's also important to have access to water and a way to clean your tools and dishes when you're done using them.

If you have time, it's helpful to cut and prep your raw meat before your trip. You can even bag it up with seasonings or marinades to make cooking quick and easy. Always double-bag any raw meat to prevent juices from spilling onto other foods. If you have the space, it's helpful to have a cooler to keep them separate from your other foods. You can freeze meats before your trip, which helps them keep longer and reduces the chance of cross-contamination due to leaking. Have a separate cutting board for raw meat and keep your preparation space clear of other foods. It should be cooked immediately once prepped to help prevent food-borne illnesses.

Conclusion 

There are plenty of challenges that come with food storage when spending time outdoors on backpacking trips or while camping. You have to consider your surroundings and what gear you will have access to so that you're better prepared to store your food safely. It's important to practice good hygiene, even when prepping food outdoors. Be cautious of bears and other wildlife and always store your food at safe temperatures to prevent food-borne illnesses.

Michael Ethan
 

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