How To Store Food When Camping: Best Tips To Keep Your Grub

by Julie | Last Updated:   October 8th, 2022
How To Store Food When Camping: Best Tips To Keep Your Grub

Camping is one of the most popular outdoor hobbies that are great for the family, for going with friends or spending time by yourself.

There are all different styles of camping to fit the kind of experience you want: there’s traditional tent camping, car camping, RV camping, or staying in a cabin camping. No matter what kind of camping trip you choose to go on, you always need to plan and prepare.

What does this involve? Learning about the area you will be camping in and knowing what kind of environment it will be, what kind of animals are common there, and the rules and regulations for that particular site/ wilderness area.

Why is it so important to know all this? Well, because you need to pack food with you and you need to know the best way to store it. Not, just for yourself and others for easy access, but where and what to store it in to keep the animals out.

It’s not fun if you find a bear scrounging through your campsite eating all of your food! That’s why we are here to give you some tips ahead of time on how to store your food.

Why Is Proper Food Storage Important For Camping?

You don’t have to be way in the backcountry to have the problem of animals getting into your food. It is the unfortunate reality of camping in most places that the wildlife has gotten comfortable with the human presence. In some cases, they come around because some people have fed them and that’s not something you want to encourage with wildlife.

There are certain animals, like raccoons and bears, that can be especially troublesome, not just because they scare some people, but because they are clever enough to know how to open or get into where you are storing your food.

That’s why you want to do some research before your trip to know what animals are common in that location. That way you’ll know if you’ll be staying somewhere that is bear country so you can plan to keep your food in bear-proof receptacles.

If you want to keep your meals animal-free, then let’s go over the different ways you can properly keep your food while camping.

Your Guide To Food Storage When Camping And Backpacking

There are several different options for food storage depending on the kind of camping you’ll be doing, and the kind of amenities you may or may not have. You don’t need to worry about your food as much during the day if you’ll be out and around, you’ll find most of the critters that like to steal your meals come out at night.

Let’s detail some of the different ways to keep food from the paws of unwary and unwanted animal visitors. For more information on these tips, you can click here to read more.

Food Lockers

If you’re camping at a campground, it is common that they will have food storage lockers for you to keep food in during the night or when you’re not at the campsite. They keep your meal items locked up and secure so that wildlife like mice can’t get inside, and raccoons or bears can’t force them open. They are typically made from metal so that they are strong and durable enough to withstand a curious bear trying to pry its way inside.

It is a good idea to inquire if any of the campgrounds you intend to stay at does have a locker of some sort there. Also, just do your research on if the place you are going to is known to be bear country.

Keep Food Inside Your Vehicle

Yes, it is an option. If you’re camping at a site or campground where your car is easy to access, then use it as a safe place to store your food. It is even better if you have a cooler to keep all of your food together and any drinks or meal items you want to keep cold. Just throw it all in the cooler and lock it in your car.

If you are somewhere where you can utilize your vehicle, definitely do it. Also, always remember to lock your vehicle and if a bear still happens to come sniffing around and tries to get into your car, the sound of the alarm going off would not only scare the bear off but alert you as well.

Bear Canisters

These are bear-resistant containers that campers can fit any of their food and other scented supplies into. They are built so that bears aren’t able to open them or break them. Food is not the only thing that draws bears into campsites.

They have powerful noses that can pick up and lead them toward any scent they find intriguing. So, you should put not just your food items in the container but things like deodorant and toothpaste that have a strong smell, because bears are attracted to them too.

Always check the rules and regulations for where you intend to be camping. There may be some wilderness areas or mountain ranges that specifically require you to have bear canisters due to the increased bear activity there.

REMEMBER to place your bear canister 100 feet away from your campsite!

Bear hang

A bear hang is when you typically store all your food and scented items into a bag or bags and then hang it up into a tree. Now, it sounds simple but there are some specifications you need to follow to ensure that your bear-hang is critter-proof:

  1. You must find a sturdy enough tree that is 150 to 200 feet from your campsite.
  2. Your food bag(s) must be strung over a branch that is 10 to 15 feet high (depending on the area and the bears that may be around).
  3. When you throw your rope over the selected branch, it must be at least 5 feet away from the trunk. When trying to throw the rope over the branch it is easier to have a weight on the end so either a carabiner or a rock tied to the end will help.
  4. Attach your food bag to the rope and hoist it up so that it hangs 8 to 12 feet high.
  5. Anchor your rope to a nearby tree by tying it off with a secure knot.

This food storage method works because you are storing it far away from your campsite so they aren’t lured to where you are, the food is hoisted high enough overhead that a bear can’t reach it standing up. It’s also far enough away from the trunk and on a branch that isn’t secure enough for a black bear to climb and reach.

Even smaller animals like squirrels or raccoons shouldn’t be able to get into it. Especially if your bag is sealed well and made from a durable material that they can’t easily chew through.

To learn more about bear hangs you can check out this site on Leave No Trace.

What Should I Do With Food Waste?

The next big question people always have is: how do is dispose of food waste and garbage? Trash is another big thing that lures animals because there is no stronger smell than garbage and food waste. That is why it is important to practice Leave No Trace. You don’t want to find trash when you’re out camping, so make sure that the people who come after you don’t have to experience it either.

Always pack out any and everything that you bring with you. Bring extra garbage bags and ziplock bags that you can use for your trash.

When it comes to food waste and the remnants of what you had for breakfast or dinner, you can use something called a sump. A sump is when you dig a hole 8 to 10 inches deep 50 feet or so from your campsite, and it’s usually at the base of a tree between roots, somewhere a little tucked away.

You have a screen over the sump hole so that when you are finished with your meal and are cleaning up you can dump the dirty water and smaller food bits into the sump hole. What the screen catches, the larger pieces you can scrape off into the hole or into a trash bag afterward.

When you pack up to leave the campsite, you bury the sump hole back up so that animals don’t get into it. 8 to 10 inches deep ensures that most creatures won’t catch the scent.

Remember to always pack out what you pack in!

Keep Your Campsite Pristine

It is important to keep your campsite clean, not only for keeping the animals away but for other people after you to enjoy the space as well. A rule of thumb to follow is to leave a campsite nicer than the way you found it.

Always pack out all of your trash and extra waste. Make use of sump holes so you aren’t tossing the dirty water and food chunks all just outside of your campsite. Don’t leave any food out even if you are around the campsite, don’t leave it unattended or not properly stored away.

Use coolers with latches, or scent-locked ziplock bags, scent-proof containers, or knapsacks. Just leave it out of the way and out of sight so no birds, chipmunks, mice, or anything come sniffing around after spotting your bag of open pretzels just sitting out on the picnic table.

Again, always check the rules and regulations for the campground, and talk to a forest ranger that works in that area to know more about the wildlife there. Respect the wildlife and don’t feed them, that’s what will make them comfortable enough to come around and steal food!

Worst of all you don’t want it to bring a bear into your camp, who will happily tear up all of your gear without a thought.

To learn more about keeping/ packaging food, wildlife awareness, and more click here.

You Can Eat Well In The Wild

There are a variety of foods that you can bring out camping, some are much easier to store, and, manage, while others like perishables are a bit more difficult. Bringing foods like eggs, fresh fruit, and meat is not exactly ideal. They are doable, but most won’t last more than one night without proper refrigeration.

Sure, you can solve that problem by bringing a decent cooler with plenty of ice, but still, it’s not the best option if you aren’t at a campground.

Nonperishables are really the way to go when you’re camping though. You can get away with bringing certain cheeses and dried meats, dried fruits, pasta, rice, trail mix, pretzels, and dry cooking ingredients and spices are all great options. You’d be surprised how creative you can get with cooking meals with those ingredients!

Key Insights & Takeaways

When it comes to storing food for camping it’s best to plan and prepare properly by doing your research on the regulation in the area you’ll be going, and knowing the wildlife that is commonly found there. Be aware of if it is bear country or not so that you know to store your food in bear-resistant containers or places to keep them safe and out of reach.

Always be mindful and respect the wildlife. Part of the leave no trace principles is properly storing your food, don’t feed the wildlife (or letting them get into your food by leaving it out) and bringing out what you bring in so that you are leaving the environment better than you found it for others.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to store food in the car when camping?

Yes, you can keep food in your car while camping. It is a great option if there is a lot of bear activity or animals getting into food at the campground. Make sure that the foods are still sealed and packed appropriately, if not stored in a cooler. Your car is actually one of the safest places to keep your food, as long as you keep it locked!

Don’t leave your windows down, make sure your vehicle is locked and secure.
That way if a bear happens to crash your camping trip it won’t be able to get to your food, and even if it tries the sound of the car alarm should scare it off and away.

Should you keep food in your tent?

This is a big huge NO. Not even during the day, don’t leave any food or strongly scented items in your tent for an extended period. By doing so, you are luring all the wildlife directly to your tent. The last thing you want is for a bear to stick its head inside your tent while you’re sleeping because you have your food in there with you.

There are plenty of options that we have provided so that you DO NOT make this mistake. You want to be safe in the wilderness and ringing the dinner bell on the place that is your shelter and sleeping area is not what you want.

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I was fishing before I could walk and it's been a family tradition for centuries. Fishing is my life, or at least as long as I can remember. In the Lake Champlain International Fathers Day Fishing Derby, not only have I won first place twice but also third place! Also, in addition to majoring in Wilderness Recreation Leadership, I also happen to be a licensed camping, hiking, and hunting guide for NY.