Storing Food While Camping: Complete Guide

Two eggs sitting on a cooler

Camping offers a unique opportunity to explore nature while also relaxing with the people you care about the most. Whether you like to keep your camping trips short and simple, or you prefer long, adventurous camping trips, you understand how much joy it can bring you.

You also probably know how terrible it can be to run out of food when you’re camping. It’s even worse when your cooked food spoils or is stolen by an animal because you didn't store it properly.

Food safety is crucial while camping. Proper storage times and methods are vital to staying healthy and safe while camping. If you are unsure or don't know where to start, don't worry — we've got you covered.

Here is everything that you might need to know about food storage while camping:

Why Is Food Storage Important?

Before we get into the details of food storage techniques and best practices, we wanted to emphasize the importance of proper food storage anytime you're in nature.

To start, you'll need to know the basics of storing dry foods and raw meat or cooked meat, frozen foods, dairy products, and prepared meals like stews and casseroles.

First, food storage techniques can help to prevent spoilage and waste from being discarded along the campground, backwoods, or trails that you are. Proper food storage and knowing when and how to discard foods past their shelf-life or expiration dates are vital.

It'll keep you happy, healthy, and safe, so you can enjoy your nature outing (no one wants food poisoning far from home). This also keeps pollution low and prevents animals from eating human food unnatural to their ecosystem.

Feeding wild animals can be detrimental to their ecosystem. Even though it may feel like it's only you and one animal, think about everyone who thinks the same thing. Wild animals who get in the habit of eating food from humans can shift their entire habitat. They can start to think of people as a source of food which can be dangerous, especially if they start to seek people out in other places.

Finally, proper food storage is crucial for your safety. Animals and bears will try to get to your food; it's only natural. Proper camping food storage ensures that you and your camp are safe from the dangers by keeping food sealed and locked away safely.

To keep the environment and yourself safe, you must adhere to proper food storage techniques during your camping and backpacking trips.

General Food Storage Tips

Depending on which outdoor activities you do, such as camping or backpacking, your food storage will look a little bit different. You might be able to get away with storing foods in paper bags, plastic bags, or airtight containers in some circumstances. Other situations call for more intense storage methods for perishable foods.

A few general USDA-approved principles apply across the board and are generally a good idea to follow whenever dealing with food outdoors:

The first crucial tip is never to leave food, trash, scraps, food waste/leftovers, or any other heavily scented items in your tent or camp area. The second is never to leave your food unattended. Animals of all sizes can get to your food quicker than you think.

Food Storage for Campsites

If you are camping at a standard campsite, then your requirements for food storage might be a bit looser than for backcountry and backpacking campers.

Every campsite has its own particular restrictions and requirements for food storage. You should always prioritize following their specific rules and restrictions, as they are tailored to the situation at that specific campsite.

As far as general storage advice goes for all campsites, the first rule to follow is to always leave your food locked and stored away at all times when you aren't right with it — even for quick little trips back to the car, short hikes, and trips to the bathroom. If no one is there to watch your food, animals can and will find their way into it.

At night, you need to do more than just put your food away. You need to lock it up. If your campsite offers bear boxes, you should use them.

Bear boxes are large metal cages that you can lock up your food and coolers in overnight that bears, raccoons, and other animals cannot get into. This allows you to store your food items away from your site safely.

You can also consider locking your food in your car, but some campsites have different rules surrounding this, so make sure you check with the camp manager first.

Food Storage for the Backcountry

Food storage in the backcountry can get a little more complicated, as there aren't always regulated requirements and suggestions for you to follow, leaving you to make your best judgments.

As far as overnight storage goes, you have three basic solutions. The first and best solution is to use a bear box. Some backwoods areas will still have bear boxes at designated points where you can safely store your food away from your tent. It also prevents bears and other animals from accessing it.

But if there are no bear boxes available for you along your trip, then you're going to have to take matters into your own hands. You can use one of two methods or a combination of them: a bear canister and hanging your food.

Bear Canisters

A bear canister is a portable, hard-sided, and (in theory, at least) bear-proof food storage container. This allows you to keep your food fresh and safe from animal thieves. Seal the container and then stow it away from your campsite so that animals attracted to it don't disturb your sleep.

Bears are omnivores and will eat anything.

Here are some popular foods that they may be attracted to at your camp:

  • Dried fruit
  • Ground beef patties and hot dogs
  • Fruits, including blueberries, melons, and citrus fruits
  • Condiments like jams and jellies
  • Veggies like cucumbers and avocados

Using a bear canister is a required method of food storage when camping in many national parks and camps. Make sure you do your research and know if you are required to have a bear canister.

When using a bear canister, you should be careful to seal it tightly and properly. Store it in a cool, dark place about 100 yards from your campsite, where you will remember it. Don't place it next to rocks where a bear could break the canister. Care not to put it near a ledge or by the water where an animal could swat it somewhere less than desirable.

Bear-Resistant Coolers

Also, consider whether your cooler will fit into a bear canister. Oftentimes, your cooler and a bear canister don't have compatible sizes or shapes. Canisters are typically small, individual-sized bear canisters.

This means that you need a cooler designed to keep bears and other animals out to keep your shelf-stable and perishable food safe and prevent thawing to room temperature.

Our Patriot Coolers Rotomolded Coolers are designed to lock your food up safe overnight wherever you are camping. That means you can have peace of mind after you roast those hot dogs on a fire.

Our coolers hold up to the demands of any outdoor adventure. The rotomolded plastic walls of our hard-sided coolers are built to withstand even the most strenuous conditions. They can keep ice frozen for up to five days, acting as a portable freezer.

You can't get a better cooler for insulation and security on the market.

Hanging Your Food

You can also take things one step further and hang your food from a pole or tree so that animals can't get to it. Before bear canisters became commonplace, this was the preferred method of storage. However, wildlife has gotten more adept at getting to these hung food bags over time.

Hanging your food can add an extra layer of security but should not be utilized without also putting your food in a bear canister or bear-proof cooler before hanging it. Otherwise, you run the risk of particularly adventurous and resourceful animals getting to your goodies before you can get them out of the way.

You can find more in-depth guides on how to hang your food. Once again, make sure that you check the local restrictions, guidelines, and requirements for the parks and areas where you are camping to follow best practices.

Camping Storage: Food for Thought

Storing your food while camping is a necessity and a responsibility you have as a visitor to nature. Storing your food from the grocery store properly keeps you safe, the wildlife safe, and the habitat safe from intervention.

As a general rule, you should never leave your food unattended, even for brief periods, and you should never leave heavily scented items or foods in your tent.

You should also store your food in a bear canister and bear-safe cooler for ultimate safety. Patriot Coolers Rotomolded Coolers are bear-proof designed and are built strong to keep your food and drinks cold for days.

You can also hang your food in the backwoods for extra safety, although you should be aware that simply hanging your food may not be enough. If possible, you should use a bear cage as a storage site for your food as it will be the most secure.

With your food properly stored, you can be sure that you are safe while also taking care of the environment where you are camping for a wonderful trip.


How to Store and Dispose of Food While Camping to Keep Critters Away | Greatist

How Do I Use a Bear Canister? | NPS.Gov

Reasons Not to Feed Wildlife | Western Michigan University

Handling Food Safely While Eating Outdoors | FDA

How to Hang a Bear Bag | Washington Trails Association

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