How to Store Food When Camping and Backpacking

How to Store Food When Camping and Backpacking

Your Guide to Food Storage When Camping and Backpacking

As responsible campers and backpackers, it’s our job to store food safely. When you follow proper food storage practices, you don’t only keep yourself safe from hungry animals (like bears) — you also protect other creatures and critters that call the wilderness home.

Keep critters, bears, and other animals out of your food stash with these essential tips.

Why is food storage so important when camping and backpacking?

When wild animals eat human food, it’s disruptive to their natural diets. Too much “people food” can also cause animals, especially bears, to become dependent on humans. 

This often leads to unsafe situations for campers when those animals forage for food at campsites and elsewhere. Animals that try to break into tents, cars and other areas might also be euthanized if they become a nuisance. 

Following the rules below keeps you and wildlife safe.

Food storage 101

Whether you’re at an established campsite, a backcountry campsite or elsewhere, these guidelines should always be followed:

  • Be careful about what you store in your tent. Never keep food, trash, or scented hygiene products inside of your tent.
  • Don’t leave food unattended at your campsite. Squirrels, chipmunks, birds, and other critters will seize the opportunity to snatch your snacks.

Storing food at a campground

When camping at a campground, here’s how to store your food safely:

  • Keep food secure during the daytime. This could be in your cooler, inside of your car or camper, or in a bear box. Yes, this rule applies even if you’re just making a quick trip to the bathroom.
  • At night, food needs to go into your vehicle or a bear box (if one is available.) Some critters are skilled at opening coolers, which is why this extra level of protection is needed.
  • If you don’t have access to a vehicle or bear box, you can hang a bag with your food or use a bear canister/bear bag. To hang a bag, find a sturdy, tall branch (and remember to pack rope if you’ll use this method.)

How to safely store your food on a backpacking trip

Food storage on a backpacking trip in the backcountry can be accomplished in three different ways:

  • A hard-sided bear canister
  • A scent-proof bear-proof bag.
  • Hanging your food on a tall, sturdy tree or other elevated object bears and other wildlife can’t reach.

Some wilderness areas also have specific rules and regulations. 

For example, at Rocky Mountain National Park:

“Between April 1 and October 31, all food items and garbage must be secured inside a hard-sided commercially-made carry in/carry out bear-resistant food storage container. This is required for park wilderness areas below tree line and in the Boulder Field of Longs Peak, due to recurring wildlife incidents. Other methods of food storage are not permitted in the wilderness during this period.”

Since other types of food storage aren’t allowed, you can’t use a bear bag or a bear hang in these areas. Every park and region has different rules, so it’s always a wise idea to confirm food storage rules before your adventure begins.