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Food Storage & Handling for Campers and Backpackers

Food Storage & Handling for Campers and Backpackers

REI Article -

All kinds of animals can get into your food wherever you camp. Mice and other rodents, not to mention bears, will gnaw right through a tent or backpack to get at crumbs or goodies left inside.

It’s our responsibility as campers to prevent wild animals from getting any human food. This disrupts their natural diet and makes them dependent on people and makes them a safety threat. Bears who become habituated to humans and a nuisance may end up being killed. For more bear-safety information, read Backpacking in Bear Country.

In addition to avoiding problems with animals, your health and enjoyment of your outdoor adventure relies on following proper food handling techniques. If you want to spend your time on the trail, not the latrine, be sure to heed the guidelines below.

General Food Storage Tips

Keeping human food (and other aromatic items such as toiletries) away from animals requires similar practices in both a campground and backcountry campsite. Here are some general tips:

  • Never leave food, trash or other scented products inside your tent.
  • Never leave your food unattended. Jays, squirrels and chipmunks can quickly snatch food in broad daylight, and other animals come foraging at night.

Food Storage in a Campground

  • During the day, keep all your food secured in your cooler or car, even if you’re sitting nearby or on a short jaunt to the outhouse, and especially if you’re away on a hike.
  • At night, place any loose food, plus a cooler if you have one, inside a metal bear box if there is one. Storing food inside a car can also be an option in certain areas, but you need to check with local land managers first because some areas (where bears have become adept at breaking into vehicles) prohibit the practice. Raccoons and bears are adept at opening coolers left in the open. Some cooler manufacturers claim certain models are bear-proof, though padlocks might be required. As a last resort, you can also hang a bag of food from a high tree branch or use a bear canister, if bears are a known nuisance in the campground.


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