Camping trips provide a great way to wilderness, swimming, hiking, fishing, boating and spending time with family and friends. But a good camping trip can easily turn sour if you don't have the proper gear and equipment, especially when it comes to storing your food. Improper food storage can lead to spoilage or attract dangerous animals such as bears. The general rule for storing food while camping is to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
It's good to research and know the food regulations and requirements at the campgrounds where you will be staying. Some campgrounds always require bear-proof containers, while others have a separate locker area specifically for food so that it is never in your tent. Others will not require you to have specific food containers, but they will ask that you dispose of waste properly. For most every troop campout we go on, any food storage container will be stored in:
- In the case of a non-backpacking or canoe trip, the trailer or our cars. Typical containers include coolers, boxes, bags, totes, etc.
- In the case of a backpacking trip, food storage containers will be in our backpacks during the hike, and in bear bags or Bear canisters at night. See: Bear Proofing Your Campsite Typical containers are ziploc bags, other bags, sometimes a small plastic container.
- Always keep perishable foods requiring cold storage, stored in a cooler with ice for the duration of a camping trip. For a standard, non-backpacking campout, the need to keep food cold exists from Friday night to breakfast Sunday morning. You may need multiple coolers depending on the quantity of food being purchased and the size of the coolers you own. (For Many troop camping trips, food is provided by the troop) A large, quality three day cooler can usually serve for the entire trip. During the trip, check ice levels to ensure that food remains cold - and be prepared to purchase additional ice if conditions require it.
- Wrap containers that hold things such as dips and sauces in plastic bags or ziplocs to ensure they don't leak.
- Ensure food is sealed so that water from melting ice in the cooler does not leak into the food and damage or ruin it. Ziplocs, sealed containers, etc.
- If some cold items will not be used immediately and can be safely frozen and thaw easily before their intended use, feel free to freeze these items before packing the cooler. (This works especially well for meat items)
- It's possible, some food may be cooked prior to leaving for the campout. Precooking can save significant time and mess - ie. bacon, sausage crumbles. These items should be stored in the cooler until it's reheated. This helps solve the possibility that foods will perish, because the items will already have been cooked and would just need a little more heat before eating. This applies to anything such as pasta or meats that you choose not to freeze.
Other Perishable and Nonperishable Items
- Keep food that do not require cold storage out of the cooler and in a bags, and/or a cardboard box, and/or a plastic tote. This protects the food from damage due to crushing (which is easy to do with 35 people all working in different directions) and it makes the food more convenient to carry and move. This includes many fruits, some vegetables, dry, wrapped products like granola bars, trail mix, chips, crackers, bread, peanut butter, and canned goods.
- Store water in large jugs if the campsite provides fresh water. We fetch and store water in large communal jugs on every non-backing campout. 32oz BPA free water bottles are also useful for personal water use.