How to Store Food When Camping: In 6 Steps

store food when camping

Camping. For most of us it’s bliss and misery rolled into one. Who wouldn’t enjoy sleeping under the stars, huddling around a blazing fire and breathing the fragrant, pine-scented air of big skies and rolling valleys?

That’s right, people that don’t like midges and mosquitoes, wearing the same socks for four days and dining on squished up cereal bars after expending a week’s worth of calories trekking through the hills.

Let’s face it, camping is great 

but there’s a reason more people in the Western world live in houses than shacks in the wood.

Food is one of them. Fridges and freezers allow us to safely store all manner of delicious treats so that we enjoy another natural pleasure, a good meal, on a daily basis.

But what if there was a way to store food that would allow you to enjoy a delicious meal roasted over that campfire? You could have the best of both worlds – the beauty of nature and the luxury of a satisfying meal!

Read on to discover how to store food while camping.

What you will need

There are two main areas you have to pay attention to when preparing to take food into the wilderness

  1. Keeping the food from spoiling (e.g. keeping it at the correct temperature)
  2. Keeping food – especially the smell of food – away from scavengers like racoons, bears and birds. This is vital for both your own safety and for the sake of your stomach! What will you eat if your supplies have been raided? Will you even want to eat if you’ve had the shock of a bear coming to investigate your campsite!?

What you will need to keep food from spoiling

If you are taking perishable food (basically, any food you would keep in the freezer or refrigerator – meat, dairy products, etc) into the wilderness you will need one or two coolboxes.

Strictly speaking only one coolbox is necessary – so long as any raw meat is double-bagged all perishable goods can be kept in the same box.

However, the more coolers are opened and closed the warmer they become. They, “lose their cool,” if you like, and a coolbox that isn’t cool is just a box – no good for extending the life of perishables.

Bringing along a second coolbox to store snacks, drinks and other items you are likely to access regularly throughout the day will, therefore, allow your perishable coolbox to only be opened a few times a day, preserving its low temperature for longer.  

What you will need to keep food away from animals

Since almost all wild animals can detect the smell of food before they can see it the first thing to bring along are odor proof bags. Keeping food, food waste and toiletries (the smell of these can also attract bears) in bags that stop the enticing aromas leaking out will limit the chances of hungry animals descending on your campsite.

Wild animals are far from stupid, however, and many loiter around campsites in the knowledge that they found plenty of food there in the past. Because of this you will also need:

  • A coolbox advertised as bear proof, a bear proof locker, or both. These airtight, solidly constructed containers will stop animals from accessing food, even if they locate it
  • Bring a padlock too. Believe it or not some animals are adept at opening latched boxes but, rest assured, a bear will not turn into a pickpocket and get into your coolbox if you stick a padlock on it!
  • A length of rope or cord long enough to suspend a bag of food more than 20 feet above the ground. The rope will only be required if, for some reason, you find yourself without the use of a bear proof locker or cooler. In this case the rope will be used to suspend your pack from a high tree branch – out of the reach of bears.

Step by step instructions

This section will guide you, step by step, through the process of storing food to avoid spoilage and keeping it away from covetous animals when camping.

1 – preparation

cool box on a hike

Freeze every perishable item you plan to put in your coolbox. This means that when it goes in the box the food will:

  1. Be at a low starting temperature and last longer even if it begins to warm in the box
  2. Help keep the overall coolbox temperature lower by essentially acting like a big chunk of ice!

2 – bagging and boxing

bagging and boxing the foodEverything that goes in your cooler should be put into individual waterproof bags or plastic containers (raw meat should be bagged twice). Squeeze all the air out of bags before you seal them. The bags/containers protect food from pools of water that can accumulate at the bottom of coolboxes as they warm

The one exception to this is fruit and veg – it is better to pack these into separate paper bags to stop the ethylene they give off causing surrounding fruit and veg to ripen/spoil faster.

3 – packing the coolbox

Try to pack your coolbox in reverse order – put the food you will use last at the bottom and the food you expect to use first at the top. This saves you spending time rooting around in the box for what you need – time that will warm the coolbox and spoil food.

If you are taking two coolboxes remember to pack snacks and drinks in one coolbox and mealtime perishables in another!

4 – Icing

Once the coolbox is packed fill every possible space in it with ice. If you are able to access ice at the campsite replenish the ice in the cooler every day to extend the life of perishables as much as you can.

5 – packing off the shelf food

Any foodstuffs that don’t need to be kept at low temperatures – eg cereal bars, tinned food – should be packed together, if at all possible, so that they can be easily placed out of the reach of animals in the campsite. Placing them inside one or more odor proof bags will stop animals smelling the food.

6 – Keeping the animals at bay

When you aren’t using your coolbox and/or your supply of off the shelf food store them in your car or in a locked bear proof container. Never leave food lying around camp – this is an invitation to scavengers! Do not store food in your tent in case an animal does catch a smell of it and come to investigate.

7- The worst has happened!

If, for any reason, you find yourself camping in the wild without a lockable car or container in which to store food and you’re worried about attracting animals don’t panic! Remember that rope you brought along as a backup? Use it to suspend a rucksack with all your food in it on a high branch of a tree near to your campsite.

The animals won’t be able to reach it but, provided your handy with knots, you’ll be able to retrieve it the next morning. And the animals will have no reason to investigate your camp!


I hope you enjoyed this article. Camping should be one of life’s great pleasures but it’s tough to enjoy yourself if you’re hungry and/or nervous about attracting bears. Following the steps in this article should allow you to expand your repertoire of campfire cooking without attracting hungry wild animals.

Feel free to share the article with your friends. Are there any neat tips we’ve missed? If you had just one coolbox what would you bring along to cook as your ultimate campfire meal?How to store food when camping in 6 steps pin