Food Storage on Outdoor Excursions

Food Thieves

It’s a beautiful day in the outdoors. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, your campsite is all set up—and your food is gone. Hungry wild animals like mice, squirrels, raccoons, possums, birds, and even bears won’t scruple to steal your food and cause you inconvenience or downright ruin your outdoor experience. Losing a bunch of food to the furred or feathered creatures might mean you have to shorten your trip or even cancel it if you aren’t able to replace what was stolen. How can you keep your food safe and discourage those pesky food thieves?

Food Storage Tips

Animals are survivors. Nature dictates that they use any means necessary to survive and thrive. This means that they are dedicated food-hunting machines. They can smell food for long distances and find it in any hidey-hole. The following are some methods for discouraging these food hunters and fouling their thievery.

Keep perishables cold. The warmer the food, the more smelly it gets, and the more it attracts unwanted attention. Make sure you have quality coolers or containers. Keep your drinks separate from your perishable foods, so that you’re not constantly getting into the cooler and melting it faster. Freezing foods or meals before packing them for the trip will keep the food cooler longer. Keep containers in the shade as much as possible.

When not eating or cooking, secure all food in containers. Never leave food out where the smell can attract visitors. Pack everything away and secure your container by putting it in a vehicle, locking it, or suspending it from a tree. When suspending food containers in a tree, make sure it’s well away from your tent and is as inaccessible as you can make it. For bears, this means hanging the container ten to twelve feet off the ground and a good distance away from the trunk. If bears are really troubling in your camping area, you can also invest in a bear canister, a container specially made to discourage bears.

Never store food in your tent. Keep all food and other odiferous items far away from where you sleep. This includes snacks, deodorant, tooth paste, and shampoo. If it even remotely smells like food, animals will explore, destroy if necessary, and invade your space. This could be either disgusting and inconvenient, or downright dangerous if the animal is large enough to threaten you.

Never store food in your camp equipment, like a backpack. If you have to keep food in your backpack, either suspend your backpack out of reach of animals or leave it open. Better to have some food stolen than to have equipment destroyed, though having neither occurrence happen is the best scenario.

If you’re near water, you can sink your food. Waterproof bags called dry bags will keep your food dry, and putting the food in water will make it harder for the animals to smell it and retrieve it. But make sure your tie line is secure, or it’ll be hard for you to retrieve the food, too.

Other Suggestions for Discouraging Animal Invaders

Keep your campsite clean. Make sure that all food remnants and garbage are disposed of in proper receptacles, and wash cooking implements and cutlery as soon as possible to keep the animal attraction to a minimum.

Use fabric softeners around your campsite. The smell seems to be offensive to animals, and it can mask some of the food odors.

Keep a flashlight handy. Nighttime raiders can sometimes be frightened away by the sudden appearance of light.

When possible, try to cook as far away from your sleeping area as you can. This is necessary in bear country, where a curious, hungry bear will explore any food smell, even lingering cooking smells, and might explore your tent while it’s at it.


Taking these precautions to keep your food safe might seem like an inconvenience, but without them you risk losing some food at the least and having a dangerous encounter at the most. If you keep these precautions in mind while you pack for your outdoor excursion and make them part of your camping routine, you’ll find that your outdoor adventures will go much more smoothly.