As a dedicated foodie camper, I know how hard it is to keep meals and snacks organized in the great outdoors. But while optimizing food storage can be a challenge, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. There are plenty of storage ideas to keep your food clean, fresh, and organized while camping.
8 camping food storage ideas are:
- Airtight bins
- Insulated coolers
- Nesting canisters
- Spice shakers
- Squeeze tubes
- Sealable bottles
- Bear canisters
- Dry bags
Remember, food storage choices are individual. The best methods for you will depend on your trip length, preferred activities, and culinary choices. Read on to discover all the different ways to keep your food organized, so you can pack with confidence on your next camping trip.
Table of Contents
Why Is Food Storage Important When Camping?
It’s vital to store food properly on your camping adventure. Organization will tidy up your camp, but keeping clutter to a minimum isn’t the only thing you need to bear in mind. The truth is that food storage has a big impact on you and the environment, and stashing it securely keeps everyone safe.
Nobody wants to sit around a campfire munching on stale crackers and moldy cheese. Biting into a crisp apple or sipping an ice-cold juice is much more enjoyable, and storing your food in the most suitable container will allow you to preserve it at peak freshness throughout your trip.
Not only does fresh food taste better, but it’s also safer to consume. Getting sick out in the wilderness is something we all want to avoid. Just by making sure you have the right storage tools for the job, you’ll be one step closer towards a happy and healthy trip.
You and I aren’t the only ones who love chips. Even if you don’t think your snack selection would be particularly palatable to our furry friends, animals of all shapes and sizes are drawn to human food. But this is a bad thing – once animals discover the joys of Doritos, they’ll seek out human snacks regularly!
As animals become accustomed or “habituated” to eating human food, they stop eating their usual fare, disturbing the balance of the ecosystem. Animals may even become aggressive in their quest for flavor. If they get too close or bite, it can expose you to various diseases. Storing food where critters can’t get it will protect you, the ecosystem, and the animals we love.
Storing food properly means that less of it will go bad, helping you minimize food waste. Furthermore, packing and storing food will help keep trash to a minimum. You’ll have fewer wrappers, aluminum foil, plastic baggies, and cans lying around. Your camp will be cleaner and more organized, plus you won’t have as much garbage to haul away when the trip is over.
An added bonus is that managing your food waste will also help protect the environment. We all know how tempting it is to throw a rotten pear out into the woods. But by doing that, you’ll run the risk of an animal eating it and becoming habituated. If you store that pear properly, you can eat it and feel no guilt.
Streamlining Your Trip
Packing and storing food the right way will make your life a whole lot easier. If you know where all your food is, you’ll have an easier time accessing it when it comes time to eat. You won’t be running around the campsite searching for spices and condiments, and you’ll spend less time on the whole process of cooking.
8 Camping Food Storage Ideas
1. Airtight Bins
Airtight bins are the crafty camper’s holy grail of food storage. They’re easy to use, versatile, and uniform. Bins are easy to transport, fitting nicely in the car on the way to the campsite. They’re also sealable, meaning you’ll be able to keep insects and other critters out while keeping food easily accessible for those with opposable thumbs.
Airtight bins provide lots of storage room inside. Especially if you pack the food to maximize your space, you’ll be able to fit almost everything you need in your bins. As the trip goes on, you’ll have some empty space available as well. When the time comes to pack up and go, you can toss things like tarps and headlamps into the bins and have an easier time carrying everything back to the car.
Pick The Perfect Bins
So, what sort of bins should you buy? Be on the lookout for hard plastic bins, as these are light enough to lug around without too much trouble yet stout enough to weather the conditions of your campsite. It’s a good idea to purchase several different sizes, as bins should last a while, and you’ll use them for trips of varying lengths.
Avoid metal bins, as these tend to trap heat and can actually make food spoil quicker. They can also rust, and the sharper edges can hurt your hands. Many people will recommend a metal locker for storing food if you’re worried about animals, but if you genuinely have cause for concern, skip bins entirely and use a bear canister.
You can spend as much or as little money as you want on storage bins. A dedicated camping or outdoor shop will usually have sturdier (but pricier) items, and you might prefer this if you need extra protection on backcountry trips. If you’re looking for something less robust for tamer trips, head to your local home improvement store and pick up some bins on the cheap.
2. Insulated Coolers
The great debate of Styrofoam coolers versus hard coolers rages on in the camping world. I’m here to put the question to rest: don’t bring Styrofoam coolers on your camping trip! They don’t keep things cold for very long, they’re flimsy, and they disintegrate seemingly at will. Instead, bring insulated coolers for your drinks and perishables.
Choose hard plastic coolers that lock out animals and seal soda inside for a cold, refreshing drink at the end of the day. Avoid coolers that are too bulky or heavy. Instead, choose a lightweight cooler that’s effective and practical. Be sure to know how long ice will last in your cooler to ensure your food stays at the right temperature the whole time.
The best cooler will be made from durable hard plastic with a latched lid that seals down. Some high-end coolers are manufactured using the same sealant technology as a freezer door, while some are even certifiably “bear-proof” to keep out critters deep in the backcountry. Even if you won’t be around any animals, your cooler should be waterproof and all-weather just in case of rain.
Choose a cooler on large, all-terrain wheels for camping that requires a hike in. And remember, size matters when it comes to your cooler. For a weekend trip, a 40-quart unit should be fine. For trips of a week or more, an 80-quart cooler or more is recommended.
Like the bins, prices for coolers vary considerably. You’ll pay more for higher-quality items and features that keep your food colder for longer. If you go camping often, you may want to consider splurging for a more expensive option as it can save you money in the long run by minimizing food waste.
Not Just For Perishables
Insulated coolers are great for toting along some T-bones or a 6-pack of your favorite beverage. But depending on your needs, coolers can also act in other capacities when camping. For example, longer coolers can double as a campfire bench. Fishing and hunting enthusiasts may use them to store bait or game as well.
3. Nesting Canisters
Nesting canisters are convenient plastic compartments that may be round, rectangular, or square in shape. They come in sets, and each smaller container will fit neatly into the next size up once it’s empty. They range in capacity from just a few ounces to several quarts, so they can hold both small and large snacks with ease.
Every canister should have a sealing lid. Once you rip open a bag of chips, they’ll go stale quickly. But if you put them in an airtight canister, they’ll stay fresh for longer. Not only that, but canisters also serve various other purposes. They’re perfect for dividing food into individual servings, separating out different foods, and can be used to store other gear in a pinch.
For Families And Snackers
Nesting canisters are especially ideal for large groups, families, and snackers of all ages. Kids tend to love nesting canisters, as they can come in fun colors and shapes. However, you should choose some that are decidedly kid-proof to avoid spills and food waste.
You can portion out foodstuffs in canisters before you leave to minimize trash, and you can take smaller ones on the trail with you each day. As you eat the food in your canisters, you can keep them organized by putting them back inside each other, so they take up less space in your bins and coolers.
4. Spice Shakers
You don’t want to get stuck in the doldrums of bland food. Especially if you’re a culinary creative like me, spices are vital to the success of your trip. You need a place to store them that won’t rip apart at the slightest breeze or spill all over the ground. Dedicated spice shakers are the way to go.
There are tons of spice shakers out there, but not all of them are ideal for camping. You should pay more attention to their durability rather than how much spice they can actually hold, as chances are you won’t need that much on your trip. Choosing transparent containers is a smart way to ensure you’ll always know what’s inside them.
Choose shakers with larger holes for herbs and a cap on top, so nothing spills out while you’re setting up and taking down your camp. You can also look for a set that has magnets or attachments on it so that your shakers stick together, and you don’t have to go hunting through the bins for the correct one.
For The Foodie In You
Why sacrifice taste for space? Bringing along good spices will put pizazz into meal prep, allowing you to transform more boring items like rice into a Michelin-star meal. Since spices help enhance the flavor of pretty much anything, a comprehensive shaker set can alleviate much of the stress that comes with being a campfire cook.
Instead of choosing heavier items or perishable ones to add flavor, bring spice mixes like jerk seasoning, cinnamon sugar, and lemon pepper. That way, you can make brave new creations with the same old food. You’ll also be able to bring foods based on their weight and volume rather than the flavor factor alone, which can save you space in the cooler and pain in your back.
5. Squeeze Tubes
Squeeze tubes are flexible plastic pouches with a large bottle cap on one end. You can fill them with dense or viscous foods like peanut butter, honey, jam, and cooking oil. When you’re ready to eat the food, you just unscrew the cap and squeeze it out, eliminating the risk of sticky spills.
You can put pretty much anything in the right squeeze bottle, but make sure you get a durable and high-quality product. You don’t want to break out the rations only to discover everything is covered in peanut butter. The good news is that even good squeeze bottles are pretty inexpensive. Just make sure to choose a dishwasher-safe option, so you’re not stuck cleaning it by hand when you’re home.
A Neat Space-Saver
Squeeze tubes are excellent at keeping your campsite clean. While it may seem like a good idea to take along an entire jar of peanut butter, little hands can make a big mess as they reach inside for a tasty snack. Furthermore, a whole jar of peanut butter takes up a lot of space. Squeeze tubes allow you to take only what you need for the trip and will save you a lot of space as you pack.
Tubes can vary in size but generally sit at around 5-10 ounces. Unlike other food storage methods, this one disappears along with its contents. As they become empty, they get smaller and smaller, leaving you with a lighter burden on the way home.
6. Sealable Bottles
For runnier liquid items, sealable bottles can’t be beat. These are harder plastic containers with a screw cap on the top. They’re great for active campers, as they generally won’t leak even if you’re taking them for a hike. The good ones will seal up your liquids in record time and allow you easy access to hydration and flavor whenever you like.
Buy a set of clear bottles so you can identify their contents on sight. Choose some with extra-wide mouths so you can fill them easily and clean them perfectly when you’re done. You can use the bottles for water, but they’re also great for oils, sauces, relishes, and other liquid condiments.
Take Them On The Go
You can take wide-mouth bottles with you on nature hikes and forays to the lake. If you’re in an area that allows it, fill them with sand or rocks as a camping souvenir. Alternatively, you can put long snack foods like pretzel sticks or beef jerky strips inside them for a perfectly-shaped camping storage compartment.
7. Bear Canisters
If you’re going into an area where wildlife abounds, you need to take extra precautions to secure your food. Remember, keeping yourself and the animals around you safe should be your number one priority on any trip. Bear canisters are the best choice for ensuring animals don’t come knocking.
So, what exactly are bear canisters? This aptly-named item was first introduced as an alternative to hanging food bags on trees. The food hanging method is insecure and often unsuccessful, as food can fall down or become infested with insects even while hanging. Bear canisters offer several layers of protection and are far superior for keeping wildlife out.
Like Your Food Was Never There
Bear canisters are essentially “bear-proof”, meaning animals can’t break into them. They have a cap on top which takes some strength to get on and off, and it’s nearly impossible if you don’t have the dexterity that humans do.
More importantly, animals won’t be attracted to your food if you put it in a bear canister. They won’t know it’s there at all, because these containers eliminate tasty food scents. Animals walk right on by, choosing their own food over yours.
Do You Really Need One?
It isn’t always necessary to take along these special containers, and you don’t want to lug them out if you don’t have to. Bear canisters are heavy, bulky, and awkward to carry. They range from 2-3 pounds and generally hold enough food for one person for two to four days. It’s handy to find out which places do and don’t need a bear canister before your trip.
If you bring one along, it must have adequate space to store all your food. Whatever you choose to leave outside the canister could still attract animals. Bear canisters are incredibly durable and scent-proof, but also pricey. They’re the safest choice when you’re camping in places where animals are a real issue, but they’re not worth it just for staving off a few ants.
8. Dry Bags
Does your camping trip involve watersports? If so, dry bags are perfect for those camping out on the lake or river. These versatile stuff-sacks will keep their contents dry no matter the conditions, so they’re great for canoe camping, rafting trips, or excursions where you suspect inclement weather may rear its head.
Dry bags come in many sizes. You can get them as small as a plastic sandwich baggie or big enough to fit the whole camp kitchen. The sweet spot for food storage is anywhere from 5 to 30 liters depending on your group size and trip length.
There are also various styles to choose from, ranging from roll-top tubes to dry bags that double as rucksacks. They come in all price ranges, with more expensive options being higher-quality and more likely to work effectively.
Do This, Not That
Bring dry bags for items like flour that get ruined if wet, or foods that have been opened and are no longer protected by their packaging. While dry bags will keep your food dry, they aren’t completely waterproof. Avoid submerging your dry bag completely underwater, as liquid may seep in through the opening.
You probably won’t need to bring dry bags if you’re already using another sealable container or if you only expect light rain. If your camping trip will be done largely from a kayak, canoe, or raft, a towing dry bag that attaches to your craft is the best food storage you can get.
Tips To Avoid Food Spoiling While Camping
You’ve been looking forward to that juicy steak all day. The last thing you want is to open up the cooler and discover it floating in a pool of melted ice, embossed with a questionable green tint. Luckily, you can avoid disappointing situations like this if you follow these easy tips to help prevent food spoilage while camping.
Plan Meals In Advance
It’s tempting to skip down the aisles at the grocery store tossing items into your cart willy-nilly, but it’s much wiser to plan your meals out in advance before you go shopping for the trip. Make a list of what you’re having for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That way, you can pack enough food without packing too much.
If you bring too much food along, you won’t be able to eat it all, and some of it might go bad. Once food goes off in your storage compartment, it can cause mold to grow on other food and on the container as well. Bringing only what you need will reduce food waste and prevent contamination. It will also be easier to carry less food to the site, so it’s a win-win for you.
Prepare Your Cooler
If you’re bringing a cooler, make the most of it by keeping it as cold as possible. Your cooler should be the same temperature as a regular refrigerator, or around 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4-5 degrees Celsius). You can achieve this by chilling it overnight or placing freezer bags in it to cool it down before you pack it.
If your campsite is near the car, you might want to think about bringing along multiple coolers. Two coolers will allow you to keep raw meats and dinner items away from snacks and drinks that you’ll want to consume numerous times per day. In this manner, you’ll keep one cooler closed more often, and your perishable food will stay cold longer.
Separate Foods In Storage
As heartbreaking as it is, some foods don’t like each other. All fruits and vegetables must be kept separate, because they can give off ethylene gas as they ripen. The ethylene gas from one produce item can cause others around it to ripen more rapidly, which can turn into a lot of rotten fruits and vegetables for you.
To avoid this, separate refrigerated produce in your nesting canisters before putting it into coolers. You should also wash all produce, but only at the right time. Many fruits and veggies are coated in a preservative layer during shipment, and you should use this to your advantage by not washing it off until you’re ready to eat the food. That way, your produce stays protected longer.
Cook Meat To Temperature
When you’re roughing it, you might not want to cook every meal. Leftovers are a great way to save time and effort, but undercooked food can spoil quickly. So, how do you ensure your meat is safe? Here’s a quick rundown of FDA-approved temperatures for cooking meat:
- Ground meats: 160°F
- Ground poultry: 165°F
- Cuts of beef, lamb, and veal: 145°F
- Cuts of pork: 160°F
- Poultry breast: 170°F
- Poultry dark meat: 180°F
Cooking foods to temperature is not only vital to prevent spoilage, but it’s also essential for your health. Undercooked meat, fish, and poultry can cause infection and sickness, so bring along a meat thermometer and check your food before consuming.
Choosing The Right Camping Foods
If you want to get the most out of dining at the campground, you should bring durable foods that keep well and are easy to store, transport, and consume. While individual food preferences vary, there’s no denying that some delicacies are more camping-friendly than others. But how do you know what to pack? Read on for tips on choosing the right camping foods for your trip.
Pick Produce Wisely
Produce is finicky. It can bruise easily, becoming unpalatable or inedible in just a day or so. But it’s also a delicious way to get in fiber and vitamins, so you don’t want to skip it entirely. What’s the solution? Pick produce that packs a punch, including items that last a while and can hold their own when jostled around at camp.
Hard vegetables like potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and onions are a great choice. You don’t necessarily have to keep these in a cooler so they save on space, plus they last a good few weeks before going off. Avoid lettuces, spinach, and other leafy greens that wilt easily unless you’re willing to take extra care to store them properly in the cooler.
When it comes to fruits, choose whole ones that haven’t reached peak ripeness. This will give them some time to ripen at camp so they won’t spoil as fast. Items like apples, cherries, lemons, and oranges are great choices. Avoid pre-cut fruits in packaging, as these tend to spoil quicker.
Pro tip:Put citrus slices in a squeeze tube, using their juices for flavor and on other produce to keep it from going brown.
It’s All About Protein
You’ll need to pack in the protein on your camping trip. While there is no “best choice” when it comes to fresh meat, you’ll have better luck in general if you pack and store it the right way. Fresh meat of any kind should be frozen beforehand and kept in the cooler.
Wrap each piece individually in both paper and plastic so that no meat touches other items around it. You can put cuts of meat in your nesting canisters for extra protection and store them neatly at the bottom of the cooler. Try to use meat up at the beginning of your trip to ensure it doesn’t go rancid.
Tofu should be stored using the same parameters as regular meat, but other alternatives like tempeh and seitan can be more forgiving. They still need to be kept cold, but you don’t necessarily have to use them immediately. What if you don’t want to bring a cooler at all? Well, you don’t have to skimp on protein.
Choose cured or dehydrated meats like jerky, pemmican, summer sausage, and bacon. Dehydrated soy protein must be reconstituted with water, but it can taste delicious when cooked in some campfire Bolognese. You can also bring along cans of ham, chicken, and tuna, but be mindful that you may need to haul the tins out if your chosen campsite doesn’t have any waste disposal system.
Pro tip: To add an extra punch of protein, pack some nutritional yeast in your spice shakers and sprinkle it on savory dishes for a cheesy, smoky flavor.
The Power Of Dry Goods
Dry goods are the easiest to pack and store because they don’t need to be kept at a specific temperature. They have a great nutritional profile, with simple foodstuffs like rice and lentils providing all the macros you need to hike, swim, and explore nature on your camping trip. However, they do require some preparation and may add substantial weight to your storage bins.
The best dry goods for camping are those that will save you space, time, and effort. Resealable bottles will come in handy here, as you can shake or measure out things like flour, rice, and beans easily from a bottle while minimizing spills. Bring some pancake mix along for early-morning flapjacks, and pack some spaghetti for a 10-minute dinner around the fire.
Pro tip: Soaking beans and lentils in a sealing bottle during the day will prevent spillage and ensure they’re fresh and ready to cook come dinnertime.
Snacks Are In
It’s a controversial method, but some people prefer to subsist on snacks alone while camping. Even if you’re bringing along a full meal plan, you should still include snacks for an extra energy boost on active days. The best snacks pack a triple-whammy of protein, carbs, and fats to give you the boost of energy you need.
Pick shelf-stable staples like nuts, jerkies, and raisins to store in your canisters. Snacks should be compact and easy to carry around with you on day trips, so choosing corn nuts over bigger snacks like chips is probably a better option here.
Bringing along some granola bars or protein bars is a great choice if you’ll be doing strenuous activity. You can easily take them on the go, tossing them in whatever compartment is easiest to access for you. Dried fruits like mango strips add sugar for energy, while fresh fruits have a bit more volume to stop those tummy rumbles.
Pro tip:Snag snack deals on bulk items at your local supermarket and save the extras for your next camping trip.
Tips To Pack Food For Camping
Ready to start packing? Not so fast! It’s better to have some method behind your madness. Before you toss everything into your cooler and fire up the car, go through these simple tricks to maximize storage, minimize food waste, and create convenience.
Freeze Everything Beforehand
If you’re bringing a cooler, buy your meats and other perishable products well in advance. Store them in the freezer or freeze them overnight before you pack. That way, they’ll act as additional ice packs to keep the unit and themselves as cold as possible.
Freezing everything will save you space, as you won’t need to pack in as much ice to keep the temperature at a safe level. It could also expand your culinary horizons. Fruits like grapes and cherries taste like a delicious popsicle when icy! Just don’t freeze fresh vegetables, as this can ruin their texture.
Pack Foods In The Right Order
Pack food you won’t need to remove very often on the very bottom of coolers and bins. This will help the cooler stay cold, as it loses temperature each time you open it. Storing it in the shade can also help, but you really do want to minimize the number of times you open it up.
Packing in an orderly fashion also makes your entire trip more convenient. In bins, pack your main meal components on the bottom, dry goods in the middle, and snacks at the very top. This will help keep more fragile items from being crushed and smashed by the larger ones. Plus, you’ll know where everything is, so you won’t have to search through your cooler every time you need something.
A Word On Packaging
It’s smart to remove as much of the packaging on your food as is reasonably possible before going out on your trip. That way, you can pack it in more convenient food storage containers before you head out. Once the food has been eaten, you can store the container away and forget about it.
If you leave food in its original packaging, you’ll have to deal with that trash at the campground. Not only is trash inconvenient and nasty, but it also attracts insects and critters to your camp. You can keep these unwanted encounters to a minimum by tossing away unnecessary packaging beforehand.
Knowing how to store your food the right way when camping will help you have a relaxing and healthy adventure. Once you learn the basics of food organization, you’ll be able to run your camp kitchen smoothly and efficiently. As long as you stay aware of your food situation and follow good sense, you’ll be on the road to delicious cuisine every day of your camping trip!