Camping Food Storage

An animal stealing your food is the surest way to ruin a camping trip.
An animal stealing your food is the surest way to ruin a camping trip. (Image: Grizzly Bear Camp image by Mat Hayward from

Camping is one of the most relaxing recreational activities you can enjoy, but there is nothing remotely soothing about having a bear tear into your food. And trying to stop a bear that has started to eat can result in severe injury or even death. Even raccoons, foxes, coyotes and a host of other wild animals can spoil a camping trip by stealing your food. However, there are a few simple things you can do to avert such disasters.

Things You'll Need

  • Re-sealable plastic bags
  • Plastic storage containers
  • Film canisters
  • Burlap sack or duffel bag
  • Rope (50 foot long, at least)

Car Camping

Store all food items (including spices, even salt and pepper) in airtight containers prior to camping. Re-sealable plastic bags and plastic storage containers work well for most items. Use plastic film canisters to store spices and be sure to label them.

Consider anything with even a faint odor as food for wild animals. Bears in particular are not finicky eaters and will go after toothpaste, deodorant, ointments, lotions and creams, moist towelettes, soap, shampoo, tobacco products, cleaning products and even insect repellant and vitamins. Understandably, garbage will draw their attention as well.

Dispose of all garbage prior to going to bed, preferably in a bear-proof trashcan.

Lock up your food and odiferous items in the bear-box in your campsite if one is available, before going to bed. (The National Park Service provides these in all National Parks and most National Forests in designated campgrounds.) You may use a padlock to protect your stored items from people, though it is not necessary to keep wild animals at bay.

Store your food and other attractants in the trunk of your car if a bear box is not available. Be certain that you store every item in an airtight container.

Keep your food and bear-pleasing items in the cab of your vehicle if you have no trunk. Cover ice chests and boxes containing these items with towels or blankets so bears can’t see them, and roll the windows up tight.


Bring only what you will need for however many days you plan to camp. Remove food and other attractants from their packaging and store them in airtight containers for safety, and to reduce their size. This will also decrease the weight of your pack.

Set up your tent at least 200 feet from wherever you plan to store and cook your food if possible.

Store all food, garbage and other animal attractants in a sack (burlap bag or preferably a duffel bag).

Find a tree with a lowest branch that is at least 15 feet above the ground (be sure the tree has no other branches below the target branch on that side of the trunk).

Tie your rope around the top of the sack. This is where using a duffel bag comes in handy, as it contains grommets through which you may lace your rope to secure the bag with greater assurance. Tie the other end of the rope around a rock, a piece of wood that weighs between two and five pounds or whatever else is handy.

Uncoil the rope so it won’t knot up and throw the weighted end up and over the branch at least eight feet away from the trunk. Be sure the weight doesn’t come down on your head. Whip the rope lightly if needed to encourage the weight to drop down to where you can reach it.

Hoist the sack up so that it is at least 10 feet above the ground, eight or more feet from the tree’s trunk and hangs four or more feet below the branch from which you secure it. Tie the rope around the trunk of the tree. Black bears can climb trees, but it is unlikely that they will risk climbing out onto the limb to retrieve the sack.

Tips & Warnings

  • You can fill small plastic cups 1/4 of the way full with either bleach or ammonia (never combine the two: the gas created is deadly poisonous) as a further deterrent for wild animals, especially bears. If storing food in your car, place four such cups on the ground near each wheel. Do not dispose of either chemical by dumping it in the forest or washing it down a drain; empty the waste into an empty jar, take it home with you and dispose of it safely once you're home.
  • Never take food or other odiferous items into your tent. A bear can open your tent with one swipe of its paw and incidents of mauling where a bear perceives a person as standing between it and food are common.

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