Food Storage and Handling for Backpackers and Campers

camp food

Safe­ly stor­ing and han­dling food when you’re out­doors is key to keep­ing every­body safe. Not only are prop­er food han­dling tech­niques key to stay­ing healthy, but the last thing you want dur­ing a trip is to real­ize half of your food sup­ply has gone bad and you don’t have enough to get you through the entire trip.

Here are some impor­tant guide­lines to pack food right before you go.

Make Sure Food Stays Cool Enough 
The best thing you can do to pre­vent spoilage of food kept in a cool­er for camp­ing is to keep enough ice on it to main­tain ide­al temperatures—usually at or below 40 degrees Faren­heit, explains Kyle Kamp, a reg­is­tered dietit­ian and own­er of Val­ley-to-Peak Nutri­tion. “It’s incred­i­bly impor­tant to keep food meant to be cold (par­tic­u­lar­ly uncooked meats, eggs, etc.) at appro­pri­ate tem­per­a­tures,” Kamp says. “The fur­ther out­side that 40-degree mark cold foods get, the greater the risk for food­borne illness.”

To keep foods cool­er for longer, Kamp rec­om­mends keep­ing the cool­er in the shadi­est spot pos­si­ble (usu­al­ly the north side of a vehi­cle, large tree, or rock).

If You’re Bring­ing Meats with You, Do It Right 
Bring­ing meat along on a back­pack­ing or camp­ing trip is pos­si­ble, as long as the con­di­tions are right. “What I would sug­gest is mak­ing sure it’s frozen before set­ting out on the trail, and plan­ning to cook it on the first night of the trip,” says Kamp. “For trips longer than the aver­age overnighter, it’d be bet­ter to stick to the meat sources every­one loves: tuna, salmon, and chick­en foil pouches.”

Cooked foods (espe­cial­ly meats, dairy, and eggs) aren’t safer to bring along unless they’re well refrig­er­at­ed, so pick your options wisely.

climber food

Stock Up on Good Hik­ing Foods 
“Most back­pack­ing foods are engi­neered around the idea that a per­son won’t have the abil­i­ty to keep food cold,” says Kamp, so rely­ing on those for longer trips makes the most sense.

For exam­ple, any com­bi­na­tion of beans, grains, nuts, and seeds can be a great source of pro­tein. “Most of these foods come with lit­tle-to-no water con­tent and can eas­i­ly be rehy­drat­ed at camp,” says Kamp. “Indi­vid­u­al­ly, these foods won’t pro­vide the amino acids a per­son needs, but the com­bi­na­tion pro­vides all the nec­es­sary amino acids in a per­son­’s diet. This can be as sim­ple as rice and beans, refried beans on a tor­tilla, or a hum­ble PB&J.”

Anoth­er great option is tex­tur­ized veg­etable pro­tein (TVP). “These crum­bles pro­vide a great source of pro­tein, are light­weight, and can be a great addi­tion to any meal eat­en in the back­coun­try,” says Kamp. “Best of all, no cool­er required!”

If you’re feel­ing ambi­tious, Kamp says you could try dehy­drat­ing your own foods to add vari­ety and good nutri­tion to back­pack­ing and camp­ing meals.

Keep the Risk of Food­borne Ill­ness at Bay
Symp­toms of a food­borne ill­ness can appear in the hours after a food has been eat­en, but can also be delayed for weeks, so Kamp points out it’s impor­tant to keep things clean and avoid con­t­a­m­i­na­tion when han­dling food. While this is always impor­tant, it becomes even more so when you’re on the road and things aren’t prop­er­ly refrigerated.

For exam­ple, it is still impor­tant in the back­coun­try to wash hands, uten­sils, and cut­ting boards, and to wash fruits and veg­eta­bles before cut­ting into them. “Also, keep things sep­a­rate: avoid cross-con­t­a­m­i­na­tion, such as avoid using the same uten­sils and cut­ting boards to cut chick­en, fish, and beef,” Kamp says.