Hiker with pot of food

Food Storage for Camping and Hiking in the Desert

What do hikers, bears, coyotes, rodents, and ants have in common? An affinity for granola bars, trail mix, and beef jerky. Proper backpacking food storage is a must for all desert hiking, backpacking, and camping trips. Poor food storage practices lay out a welcome mat for uninvited guests and can quickly derail an amazing desert experience. In this post, we’ll hit the dos and don'ts of food storage and share tips for keeping your supply secure. We’ll wrap up with a roundup of our favorite backpacking food storage options designed to keep your food supply from falling into the wrong paws.

Food Storage Tips For Backpacking and Camping

Proper food storage is important to keep your supply protected for your own use, but it’s also vital to protect wildlife. When animals consume food found at a campsite, they are exposed to food sources that aren’t part of their natural diet. Animals can easily become habituated to seeking food from human sources, placing you and them in danger. Here are some tips for proper backpacking and camping food storage.

Don't Leave Food Unattended

It doesn’t take long for a keen-eyed bird or hungry rodent to realize there’s an easy meal close by. There’s no need to invest in special food storage containers for day hikes. Just keep your food sealed, your pack closed, and don’t leave it sitting somewhere while you explore a small side canyon or answer nature’s call. But for backpacking trips or overnights, you’ll need more robust storage.

Use Backpacking Food Containers for Overnights

Food storage solutions like camping food bags help seal in those delicious scents so the wildlife can’t get a good whiff of your favorite foods. Whether you prefer to use a bear canister or another backpacking food storage option, the important thing is that you’re using something to keep your food and the wildlife around you safe.

Store Your Food Away From The Campsite

The first rule of camping is to keep food stores stashed outside of your camp. They don’t need to be stored half a mile from where you pitch your tent, but they do need to be far enough away to avoid encounters with curious wildlife.

Keep Your Campsite Tidy

Wildlife love messy eaters. Leftovers from a meal, a stray peanut, cracker crumbs, and even the small bits of food you tossed out with your dishwater are a siren call to scavengers. Clean up from meals by bagging and sealing all leftover food scraps and removing food waste from dishwater before you discard it far from your campsite.

Types of Food Storage Containers

Camping and hiking food storage solutions include a variety of special bags and containers to keep foods sealed tight and up and out of reach.

Bear Canisters

These heavy-duty canisters feature rigid construction and hard-to-grip lids. Awkward shapes are designed to make bears give up in frustration. These containers are effective at deterring other creatures as well, including ants, mice, and coyotes.

Bear Bags

Bear bags are made from special, high-density materials designed to thwart powerful animals hungry for a snack. They’re more packable than bear canisters and can be hung from trees to keep food safe from all manner of mammals.

Odor-proof bags

These plastic food bags are designed to seal in odors so creatures big and small won’t know you’ve brought the good stuff. Odor-proof bags are useful for storing both fresh food and food waste — in separate bags of course!

Storing Your Food In The Desert

Properly securing your food stores is important no matter where you’re hiking or camping, but deserts also present some unique challenges for protecting food quality. Here’s what to keep in mind.

Maintain Safe Storage Temperatures

If you’re car camping and have access to a cooler and a thermometer to make sure that your perishables remain cold enough, you don’t have much of a challenge. But if you’re not able to maintain ideal conditions, packing preserved meats like jerky is a much safer bet. That holds true for other perishable items like cheeses and other dairy products as well.

Deserts Are Unkind To Easily-Melted Foods

Desert temperatures fluctuate much more rapidly than in most other environments. A near-freezing nighttime low can easily give way to daytime highs in the 80’s. That means some tried-and-true hiking snacks are a poor fit for desert wanderings, including chocolate bars, soft candies, and cheese. Consider replacing these with snacks like trail mixes that sweeten things up with dried fruits, encased chocolate candies such as M&Ms, and nuts.

Check out these 3, 5, and 7-Day Backpacking Meal Plans for inspiration.

5 Favorite Backpacking Food Storage Options

Here are our five top picks for backpacking food containers that do an excellent job of keeping your food in and the wildlife out.

1. BearVault BV450-Jaunt

Bear Vault BV 450 Juant

Bear Vault BV-450 Juant. Image used with permission.

We like the BearVault BV450-Jaunt for its simple, compact design that gives bears precious little to latch on to if their curiosity gets the better of them. It's made of heavy-duty, see-through polycarbonate material that makes it easy to keep track of what’s in there without having to open it up. This size is perfect for storing 3-4 days' worth of food for one person.

2. SabreRed Bear Canister

Frontiersman Bear Safe

Frontiersman Bear Safe. Image used with permission.

The SabreRed Bear Canister has some smart design elements not seen in most other models. This backpacking food storage option has a tapered design that makes it easier to fit into a backpack. For wildlife that won’t take no for an answer, this bear canister has a high-pressure release valve that allows it to flex without breaking. 

3. Ursack Major + Opsak Bags

Ursack Major + Ospak Bag

Ursack Major + Ospak Bag. Used with permission.

The Ursack Major is a top-quality bear bag that’s designed to be paired with odor barrier Opsak Bags. This backpacking food container is a great option for longer treks since it collapses easily and is super lightweight. These are ideal for hanging food up high in a small tree. These aren’t just for bears and work equally well for more frequently encountered desert dwellers like coyotes and rodents. 

4. KastKing Dry Bags

A superior waterproof food storage bag for camping and backpacking, KastKing dry bags are ideal for keeping water, sand, and other nasties out of the food stored inside them. KastKing bags have a clear plastic window that makes keeping up with what’s inside easy. Pair these with odor-proof food storage bags and hang them up high. 

5. SeaToSummit Trash Dry Sack

SeaToSummit Trash Dry Sack

SeaToSummit Trash Dry Sack. Used with permission.

Your trash is another creature’s treasure. The SeaToSummit Trash Dry Sack can be lined with a trash bag so you can corral all your food scraps into an odor-proof bag. It’s an ideal way to keep a firm divide between your food and your food waste.

Protecting Your Food Is Important. Protecting Your Feet Is Too.

Food isn’t the only thing that needs special treatment on desert adventures. Your feet do too. At Erem, we are passionate about deserts. That’s why we’re committed to designing and manufacturing desert hiking boots that help desert lovers navigate the extremes and enjoy these special places. Every pair of Erem boots is built to last with thick, durable soles and full-grain leather upper.

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