When camping, the last thing you want to happen is for the food to spoil, as this can result in some very upset stomachs and turn the whole trip into a disaster. So before you even start packing up, do you know how to keep food fresh during your camping trip?
To store food for a 3-day camping trip, make sure to keep all perishable items in a cooler, placing different food items like various cuts of meat or different fruits in separate bags. Keep the lid closed as much as possible on your cooler to maintain its internal temperature.
With enough preparation and the right tools, you don’t have to worry about whether your food is safe to eat. This article will talk about the different ways by which you can keep food fresh throughout your camping trip in more detail.
How to store food for a 3 day camping trip (step-by-step):
1. Know Food Handling and Storage Rules at Your Campsite
We often hear of food going bad during camping trips which many people think is something to expect when you’re outdoors. And this might be true when you’re camping in complete solitude when there are no facilities around.
However, when camping in a campground, you’ll need to learn their specific rules on food handling, storage, and disposal.
Depending on where you’re planning to camp, their rules may range from practically non-existent to very strict. Some campgrounds, in fact, require that food items and garbage be stored in lockers to keep wild animals away.
Make sure that you understand these rules so that you can come prepared, but also so that you know what things to bring.
For example, not all campgrounds have airtight food disposal bins that you can use. In this case, you need to make sure to bring your own so that bears and other animals don’t scavenge through your leftover food and food containers.
Also, you’ll need to determine whether there is potable water at the site that you can use to wash utensils, plates, and food containers. If there’s none, opt instead for disposable utensils and containers.
2. Keep Perishable Goods in a Cooler
The trickiest part of keeping your food fresh is your perishable items, which means your meats, fruits, dairy, and vegetables. However, tricky doesn’t mean difficult, as all you really need is a cooler where you can keep all perishable items chilled long enough.
The size of your cooler depends on how many days you’re camping and how many people are going with you. If you’re packing for yourself, a medium-sized cooler of between 25 to 45 quarts (24 to 43 L) will be enough to store food and drinks for up to a three-day trip.
However, if you’re packing for a family of three to four, you will need one or two large coolers of up to 70 quarts (66 L), depending on how much food you typically consume as a group each day.
The material of your cooler matters as well, because it impacts how well it can maintain internal temperature, especially in warm climates.
Metal coolers are excellent at this, though they can be quite heavy and inconvenient to carry around. Plastic coolers, however, also provide good insulation while being lightweight and sturdy.
3. Pre-Cook Meals and Perishable Food
This is an important preparation step that a lot of people miss.
When planning the food you’re going to bring, you can actually include meals that you can simply reheat when it’s time to eat. This is great for meats because it not only cuts down meal prep time at camp but also allows the food to stay fresh much longer.
If you’re looking for other meal ideas that you can prepare ahead of time, you might want to consider some of these:
- Overnight oats: These are not only super yummy and healthy but also easy to store. Keep them in the cooler, and pull them out when you’re ready to have breakfast. No prep is needed.
- Pancakes: Prep these at home and store them in the cooler at camp. Now you don’t need to bring along all the ingredients to make pancakes, as you can simply heat the cooked pancakes, and they’re good to go.
- Salads: As long as you have enough ice in your cooler, your veggie salads will keep crisp and fresh for a quick camping lunch.
- Mashed potatoes: These are great for lunch or dinner and can easily be stored in the cooler. Heat for a few minutes before serving, and you’ll have a good, hearty meal.
- Sandwiches: Easy to make and requires no reheating, sandwiches are a great camping food option.
4. Use Bear Canisters
Another important thing to remember is to use approved bear canisters to keep bears and other animals off the scent of your food, especially if your campsite is known to have bears. Bear canisters are not only airtight and seal off any food odors but also durable enough so that even if bears do attack, hoping to find food, they won’t be able to crack those open.
Another alternative is a bear bag, which, just like a bear canister, is something that you can use to store your food or garbage as well as seal off their smells. However, bear bags can be tricky to hang, and when not done properly, a determined grizzly can easily get to it.
5. Keep Your Food On Ice
In ensuring the freshness of your food, ice is your best friend. Make sure to bring along a cooler dedicated solely to keeping a stock of enough dry ice to last you the duration of your trip, which allows you to replenish any melted ice in your food coolers.
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6. Separate Food From Drinks
A handy trick to keep food fresh when camping is to separate food from cold drinks.
When doing physically exhausting activities like hiking or trekking, you will be reaching for your cold drinks more often than your food.
To avoid opening your food cooler too often and exposing its contents to the warmth outside, keep your drinks in a separate cooler. This way, you can reach for your drinks as often as you can without worrying that you’re shortening the shelf life of your perishable goods.
7. Only Open Coolers When Necessary
Refrain from opening coolers too often, and only do so when it’s time for meal prep or when the ice needs replacing. Opening your cooler too many times will melt your ice much quicker, making it difficult to maintain optimal temperature for keeping your food fresh.
8. Place Different Items in Individual Packs
On longer camping trips, though, there’s always a higher chance of food spoilage. This is why it’s extra necessary to pack individual food items separately. Place various cuts of meats, and sandwiches, for example, in different containers so that if one of these spoils, it doesn’t contaminate the rest of your stock.
Doing this when packing food inside coolers is very important, but so is packing dry goods like un-sliced fruits and vegetables that don’t need to be stored in a cooler. Rotten fruits contaminate good fruits especially quickly, so remember to pack them properly and keep them dry.
3 Day Food Storage While Camping: Preparation is Key
When packing food for a three-day camping trip, all you need is a cooler, food containers, and a bear canister. And as with anything, preparation is key. Plan your meals ahead of time, and pre-cook or prepare what you can at home.
Also, make sure to follow the tips above so you don’t have to spend a minute worrying about your food supplies.
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David Parnell is the founder and lead editor at Trail and Summit, who enjoys writing on a wide range of topics from travel trailers to trail running. He’s an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.