How to secure food (and spoons) from wildlife

camping food storage

I know, I know: I should have put my dishes away properly. But that tent was just too damn tempting.

The wind and rain came ripping over the ocean as we gulped down our lukewarm macaroni. The four of us had endured this storm all day while slogging along Vancouver Island’s Cape Scott Trail. Everyone was cold, tired and desperate to be dry.

Now, I honestly thought about walking to the wildlife-proof storage locker about a kilometre away. I really did. But it took just one glance at our bright-orange tent, shining like a beacon beneath the dreary sky, to change my mind.

So with numb, trembling hands I stuffed our cheese-sticky bowls into a bear bag and fired ‘er into the woods as hard as I could. Then I joined my wife Shawneen inside the tent and fell asleep shivering.

In the morning, the sun was shining as I packed up camp. Shawneen walked over to me holding the bear bag, an awkward grin on her face.

“Look at this,” she said and held up a gnarled plastic serving spoon. It looked like someone had tried to jam it into a paper shredder (see photo above). “The wolves got it.”

I nodded. My face probably went a little red.


Handy food lockers aren’t always around

bear proof container

If you’re fortunate enough to be backpacking in a park with a food-storage locker, you better use it.

I really had no excuse. With food lockers just a short stroll away, I should have endured the elements a little longer to store our dirty bowls and utensils properly (the rest of our food was in the bear locker already, I might add).

But on many less popular treks, those handy metal lockers aren’t an option. You have to secure your food on your own. Basically, there’s two main ways to do it yourself:


Hang it high 

One way to keep bears and other animals away from your food is by hanging it from a tree. There a few ways to do this.

Counterbalancing: Many people find this method frustrating. It involves balancing two equally weighted stuff sacs of food over a branch. It’s not easy and it takes plenty of practice. Backpacking Light explains the system well while illustrating how irritating it can be.

PCT Method: This one is gaining popularity. The PCT method (likely named after the Pacific Crest Trail) requires less rope and is easy to set up while offering similar benefits to counterbalancing. This graphic on Hammock Forums will give you a good idea of how to do it.


Contain it well 

A bear-proof container eliminates the need to mess around with counterbalancing or other hanging methods. Also, they’re perfect if you’re trekking in an area where you can’t find an ideal food-hanging tree, such as deserts or above the treeline. Many U.S. parks require that you bring these containers into the wilderness with you.

However, they will add about two additional pounds of weight to your backpack while taking up extra space. So it’s a trade-off. If you’re willing to put up with a little extra bulk on the trail, hauling a bear-proof container may be worth it.

The Garcia Backpacker’s Cache is one of the oldest containers on the market. They’re big and durable, and often used by trekkers going on longer multi-day trips because of the room they offer. The Bare Boxer is smaller and less bulky than the Garcia, making it perfect for two or three-day hikes. However, if you’re looking for a high-end, low-weight container, check out the pricey Bearikade.

What do you think is the best option for securing your food from wildlife while backpacking? Let us know in the comments below.


Do you prefer the trails less travelled?

Join like-minded trekkers by signing up for the S&TT e-mail list. Every week, you’ll get:

  • Profiles of little-known hiking destinations
  • Gear reviews for backpackers and hikers
  • Feature articles on strange and off-beat hiking

Plus we’re 100% spam-free (and proud of it)


About the author

Dustin Walker

Dustin Walker is a journalist, travel copywriter and editor/owner of Slick and Twisted Trails. Follow him on Twitter @dustinjaywalker


Free Lightweight Gear List
Use it to quickly cut pounds from your backpack

  • Learn how to build a 15-pound pack without sacrificing comfort
  • Get a curated list of budget-friendly lightweight gear 
  • Includes free video seminar on how professional guides reduce their pack weight