Best Backpacking Food Storage – How to Choose

Jake & the Ground Squirrel
Don’t be fooled, bears are not typically the creatures stealing food. Rodents are very opportunistic as you can see. I’m being ambushed while trying to take a siesta after lunch on a backpacking trip in the Canadian Rockies.

The best backpacking food storage will depend greatly on the environment you choose to explore. In many wilderness areas properly storing your food from bears and other wild animals is essential. How to store food can look surprisingly different based on the rules of the park or the terrain. Rodents are the primary concern in many areas. They can ravage your food supply and your camping gear, leaving you with little to eat miles away from civilization. Whether you have a fear of bears or want to prevent a rodent from stealing or contaminating your food supply, you are going to need the best backpacking food storage when exploring most remote wilderness areas.

Classification and Rating

Best Backpacking Gear
It is hard to imagine that this is what we have the potential of packing into our backpacks.

We classify the best backpacking food storage gear in this article as optional but in many places, it is required. We also give the gear a rating. Our A-F rating is to help newcomers to backpacking know where to best spend their budget. Check out our best backpacking gear post to see how we rank and rate all backpacking gear in one place.

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Best Backpacking Food Storage Quick Links

Proper Backpacking Food Storage

RatSack - The best backpacking food storage
A RatSack is a great option for storing food in the backcountry.

When backpacking in bear country, any item that has any kind of scented smell should be stored safely at least 200 feet away from your campsite. Never sleep with food, anything that smells like food, or anything that was used to cook food in your tent. It is dangerous, although there are some pretty good stories about mountain men in the early 1800’s sleeping with slabs of buffalo meat as pillows in grizzly country. They ironically did this to keep animals from eating it. Most of our terrifying bear attack stories come from those mountain men. (Think The Revenant.) I wonder why :)?

Bear Canister

  • Classification: Optional Gear
  • B-Rating: Prioritize weight savings and design on a quality product if you can.
Bear Canister - The Best Backpacking Food Storage
It is difficult to fit 5 days worth of food for two people into a single bear canister, but it can be done.

Increasingly, bear canisters are becoming a requirement for backpacking in certain areas of the United States. Almost all Colorado wilderness areas now require hard-sided bear canisters. Along with almost all U.S. National Parks that have bears in them. The good news is that you can rent them cheaply if you only occasionally backpack in bear country. Bear canisters are heavy and aren’t easily packed so if I can leave ours at home (In the Truck), I do. Hanging a bag in a tree is a good preventive measure when in bear country. But this is no longer allowed in many wilderness areas and isn’t a viable solution where trees are small. Make sure you know if an area allows a tree hang, has bear boxes provided at designated campsites (Canada mostly), or requires a bear canister before you set out on your adventure.

BearVault 500 (REI)

We own the BearVault 500 (3.3lbs) and can usually cram enough food into the 700 cubic inch volume for both of us to survive for 5 days on the trail. I can actually squeeze this heavy canister in the sleeping bag compartment of my Osprey backpack which is awesome because it keeps this very heavy canister low in my pack. The vault is made of tough but clear plastic. This makes it easy to locate the desired food inside. In warmer weather, the BearVault is easy to use but on colder trips the plastic becomes very rigid, making the push-lock difficult to open. Ultimately, the BearVault is the best canister around but in general, it is a heavy piece of gear. The bear canister is the only storage solution approved by all wilderness areas which makes the BearVault the all-around best backpacking food storage solution.

The BearVault also comes in a smaller 440 cubic inch volume model known as the BV450 (REI). This 2.1-pound option shaves a little weight and would be a better option for solo backpackers or a couple who want to limit their time in bear country to two nights or less.


With a 750 cubic inch storage volume, The Blazer Bearikade is a comparable model to the BV500 but it weighs 2.1lb making it a solid alternative to the heavier BearVault. However, the $80 BV500 looks downright cheap when compared to the more than $300 Blazer. The Bearikade is the lightest bear canister on the market making it the best backpacking food storage system for those who spare no expense.

Ursack Major

  • Classification: Optional Gear
  • B-Rating: Prioritize weight savings and design on a quality product if you can.

Weighing in at 7.6oz with 10L (650 cubic inches) of storage, the Ursack Major (Backcountry, REI) is a great lightweight alternative to a heavy bear canister when you are backpacking in places that do not require bear canisters. The Ursack is designed to be hung high from tree limbs and away from the tree trunk so that bears can’t get to them. If a cleaver bear does manage to reach the bag, the Ursack is specifically designed to prevent them from being ripped open. The Ursack has passed testing by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee for food safety but many parks and national forests have yet to adopt them as acceptable food storage when backpacking. However, the Ursack is the best backpacking food storage solution when camping in areas with tall trees and that do not require bear canisters.

The Ursack Major also comes in XL and XXL models. The XL model (Backcountry, REI) holds 15L (915 cubic inches) and weighs only 8.8oz. The Ursack Major XXL (Backcountry, REI) holds an astonishing 30L (1,830 cubic inches) of food and weighs 15.7 oz. This is overkill unless you are crossing the country in a covered wagon or are taking an entire boy scout troop into bear country.

Ratsack (REI)

  • Classification: Optional Gear
  • B-Rating: Prioritize weight savings and design on a quality product if you can.

A Ratsack is a good alternative to a bear canister when you are backpacking in places that do not have large predators. Like the Ursack, Ratsacks are designed to be hung from tree limbs so that rodents can’t get to them. At the same time, they are made of materials that creatures like rats and squirrels can’t chew through. Weighing in at 8oz for the small Ratsack, this is a much lighter option than a BearVault. The 1200 cubic inches of storage allows for much more food storage than the comparable weight of a Ursack Major. If you intend to backpack in places, like Havasu Falls, where bears do not live but rodents are very active, a Ratsack is the best backpacking food storage solution.

Dry Sacks

  • Classification: Optional Gear
  • F-Rating: Save money as this product often needs to be replaced regardless of the quality.

Dry sacks, like the Sea To Summit eVent (Backcountry, REI), are essential on backpacking trips where wading in high water is a real possibility. For example, The Narrows in Zion or when kayaking. Dry sacks are also a cheap alternative to a Ratsack or Ursack. You can hang food in a tree to keep it out of reach of most creatures. However, ambitious rodents can find their way to a hung dry bag and easily chew through it. While dry sacks are a cheap alternative and we have successfully used them for food storage, they are not the best backpacking food storage available.

Canada Hanging Poles
I love backpacking in the Canadian Rockies because many of their popular sites have hanging poles or bear boxes permanently installed.

The Real Reason to Carry Dry Sacks

A traveler hiking The Narrows
Having all your gear in dry bags inside your pack is the only way to guarantee your gear stays dry on a backpacking journey where the river is the trail like The Narrows in Zion National Park.

Dry sacks are nice to have to keep the contents of a backpack dry. Rain covers are not 100% effective in keeping water out, especially during intense storms. We like carrying a small dry sack to keep electronics dry and we also like carrying a small dry sack for dirty laundry (Check out our recommended backpacking clothing). Cheap dry sacks tend to need to be replaced every few years as waterproof coatings wear off. However, these cheap sacks also tend to be lighter than the more expensive rubber bags. Either way, I prefer a dry sack over a non-waterproof stuff sack when backpacking.

Utility Cord (REI)

Hanging Trekking Poles with Rope
Hanging up your hiking poles on a rope with a carabineer at the campsite keeps creatures from chewing on the handles.
  • Classification: Optional Gear
  • D-Rating: Save some money as the difference in a name-brand product isn’t necessarily worth the cost.

A thin nylon rope comes in handy when backpacking. If bear canisters are not mandated and a Ursack, Ratsack, or a dry sack are allowed to be hung, a long piece of utility cord is needed. However, having a utility cord also helps to tie gear off to your pack for drying out after rainstorms. You can also dry out gear at the campsite by creating a clothesline between trees. The most common use for our rope is to hang up our trekking poles and backpacks at night. Hopefully, to keep porcupines and small rodents from chewing on them (It happens). About 30′ – 50′ of rope is all that is needed.

Carabiners (REI)

  • Classification: Optional Gear
  • D-Rating: Save some money as the difference in a name-brand product isn’t necessarily worth the cost.

A few lightweight carabiners always come in handy on the trail. They can clip wet gear onto the outside of the bag or onto the nylon rope at camp to dry gear out and make sure the wind doesn’t take it away. Sometimes they are just nice to have to quickly clip the trekking poles to a tree branch. In other instances, carabiners make hanging food bags really easy. I also like to use one with my camera holster to clip it to my chest strap and keep it from bouncing around.

Choosing the Best Backpacking Gear Food Storage

Best Backpacking Food Storage
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The best backpacking food storage solution will vary greatly depending on what kind of wilderness areas you choose to venture into. For us, the most universal piece of gear is the BearVault but it is heavy. If we are allowed to hang a bag we always choose to do so instead. Understanding how to properly store food in unique wilderness environments is an essential part of having a successful and fun trip. Remember to always practice leave-no-trace principles when exploring the great outdoors, one of which is not feeding the wildlife intentionally or unintentionally.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. A very useful guide for all who love backpacking and camping.

    Thank Jake Sublett for sharing with us.


  2. Nomad Joe says:

    This was very useful. I was actually planning on going to a camp with family and friends, and trust me; this was the exact article I needed to read.
    Much appreciated.

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