How to Keep Perishables When Backpacking or Traveling

Perishable foods should really be packed out in such a way that you can enjoy them on any length of trip and in any climate. We also understand you may not always be backpacking through rough country. Many of us are just as likely to trek through cities, moving hostel to hotel, metro to metro. These tips are are for any backpacking adventure.

Below you will find tips on how to properly store the food and prepare perishables such as meats, vegetables, and fruits.

The Basic Principles

    • Choose creative, simple, and pre-made meals
    • Use the right equipment for the job
    • Leave no waste
    • Be deliberate and plan out your meals

Access & Storage

Keep it cool. This goes without saying but as we all know, perishables will usually keep much longer when kept cool. Backpacking or small soft coolers are great for this. It should be water tight, seal-able, and insulated to prevent heat transfer. The trick is finding one that won’t break your back with weight. Ice Mule makes a great, durable product that is multi-use but there are many other economical options out there.

Make sure you’re eating your jerky. Put all of your food together in a large backpacking cooler or shrink-sack and label it. Keeping tabs on whos food is whos is essential, especially when you are sharing with other people.

Organize in meal order. Inside the stuff sack or cooler, it is best to organize the meals in the order you will be eating them. We’d also recommend you consolidate all of your “hot mixes” into one package (e.g. anything you can make by mixing with boiling water such as oatmeal, Ramen noodles).

Double bag or wide-mouth screw top. For dry goods such as dehydrated fruit or spice mixes, get a box of Ziploc bags and double up. The better option is to use small plastic baby food containers or wide-mouth Nalgene bottles to protect the food. For more perishable items like peanut or almond butter, butter, or ghee you must make absolute sure the seals are tightly screwed.

Keep food away from anything that can puncture the Ziploc bags or contaminate it. Sharp objects may open the air-tight seal and spoil the food. Try not to store food below anything else that might leak like Jet Boil fuel canisters or hand sanitizer. The Ice Mule mentioned above has a heavy duty liner for this reason.

Avoid bringing canned goods. Canned food is great in that it saves on prep time and does not perish, however it is heavy and produces waste. This is not a recommended route to go.

Meats, Fruits, & Vegetables

Some will say that quickly perishable items such as meat, fruits, and vegetables have no place in a backpack due to their tendency to spoil and added extra weight. When done properly, however, you can bring even the best creature comforts with you.

First, invest in a dehydrator. If you want to have wet foods such as fruit, it will add significant weight. Dehydrating them cuts down on that weight and extends their life in your pack. This food dehydrator is outstanding when it comes to dehydrating strawberries to put in your morning oatmeal or similar. You can also make beef, pork, and chicken jerky. Tip: You can puree sweet fruits such as mango into strips in one of the trays and make your own fruit roll ups.

Meat takes a little more care and preparation. We won’t get into how different types of meat are affected by temperature variances. The best way to do this is to plan out your meals ahead of time and freeze in reverse order and store the meat together. The frozen meat will thaw slowly in the Ice Mule and keep the cold meat cool until you are ready to eat it. To avoid the hassle of keeping track, just freeze half the meat and keep the rest of it very cold until you step off.

You can package the meat, vegetables, and fruit separately but we’ve found it easiest to pre-make meals ahead of time like these marinated beef tips.

Leave No Trace

Leave no trace. Always have an extra trashbag or two to pack out your garbage. Although your packing should minimize waste (if you have any at all), it our responsibility to ensure we leave no garbage. If you are enjoying the wild-land, pack out any trash you find to pay it forward.


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