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Staying Healthy in the Backcountry

Packing food for the backcountry

It’s important to pack and store your food properly, both before you leave for the backcountry and when you’re on the trail.

Bacteria that can make you sick like salmonella, need certain conditions to survive. They grow well in foods that are moist and rich in protein like meat, poultry, and dairy products. They also grow well between the temperatures of 4 to 60°C (40 to 140°F). In the right conditions, bacteria can grow very quickly and can make your food unsafe to eat in a short amount of time.

To keep your food cool in the backcountry:

  • Freeze food before you leave and try to pack all frozen items together.
  • Pack perishable foods in ice or with freezer packs.
  • Store food in lakes or streams when you’re at your campsite. Use leak-proof plastic bags to keep the water out.

Other tips for food in the backcountry

  • Pre-cook all perishable foods (foods that can spoil in a short amount of time) and plan to eat them first.
  • Always wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before handling any food. Learn how to wash your hands in the backcountry.
  • Do not handle or prepare food if you’re not feeling well.
  • Bacteria don’t grow well on dry or acidic food. Bring dry foods like nuts and dried fruit or packaged foods that can be rehydrated.
  • You can buy dehydrated meals in some stores. Plan to eat the whole meal right after you rehydrate it. Don’t keep any rehydrated food to eat later.
  • Pack your food in reusable containers that can be cleaned and used for repacking. This will also help create less waste.
  • If you have to mix ingredients, do it just before eating them.
  • Plan to take food that doesn’t need to be kept cool. But remember that canned food can be heavy and you’ll have to carry the cans back out of the backcountry.
  • Ultra High Temperature (UHT) milk doesn’t need to be kept cold when it’s unopened, but it must be used right away or kept cold after it is opened. You can also use powdered skim milk. Mix the powder with water that you’ve already filtered and boiled. Learn how to make your water safe to drink in the backcountry.
  • Store food away from animals. Use food storage lockers on high platforms or hung in a tree with rope or cable. Never bring food into your tent or sleeping areas.

Current as of: January 12, 2022

Author: Environmental Public Health, Alberta Health Services