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Tips and Tricks: How to Pack a Food Bag

One of the secrets of successful backpacking is learning how to become extremely organized and to stay organized throughout your trip. That might sound obvious but it’s actually a skill that requires a lot of practice and the development of a set of rituals that you can “do in your sleep”, regardless of the weather or your level of fatigue.

Packing a Food Bag

Take your food bag for example. How easy is it for you to get out a snack? Do you find yourself stopping and unpacking your entire food bag each time you want to make a meal?

While this may sound like an insignificant inconvenience, random food bag organization can lead to skipped snacks or delayed meals that can have a significant performance impact on your ability to put in long days or high miles. It took me a long time to understand the relationship between good food bag organization and my daily caloric intake patterns, so here’s some advice on food bag organization that you may find useful.

  1. When I pack my bear bag at home, I first divide all of my meals into 5 piles: breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, and drinks.
  2. I put each pile into it’s own plastic bag. I find that the best ones to use for this purpose are the plastic bags that I get from the dry cleaners that wrap my folded dress shirts.
  3. I place my backpacking towel, bear bag line, and mesh sack at the bottom of my food bag.
  4. Then I insert my O.P. Sack into my bear bag and place my long handled titanium spoon and toob tooth brush along the inside, propped up vertically for easy access.
  5. Next, I put the 5 bags of food into my O.P. sack, one by one, so that the meal or snack that I want next, is positioned at the top of my food bag. After, I’ve eaten something, I reorder the bags as required, so that food breaks can be kept short if I want to get going again.
  6. I always carry my food bag on top of the other gear in my backpack so that it’s easy to access during the day.

What nice about this system is that I’m always aware of exactly how much food I have left during a trip, because all of the same types of meals are organized together. It also makes choosing which one I want to eat a lot easier because they’re all grouped together. Before I organized my bear bag this way, I found that I had to always fully unpack and repack my bear bag each time I wanted a snack or to make a meal, and I never knew exactly how much food I had left because it was all dumped together.


  1. That's great. I take a similar approach. It's amazing how, no matter what the system, simply *having* a system or ritual can save so much time and stress.

    I use only 3 categories since I my "lunch" isn't any different from snacking: breakfast, snacks, dinner (drink mixes go with snacks).

    To hold it all, I use 2 food bags: a big one for "inventory," and a smaller one for the current day. In camp at night, while the water boils, I budget out the next day's breakfast and snacks in the smaller bag, so it's ready to go as soon as I wake up. All the other food goes in the big bag until the next evening.

    The smaller food sack usually stays at the very top of the pack or in an outside pocket.

  2. Great post. This is something you rarely see an article about. I personally do something similar to Mark (earlier comment). I keep a seperate "Snack Bag" in my pack's hood pocket or belt pocket. In it I keep anything I might want to eat while hiking (gels, gorp, M&Ms) plus drink mixes. It's a small bag that I toss into my larger food bag to hang at night.

  3. Yes, this has been a major issue for me to. I hate having to sit down and open my pack up in order to get a few M&Ms into my mouth!

    There is this food jar that was made by Stanley. The handle is a carabiner and it clips onto the side of your backpack.

    This makes it very accessible when you are hiking. I usually put nuts/M&Ms or other snacks that I reach for often in mine, but you can also put in hot foods to keep things for a long time.

  4. I use an Ursack bag and do what Earlylite does for the most part. Usually I use gallon storage bags for my food, separated by meal type.

    As for the days snacks, in the morning I pack up what I might want and carry it in a small silnylon stuff sack (one by OR) that fits in my packs side pocket. At night I put it in my Ursack. Helps control my food – and my trash during the day too!

  5. I think your system is a good one for guys, but maybe less so for women. We girls are usually more comfortable with a lower center of gravity – so having all of that heavy food at the top of the pack is not ideal.

    I prefer to keep breakfast, dinner, stove etc. lower down and have a bag just for lunches and snacks at the top of the pack or in an outside pocket. That way the food you need while hiking is easy to get, but the stuff you'll only need at camp is tucked away.

  6. That's a good point. My system is definitely top heavy, with my food bag on the right side of my pack counterbalancing my 3L platy which is on the left. So that's like 10 lbs of consumables floating on top of my sleeping bag and clothes. Maybe I should switch that around as you suggest. I can't remember why I settled on that system. Just became a habit.

  7. I did a two week section hike last June. Having been pre-warned about the mice at the shelters, I went on-line to search for some sort of mouse proof food bag for hikers. I bought a Grubpack. It's light-weight and flexible. Even though it's made of a stainless steel wire mesh, it's pliable enough to fold and stuff into a backpack. It has a grommet for hanging, but some nights I just tied it to a shelter post and kept it on the ground. I put food in ziplocks to reduce scent and prevent mouse droppings, and then put small ziplocks in the Grubpack. It's easy and it worked perfectly to stop the mice.

  8. My food bag starts using an Ursack Minor. I pack each day’s entire food in 1 gallon zip-lock bags. Each one of those bags holds quart or pint bags to organize breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks. Each morning I pull out my daily snacks bag and keep it easily accessible on the outside of the pack…it really reminds me to snack regularly and I notice my energy levels stay steady…I used to crash, then realize I need food.

    This system really helps me stay organized and plan my amount of food for upcoming trips too. Based on what I ate, I can easily tell if I was still hungry or packed too much food and at which meal. I can then modify what I will be carrying the next time I’m on the trail. I hate not bringing enough calories, or carrying more food than I ever would eat

  9. Interesting. I always organize my food by day, not meal type. In a gallon zip lock, I put all food for a single day. So, if I’m going out for 5 days, I have 5 gallon bags all in a bear bag. Each day, I pull out one day’s worth of food. I eat breakfast, then snacks and lunch go into side/hip pockets, dinner stays in bear bag until evening.

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