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Old 10-26-09, 09:26 PM   #1
yeamac
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What to do with food while bike camping in a state park?

I went car camping for the first time with my family this past weekend and had a great time. I am a camping noob but knew enough to keep the food in the car overnight. While we were sitting at the campfire making s'mores later in the evening, a raccoon hopped on the picnic table 10 feet away and starting helping himself to the marshmallows until I scared him away. Brave little critters.

I am planning on doing some bike touring between state parks in Texas. I am not going to bring cooking equipment, but had planned to perhaps to bring breakfast bars and would have leftover snacks like fig newtons and dried cranberries, etc. from the day's riding when I make camp.

I have read not to take food in the tent, so my question is, what do I do with the food? Should I bring a rope to throw over a tree and suspend the food in a pannier? Should I hang the whole pannier, or bring a smaller sack to suspend what little food I will have? Any options besides hanging? (This is in SE Texas -- no bears, but plenty of raccoons/squirrels). The parks I plan to visit do not have food storage boxes.

Any food animals will not go after, like carrot sticks or something?

Is a plastic water bottle with sports drink safe, or do I need to dump any excess and rinse it out good each evening? (I assume a critter might go after it for the sweetness.)

I really don't want a pannier or water bottle chewed up by critters, or critters waking me in the night because I have a pannier with food under the vestibule of my tent.

TIA for the advice.
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Old 10-26-09, 10:06 PM   #2
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In areas without bears I bring the food-containing panniers into the tent when it's time to go to sleep. Have never had an issue with the raccoons and other critters invading the closed tent with me inside even in areas where they've been extremely aggressive while we were preparing dinner.

Regular campgrounds that I've stayed at where there is a bear issue have had food storage lockers. In more backcountry camps in bear country using either the hanging bag method or the bear-proof containers is advisable.
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Old 10-26-09, 10:10 PM   #3
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(This is in SE Texas -- no bears, but plenty of raccoons/squirrels).
You're in Texas? I don't think it was a raccoon you saw - more likely an armadillo in its winter coat.
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Old 10-26-09, 10:11 PM   #4
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Pretty much animals will go after ALL food that is no wrapped up or properly contained. Either way, setting up a lift for your food is the best thing to do. There are many articles about this on Hikingforums.com, whiteblaze.com (Appalachian trail forums), Or Hikersjournal.org. For peoples opinions, or you can always check out the almighty backpacker.com
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Old 10-27-09, 07:43 AM   #5
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I never bring food inside of the tent. Hang it over a limb but never inside of the tent. Down the road you might be camping in an area that does have bears and if your tent has the scent of food from trips past, it could be problems. Don't cook in your tent unless you have absolutely no choice because that leaves scents as well especially meat. I've had rodents eat right through my packs and come out the other side to get to something I had buried inside (peanuts I think). It all depends how hungry they are at the time. I don't want to sound alarmist but it's best not to develop bad habits while camping and while it might be perfectly safe in one area it may not be in another.
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Old 10-27-09, 07:51 AM   #6
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Completely agree. Like cycling, having good habits can and will save your life in the wood. Excellent point that you cannot assume safety from wildlife due to location. Even things like wild domestic dogs can cause some damage to your camp if you tempt them too.
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Old 10-27-09, 07:56 AM   #7
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My personal experience is that hanging food is a wonderful invitation to rodents, who just love to run along the strings.

Bring an extra garbage bag, preferably one of those perfumey ones made of recycled plastic. Put all your food in the garbage bag and put that into your sleeping bag stuff sack. Put that in your tent. Don't leave anything loose in your tent for snacks if you are in a rodent-y campground. Been doing that for 30 years, haven't had a problem yet. You'll have more food smell on your breath than will get out of that bag.
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Old 10-27-09, 08:06 AM   #8
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Raccoons WILL rip open your tent to get to food.
It happens all the time.

If you ever plan to cycle in bear country,
you should NEVER have food in your tent - - ever.
Food odors can permeate your tent fabric.
And, of course, we humans are clueless when it comes to smell.

In parks that are not in bear country and which do not have food storage bins -
Simply hang your food from a sturdy branch well off the ground and away from the trunk.
A couple of bungee cords can accomplish this.
Or you can look to see if there are hooks/loops in the eaves of the bath house.

In bear country you should - you must - store food properly.
Most state and federal campgrounds have bear-resistant storage bins.
There are also bearproof containers you can buy or rent - although they are bulky.
In the Yosemite area hanging doesn't work too well - but still does in most other areas.

I have cycled all over the West and North up to the Arctic.
I practice rigorous bear prevention practices with food.
Simply put -
1) Separate food and sleeping areas
2) Hanging all food and other odorous items
3) Never sleeping in clothes used for cooking
More -
http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/safety/bears.htm

Whether for raccoons or bears -
Learning how to hang your food is simple and effective.
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Old 10-27-09, 08:56 AM   #9
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I use an Ursac.

http://www.ursack.com/ursack-catalog.htm
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Old 10-27-09, 09:04 AM   #10
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In parks that are not in bear country and which do not have food storage bins -
Simply hang your food from a sturdy branch well off the ground and away from the trunk.
A couple of bungee cords can accomplish this.
Or you can look to see if there are hooks/loops in the eaves of the bath house.
That is exactly what i do. Once I left my food under my vestibule and the raccoons got to it. That was a stupid mistake, and since I don't keep food near the tent.
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Old 10-27-09, 10:11 AM   #11
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I am in the no "food in the tent ever" camp.

I use the bear boxes when available and hang food when they aren't if I think the risk might be high enough to warrant it.

I have toyed with the idea of using odor proof bags in addition, but have not yet done so. I would be interested to hear if others have had good or bad luck with something like OPSAK Odor Proof Barrier Bags. Do they hold up well and are they worth the expense? Since I use ziplocs anyway they would be no additional bother beyond the extra cost.
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Old 10-27-09, 12:36 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by yeamac View Post
I went car camping for the first time with my family this past weekend and had a great time. I am a camping noob but knew enough to keep the food in the car overnight. While we were sitting at the campfire making s'mores later in the evening, a raccoon hopped on the picnic table 10 feet away and starting helping himself to the marshmallows until I scared him away. Brave little critters.

I am planning on doing some bike touring between state parks in Texas. I am not going to bring cooking equipment, but had planned to perhaps to bring breakfast bars and would have leftover snacks like fig newtons and dried cranberries, etc. from the day's riding when I make camp.

I have read not to take food in the tent, so my question is, what do I do with the food? Should I bring a rope to throw over a tree and suspend the food in a pannier? Should I hang the whole pannier, or bring a smaller sack to suspend what little food I will have? Any options besides hanging? (This is in SE Texas -- no bears, but plenty of raccoons/squirrels). The parks I plan to visit do not have food storage boxes.

Any food animals will not go after, like carrot sticks or something?

Is a plastic water bottle with sports drink safe, or do I need to dump any excess and rinse it out good each evening? (I assume a critter might go after it for the sweetness.)

I really don't want a pannier or water bottle chewed up by critters, or critters waking me in the night because I have a pannier with food under the vestibule of my tent.

TIA for the advice.
Yes, I've had water bottles bitten into and chewed on, by raccoons and by rodents.

There are other critters around too -- like coyotes, skunks, foxes, and opossums.

There are different possible solutions, as you can see in the responses so far. Some are more effective than others, and some people have better luck than others.

Bear canisters are one option. They keep out the other animals as well.

Miners who are camped out near their mining operations will sometimes use glass containers (best with metal lids). These work well for most creatures. You'd want to be careful, of course, with the glass; but most jars are pretty sturdy. I like pickle jars because of the wide mouths, metal lids, and reasonably light weight. They are rodentPROOF.

I've also tried large plastic jars, the types that peanuts are sold in at supermarkets. Typically these are about half a gallon in capacity. Most animals will be deterred, but they don't work as well as glass. Glass also minimizes the escape of odors. The thicker plastic jars are pretty good too, but not as good. And some of the more determined rodents can get in (though not very easily), especially by gnawing the edges of the plastic lids (I've actually had them try this and give up, at different stages of progress). If you put metal lids on large plastic jars it would probably solve this. The non-lid parts of some of these larger plastic jars are too large-radiused, rounded, smoothly curved, and difficult to bite into. They act in the same way as bear canisters -- the animals just can't find a tooth hold.

I don't know how well these large plastic jars would work with large raccoons (maybe they would serve as partial and sometimes-effective deterrents?). Glass would probably be safer. Or you might be able to find some larger plastic container that would work like a bear canister. I've used five-gallon buckets at times, and they work pretty well. A rodent tried and gave up after gnawing around the top edge of the lid. These are fairly large and heavy though (most of them are at least). And they tend to have relatively sharp and chewable edges around the top and bottom. The large rounded plastic peanut jars with added metal lids are probably better.

Another approach would be to put the more odorous foods in glass and the less susceptible foods in these plastic jars.

I've also at times buried jars and covered them with large rocks -- not something that is always appropriate or even possible, but occasionally useful.

These animals have amazing senses of smell. That's how they survive.

They also go by sight sometimes, so it is best to cover the (clear) jars if the contents might look like food to them.

Last edited by Niles H.; 10-27-09 at 03:16 PM.
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Old 10-27-09, 12:43 PM   #13
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Don't know of any omnivore-proof foods. If you can eat it, they can eat it.

(Especially if they are hungry -- and they are usually a lot hungrier than we are.)

Bears, raccoons, rodents, humans -- all of us are in the omnivore club.
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Old 10-27-09, 01:52 PM   #14
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Thanks for the replies so far.

1. Definitely no food in the tent. It may work for a couple of you, but I wouldn't want to risk a hole in my tent.

2. Hanging the food in a separate bag (not the pannier) seems like the way to go for me. No room for a jar, so couldn't pack one of those.

3. I am still not sure what to do about a water bottle at the end of the day if it is still half full of sports drink. Should I leave it on the bike, bring it in the tent with me, hang it with the food?

I read one suggestion to put fabric softener sheets around your tent as animals don't like that. Anyone else heard this? I could stick a couple in those corner pockets of my tent. Might be enough to keep critters away from my sports drink-filled water bottle (but food would still be hung).

Keep the replies coming. Also, if you stealth camp (not in bear country), I assume you take the exact same precautions as in a campground, and therefore hang food?

Last edited by yeamac; 10-27-09 at 02:05 PM.
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Old 10-27-09, 02:19 PM   #15
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Yes, you can just hang the water bottle(s) with the food.

Rodents can climb down the line to the hanging bag, but they don't all do this. I saw a woodrat do it; he/she had climbed down from the tree on the parachute cord. But it doesn't seem to be terribly common, at least in areas where they haven't yet learned this trick. Once they have learned something like this, and it works for them, they are often quick to utilize the same approach again when the opportunity presents itself.

There may be ways to prevent this. A lightweight plastic collar might be one of them. There are probably details on how to construct an effective rodent collar somewhere online. Maybe one source of information would be websites that deal with protecting hanging bird feeders. Wild Birds Unlimited might have some information. A very light weight cone-shaped collar could be made with tabs that would allow it to be flattened for transport.

Those peanut jars are light weight, and can be filled with food and other items, so they don't take up much space. They can also be used for extra water if needed.

Last edited by Niles H.; 10-27-09 at 06:00 PM.
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Old 10-27-09, 02:41 PM   #16
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I put all of my food as well as all toiletries into one pannier. If there is a bathroom, I put the pannier on the roof. If there is a campground host, I'll talk to him/her to see if there is a rodent problem. Campground are usually willing to help, so I'll ask to put my pannier in their car or camper.
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Old 10-27-09, 03:04 PM   #17
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Thanks for the replies so far.

1. Definitely no food in the tent. It may work for a couple of you, but I wouldn't want to risk a hole in my tent.

2. Hanging the food in a separate bag (not the pannier) seems like the way to go for me. No room for a jar, so couldn't pack one of those.

3. I am still not sure what to do about a water bottle at the end of the day if it is still half full of sports drink. Should I leave it on the bike, bring it in the tent with me, hang it with the food?

I read one suggestion to put fabric softener sheets around your tent as animals don't like that. Anyone else heard this? I could stick a couple in those corner pockets of my tent. Might be enough to keep critters away from my sports drink-filled water bottle (but food would still be hung).

Keep the replies coming. Also, if you stealth camp (not in bear country), I assume you take the exact same precautions as in a campground, and therefore hang food?
Seriously? I camp a few times a year in Texas and if I ever saw someone hang their food in a bag, I would probably pee myself from laughing so hard! Raccoons and squirrels will not invade your tent. This is not bear country.
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Old 10-27-09, 03:33 PM   #18
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I had some wheat berries soaking in water (to make sprouts), in doubled plastic bags, hanging inside my tent. They were less than two feet away from my head. The tent had a fly, and the inside wall was mesh.

I awoke to some kind of sound. A woodrat had spotted or smelled (or both) the bag of soaking wheat berries (maybe a cup of wheat berries and a couple of cups of water), and had not only chewed a good-sized hole in my nice North Face tent (at the closest point to the hanging wheat berries -- a few inches from them), but had actually penetrated the plastic bags as well. The bags were now leaking, I was awake, and the rodent got scared and went away.

So I learned that my proximity to the food (it was close enough to my head, I thought, to keep them from trying anything, and it was in sound, waterproof, airtight, sealed, doubled plastic bags as well) -- and the fact that it was sealed and didn't have a strong smell, and was suspended inside the tent -- was not enough to stop them.

I was a bit surprised that they located it, too. Some of them can not only smell a lot more than we can, they can also see better in the dark, and they are sometimes very good at finding food.

Last edited by Niles H.; 10-27-09 at 05:57 PM.
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Old 10-27-09, 03:46 PM   #19
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First off, make sure to take all garbage to the bins in the park before you retire for the night. For everything else if its only raccoon critters you should be safe just putting the food in a well closed pannier. Raccoons will give up when they can't get in - they don't have opposable thumbs. Unfortunately I was lax once in properly closing a pannier. The raccoon got in - and the picky critter threw everything in the pannier all over the ground until he got to the organic sourdough bread!
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Old 10-27-09, 03:50 PM   #20
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Seriously? I camp a few times a year in Texas and if I ever saw someone hang their food in a bag, I would probably pee myself from laughing so hard! Raccoons and squirrels will not invade your tent. This is not bear country.
I might do a one-night shakedown in late November ... I'll let you know when as I'd get a kick out of seeing you pee yourself.

Yeah, I've already stated I'm not in bear country. So I guess leaving food in my pannier to bring in the tent with me is OK then.

I suppose the only issue is if I leave my campsite/bike/tent for a while to go shower or scope out the area, especially if I will not return until after dark, when all the critters come out. If I leave camp for a while, then what do you suggest I do about food?
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Old 10-27-09, 05:15 PM   #21
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For everything else if its only raccoon critters you should be safe just putting the food in a well closed pannier. Raccoons will give up when they can't get in - they don't have opposable thumbs.
FWIW: I have never had raccoons open fastex buckles, but at least some of them are quite adept at operating zippers. Also while I have never had it happen, I have heard they can chew through panniers. I know they can chew though water jugs, that happens frequently to canoe campers in the Everglades. I figure that if they can chew through water jugs, I'd rather not to take the chance keeping food in panniers if I know raccoons are a problem where I am staying.
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Old 10-27-09, 05:46 PM   #22
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Hung my food in a plastic bag from a tree in a Texas park. Ravens woke me the next morning making a terrible racket as they fought over my food. They had dive bombed the sack until it broke open.

That was the only time that I've hung the food. I bring it in the tent with me and have never been bothered. Now ya'll got me worried. Don't need any rats waking me up.
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Old 10-27-09, 09:11 PM   #23
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I have done the following.


find food animals don't like.
Scatter your pee around using a bottle.
Hang food when ever possible, I will put it up as high as I can when in the desert.
Put huge rocks ontop of it.
Eat your food away from the campsite.
Put your food underneath your tent.
I have never lost any food due to animals yet.
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Old 10-27-09, 09:40 PM   #24
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whee. thank god for australia. we may have venemous snakes, spiders, fish, jellyfish, octopi and even platypi...but we don't have any large mammals that would invade a tent for food. about the worst would be goannas but they're not active at night.

in australia, food in tent, food in panniers, it doesn't matter, it will still be there in the morning
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Old 10-27-09, 10:05 PM   #25
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Seriously? I camp a few times a year in Texas and if I ever saw someone hang their food in a bag, I would probably pee myself from laughing so hard! Raccoons and squirrels will not invade your tent. This is not bear country.
Friends of mine got their food supplies sacked by raccoons in Meridian State Park in central TX. The park provided a steel pole to hang it from but they didn't use it.
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