food box

I need to come up with a food box. Probably one for short trips like several days and also one for a trip of several weeks. What are you canoeists doing for food boxes? Home built or commercial bought? Any coolers that you find are better than others for keeping food cool, ease of hanging in a tree, or are tough and can take a beating?




– Last Updated: May-10-06 7:50 AM EST –

Wha Ho, Pilgrim;

Ah' use the watertight barrels (available from Rutabaga or Boundry Waters Catalog among other places) - several 30 liters works for me. They also have 60 liters but are a pain to portage when loaded.

Fat Elmo

For my canoe I use a cooler. The new “extreme” ones advertise that they keep ice for 5 days. The insulation is thicker and they are better.

Also to keep things cooler I freeze the water bottles and the beer cans. For food that doesn’t have to be kept cold I keep it in a clear drybag. I often bring a separate small cool (the day cooler) so I don’t have to open the main cooler more than twice a day if I can help it.

I either use a barrel (same thing that FatElmo uses) or dedicate a pack with good a shoulder pad harness and hip belt as a food pack. I don’t hang the barrel at night but do hang a food pack.

An alternative that some folks use on northwoods trips is a wanigan. I’ve seen larger groups out for a month with home made wood wanigans. Two people portage them like carrying a stretcher between them. They are built to fit the bilge of a canoe. I think you could google to find plans to build one. A smaller commercially made plastic wanigan that one person can portage is available at

Never used one, but just pointing it out as something you might be interested in.

I use the barrel and have a carrying harness on it for portaging and hanging. Mine is the 30 liter and it’s plenty big enough for 3 of us for a long weekend trip.

olive barrels
work good. I have been using them for 10 years and they work quite well. 5 liter in capacity they will hold plenty of food and keep it dry and critter proof from anything up to but not including bears. Learned that one the hard way. They can be packed in a pack basket, duffel bag or Duluth type bag. Ostrom even makes a harness for them. One can easily make straps for the barrel to hang or suspend over rock ledges. If you can’t find one let me know, I got plenty.

find one?
i don’t even know where to start looking.

greece comes to mind, but a bit beyond the budget right now…

Gamma lids
We used five gallon buckets with Gamma lids for our food for 73 days on the Mississippi River last gear. They worked great - waterproof, critter proof, and pretty much indestructable. Very easy to get into to grab a snack and reseal.

I think there are a few photos of these things still on our website.

5 gallon buckets
That wannigan thingee looks interesting, but it looks like it’d be pretty easy to make one out of the various plastic containers widely available. Anyway, we make extensive use of coolers in the canoe, not just to keep food and drinks cold, but to keep other stuff dry and contained. The other thing we use are a couple of screw top 5-6 gallon buckets.

It just so happens that the salt mix for popular salt water aquarium setups comes in a screw top 5 g. bucket, so I have gotten a couple for free. But, you can buy the screw top conversion kit to make any standard 5 gal bucket into a reuseable screwtop from US Plastics. Or, you can peruse the hunting/fishing section of your sporting goods store to find one with a cushioned top for use as a stool/container. There are hundreds of uses for the screw top buckets. One, is keeping charcoal dry in the canoe. Another is keeping critters out of the birdseed in the garage. (not paddling relevant, but what the hey?) Anyway, so far they’ve kept the oppossums and racoons out, whereas we’ve actually caught a raccoon opening one of our coolers.

As for coolers, those so-called 5 day
ones from igloo and rubbermaid may work in Montana, but not in Texas. Once the temps warm up to 80, the ice will only last about two days, and then, only if you don’t open the coolers. So, they are about as good as the old coolers down here, but since they aren’t any more expensive these days, why not?

Where to find olive barrels free
Where to find olive barrels free

I have gotten several from a Lebanese deli near my home. I would dare to say that any grocery that sells olives by the pound would have them, and the ones I’ve talked to, all throw them out. The owner of the deli was happy to let me pluck them from the trash.

The real trick is cleaning them so your gear doesn’t smell like Calamata olives.

I’ve also gotten 15L blue barrels for $15 from a dealer of wholesale drums and containers.

Often I find it difficult to strap down
the “barrel/pickle” containers securely, especially if any whitewater is involved. A relatively cheap alternative are the pet food containers that can be found at PetSmart, etc. They have a variety of sizes of which I use the 5 & 9 gallon options. Gamma-seal lids. Being rectangular, easy (at least for me) to secure.

After dozens of summer-time trips (temps exceeding 100 degrees) in the southwest, cannot recommend highly enough the 5 day coolers. Denser insulation injected under higher pressure, and with lid insulation. I add thin weatherstripping to additionally seal the lid. Igloo works well with their 50qt 5-day about the same size as Coleman’s 36qt 5-day. I would not spend the extreme dollars required to buy an Icey-Tec or similiar.

I’ve been on trips where people ran out of ice after 2 days while others had some left after 10. I fit in the middle somewhere. Ice-nazi’s are not my favorite people but decent management will get you 5 days at the advertised 90 degrees.