Keeping Food Safe from Rodents While Backpacking

We know about bears. They are strong, crafty, hungry, and potentially very dangerous.

Though I consider bears to be a huge threat to be treated with respect, I also hold a fair amount of concern for rodents. If bears are the hurricane, rodents are the slowly rising waters during a tropical storm. Rodents, though smaller, can cause a lot of distress when it can be avoided and the warning signs are there.


I hear about shelters having upside-down tuna cans on rope to deter rodents. I’m not buying it as a consistently effective solution. I’m sure this technique assists in keeping rodents away, but there are a lot of surfaces from which mice and other rodents can jump and scurry. Rodents’ physical abilities are rather astounding. They can scramble up rope, climb into your bag, eat your food, leave droppings, then seemingly vanish. They can chew through your bag to get to whatever food is in a plastic bag. They can chew through your tent… I don’t know the solution for this one with the exception of keeping all scented items away from my precious mobile abode. Back to rodents and food. Based on the tremendous capabilities of rodents, it is entirely possible for them to maneuver around a measly tuna can.

Illness, Injury, and Hantavirus

Let’s say the unfortunate situation of a rodent eating some of your food befalls you and you decide to eat what is left out of desperation. Rodents carry plenty of diseases, including salmonella and hantavirus. Hantavirus sound familiar? Yes, the very same disease that infected and killed a number of people in Yellowstone in 2012. The hantavirus can then be spread from person to person — not because the virus itself is contagious between humans (the South American version is, but I digress) but because people may spread dust of rodent poop and other unpleasant things. When small particles of rodent droppings, saliva, or urine are kicked into the air, you can breathe it in. If the rodent dropper of the droppings is carrying hantavirus, the person breathing in the particles may be affected. That means it’s possible to get this virus from breathing in air around anything an infected rodent has touched. Nightmare. I’d prefer to avoid all of these situations entirely. The CDC says “eliminate or minimize contact with rodents in your home, workplace, or campsite. If rodents don’t find that where you are is a good place for them to be, then you’re less likely to come into contact with them.”

In another potential situation, let’s say a similar unfortunate event occurs and a rodent gets into your food and eats a lot of it. Being hungry on the trail is dangerous. Not only is it uncomfortable, weight loss is already is a concern. When your body is tired and undernourished, you’ll tend to make unsafe decisions especially when the promise of food lies miles ahead. No food is bad. Rodents eating your food is worse. What if you’re tired, undernourished, and you become ill from the food that’s left behind from a rodent invasion? Exponential bummer.

So. In my evaluation, I will be avoiding rodent contact at all costs.

We have a plan that we hope will protect our food when hung. Food in an odor-free bag to maintain the mystery of our delicious food and trash.

  1. Odor-free bag in a dry sack to prevent water logged food, prevent abrasion of the odor-free plastic bag, and provide compression.
  2. Dry sack in a wire mesh rodent-resistant bag (currently looking at Grub Pack and Outsak — I am not being compensated by either of these companies) for the rodent-resistant purposes. The metal mesh that constitutes almost the entirety of the bag is “industrial grade, stainless steel, knitted mesh” (from Grub Pack). Rodents cannot chew through wire mesh, and since it is flexible rather than a rigid bear canister, the bag can be easily compressed in a backpack and even more as the food decreases.

The trifecta turducken of food protection — odor-free bag in a dry sack in a rodent-resistant bag. It seems like a lot and possibly overkill, but I’m committed to this three-bag method. I’d rather have safe, nutritious food over possible illness and undernutrition if my food is tainted/eaten. This all combined with following practices of hanging food bags I hope to keep my food and my health intact.

Have you had any success with preventing rodent invasions in your food pack? I’d love to hear what has worked for you and what hasn’t. 

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 2

  • Ted Brahms : Aug 26th

    For desert backpacking I have found a cheap and easy rodent proof and odor contains method through Home Depot. Get an empty 1 gallon paint can est. $5 put your food in it and seal the can. Rodents and smaller critters can’t get in. It’s cheap and relatively light. Sort of a mini bear can for mini Bears.

  • Coco : Aug 26th

    Such a great idea!


What Do You Think?