Waterproof Barrels

by Richard Munn|Published 07-07-2006

The use of waterproof plastic barrels for carrying food and gear seems to be increasing in popularity. These plastic barrels certainly are the most waterproof of all options for carrying both your food and your gear.

These barrels can survive a bumpy ride down a stretch of class III rapids and when you retrieve it at the other end, you're still going to find the contents safe and dry.

Barrel Types

The most common type of barrels are the blue polyethylene barrels used for transportation of bulk food and pharmaceuticals. The lids on these barrels have an 0-ring seal and generally fasten on with a metal 'snap ring'. Occasionally, you'll find this type of barrel with a screw-on lid. Some barrels have handles, others don't. Common sizes are 30 litre and 60 litre.

This type of barrel can be carried in a soft canoe pack, or in a specially designed harness. A number of manufacturers make comfortable harnesses for both the 60 litre and 30 litre size.

Some paddlers also use surplus olive barrels. These are smaller than the commercially available barrels . The ones we use are approximately 8" in diameter by 16" high with a capacity of 15 litres. The relatively small size means that two of them will fit nicely into a standard canoe pack. They have a tightly-sealing screw-on top instead of the metal snap ring.

After many years of carrying our food in different types of packs, we've recently tried using plastic barrels. Our experience has for the most part been a positive one.

What are some of the advantages we've discovered? 'Fragile' food items don't get crushed as easily. We don't have to worry about waterproofing - the barrels are 100% watertight, even during a ride down the rapids. The barrels are fairly comfortable to carry on the portage We don't worry about mice, chipmunks and other small critters getting into the food It's very easy to pop the top off a barrel to get at the lunch supplies. No pack to open and root through. The barrels can be used for camp stools or card-playing tables.

Ar they Bearproof?

There is some debate about how 'critter-proof' these barrels are.

My opinion is:

  • Mice, chipmunks, squirrels and other small critters - your food is definitely safe
  • Raccoons - your food is probably safe
  • Bears - your food is almost certainly not safe

Mind you, if the animals can't smell the food, they probably won't go after it, and there's a good chance that food odours won't escape from a tightly sealed barrel. However, if a bear figures out that there's food in the barrel and decides to get in, there isn't much doubt that the bear will win and your food barrel will lose. A good-sized black bear can peel open a car trunk to get at stored food - a polyethylene barrel wouldn't pose much of a challenge.