The use of waterproof plastic barrels seems to be increasing in popularity.

They certainly are the most waterproof of all options for carrying both your food and your gear.

Lids have an 0-ring seal and generally fasten on with a metal 'snap ring'.  Some barrels have handles, others don't.  Barrels can be carried in packs, or with specially designed harnesses.  Common sizes are 30 litre and 60 litre.

Some paddlers also use surplus olive barrels.  These are smaller than the commercially available barrels - the ones we have are approximately 8" in diameter by 16" high.  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.

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

  • Mice and small critters - your food is definitely safe

  • Raccoons - your food is probably safe

  • Bears - your food is probably 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 the 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.