Transporting Food in Your Backpack

No matter how you get yourself to work every morning, you have two main options when it comes to lunch – Bring it or buy it. If you are a run commuter and choose to bring your lunch, the unique circumstances of your transportation method will require a little additional planning and packing to ensure everything survives the trip without incident.  And trust me – you don’t want an “incident” to happen in your pack  all over your work clothes. No one wants to smell like soup all day. No one.

A note before we begin: Empty space is your worst enemy. That holds true for both within your food container and around it in your backpack. Empty space allows things to move around, bounce, and rub against other things. The elimination of said space is your goal in packing your lunch (and your pack, as well.)

Now, with that being said, here are the most common, commercially-available food transport options for the run commuter.

Hard Plastic Containers

Reusables containers and a disposable container

Reusable containers and a disposable container

Best Foods: Sandwiches, solid leftovers

Worst Foods: Cookies, crackers, chips

Pros: Cheap, lightweight, microwaveable

Cons: Destroys food that is packed improperly, microwaving plastic

Notes: When buying either type of this container, make sure to only get those that have tight-fitting lids.

Glass Containers

Dem beans...

Dem beans…

Best Foods: Liquidy leftovers (e.g., chili)

Worst Foods: Cookies, crackers, chips

Pros: Microwaveable, plastic-alternative, long lifespan

Cons: Heavy, destroys food that is packed improperly, can break if dropped

Notes: Pack foods tightly into these containers! The hard surface will destroy foods that can bounce around inside.

Stainless Steel Containers

Stainless Steel Containers

Stainless Steel Containers

Best Foods: Leftovers, sandwiches

Worst Foods: Cookies, crackers, chips

Pros: Lightweight, durable, plastic-alternative, shiny

Cons: Medium-weight, destroys food that is packed improperly, not for use in dishwashers

Summary: The best lightweight plastic-alternative.

Reusable, Resealable Cloth Bags

Reusable Bags

Reusable Bags

Best Foods: Sandwiches, cookies, crackers, chips, fruit slices

Worst Foods: Soup, leftovers

Pros: Reusable, lightweight, plastic-alternative

Cons: Not airtight/watertight (may leak), hand wash only

Notes: These are a great environmentally-friendly alternative to the plastic bag.

 

Plastic Baggies

Plastic-Bag

Best Foods: Sandwiches, trail mix, crackers, cookies, chips, pretzels

Worst Foods: Soup, stews, heavy leftovers

Pros: Lightweight, semi-durable, air/space can be removed

Cons: Rubbing inside your pack can create holes in bag, short lifespan

Notes: These are your best defense against travelling food’s worst enemy – empty space. With these bags, you can push the air out and seal them, leaving virtually no space left inside for things to bounce around.

Aluminum Foil

Tin foil

Best Foods: Pizza, sandwiches, breads

Worst Foods: Anything liquidy

Pros: Lightweight, shape-able

Cons: Tears easily, short lifespan, not microwaveable, leaks, not airtight/watertight

Notes: This is the best thing to use for carrying a couple of pieces of cold pizza or a slice or two of grandma’s banana bread.

 

The Thermos® or “Vacuum-Insulated Food Jar”

Soup ThermosBest Foods: Soups, stews, chili, oatmeal, lentils, beans

Worst Foods: Anything dry and/or crispy

Pros: Keeps food warm or cold for long periods of time, durable, leak-proof, long-lifespan

Cons: More expensive container on our list, not microwaveable 

Notes: Ideal for liquidy lunches, however, cannot be used in microwave, so food should either be heated in the morning before putting it into the food jar, or the food jar contents should be emptied into a microwave-safe container and reheated at lunchtime.

Plastic Wrap

Standard plastic or “cling” wrap wraps wraps well.

Standard plastic or “cling” wrap – works great for sandwich wraps.

Best Foods: Wraps, breads, sandwiches, hot dogs in buns, pizza

Worst Foods: Any foods that have a lot of liquid in them

Pros: Wraps foods tightly and securely (even more so if you add a piece of tape), inexpensive

Cons: Flimsy, easily punctures

Summary: Plastic wrap is great for wrapping oddly-shaped items.

Combinations

My preferred way to transport food these days is by combining several types of container into one unit.

Open container with crackers, granola bar, and sandwich and  closed container, with little empty space inside.

Open container with crackers, granola bar, and sandwich and closed container, with little empty space inside.

In this instance, I used the packaging that the crackers came in by rolling it down, and securing it with a clip (a rubber band works, too). The granola bar was left in the wrapper it came in, and the sandwich was simply wrapped in paper towel. All three items were then placed inside a long, flat, reuseable plastic container and placed inside my backpack, with the crackers at the bottom. Remember – your containers will pack more securely lying flat against your back, so place them inside strategically, with the idea that the contents will slide downward.

Additional Food Transport Tips

  • Use the food’s packaging to your advantage
  • Some fruits, like apples and bananas, transport fine without a container
  • Wrap sandwiches in paper towel before placing them inside a container, it keeps your container clean and you have a napkin for lunch
  • Soft berries, such as raspberries and blueberries, don’t travel well
  • Eliminate empty space around your food and inside your pack
  • If your pack has them, utilize the external compression straps to further secure your contents
  • Pre-packaged food, like frozen meals or dry noodle packages, can be carried as is
By | 2016-10-22T20:26:44+00:00 November 8th, 2013|Categories: General, How To|Tags: , , , , |1 Comment

About the Author:

Josh
Editor-in-Chief of The Run Commuter by night, paralegal by day. Father of three boys. Husband to the world's greatest bicycle advocate. Avid runner. Lover of beer and urban gardening. Can be found running with a backpack around the streets of Atlanta, Georgia. Contact Josh at info@theruncommuter.com

One Comment

  1. Serrin July 7, 2015 at 1:01 pm - Reply

    Surely the best way to transport food is in Lock & Lock (or similar) containers. These have a fantastic seal that means you can transport any kind of soup or other liquidy / saucy food without any worries. I’ve used them for years and never bother to double-pack in other plastic bags.

Leave A Comment

Translate »