How to Backpack with Cheese

Cheese is a great food to keep you fueled while backpacking, It’s compact, nutrient-dense, and delicious. Who doesn’t love yummy cheese? 

A thumb-sized piece of hard cheese can contain 8 grams of protein, along with fat and minerals. That’s perfect for backpackers. 

Two wedges of parmesan cheese on a wooden cutting board.

Is It Safe to Carry Cheese Backpacking? 

Ahhhh…….well, there’s the official answer and the “what everyone does” answer here. The FDA recommends all perishable foods be stored in a refrigerator and limit exposure to room temperature to 2 hours.  

However, the FDA has a report from the Institute of Food Technologies on their website indicating some cheeses do not require refrigeration. On top of that, the USDA states that hard cheeses like cheddar do not require refrigeration to be safe but will last longer in a fridge.  

I am not a food safety scientist, or an FDA employee and can’t tell you it’s safe to carry cheese backpacking. Use your own discretion when deciding if you want to pack cheese, and what type of cheese you feel comfortable eating. If you’re pregnant, have a compromised immune system, are a child, or infant, or are elderly – talk to your doctor or just say no. 

What I can say is tons of backpackers, including myself, do it. This doesn’t mean it’s safe or that taking cheese for a weekend trip is a smart thing, but I love cheese and it’s coming with me. 

What Types of Cheese are Best for Backpacking? 

The general rule here is, the harder the cheese the better. Hard cheese with low moisture content will keep better at room temperature.  

Both the USDA and FDA indicate that hard cheeses and semi-hard cheeses with low moisture content like cheddar, parmesan, gouda, Monterey jack, Manchego, and Swiss will hold up longer at room temperature.  

Avoid soft cheeses like brie, goat cheese, and cream cheese.  

Never, ever, take fresh unaged cheese like fresh mozzarella (the balls in the water), or ricotta because the higher moisture content will cause them to spoil faster.  

I would also leave smelly cheeses like feta and blue cheese at home. You are going to put this in a backpack with the gear you intend to sleep in. I’m just saying. 

Can You Take String Cheese Backpacking? 

Sticks of string cheese with top one shredded.

String cheese is usually mozzarella, but it’s not “fresh” mozzarella. I take a few pieces of string cheese with me on most trips, including in the summer. Here in the south, it can hit 100 degrees easily, and the cheese has been fine. You can get low-moisture string cheese which lasts longer, in my opinion. 

You can get shelf-stable string cheese sticks that don’t require refrigeration. If you’re worried about cheese in the backcountry, these are a great option. 

I’ve found that string cheese will start to “sweat” after a day. Sweating occurs when the butterfat begins to separate from the solids causing an oily sheen. Since the sticks are individually wrapped, it doesn’t cause a mess.  

I wouldn’t take them out in really hot weather for more than a weekend. If you’re heading out for a 5-day trip in summer, eat the cheese in the first few days of the trip.  

One thing I don’t like is the individual wrapping. As a backpacker, I try to be a steward of Mother Nature, and it’s extra trash. Even though I carry it out, it’s still not environmentally friendly. 

Backpacking trips where I’ve taken cheese:

Can You Take Babybel Cheese Backpacking? 

White net bag with red labeled Babybel cheese inside.

Babybel makes a variety of options, but most contain a version of Edam cheese which is considered semi-hard. This should be fine for backpacking (with the caveat that I can’t tell you for sure if any cheese is safe for backpacking).  

They do make white cheddar Babybels which should also be suitable.  

Similar to string cheese, Babybels are going to sweat after a day or so, especially in hot weather. And pulling those little wax covers off becomes a pain in the rear. Plus, you wind up with little pieces of shrapnel trash. And they taste weird to me, so, I avoid them. But if you like them and don’t mind the mess and trash – give them a try.  

Tips for Backpacking With Cheese 

Bringing the entire block of cheese is your best option. Don’t shred the cheese or cut it into chunks before packing. The increased surface area will speed up aging and increase the chance of bacteria growing.  

Try to pack a wedge or block. If that’s too large, cut off what you’ll need for the entire trip and bring that as one piece.  

You’ll want to try and absorb the sweat as the butterfat separates from the solids. Plastic wrap will speed up the process. Try wrapping your cheese in parchment paper instead. Some people use a bandana, but I like parchment paper.  

A lot of people will tell you to avoid plastic altogether and put your parchment wrapped cheese in a Tupperware or paper bag. I’ve even seen advice to pack a freezer pack with it. Umm, I’m backpacking. I’m not bringing a Tupperware and no way am I putting cheese that can soak all over my gear in a paper bag. Not happening. I wrap it in parchment paper and stick that in a Ziploc bag but don’t remove the extra air.  

It still may sweat a bit, but I just wipe it down. Be aware that sweating means the cheese is starting to go. On a longer trip, if it begins to sweat, keep an eye on it and try to eat it the next day or so. 

Put your cheese in your pack away from direct sunlight and heat. This means you should try to bury it deep and away from where your pack sits against your back.  

Unlike at home where you can cut the mold off cheese and save the rest, if you see mold outdoors, don’t eat the cheese. Unrefrigerated, the micro-organisms are going to multiply faster and you risk getting sick. 

How Long Can You Keep Cheese When Backpacking? 

Chunk of white cheddar cheese on white cutting board with bread and small tomatoes.

It depends on the type of cheese you bring and the weather. Harder cheeses will last longer. I’ve never taken cheese beyond 5 days, but other backpackers have stated they’ve done 8-day trips with cheese.  

For longer trips, I’d recommend heading to the store and finding the hardest cheese they have (that you’re willing to eat). Buy a small wedge of it, and pack that. Keep the rind on, it will help it last longer.  

Inspect your cheese before eating it each time. Look for sweating, discoloration, separation, and bad odor. If anything seems off, don’t eat it.  

Taking Cheese Backpacking – Wrap Up 

Cheese lovers unite because cheese is great for backpackers. Delicious and nutritious, cheese has it all. Make sure you choose a hard or semi-hard cheese and store it properly.  

And keep an eye on generating trash. Anytime you can cut back on the trash you’re creating, it’s a good thing.  

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