Bears are really cool animals, and I mean that with all sincerity. They can smell 100x better than us, they’re intelligent enough to use tools, and have deep bonds with other members of their family. Did I mention that they’re cute and fluffy? I mean, what’s not to love about these furry giants?
Oh right, maybe the way they like to wander into your campsite as they’re in search of food. And scare you half to death when you hear their footsteps in the middle of the night while you frantically search for your bear spray. Tired of living in fear of camping in bear country? Then take a look at some of our helpful tips on how to keep bears away from your campsite.
Before we dive into the different methods you can use to keep bears away from your campsite, let’s talk about how you can stay safe around these creatures in general.
1. Remember to make a lot of noise. Bears want to avoid you as much as you want to avoid them, so if they can hear you coming, they’ll generally leave you alone.
2. Leave your dog at home. The last thing you need is your furry friend chasing after a bear and making it more aggressive!
3. Avoid feeding grounds. If you see a dead animal around, steer clear of it and take a different route.
4. If you see a bear, or one is charging you, don’t run. Make yourself look bigger, and speak to it in soothing tones.
5. Always have bear spray handy. Find some that’s inert to practice with, so you know what you’re doing if you need to use the real deal.
For the full guide on Bear Safety, click here!
1. Choose Your Campsite Carefully
As it is with most things, keeping bears out of your campsite starts before you even settle down for the night. This is especially true for dispersed camping, but is still relevant for “real” campgrounds too.
Some locations are more prone to bear sightings than others, and learning how to find the telltale signs of their presence might save you an unwelcome encounter with one. First, start off by looking around for any animal carcasses. If you discover one (or several), you might have more trouble on your hands than just a bear wandering through your camp. Always avoid pitching your tent anywhere near a predator’s food source. Since bears are omnivorous, keep an eye out for any non-meat food options too, such as berry patches.
Second, look for bear indicators like claw marks on trees, paw prints in the ground, or bear scat lying around. Any of these should tell you that you’re in a bear’s territory, and you should probably consider moving to a different location for the night.
2. Store Your Food Properly
If you want to learn how to keep bears away from your campsite, you’ll need to understand how to store your food properly. A skill that most of us already have heard about, the bear hang is a popular way for campers to keep their food out of reach and away from their sleeping quarters. You can accomplish this technique a number of different ways, but all of them include a few key points:
– Put all of your smelly items in a bag (there are bear bags made specifically for this job that you can check out here).
– Attach a rope to the bag – it should be roughly 50 feet long, though longer than that is fine too.
– Toss the bag and rope over a tree branch. The bag should be at least 15 feet off the ground, and 6 feet away from the tree trunk. This ensures that the bear can’t reach your provisions by standing, or climbing up the tree to try and grab it.
While you’ll hear pros and cons about the various ways you can accomplish these steps, do what’s most convenient for you. At the end of the day, as long as your food is safely out of the bear’s reach, and you’re able to hoist it up and get it back down with relative ease, you’re doing a good job.
The Simple Method
This is the easiest way to store your food, and requires the least amount of gear. Start by packing your bear bag, and sealing it tightly. Take your rope, tie one end of it to the bear bag, and toss the bag over a tree branch that fits the recommended dimensions. You should still have the rope in your hands – take it and make a few loops around the tree trunk, tying it off to secure it. Voila, you’ve made a simple bear hang!
We love this method because of how easy it is to perform, and how it requires nothing but a rope and a bag. However, there is a pretty significant downside that makes me hesitant to tell you to use this technique. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, bears are incredibly smart creatures, and they’re good at getting what they want. Since the rope is highly exposed, it’s quite possible that the bear will discover that all it has to do is cut the line to have your food drop into its mouth.
Use this method only if:
1. You lack the gear to do anything else, or…
2. You’re not camping in bear country, but still want to keep your food out of reach. Foxes and other critters will still be more than happy to steal your food.
Short for Pacific Crest Trail, the PCT method is a well loved and effective method for keeping your food out of reach. Unlike the simple method discussed above, there is no rope for the bear to cut through, making it nearly impossible for your belongings to be compromised. I’ll explain how this works in a minute.
For visual learners, follow along with the image below while reading the description of the process:
In terms of gear, all you’ll need is a bear bag, rope, carabiner, and stick (about half a foot long, and an inch thick). Start by tying one end of your rope to the carabiner, and tossing that over the tree branch. Then, clip the carabiner to your bear bag. Now you should have the two ends of the rope in your hands – one with a carabiner and attached bear bag, and the other end free of anything. Take the free end and slide it through the carabiner, like you’re threading a needle. Once you’ve done that, pull on the free end of the rope until the bag is hoisted all the way up to the tree branch.
Take your stick and attach it as high up on the rope as you can reach, using a clove hitch. The stick should be tied horizontally, instead of vertically. After you’ve completed that step, slowly release the rope – the bear bag will be lowered a few feet, and the stick will go up to meet it. When the stick meets the bag, it will get caught on the carabiner, preventing the bag from being lowered any further. Using this method, all of the tension is being placed on the stick and carabiner, meaning that the bear will have no way of getting the food, even if they mess with your rope.
As the most traditional and widely recognized form of food storage, I won’t dive too deep into bear canisters, as they’re pretty simple to use. If you’re not in a position where you can do a bear hang, storing your food inside of a bear canister is the next best option.
A portable, hard sided food locker, these canisters are great at keeping bears out. The biggest downsides, though, are that you’re limited on the amount of space available to store food in, and the containers tend to be fairly heavy (2-3 pounds, typically). Not the greatest option for backpacking!
3. BEARmuda Triangle
Bears want to avoid you too, so the biggest reason why they might disturb you is if they smell something to eat. We just talked about storing your food in a place away from your tent, in a location that bears can’t access, but what about when you’re cooking or eating? The scent of dinner cooking over an open fire spreads far, and bears have an incredible sense of smell.
This is where the BEARmuda triangle comes in…an admittedly cheesy name for a highly useful technique. The concept is simple: all you have to do is think of your sleeping area, cooking area, and food storage area as three points of a triangle. Each of these points has 100 yards (300 feet) between them, which boils down to about 100 big steps from one location to the next. This ensures that if a bear does become attracted to a scent in your camp, they still stay a fair distance away from you and your tent.
4. Change Your Clothes
When you’re cooking, the scent of food gets everywhere. Your clothes are no exception, and in fact, they tend to absorb the smell quite a bit! If you don’t do something about this problem right away, you’re essentially nothing more than a walking menu in the eyes of a bear.
Give yourself a fresh change of clothes when you’re done working with food for the day. And remember, just changing your clothes isn’t enough to keep the bears away…you have to remove them far away from your tent. If you keep your dirty shirts and pants in the tent, you might as well have just left them on! Stuff them in your bear bag or other location far away, and leave them there until you’re ready to move on.
5. Maintain a Clean Campsite
Think about what bears are attracted to. Do you have snacks in your tent or leftovers from dinner lying around outside? Are your utensils dirty? Have a Leave No Trace mindset when it comes to your campsite. Pick up after yourself, and don’t leave empty food bags lying around – stuff you should be doing every time you go camping anyway. Clean your utensils and dishes, and remove any scraps that might have landed on the ground during your meal.
Any obvious food items or strong scents should be taken care of right away, and removed to a location far away from your tent. And when it’s time for you to break camp and head out, take everything with you so that the next person who comes along doesn’t have to worry about bears either!
6. Use Smell to Your Advantage
So far, we’ve just been talking a lot about the types of smells that bears love (namely, your food). But what about smells that they hate? Do such things even exist?
Yes, they do. And you can make use of them.
To start, bears hate the smell of cider vinegar, and frankly, I can’t blame them! The same can be said about ammonia and Lysol as well. To act as a deterrent, consider soaking a trash bag or other object in one of these liquids and place it in one or multiple locations around your camp.
Keeping bears away from your campsite isn’t as difficult as you might have thought. All you have to do is make sure you stay out of their territory, and don’t give them a reason to get close. Keep your food and scented items packed far away from your tent, and out of reach of any creature looking to get a free meal out of you. And always remember to leave no trace, especially when it comes to your food. It will keep you and the bears safe and out of each other’s hair.