Tips for Camping in Bear Country

Grow­ing up in Iowa was great. The only wildlife to wor­ry about while camp­ing was the occa­sion­al dump­ster div­ing rac­coon and ugly look­ing opos­sum. That’s just not the case in bear coun­try. From the Red­woods of Big Sur to the Blue Ridge of the Appalachi­ans, there’s more to know about shar­ing a camp­site with poten­tial­ly grouchy neigh­bors. And here for you today are some of those things to keep in mind.

Camping in Bear Country

Keep Food Out of the Campsite
In fact, keep things that your human taste buds would­n’t con­sid­er to be food, but still have fra­grant odor, away from your camp­site (bug-spray, per­fume, tooth-paste, etc.). The best way to avoid a bear is to not invite them. You have your own space (your tiny camp­site), and they have theirs (the rest of the for­est). To effec­tive­ly keep the scents out of your camp­site fol­low the advice below.

Use Bear Bags
The best thing you can do to block bear-attract­ing smells is keep all of your “smell-ables” (any­thing with a scent), in one des­ig­nat­ed bag in your back­pack. This effec­tive­ly becomes your “bear-bag” and makes every­thing easy to trans­port, and more impor­tant­ly, when done right, ensures you’re not leav­ing that one fate­ful Snick­ers bar tucked away in your sleep­ing bag.

Sep­a­rate Cook Site
Cook site selec­tion and sep­a­ra­tion is key. You know how a warm meal cook­ing smells so deli­cious after a day of back­pack­ing? That’s how it always smells to a bear. No sense in set­ting up stove where you sleep. Instead find a nice cook­ing area approx­i­mate­ly 300 feet away and prefer­ably down­wind from where you sleep. This not only keeps the smells away from the camp­site, but sets you up nice­ly to throw your bear hang.

Separate Cook Site

Use a Bear Hang
Depend­ing on the area, you’ll need to find a way to store your food overnight some­where away from your camp­site. One of the best ways to pre­vent Yogi Bear from slash­ing into your sala­mi is by throw­ing your food into a tree. Find a suit­able branch (at least 15 feet above the ground), and throw your rope. Use a pul­ley sys­tem to make life eas­i­er and make sure you hang it a fair dis­tance from the trunk of the tree (bears are great tree climbers).

Be Loud
And final­ly, with­in mod­er­ate mea­sures, a good way to keep Black Bears at bay is to be loud. And if you’re with a group of chil­dren, chances are there won’t be a Black Bear with­in a 3‑mile radius. Black Bears (and I repeat, Black Bears) are a nor­mal­ly skid­dish ani­mal. So unless you back it into a cor­ner or sep­a­rate it from its cubs (I don’t rec­om­mend doing this), then it will most like­ly run away at any noise you make. You don’t need to blow your whis­tle with every step you take, but if you ever feel uneasy with your silent sur­round­ings, sim­ply play a favorite game of mine loose­ly enti­tled “Hey Bear.” All you need to do is cup your hands, lean your head back, and shout “HEY BEAR!” as loud­ly as you can.