Wondering what the best way is to store food when camping in bear country? Every hiker and camper needs to know the basics of securing their food and other fragrant items that can attract bears and other wild animals.
With their super keen sense of smell, bears are attracted to pretty much everything that smells interesting. Things that smell interesting to bears include obvious food items, toothpaste, soap, lotions, and bug sprays (especially if they contain citronella).
The good news is that there are quite a few easy ways to ensure your campsite isn’t like a lamp is to a moth. The most obvious method is keeping your camp clean and hanging your food and trash out of reach when you’re not using it.
But what else can you do? Keep reading to get the scoop on the tips and tricks we’ve used over the years!
Start by packing with bear safety in mind
If you’re going camping in bear country, there are some essentials you MUST pack in order to keep bear paws off your supplies. These include:
Strong enough to ward off bears, this spray is also powerful enough to disable you if you don’t know how to use it. It’s like pepper spray in steroids, so for obvious reasons, it should only be used when bears come knocking on your tent door.
Some campsites provide storage boxes to campers, so enquire with the park you’re visiting before your trip. You also want to make sure that your storage box is approved by the park if you’re using your own box.
If you’re camping in bear country, burying your biodegradable food products definitely isn’t an option. Bears can smell it and WILL come after it. Store the foods you plan on cooking in a bear canister or bag and once you’re done, store your garbage in airtight bags so bears won’t smell it.
Don’t wear clothes that you cooked in for a prolonged time as you really don’t want a bear thinking you are the food that you cooked!
It is best to remove any clothes you cooked in as soon as possible after you’ve cooked a meal. Once you have taken them off, put your clothes in an airtight bag to keep the smell contained and put on some fresh clothes.
How to set up your camp
To reduce the chances of your campsite being raided by a bear, set your site up far away from all things bear-related. We know those berry bushes look like they’d make the perfect backdrop for your camping snapshots, but it’s just not worth the risk. Bears are berry-loving omnivores, so pitching your tent near a berry bush is basically an extension to a bear’s grocery store.
The “man versus wild” routine is for television, so please don’t set up camp in the middle of the woods in an unmarked spot. Let common sense guide you here. Stay close to others and use an established campsite when camping in bear country.
Ideally, your campsite needs to be set up in a way that keeps certain activities separate. You’ll be sleeping in one area, cooking in another and storing your food in the third area of your campsite. Each of these areas should be about 100 yards from the other.
Keeping your food stored away from your tent is common good practice, but it is also important to keep your cooking quarters separate from the space you use to store your food. Why? Because any smells that bears might pick up from one of these two areas won’t lead them to where you’re sleeping.
Something worth mentioning (although it’s one of the golden rules of camping in bear country) is to never, EVER take food into your tent. If you’re into late-night snacking, your tent isn’t the place to do it, unless you want to turn your tent into a hotspot for bears.
Food storage requirements
There isn’t a universal set of rules for storing your foods because the requirements might vary from one park to the other. Some national parks require campers to store their food in lockers or bear canisters while others are okay with the use of bear bags.
That being said, let’s look at some basic pointers to help you store your food in the safest way possible.
Choose foods that are compressible, high-calorie, compact, and don’t have strong smells. Rice, tortillas, pasta, nuts, jerky, nut butter, and protein bars work best for camping in bear country.
You can also minimize the risk of attracting bears to your campsite by choosing not to cook. In case you’re looking for some inspiration, we’ve been there and done it all, and we’ve perfected five great no-cook meals ideal for camping in bear country!
?Remove packaging and repack your foods before heading off on your adventure. This will help reduce garbage and optimize your packing space.
Unpack and secure your food as soon as you arrive at your campsite.
Bear-resistant containers are great, but they only work if they’re closed and locked. Keep your food containers closed and locked whenever you’re not physically taking something out of them.
Don’t add any handles or ropes to your containers. These modifications allow bears to carry your coHow to Store Food When Camping in Bear Country
Bear bag vs canister
National parks like Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton and Yellowstone require campers to use bear canisters, so again, it’s pretty important to check in with the park you plan on visiting to learn more about their requirements.
Bear canisters are portable food lockers that fit into your backpack. In general, bears can’t open bear canisters. But there’s also a downside: they’re rather heavy, which is why many campers choose to use lightweight bear bags instead.
Bear bags are much lighter than canisters, but in some areas, the bears have grown way too smart, and storing your food in a bag is almost a guaranteed way to lose it to a bear.
The best way to establish whether you need to use a bag or a canister is to check in with the local rangers. They know all about how the bears in their area behave and what tactics work best for food storage.
Hanging a bear bag
A bear bag is a system of cords, bags, and sometimes carabiners and pulleys that’s used to suspend food in a tree.
They’re supposed to keep food safe from black bears, rodents, and grizzly bears. This option doesn’t take much space in your pack, but it also doesn’t offer a moonlight stroll experience as far as setup is concerned.
If there aren’t any tall trees around your campsite, a bear bag isn’t an option. You’ll also need skill and prior experience to successfully hang the bag. A bear bag might be a more lightweight option, but it’s not the most effective as some bears know how to get the bag down and steal your food supplies.
In fact, these days many parks insist on a canister or on specific ways of hanging your bear bag if it is allowed at all.
What else to store away
The golden rule for camping in bear country is to NEVER allow bears to get their paws on your food, garbage, or any other attractants. Once they learn to obtain human foods, bears become bolder and more aggressive in their attempts to scavenge from campgrounds.
Bears are attracted to all kinds of human and pet food. They’ll also browse through your trash, cooking utensils, and oils and the fuel you use for your stoves and lanterns.
Other attractants include unopened canned beverages, cosmetic products, insect repellents, lotions, and even toothpaste. Depending on where you’re camping and what the regulations are, all these items have to be stored away in bear-resistant food canisters or bear bags.
Some other snippets of common knowledge for campsite safety in bear country include:
- Don’t go to bed with the same clothes you wore when you cooked dinner.
- Always keep your flashlight and bear spray with you when retreating to your tent at night.
- The woods aren’t the ideal destination for cooking aromatic foods like fish or bacon.
- Never, EVER place any kind of food inside your tent.
- Your dog is more susceptible to a bear attack than you are, so if you have to take your furry friend camping with you, always keep them on a leash and close by. Your dog might not be your food, but he could be a quick snack for forest-dwelling predators.
By now, you should understand the basics of how to safely store food when camping in bear country. Your efforts for keeping your food (and yourself) of a bear’s dinner menu start as soon as you start packing for your trip.
Some parks require campers to use bear canisters while others are still okay with the use of bear bags, even though they’re not as effective as a canister. Regardless of which food storage method you’re using, it’s important to store the right stuff in the right way.
Bears are attracted to more than just human food, which means that everything you take with you must be stored away securely when not in use. Camping out means going back to basics, and that’s exactly what you should be doing with your food supplies: keep them as basic (and non-aromatic) as possible.
Matt Green, is an avid hiker and lover of the great outdoors. He is always planning his next big trip or hitting the trails for a solo hike.
He’s traveled extensively to many remote regions and has plenty of experience exploring various terrains, and stories to tell.