How to camp in bear country

A food chain demotion does not always make for a comfortable camping experience.

Face it, bears are big, strong, fast and wild creatures. And they live in the woods, where people typically do the majority of their backpacking.

Have no fear. With a little preparation and know-how, you can camp (somewhat) comfortably in bear country. Read on for a few tips.

Tip 1: Buy a bear canister.

You’ll spend more time playing camp food Tetris with your bear canister than actually using it on the trail. Sure, these things are kind of a pain in the butt to organize and load in your pack, but they’re designed to keep bears out of your food stash.

A bear might investigate your canister by stomping on it, nudging it it off a cliff, juggling it, or gnawing it like a chew toy. He might even use it as an ottomon. Who knows with bears sometimes.

Try as he might, he won’t even come close to cracking the seal. Bad for him. Good for you.

Tip 2: Smelly stuff is a no-no.

All your smelly stuff needs to go in the bear canister before you turn in for the night. Yeah, the already-brimming-with-food canister. I told you they’re a pain in the butt sometimes. So good luck with that.

Sunscreen, chap stick, hand sanitizer, scented condoms—these items need to go in the canister. Be vigilant. Double check your campsite for the not-so-obvious.

Bears have completely destroyed tents and cars to slurp down a tube of SPF 30. Weirdos, those bears.

Tip 3: Don’t cook anywhere near your campsite.

Because if you do, Mr. Bear will be mad you didn’t invite him to the diner party. And you don’t want Mr. Bear mad and feeling left out.

My suggestion: Cook somewhere along the trail, then continue hiking a ways until you reach your campsite. It’s certainly not the most convenient option, but at least your tent won’t smell like bacon. Bears love bacon.

If you do set up camp and then cook, be sure to do so downwind a few hundred yards. Bears have an uncanny sense of smell. They can smell those tasty camp enchiladas you’re cooking up. Bears love enchiladas, too.

Tip 4: Strip.

Get naked. Well, at least take off those smelly clothes once you’re done cooking. Put on your jammies and break out those s’mores. Which will go right back into the bear canister post-s’more session.

I don’t think bears are interested in crazy naked people dancing and chanting around the fire. Something to consider.

Tip 5: Scared of the dark? Wear earplugs.

Thank my wife for this one. She’s not so much scared of the dark as she is slightly worried about being dragged out of her sleeping bag at 3 in the morning by a bear with a tube of sunscreen hanging from his tooth.

She doesn’t hear a thing all night. I don’t wear earplugs and I hear pretty much everything. I’ve freaked myself out once or twice, too. She’s smarter than me. By a lot.

Tip 6: Chill out!

Sleeping in what basically amounts to a bear’s guesthouse can be an unnerving experience. Relax. Bear attacks are relatively rare, especially if you’re aware of your surroundings.

Bottom line: Don’t be a slob. Don’t smell like bacon.

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8 comments

  1. It’s funny how when my friends and I used to camp back in the day, we never though of bears as a problem. But as cities grow I guess nature wants to have a say huh lol! Great tips 🙂

    1. We didn’t have bears where I grew up. Just deer. And beavers. And raccoons. And turkeys. All very deadly creatures, you know.

      1. Oh, they’re not so bad. They’re like little bears. Nasty, small, downright vicious bears.

  2. Good advice about the bears! My older bro owned a couple 10-acre tracts of land near the Ozark Mountains and it was literally the ‘wildernes’ (one of these days I will see if I can get him to e-mail me a copy of this pic of this rattlesnake that was wound around his gate! but that’s another story) My bro is ususally very vigilant about safety and having a back-up plan etc…but he left a couple of steaks in the middle of the camp (raw, bloody steaks!) in an ice chest….him and his girlfriend came back from a hike and had this bear (black bear I guess) come barging into their camp! They ran and locked themselves in his jeep! The bear throttled the ice chest! They said it literally tore the lid of the hinges to get to this meat! After it ate ALL the food in the ice chest they said it turned and sauntered off….

    1. “Hey,thanks for the bloody steaks guys.” What a story! I’m sure your brother is even more vigilant these days.

  3. lmao over here:D Great advice. Please tell me you’ve seen that documentary with Timothy “eco-warrior” Treadwell? “Grizzly Man”…. Though death of any kind is no small matter, we’re not huge fans of his…well I could care less really, but my bf hates the guy. Sometimes I put it in our Netflix queue just to see if he’s paying attention;) HAHAHAHA

    1. Treadwell was something else, that’s for sure. He took way too many unnecessary risks, and as you know, the results were not too pretty for him. All the locals interviewed in the documentary predicted his eventual fate, too.

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