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.


How to plan a family camping trip

This kid friendly hike near a campground features a bridge on the way to a fishing pond!

I’m of the opinion that all families should spend more time outdoors together. While this trend of constant digital connectivity is great and all, one of my biggest fears is that people will eventually cease to appreciate the unplugged solitude of nature.

Camping is an easy way to experience the great outdoors as a family. But before you get too excited, know that family camping doesn’t come without its minor challenges (I said minor!).

I’ve heard from numerous parents who are scared to death their kids will get bored (and subsequently really annoying, I would imagine) if they don’t have access to their quiver of digital toys.

Have no fear! It’s been my experience that kids freaking love the woods. Let ’em loose all day, and by the time you’re done roasting marshmallows around the campfire, they’ll want to climb into their comfy sleeping bags and sleep through the night. You hope.

Now we don’t have kids, so all of that is probably easy for me to say. I’d like to hear from the moms and dads out there who have actual camping experience with kids, as opposed to someone who is currently in a Rent-A-Nephew arrangement.

Without further delay, the following suggestions are just a few tips to get you and your family out there.

Choose a location

How rugged do you want to go? There are so many great campsites available, both primitive and developed. Each has its advantages.

Primitive sites are great if you’re looking for true solitude. It will be just you and your family enjoying all that nature has to offer. On the other hand, especially primitive sites generally lack toilets (if you’re lucky, there might be a vault toilet nearby). This could be a problem for some people.

Chances are you’ll be more comfortable in a developed site, where you almost always have access to toilets and (sometimes hot!) running water. The trade off, though, is that you’ll be surrounded by a hundred other people.

Some of you campers out there don’t find this annoying. I get a little irritated with the noise—generators, loud people, lots of cars coming and going. But again, I don’t have kids. Something to think about.

If you search hard enough, you might find a small, primitive feeling developed site with toilets. This would be camping nirvana for a family with kids.


Everyone has different comfort levels. I could throw a sleeping pad and sleeping bag on the ground by the fire and snooze just fine. That’s probably not going to fly with mom, dad, and the kids.

So plan ahead. If you’re sleeping in tents, buy sturdy air mattresses. If you’re a RV type of camper, you already know the drill.

The challenge is to not get too out of hand while maximizing your comfort. I’m always baffled when I see families huddled around a television at a campsite. To me, you have officially defeated the purpose of a quality camping trip.


Plan something, whether it’s hiking, biking, kayaking—anything! The point is to get away from the campsite long enough to see the area.

The beauty of camping is how amazingly cheap entertainment will cost. Last I checked, it was something like $2,000 per head, plus your second born child to enter Disney Land for the day. Not so in the great outdoors. Not even close.

Ideally, you’ll spend most of your time at your campsite early in the morning making breakfast and gearing up for the day ahead, and later on at night around the campfire making dinner and getting ready for bed. If you’re crafty (and I’m not), you could find plenty of fun stuff to do while in camp. I’ll leave that to all you Pinterest types out there.

OK, now you can officially get excited. Start planning!

If you’re a tree hugging, outdoorsy mom or dad, what else do you think we should add to this list of tips?