Food Safety to Help Avoid Bears in the Wilderness

If you plan on venturing into the wilderness on a camping or hiking trip, you need to be prepared to deal with potentially dangerous wildlife. Bears in particular need to be respected and avoided. One of the easiest ways to avoid bears is to be careful with storing and preparing food.

Choosing the Safest Camping Food

Strong smelling food like tuna or garlic can attract bears easiest. When you choose which foods to pack, try to avoid foods that have strong odors. Canned or dried food is a much better choice. Not only do these types of food last longer, but they give off fewer odors too. Individual packaged food is better than larger packages that have to be manually resealed.

Safely Storing Your Camping Food

One mistake many campers make is not taking adequate precautions for storing food. All too often food is stored either in the same tent you sleep in or in a nearby cooler. This can be a very bad idea. You are essentially drawing the bears right to wear you are vulnerably sleeping.

Your food should be stored a good distance away from your tent (at least 100 meters). To prevent food odors from blowing through your campsite, your food storage location should also be downwind from your campsite. When picking a location to store food, think of how close to your campsite you would be comfortable having bears. Obviously that is not very close at all.

For actual food storage, you have a few choices. There are bear proof containers available in a variety of sizes. These bear proof storage lockers make it nearly impossible for bears to get at your food. It might not be practical to carry one of these durable containers to camp though.

The more traditional method for camping food storage is to hang your food up in a tree in an airtight bag. Since bears do have some tree climbing capabilities, it is best to hang the food at least 5 meters above ground and at least 4 feet away from the trunk of the tree. A bear could easily reach a bag if it is too low or too close to the trunk of the tree. This is not the most secure method because using too small a branch makes it possible for a bear to break the branch and using too large a branch makes it possible for a bear to climb out to your bag. Bears can also chew through ropes holding bags up in trees. So if you plan on hanging your food, counterbalance the rope with a second bag. Then use a long stick to retrieve tour bags afterwards. Or you can suspend the food bag between two trees. Some camps have existing ropes or poles setup to use instead of hanging food from branches.

As a last resort, you could also store your food in the trunk of your vehicle. This should be avoided though, as vehicles are not airtight and odors could leak out. This could lead to a bear scratching up your vehicle to get at your food. Bears with previous human contact may recognize coolers or other food containers. So don’t just put food easily in sight in the front seat of your vehicle.

As your garbage may also have food odors, it is recommended that you also safely store your garbage with your food supply. Other fragrant items such as soap, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant and perfume should be stored with food too. If any of your clothes smell like food, be on the safe side and store these garments with your food. Ensure that no extra snacks are still in your daypack when you go to sleep. Tampons, napkins and toilet paper can also lure bears if not stored properly.

Safely Cooking Food While Camping

Another mistake campers make is to cook food in the middle of the campsite. This will leave traces of food odors throughout your camping area. Assume that bears will come investigate your cooking area and position it away from your tent with your food supply.

While you are cooking, try to keep the area well ventilated. If you are inside a tent, open the flap to air out some of the odors. You don’t want these areas still strongly smelling like food when you go to sleep. Do not cook in the tent you plan on sleeping in! Covering any frying food prevents excess odors too. When you are done frying food, completely burn any excess grease and oil.

Many people like to go fishing while they camp. If you are one of these people, don’t clean your fish near your camp. Ideally, you would gut the fish in the middle of a lake where a bear would not smell the remains. Burying fish remains nearby is a bad idea.

Another tip for camp cooking is to avoid cooking too much food. Don’t cook more than you can eat as leftovers smell more than packaged food.

Cleaning Up To Prevent Bears

Keeping your campsite clean of garbage and food scraps will help keep bears away. Immediately after cooking and eating, you should thoroughly clean all your dishes. Strain the pieces of food from your dishwater and store that with the rest of your garbage and food. To dispose of the dishwater, dig a shallow pit. Then poor in the dishwater and cover it with ashes or disinfectant. This will stop odors and decomposition.

While some people do not recommend burning any garbage while camping, it may be a good idea for any food scraps and food wrappers. It is better to burn these items leaving a temporary odor rather than keeping the items emitting bear attracting odors.

Always pack out what you pack in. Leaving any garbage behind can turn the campsite into a regular bear hang out.

Conclusion

Be aware of the necessary food storage and cooking precautions while camping. Do everything you can to keep food odors away from your camp. Taking these precautions is the easiest way to prevent a bear encounter.