How to Make Your Food Bear Safe when Camping

If you're camping in bear country, take appropriate precautions to keep your campsite as unattractive to bears as possible. A key element of cooking here is to keep your food out of the reach of bears, whether you are cooking, eating, snacking, performing other camping duties or sleeping.


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    Put the food away in a suitable shelter or container. This is the simplest method, provided that the place in which you put your food is secure and bear-proof. Examples of food storage methods that prevent bear access include placing your food:
    • In metal food lockers. Some campgrounds provide metal food lockers. Use them. If they are full, ask neighboring campers if they can share some space.
    • In a cabin. Some campgrounds provide cabins with shelves or food lockers and a locked front door. Place all food in here and make sure that the door is firmly closed. Label food if in a shared area.
    • In a bear-resistant canister. Note that some parks now require the use of bear resistant food containers. If you hike often, a canister can be a worthwhile purchase. They can also often be rented on popular hiking routes if you don't want to buy your own. Place all food into the canister and close completely. Locate your sleeping area away from your cooking and bear canister area, ideally at least 100 yards.
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    Create a bear hang. If you do not have access to either a shelter or container, a bear hang is the best option in many cases, although be aware that the thinking has changed in many parks to favor bear-resistant canisters because bears have worked out the trick behind bear hangs in many places. If it is still okay to use a bear hang in the area you are camping in, you can make it by:
    • Selecting a suitable spot between two trees, at least 100 yards (91 meters) from your tent. Do not hang it over berry patches, obvious bear trails etc.
    • Stretching a rope between two trees that are not too close together. To get the rope up high enough, attach a small rock or other weight at one end to provide the momentum to throw it upwards. The bear hang should be at least 12 feet high (4 meters) and 4 feet (1.4 meters) away from each tree.
    • Attaching a sealed sack to the middle of the rope.
    • Pulling the rope up and tying it securely to the other tree.
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    Handle food with care. For the best bear-deterring actions, obey this list of don'ts:
    • Cook at least 100 yards (91 meters) from your tent.
    • Change clothes after cooking and keep those clothes elsewhere from your sleeping area.
    • Don't ever leave food unattended, not even for moment to go to the stream to get water. Make sure it is guarded by others at the campsite or is put away.
    • Don't ever take food into the tent. This is crucial or a bear may be tempted to rip open the tent to forage. Check children's backpacks, pockets and other containers to make sure no candy or cookies have been sneaked in or simply forgotten about. It is very easy to overlook strongly scented candies, chewing gum and chocolates without realizing.
    • Don't eat or cook in your tent.
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    Avoid cooking strong smelling foods. Foods with strong odors will be very attractive to bears. Bacon is a well-known bear attractant. Probably whatever food makes you drool at the smell of it is an indicator that it'll attract bears. Be careful in the food choices that you make, especially where heating intensifies the smell.
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    Dispose of all food scraps, food particles, leftovers and containers properly.
    • Use bear-proof trash cans.
    • Wash plates, cookware and utensils at least 100 yards away from the camp and preferably capture all food pieces and dispose of them in the bear-proof trash cans.
    • Leave a clean campsite. Do not leave uneaten food, food scraps, garbage or empty cans etc. on the campsite. Leave it as clean, if not cleaner, as you found it.


  • When hiking, do not forget to take precautions. Do not leave any food scraps lying about. This will only attract bears and probably lure them onto the hiking trail to menace other hikers by teaching them of the potential for food from lazy hikers.
  • As with the campsite, do not ever leave a backpack unattended! In many areas, bears now associate backpacks with food and if they see an unattended backpack, they may be tempted to investigate. Avoid encouraging them by keeping your pack with you at all times.
  • All of these rules apply equally to any pet food. Don't leave dog food about - that is asking for trouble. And don't feed the birds. It may be tempting but any food attracts bears - seeds, nuts, dried fruit etc.
  • Place toiletries (toothpaste, deodorant, etc.) with the food also, even duct tape - the scent in such products attracts bears and they consider these potential food sources.
  • To reduce the potential for property damage from bears to non-food/non-cosmetics containing items, it is recommended that when you leave a fully set-up campsite to permit easy access by leaving items open; for example, leave tent flaps tied open to allow curious bears a chance to stick a head in, and leave open bags and other containers. Bears are naturally curious and if they wander into your campsite, giving them the opportunity to check unimpeded may keep your camping gear in one piece.
  • Don't leave trash around as this is attractive to scavenging wild animals.


  • Do not leave ice chests or coolers out. Bears know what ice chests and coolers are for and bite or claw them open with great ease. They are attractants, not deterrents.
  • Be aware that in some parks, bears have learned to smash car windows to access food. Always keep food out of sight and keep all windows rolled up. Ask park authorities for any other measures that may be necessary.
  • Black bears that have started eating at your campsite may be harder to chase away. (See Camping With Bears for further information on this aspect.)
  • Never feed a bear. Do not throw food at it to lure it closer for photos or any other reason. A fed bear is a dead bear because food-conditioned bears are frequently aggressive and lose their natural fear of humans.
  • The car is a last resort. Make sure to lock the doors and do not have any food in sight. Most likely if the bear is hungry enough it will just break your windows and tear off your door to get to the food (especially sweets) in your car, regardless of whether or not he can see it he will be able t smell it. also make sure to clean out baby car seats of any sweet smelling goodies babies usually drop in them as bears can and will break into a car just because it smells like there could be something good to eat in there. (This happened to me and my friends once when camping.) But if he isn't looking for food it shouldn't be a problem.
  • Do not be complacent. Bears may wander into camp any time of the day or night, so never leave food unattended for a moment. Always think storage first.

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Categories: Animal and Insect Safety | Outdoor Cooking