Food and other scents around the tent

1:52 p.m. on May 26, 2010 (EDT)
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Hi all, got a question regarding scented items near the tent. My food will be hung in a tree at least 100 yards from the tent, that goes without saying. I assume that I should also hang any other scented items such as bug spray, sun block, etc.? What about snacks? Obviously no food inside the tent, that's a no brainer. But what about eating snacks around the campfire? Or are the bears nose sensitive enough that even the slightest trace would bring them into the back country site? And last question, what about clothes? Do you guys have separate eating and sleeping clothes? I usually bring some pajama shorts for the tent, but I'll often use my fleece (the same one I eat in) as a makeshift pillow. Is this a bad idea? Just wondering where the line is between being anal and being safe


9:33 p.m. on May 26, 2010 (EDT)
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Ummm......... How can I say this?

I mean in a delicate fashion?

Well, okay........... Just do not "fool around" I have heard that that will attract bears for miles! Even bears that are up wind!

Just kidding you........ I have never thought or worried about it much unless in bear country.

9:57 p.m. on May 26, 2010 (EDT)
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All food and scented items should be kept in a bear canister/bag. Alot of people have seperate cooking and sleeping clothes. I stress the word cooking not so much eating. Just try not to do things like whipe your mouth/hands on your pants etc. Just make a reasonable effort to control food scent and you will be fine. If I am in a heavily populated bear area I will hang my cooking clothes also. If in an area that had a very sparse population I will just keep them in vestibule/pack. If your gonna fry bacon or something then hang your clothes =P. I usually keep a bag of trail mix out when sitting by the camp fire. But then put it in the canister before bed.

Just be aware of what your doing when in bear country, don't have to be anal, just dont be careless with your food. Any measures you take will help reduce the chance of an encounter.

10:22 p.m. on May 26, 2010 (EDT)
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One guideline used at Philmont Scout Ranch, an area that has a dense bear population, is to set up your camp according to the "Bear-muda Triangle". The corners of the triangle are 100+ feet apart, and are the food storage area (bear canisters or lockers in problem bear areas - talk to the rangers!, or the bear bag hanging area in safer areas), the cooking area (where you make your S'Mores over the campfire as well as whipping up that gourmet dinner), and the sump (where you do the dishwashing, including straining the waste water into a hole in the ground to collect food particles - the particles being placed in plastic bags and stored properly at the food storage area). The sleeping area is outside the Bear-muda Triangle, with tents spaced far enough apart that curious critters (raccoons as well as bears) won't trip over the guy lines. Of course, in line with LNT principles, these areas, as well as your sleeping area, will be 100 feet or more from water (streams or lakes) and trails.

As for the clothing used in cooking, that depends on what you are cooking. If it is smelly stuff that you got on your clothes, then in problem bear country, store it with your food and all other smellables (bears will go after toothpaste, deodorant, and anything else with a sweet, meat-like, or otherwise food-like smell). I have also seen bears in some areas go after SunShowers, apparently thinking they were hydration bladders with a drink mix in them.

Personally, I have never had a problem with bears in over 6 decades in the outdoors, including Yosemite PhD Bear Country, though people within 50 feet have lost all their food to a bear (or a pack or raccoons in a couple cases).

12:21 p.m. on May 27, 2010 (EDT)
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I agree with Bill, I keep my food and gray-water scraps and any food soiled clothes at a min of 100 + feet and up a tree I will put my clothes in a plastic bag I carry also, this whole mess is put into a light weight trap secured with a clover hitch and a carbineer clip and hung over a branch about 20 to 30 feet off the ground 10 to 20 feet away from the tree trunk and away from slopes that would bring the cache into easy reach from the hill sense going to all that trouble to just give it to them for a stretch and a reach. I only had 1 encounter in Yellowstone in the back country with a big ole Brown Bear he spent about 30 to 45 min trying to figure out how to get to the pack in the tree got tired of trying and mosey off I saw him later that day as I was trout fishing so I left him a free meal about a mile downstream where I cleaned my fish then walked back up to camp through the water never saw Big Brown and dumb the rest of the trip but once was good enough for me oh as for snack and such never in or near the tent, only by the fire and small non messy things, if camping with children when you give them there night hug frisk them down for hidden loot better safe than sorry, and if they spill S-mores on them change them that goes for you also, I always sleep in my Moose lounge pants and t-shirt I keep them rolled into the bag my other clothes I hang out to air out over night unless it is raining, (note) I like to hang them by the fire down wind to catch the smoke I read somewhere I do not remember where that the smoke will help cleanse the body order and remove the oils from the clothing and I believe it helps reduce the amount of No-See-Ums gnats and all manner of little nasty’s that swam you on the trail RR

1:17 p.m. on July 5, 2010 (EDT)
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I'm pretty anal about these things. I always make a point of setting up my tent before touching any food. And when I get up in the morning to break camp, I take down my tent before eating breakfast to avoid the chance I'd have food smell on my hands before touching my tent to take it down.

I try really hard to avoid standing in in the steam from any food I'm cooking. If I think I may have gotten some food smell on my clothes I don't bring them near my tent. And I never, ever, under any circumstances, bring even the slightest scrap of food anywhere near my tent.

Even if nothing ever happens, just the peace of mind knowing "there's nothing in here that is likely to attract a bear" helps me get a good night's sleep and is worth the painstaking effort to avoid it.

I want to echo The OGBO's comment that "I've never had a problem with bears", but I'm afraid to make such a claim, because if I do, I'm sure to have a problem on my very next trip (and my experience is minuscule in comparison to his anyway)...

All this having been said, I remember on the very first night camping out on my own, when I was 16 ... in Pinkham Notch in the White Mountains of New Hampshire ... I had the notion that it would be a good idea to store all my food (including some fresh peaches) in my tent (a canvas pup tent :)). I left my campsite for a bit and when I came back there was a nice hole in the side and the peaches were gone :). I'm guessing it was a raccoon, there were lots of them around there... fortunately, bears weren't a concern there like they are out here in the Sierra and elsewhere, but there were still plenty of other hungry critters in the woods.

10:29 p.m. on July 5, 2010 (EDT)
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I would suggest that, if you are really concerned about bears, check into the light electric fences that are now sold by UDAP and some other firms.

Here, in BC, where not merely Black Bears, but, Grizzlies are very numerous, rapidly increasing in numbers and attacks are increasing at a rate I would havre scoffed at 30 years ago, many professionals storing foods and game meat in remote camps are using these and finding them effective.

I intend to get one or two, just tied up right now with family issues, but, these plus ultralight noise alarms on a tripwire of fishing line are about as good a deterent as can be found. People smell, bears are snoopy and smells carry a long way on air, maybe try a fence.

11:48 a.m. on July 6, 2010 (EDT)
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I should make one modification to my statement about never having had a problem with bears. As far as personal experience to date, this is correct. But, as I have posted a few times here on Trailspace, I have had the campsite within 50 feet raided a few times, trash containers in car campgrounds broken into, the incident back in 1965 I described involving my friend Jim B ("the Bird") having a box of donuts stolen from under his head, and other incidents involving other people nearby.

Dewey's comment above scares me, frankly, as do the increasing number of incidents in the Truckee-North Tahoe area, an area I frequent in my service projects at the Sierra Club's Clair Tappaan Lodge and the Sierra Club hut system in that area. These involve break-ins to cabins in some cases, where the bears will look through cabin windows until the spot the kitchen area, then break through the door nearest. Bears are really smart, and they apparently pass on information (at least from mother to cub, maybe from one bear to another). As they get more habituated to humans, I suspect it may be just a matter of time. I used to use bear bagging, as well as separating cooking/eating/cleaning areas from sleeping areas, until bears in most of the Sierra learned to get even sophisticated bagging techniques. I even have an aircraft cable that the bears can't chew through, but understand that they have learned ways to get at the bag. Plus, in some areas, the bears have learned to get into some types of bear cylinders (bears in a number of areas learned how to get into UrSacks quite a while ago).

I used to think that remote areas (see Alicia's article on "backcountry vs frontcountry" in the Articles forum) would be pretty safe from bears with minimal precautions. Apparently this is becoming less true. At least, there are still very few bears predating on humans (despite certain Hollywood movies to the contrary). Do I now have to start carrying an electric fence? How big a battery do I need, or will I need in a few years? Will I have to go to a kw-hr or more of storage in my batteries (this is currently an exageration, of course - sorry about the pun - but who knows?).

Well, maybe in my ancient "elder" years, I will cease going into the backcountry bear habitat before that becomes too much of a problem. I feel sure that if I continue practicing keeping the food in cylinders or permanently emplaced steel bear boxes and protecting the garbage while packing it out, I should be ok. I am not so macho as to believe that my SAK or even my big Bowie knife or machete my father brought back from South America years ago will protect me from a full-grown boar grizzly or polar bear. I may have qualified at the expert level with several different long guns and handguns (including black powder), but have no illusions that I will remain calm, cool, and collected (like my hero, Clint, "the man with no name", always did in the movies), when confronted with one of those giant furry critters (I have had too much experience with critical and disaster conditions to believe that I am the exception to human nature, even though I have been told that I am exceptionally composed in such conditions - hah! I know better! The adage in the Wilderness Medicine courses that your IQ goes to single digits in real disasters is definitely true - you have to train constantly to be able to go on autopilot, and I don't confront angry beasts bigger than I am every day).

Caution is the watchword. "Macho" gets you dead or severely maimed.

12:35 p.m. on July 6, 2010 (EDT)
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Do you guys feel that some of these problems are caused by an increasing bear population (?) trying to share the same land / food source, coupled with more humans in the wilderness?

Is there an increase in the percentage of people not abiding by the guidelines / rules?

I constantly see people in the more popular back country areas cooking right beside their tent or hammock with cooking stoves and associated containers spread around on the ground left out all night.

When I am able to strike up a conversation with them they seem to have the attitude that the rules do not apply to them because they know what they are doing. This is usually the younger crowd, but they know how to read just fine, and the rules are clearly posted at most of the trail heads as well as being on the majority of literature associated with parks & trails.

Too many Yogi bear cartoons maybe? I've been close enough to grown black bears to know I am no match for them, not to mention they do not smell nice.

Sure most times you can shoo them away, but when your asleep and they can gain access to your stuff they are learning how to do just that.

1:36 p.m. on July 6, 2010 (EDT)
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Do you guys feel that some of these problems are caused by an increasing bear population (?) trying to share the same land / food source, coupled with more humans in the wilderness?

Is there an increase in the percentage of people not abiding by the guidelines / rules?

In some areas more bears, in other areas, more people, and both conditions in whatever remains. As far as people following the rules, ever since I was a boy scout I have seen poorly executed efforts to hang food, and people leaving stuff around camp that should be sequestered. It isn’t so much bears are smart as humans are lazy or complacient.

2:16 p.m. on July 6, 2010 (EDT)
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Here in the east I think it is the result of both of those things (increase in # of people and increase in # of bears), but I also think it is a result of being too lenient on problem bears. Almost all of the bears that have killed or attacked people in the Cherokee NF or surrounding areas were problem bears in the GSMNP or other high traffic areas which were relocated in an attempt to de-habituate them. It hasn't worked so well.

I was introduced to one of these "de-habituated" bears in the Nantahala NF in North Carolina while on a group campout with children at Rattler Ford. This bear raided the campground every night, and twice in daylight. The Ranger who came by informed us that it had a radio tag, and had been relocated from Cades Cove to a remote spot the Cherokee NF, but that it had quickly sought out the nearest campgrounds to resume his raiding.

Fortunately, the black bear population is doing more that well in the Cherokee and Nantahala, and has to be managed just to keep their numbers from exceeding the sustainable limit. In light of that fact, in that region, I feel the consequences should be more swift when a bear has become so habituated and agressive.

9:20 p.m. on July 6, 2010 (EDT)
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OGBO: you mentioned bears in some areas have figured out how to open certain kinds of bear canisters. Is my BearVault 500 still safe (assume the worst areas)?

Trouthunter: I share the same concern about preparing meals near my tent. This is one thing that really bothers me about camping in established (roadside) campgrounds. Bears are, I think, just as much of a problem, if not more so, there, than if I were to select my own previously-unused campsite off in the wilderness. Yet in a campground we pretty much have to, in most cases, prepare meals right in the campsite. I know, we need to keep a clean camp. But who knows what kinds of tasty morsels the previous campsite occupants might have spilled? And even if there's nothing new there, the bears may well come looking, attracted by the smell...

I haven't really figured out a way to deal with this, except to try to select sites where I can put my tent as far away from the fireplace/picnic table as possible... and minimize my stays at established campgrounds :).

9:56 a.m. on July 9, 2010 (EDT)
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I have been thinking about this problem and I was wondering, does anyone stop to make their main meal at lunch time, then continue to hike until it's time to set up camp. Maybe have a small snack, cup of tea. And then not have to be concerned about too many smell's around your tent?

3:10 p.m. on July 9, 2010 (EDT)
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That's why I prefer back country camping, I am free to set my camp up as I see fit as long as I'm away from roads, trails, or streams.

Mike Cipriani,

I know a few thru hikers (and have read of others) that stop and eat supper, get back on the trail and hike another mile or so then set up their camp. Not a bad idea I guess, that's puts considerable distance between your cooking & sleeping areas. I guess nothing is 100% though.

12:15 a.m. on July 10, 2010 (EDT)
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Bill S. and Trouthunter pose some interesting questions. What is the fundamental problem? Since bears are intelligent, is it only a matter of time that they become a big problem for people? Should I visit all the places I want to visit ASAP before I'm no longer able to, because of the bear problem?

I recently had my second encounter with an adult black bear on a less-traveled trail in Shenandoah National Park. I was walking along a trail near a creek and heard something in the brush on the other side of the creek. It was an adult black bear. It was tentatively starting to cross the creek. I watched for a couple of seconds and then tried to take a picture (I missed), but I realized I had better try to scare or alert the bear to my presence immediately. I didn't want to risk a charge or otherwise surprising the animal. I loudly said "Hey bear!" a few times, and it walked a few steps up the bank to better hear me and/or which direction I was speaking from (I could see it pointing its ears), but it did not run, unlike my first encounter in Pennsylvania.

When it was up on the opposite bank, I realized this was my exit, so I walked quickly away (not running though) while saying "Hey bear" the whole time. I did look back to make sure I wasn't being followed, and the trail crossed the creek to the "bear side" soon after. I had no means of deterring the bear and no cowboy ideas that I could even if I did have some sort of weapon. So I walked quickly and made lots of noise. I can't say I was "scared" per se, but I sure had a heightened sense of awareness and also a sense that when it came down to it, I was pretty much powerless. I had a ziplock bag with a couple of empty Clif Bar wrappers in it, and I really hoped that it wasn't being attracted by the smell. (Unfortunately, I brought the blueberry flavor! ;-) )

The previous day, a bunch of people and I saw a cub eating vegetation along another trail. It kept its distance but did not fear us at all, pretty much continuing its behavior. I don't know if that's the "official" definition of habituated, but it sure seemed that way to me. What's to stop that bear from walking around the nearby campsite at night trying to scour some food?

It also pisses me off when I see people not following the most basic bear protocols. Obviously it's better than nothing. But, will that be enough to keep bears from learning about humans and how easy it is to get food from us by hook or by crook?

That being said, I've enjoyed my bear encounters in the sense that I'm glad I got to see this wonderful creature. However, I'd like to stay alive and unhurt. I think I'm going to be more assertive about telling people they should be following bear protocol in the future. The night before I scared the bear on the trail in PA, I was the only one hanging food. I'm not surprised that there was a bear hanging around the shelter site.

1:56 p.m. on September 16, 2010 (EDT)
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Hey Everyone,

I guess this is as good as any for my first post here... Used to do a lot of hiking, canoeing and such but a new family, then some health problems kept me out of the woods for a long time. I'm finally getting back into it and looking to ad backpacking/camping into the experience and raise my now 7 year old as much in the outdoors as possible.

Living in the mountainous NorthWestern corner of New Jersey, we actually have a pretty high black bear population and I get more than a few in my yard, much less out hiking. We have a wildlife reservation only a short distance and more often than not run into a bear while hiking there. Just last Saturday we had a brief tense moment, with a young one that seemed to want to test his seniority and did some posturing, but that's another story.

I keep reading about certain areas having some pretty extreme bear protocols and many of the posts here reinforcing that this seems to be an ongoing and worsening problem. I agree, bears are very smart and get habituated very easily, but it's been my observation that they don't have any reason to do otherwise. A problem bear is often tranqed, tagged and relocated, only to do the same thing in the new place or work his way back to human areas that always paid off so well. This doesn't seem at all like de-habituation to me.

If a bear starts to associated human smells, structures, places with food, it has every reason to keep going to them. When it breaks into a cabin or works on a bear container with success and gets food, it gets a reward for this behavior. If it breaks in or, due to increased precautions on our part, isn't successful today, it's just wasted some time but still gets a warm fuzzy feeling when it thinks about the inside of that tent or going to it's favorite campground. Even if it's not successful today..., nothing bad has happened to it...

I think what needs to happen is to take away that warm and fuzzy association with humans and human structures. What if the Park Service started making breaking into a cabin a bad experience... I'm not talking getting tranqed. and relocated. I'm talking about setting up certain random cabins/tents a couple times a month as negative connotation traps. Imagine. Bear sees cabin, bear starts to drool cause cabin means food potential, bear located door closest to kitchen, because he's learned there is a reward in this. Bear breaks in door and is greeted by an earth shattering bang and suddenly can't see straight (think percussion grenade) Bear flips over backwards spewing bowels in every direction and bangs hard into several trees while trying to get the hell out of there with it's ears still ringing and still not being sure which way is up or what the hell just happened... (Holy S@#t, that cabin just attacked me) The next time this bear catches site of a cabin he won't get that warm & fuzzy feeling anymore, he will likely start to tremble, panic and associate that cabin with bad things happening. Imaging the food bag hung from the tree, with that electric fence wire wrapped around it and the capacitor inside next to the Twinkies... Suddenly the sight of a bag/canister hanging from the tree's, the smell of human food, the sight of a tent, begin to invoke a fear response...

For too long we've been taking the tact of... When little johnny won't keep his hands off the desirable object, we just put it on a higher shelf until little Johnny learns to pull a chair over, then we put it on a higher shelf and so on. But when little Johnny has the experience of, Hmmm, the last time I tried to get that, dad was hiding in the closet, came out and kicked the chair out from under me and beat my ass red... He's unlikely to try again. (and no, I don't abuse my son, I'm just a visual explainer)

2:04 p.m. on September 16, 2010 (EDT)
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OGBO: you mentioned bears in some areas have figured out how to open certain kinds of bear canisters. Is my BearVault 500 still safe (assume the worst areas)?

You posted this while I was on Easter Island, and I just noticed this. The 500 is still on the approved list for Yosemite, Sequoia-Kings Canyon, and Inyo NF. The older 200 is not.

2:06 p.m. on September 16, 2010 (EDT)
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I have been thinking about this problem and I was wondering, does anyone stop to make their main meal at lunch time, then continue to hike until it's time to set up camp. Maybe have a small snack, cup of tea. And then not have to be concerned about too many smell's around your tent?


This has been the recommended procedure for a number of years in a lot of areas with bear problems. However, it is still recommended that your evening snack be at least 200 feet from your sleeping site.

2:15 p.m. on September 16, 2010 (EDT)
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What you are suggesting is in fact one of the types of things being tried in the Lake Tahoe area - make encounters with human food unpleasant for the bears. I might note that at the OR Show, there was a company displaying a backpackable electric fence. I didn't have time to look closely at it, and I have to wonder how backpackable it really was.

The problem in the Tahoe area is that there are so many cabins (mostly "summer cabins", so not too sturdily made to block breaking and entering bears) that they are easy targets for the bears. You would have to fortify most of the cabins while setting up the decoys. The expense of this, even at this low point in housing prices, is prohibitive (think $500,000 to $1 million for each one, just to acquire it, not to mention set it up).

9:39 a.m. on September 17, 2010 (EDT)
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Hey Bill,

By cabins, I meant Federal/State campground cabins/shelters, not privately owned properties. Frankly, anyone who can afford over half a million dollars for a Summer only vacation home, can take care of their own problems as far as I'm concerned.

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