Tips for Safe Camping in Bear Country

If you are going camping in bear country, you need to be extra cautious and knowledgeable. Preparation is the key to a safe camping trip and the following suggestions will help.

  • Check out the campsite before you set up. Are there any signs that bears have been visiting this site? Previous campers may have been less vigilant in keeping their site clean, reducing food smells and cleaning up their garbage. The last thing you want to do is set up camp in an area that has become attractive for bears. If there are any signs of bears rummaging through fire pits, you can assume that bears have become attracted to this site. Your best bet, even if you are tired, is to simply move on.

  • Grizzly Bear - Click to learn moreDon't cook near your tent site. To avoid food smells near your tent, you should cook several hundred metres downwind from your campsite. You should also avoid cooking more food than you will eat and be sure to clean your dishes right away. If you must dispose of food waste, be sure to do this well away from the campsite. Don't forget to clean yourself if you feel that you may have gained some food smell as well. A change of clothes is not a bad idea either. 

  • Properly hang your food out of reach of bears. There are many ways to hang your food to keep it save from bears. More and more backcountry campsites are providing hanging poles just for this purpose. Make sure you have at least 15 m (50 ft) of good rope to get your food high enough. If there is no hanging pole, you may use two ropes. Run one rope between two tall trees, and then hang your food from this first rope, leaving it suspended between the two trees. In alpine areas, there may be no tall trees to enable you to hang your food. In this case, you may have to place it in several layers of zip lock bags (to reduce food smells), and simply leave it on the ground several hundred metres from your camp site. 

  • Don't forget, porcupines like to get at your supplies as well, but not your food. They munch anything with salt (read 'sweat') on it. This means your hiking boots and pack straps can make for tasty treats. In areas where porcupines are prevalent, you'll likely want to hang your entire pack out of reach, and keep your boots in the tent.

  • Menstrual Blood. While there is no definitive evidence that bears will seek out women who may be menstruating, it is something to consider if camping in bear country. As a basic precaution, women should wear tampons rather than external pads. 

  • Black BearCheck out the site for terrain attractants. Bears move through their range throughout the season, and knowing a little about their habits can help you choose a better campsite. Avoid placing your tent right beside (or on) any game trails. Also, since bears will use trees as cover when approaching an area, and open site may be safer than a well treed location. If you are in a forested area, try to select a site with a good climbing tree near the tent. 

  • In grizzly country, couples may want to use a four person tent. Since garbage addicted grizzlies have been known to bite at objects brushing up against tent walls just to see whether it is edible, it is nice to have some space between you and the outside of the tent. A large tent may weigh a bit more, but it can give you a bit more peace of mind.

All Material Ward Cameron 2005