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Bear Necessities: The Ultimate Guide to Camping in Bear Country

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Love to camp, but are afraid of bears? Don’t be!

Just because there are bears in the area doesn’t mean you should stay away from the wilderness.

In fact, you can have a safe trip, as long as you know some things about bears and their behavior.

Let’s dive in.

Understand Bear Behavior

Understand Bear Behavior

In order to know how to behave in bear country, you need to understand bear behavior first.

Bears are pretty predictable, so the more you learn about them, the easier you can avoid negative encounters.

Bears are solitary animals. Of course, that’s with the exception of a mama bear with her cubs or a pair during the mating season.

Typically, bears are active during warmer months, around the time the sun sets and rises.

During the mornings and afternoons, they prefer napping, so there’s much less chance to meet them during this time.

Bears aren’t territorial unless they’re defending cubs, their food source, or a potential mate.

So you won’t see them patrolling around and defending their region.

And in areas populated with people, a bear will typically come out at night to avoid encounters.

That is also when active bears in the area will head out to your campground or campsite to search for food.

When And Why Do Bears Attack?

Bears aren’t interested in eating humans, or having any kind of close encounter for that matter.

In reality, most bear attacks are defensive attacks. A bear will charge at a human if it feels threatened or is protecting its cubs or food.

And naturally, most bear attacks happen during warmer months, when these animals are most active.

But that doesn’t mean that bears go wild during summer time.

In fact, there’s roughly 40 bear attacks each year in the whole world, of which only 10 happen in the United States.

What’s not surprising is that most of them happen in Alaska, as that’s the state with the largest bear population.

Still, bear attacks are rather rare, and fatal cases even rarer.

Statistically speaking, only one or two such encounters end with a fatality (luckily).

So, to avoid any type of encounter with a bear, it’s best to go camping during colder months, while bears are still hibernating in their dens.

Just keep in mind that this is the time of the year when cubs are born, so you want to stay away as far as possible from their “homes.”

Camping in Bear Country Safety Tips

Given that bears aren’t “after us,” you can definitely have a safe camping trip in bear country.

But there are a few things you need to make sure of.

Inspect Your Campsite First

The first thing you should do when you arrive at the designated campsite is to inspect it for signs of recent bear activity.

Bear tracks and scats, as well as scratched trees and logs, are clear signs that a bear was there not long ago.

Camping in Bear Country

You might also encounter dead animal carcasses or at least remnants of it.

But keep in mind that bears are omnivores – meaning they will eat both plant and animals.

They’ll gladly feast on a moose or deer, but meat actually makes up no more than 30% of their diet.

The rest consists of roots, grass, berries, fish, insects, larvae and fruit.

For that reason, you also want to avoid places surrounded by berry bushes and lively grasses.

In case there’s a source of fresh water nearby, that’s another place where the bears might actively hunt for food.

Camp Well Away From Any Cover for Bears

In uncertain situations, bears are very cautious.

They prefer traveling along the edges of the wetland, right around the first row of trees and bushes.

That way, they can see the potential danger or prey before it sees them.

Interestingly enough, bears walk in the same tracks as other bears that walked there before them.

As a result, their paws practically get imprinted into the terrain and are visible for a long time.

So there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see the tracks if you’re in an area bears use as transit.

Avoid setting up a camp near a trail and on the edge of a forest or wetland, as this is where bears might be found.

Instead, it’s best to camp in an open area.

And don’t think that camping near a tree is giving you an escape point in case of an encounter:

Black bears are great climbers – probably better than you.

The grizzly bear isn’t that good of a climber, and you may use the tree as a hiding point if you can climb at least 20 feet high.

Sleep in a Tent

Sleep in a Tent

To make one thing perfectly clear – a tent won’t provide you with a safe space away from bears.

But there’s a lower chance of one attacking you if you’re sleeping in a tent, rather than without a shelter over your head.

In other words, a bear is unlikely to charge a tent, especially if not sure what or who might be inside.

After all, they only attack when feeling threatened.

With that being said, you don’t want to sleep with your body touching the walls of the tent.

You never know when a bear might come near to sniff the tent and even try taking a bite.

I’ve seen many campers keeping a knife close at all times, allowing them to rip the tent open and exit quickly.

Of course, the same goes for bear spray, as well as a flashlight to help you see what’s going on.

Keep a Clean Camp

While this should always be the case, it’s even more important to keep your camp clean and tidy when camping in bear country.

By this, I mean keeping your tent and sleeping area separated from where you’re cooking or eating.

Keep a Clean Camp

Ideally, you want at least 100 yards of distance.

But that’s not all. You should make sure to get rid of any food leftover or used packaging after you’re done cooking.

These are all delicious things a bear would feast on.

As for what to do with leftovers, one thing you can do is store them in sealable plastic bags, and then into a bear canister.

In campgrounds, there might be metal boxes designated for this purpose.

When it comes to dishes, you should always clean your pots and plates after you’re done eating.

You don’t want to leave other scented stuff laying around either, including your toothpaste, bug repellent and even sunscreen.

With such a strong sense of smell (2,100 times human smell), bears can catch whiffs at least 3 miles away.

If you’re camping with a dog, never leave a bowl of dog food laying around for too long.

Store Your Food in a Bear-Resistant Food Container

I’m sure you’ve heard of bear-resistant food containers before. These containers have to pass specific requirements to be considered bear-resistant.

This includes being very sturdy, difficult for a bear to open, and made of material that prevents the smell from coming out.

Bears have an insanely strong sense of smell. It’s about 2100 times better than ours, and at least 7 times better than a bloodhound’s.

Now, there are actually a few other options available when it comes to storing food.

Bear Resistant Food Containers

Bear Canister

This is practically a smaller version of a bear container. It is designed in such a way that it makes it impossible for the bear to open.

In many cases, it requires the usage of a coin or a screwdriver to open.

They seal hermetically, so you don’t have to worry about smells coming out.

Bear canisters come in different sizes, but they’re generally suitable for hiking and backpacking.

They can also double as a stool, which is quite practical.

Bear Bag

Bear bags aren’t made of tough materials like canisters and containers.

Instead, they use some type of bulletproof fabric.

Some bear bags might be waterproof, but that’s not always the case. Also, they’re typically not odor-resistant.

Instead, you need an odor-proof plastic bag to put inside the bear bag to prevent smells from coming out.

Tree or Pole-Hang Bag

Back in the day, when there were no bear canisters available, campers would hang their stuff on the tree, high up there where the bear can’t reach it.

And that’s the method that still works. In fact, you should do that with your bear bags as well. You can’t be too safe.

Keep in mind that you need about 35 feet of rope to tie a bag up there.

It should be at least 10 feet off the ground and about 4 feet away from the tree trunk.

That way, the bear can’t reach it even if it climbs the tree.

Metal Food Locker

These are commonly found in parks and campsites throughout the bear country.

They’re exactly what the name says they are – a metal storage box that you can keep your food inside.

Typically made of steel, these lockers are practically indestructible by a bear.

Be Prepared, Not Scared

If there’s even the smallest chance of coming across bears on your camping trip, it’s important to prepare yourself for such an encounter.

By this, I don’t mean practicing karate 5 days a week – this won’t help you much anyway.

Instead, I mean learning what to do and how to react.

Ideally, you want to camp in a group. The more people in your camping group, the lower the chance of a bear coming close.

You should talk loudly and make noise to appear even more terrifying.

While I really hope you never experience that, you should always be prepared for possible injuries.

That means at least someone in your group should know how to treat injuries and perform basic first aid.

Of course, that also means having a first aid kit close at hand, with all the essentials.

Furthermore, you’ll need a mobile phone, radio and satellite phone or any other means of communication that could help you in such a situation.

Keep Pets Contained and Restrained

Keep Pets Contained and Restrained

No matter how well-behaved your dog may be, you can never predict how a close encounter with a wild animal will turn out.

And of course, you don’t want to risk it. Not only can your pet get hurt, but also provoke the bear to attack you.

So even if you’re sitting around the campfire, you should have your dog restrained and by your side.

At night, I’d definitely recommend they sleep inside the tent with you.

As I’ve already mentioned, never leave dog food in a bowl for too long.

After your canine companion is done eating, pack up leftovers and wash the bowl.

Don’t leave any treats or chews out in the open either.

Remember to clean up after your pet as well.

Not just because it’s the right thing to do when it comes to Leave No Trace principles, but because the scent can also attract bears.

Also See: Dog Camping Tips

Keep Bear Spray With You

Keep Bear Spray With You

When camping in bear country, keeping bear spray on you at all times is mandatory.

Whether you’re cooking, using the restroom or sleeping, you should have it close at hand.

When you’re hiking or exploring the surroundings, make sure you wear it in a holster.

You don’t want it in the backpack or even in the pocket. Bears are insanely fast, and you don’t have that much time to search for it.

Before you even head out for your trip, get acquainted with the spray. Read the instructions and practice holding it.

Keep in mind that you get no more than 10 seconds of spraying time, so you need to know how to use it effectively.

Also See: Does Bear Spray Work on Mountain Lions?

Always Keep Children Close

Before you go on a camping trip, tell your kids what to expect. Make the strategy to deploy in case you encounter a bear.

Explain to them that it’s important they stay close to you at all times.

Kids can make quite a mess when eating.

Crumbles all over the ground, spilled ketchup and tons of food leftovers, are all things that can attract bears.

Remember to clean right after every meal, thoroughly.

If the bear wanders into your campsite, try keeping your kids calm and without sudden movement.

Pick them up and guide them into the car.

Never Entice, Feed or Interact with Bears

No matter how cute or peaceful they might appear, remember that bears are wild animals.

And as such, they’re unpredictable. For that reason, you want to stay as far away from them as possible.

This is especially important if you see bear cubs. If they’re close, then mama bear is too.

And she won’t be very friendly when she sees you around her babies.

You shouldn’t feed bears either. First, it can make them dependent on human food. And that can result in them attacking people.

Now, that’s not a scenario that ends well for either side.

And second, because they’re not used to human food. It’s simply too strong for them, which can cause digestive issues and other health complications.

Leave No Trace

You should follow the Leave No Trace principles every time you’re out in the wilderness.

But this is even more important when you’re out in the bear country.

This means packing everything after you. Every food scrap, wrapper, plate, container… Both on the table and on the ground.

And that’s not just for food, but drinks as well. Spilling half a can of Coke can also attract bears.

It’s sweet and aromatic!

If A Bear Enters Your Campsite

Black Bear Climbing a Tree at a Campground

What if…?

Well, you have to be prepared for anything. Here’s what you should do in case a bear enters the campsite.

1. Do Not Run

Don’t for a second think that you can outrun a bear.

While these animals might look chubby and slow, they can run up to 35 miles per hour! Even Usain Bolt can’t top that record.

Instead of running, try slowly backing away. Don’t make any sudden movements, just try increasing the gap between you.

2. Raise Your Arms to Look Larger

While this might not scare away a grizzly, it can definitely work with black bears.

These bears are much smaller, so by raising your arms, you can appear to be larger than them.

This can often be enough to discourage them from attacking.

3. Grab a Long, Sturdy Stick for Defense

Swaying around with a long stick can also scare away a black bear.

4. Make loud noises

Try making loud noises at the same time, to seem more dangerous.

Even just shouting at the bear to “go home” or “get out of here,” clapping, banging pans – anything you can do to make noise will also likely scare the bear away.

If a Bear Attacks You

In case you startle a bear, it may attack you. I know you’ve probably heard about the whole “play dead” strategy.

But that only works with grizzly bears. This guy is too tough to beat one on one, so playing dead is your best chance.

But if a black bear attacks, you should strike back.

Of course, this is given that you’ve already used up bear spray charges and didn’t manage to deter the bear.

In that case, grab sticks or stones laying around and punch the bear in the eyes and nose.

If you had a face-to-face conflict with a bear, it’s important that you report the attack to local authorities.

If there’s an aggressive bear wandering around, people should be wary of the danger.

Faqs

Is it safe to camp around bears?

If there are signs of bear activity at a close distance from a specific place, it’s best to avoid that spot.

Bears aren’t territorial, but will defend their den.

How many bear attacks are there each year?

Bear attacks are rarer than most people think, and fatal cases even rarer.

There’s roughly about 40 brown bear attack around the world each year, and about ¼ of them happen in the US.

The state with most bear attacks is Alaska, which accounts for 29.6% of all fatal bear attacks in the country.

Can a bear get into a tent?

Bears can get into tents fairly easily. With their sharp claws and brute strength it doesn’t take much for them to slice through the soft tent fabrics.

However, bears are unlikely to attempt to get into your tent unless they are attracted by the scent of food or toiletries. For this reason, anything that has ANY scent, even deodorant or toothpaste should be locked away in a bear safe canister.

Is it safe to camp in Yellowstone with bears?

Bears can often be seen in Yellowstone, but that doesn’t mean camping in this park is necessarily dangerous.

As long as you follow our tips, you should have a safe camping experience.

What to do if a grizzly bear is outside your tent?

While keeping bear spray ready, turn on a flashlight or lantern.

If the grizzly tries entering the tent, be ready to fight back and yell. This has often successfully driven the bears away.

Do campfires keep bears away?

The campfire itself won’t deter bears. Loud noise, on the other hand, will keep them away.

So enjoy your time camping, sing and laugh with your companions.

To Sum Things Up

Camping in bear country doesn’t have to be risky.

As long as you’re following our guidelines, you should have a safe and enjoyable trip.

Remember, bear sprays and containers are a must in a bear country. They can be a life saver, and why risk it?