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How Far Can A Bear Smell? Bears & Their Super Snouts

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If we’re being honest, bears are not too interested in us. But the scent of certain things we might have with us, on the other hand, DO interest bears.

So, how far can a bear smell? Well, the short answer is pretty damn far.

But it depends on the kind of bear, and it depends on who you ask.

Some estimates on the lower end of the scale claim that a bear can pick up a smell up to only several miles away. But other estimates indicate that bears can smell up things up to 20 miles away.

Large-prey-hunting bears (like polar bears) can catch a scent from nearly 40 miles away. That’s insane!

The baseline is a bear can pick up a scent from MILES away.

No matter if it is 1 mile or 40, bears smell from further away than you’d probably like to think.

That’s why we’ve sniffed around to find out some information about different types of bears and how far they can smell.

Plus, we’ve gathered some tips for making sure bears’ strong senses don’t cause any issues during your trips!

How Far Different Bears Can Smell?

To give you an idea of just how strong a bear’s sense of smell is, let me put it into perspective for you.

When compared to a human, a bear’s sense of smell is 2,100-times stronger.

Humans don’t really have a very impressive sense of smell anyway.

What about dogs, though? Well, most dogs have a sense of smell that’s about 100-times stronger than a human’s.

Even bloodhounds, which are known for their strong sense of smell and are used for scent-tracking missing persons, don’t smell as well as bears:

Bear TypeSmell DistanceSource
Polar Bear40
Brown Bear20
Black Bear18-20
Giant Panda“Several Miles”

Why Bears Have Strong Sniffers

In nature, everything has a purpose, and this is no different. Bears rely on their sense of smell to survive.

Their scent receptors enable them to find food when it’s further away. If they didn’t have such an acute sense of smell, they wouldn’t be able to find enough food to eat.

They also use it to sniff each other out. Their keen sense of smell is necessary for them to be able to find mates and identify other bears that are trespassing on their territory.

Mother bears also use their smell to locate their mischievous cubs when they inevitably run off.

They’re also able to smell fire. Wildfires are a major threat to all animals, so being able to detect smoke while it’s still far away is essential to their survival.

Scents That Attract Bears

Most of the time when a bear smells you, they aren’t interested in attacking or even approaching you.

As long as they don’t see you as a threat to their cub or direct territory or food source, they’ll more than likely leave you alone.

That being said, it’s not your scent that you need to worry about, but rather the scent of the things you have with you that may attract a bear.

The main thing you have to worry about is your food. A bear might not be interested in you, but it sure will want your food.

Other scents that can attract bears include bug spray, fuel, medications, perfume, deodorant, soap, and suntan lotion.

Make sure you’re as careful with all of these as you are with your food.

One more thing to keep in mind is where you take care of your business. When nature calls, make sure to go as far away as possible from your campsite.

Animals use urination as a way to mark their territory, so you definitely want to avoid sending the wrong message.

How Weather Conditions Affect Smell

The scent you give off doesn’t always travel the same distance. How far it goes and how intense it is depends quite a bit on the weather.

Three things can influence how far away a bear will be able to sense your scent: temperature, humidity, and wind.

The warmer it is, the stronger the smells become and the further they’re able to travel.

Humid weather conditions are similar in that they will also make your scent travel further.

Wind affects smells in two ways: the direction and the distance. If you are upwind of a bear, they are less likely to smell you from further away.

But if you are downwind, it could carry your smells miles further than a non-windy day.

Useful Tips For Keeping Bears Away

These are a few things you can do to avoid issues with bears that aren’t related to smell.

Protecting Food From Bears

To keep bears away from your food, your best bet is to take the following precautions:

Get some odor-proof plastic bags.

Odor-proof bags are great for reducing the amount of food smells that would attract bears to you.

These work really well. Use them to wrap all your food up, and you should be golden for when your food is packed away.

Use a bear canister.

This is another great way to prevent bears from picking up the scent of your food.

Bear canisters are simply containers that are designed to be hard for bears to grasp, open, or break. So, they are the best options for keeping your food away from bears.

If you want to be extra safe, you can use both odor-proof bags and a bear canister for double protection.

Camp at least 100 yards away from food.

If a bear does end up coming for your lunch in the middle of the night, you want to make sure you’re nowhere near it.

That way, it’s far less likely that the bear will perceive you as a threat.

This also means you shouldn’t do any cooking next to your camping.

Your kitchen area needs to be at least 100 yards away from where you’ll be sleeping.

Don’t sleep in clothes you cooked in.

You might not notice, but cooking smells linger on your clothes long after you’ve finished having dinner.

So, make sure you don’t go to bed smelling like a delicious meal for the same reason why you shouldn’t cook right next to your bed.

Make Enough Noise

If they can hear people, bears will usually stay away. Sitting in silence opens up the possibility of a bear showing up to check out your food, thinking that there’s nobody around.

So, make sure you keep things lively enough to make your presence heard.

Keep Your Campsite Clean

Don’t leave food lying around and make sure you clean up after every meal.

Dispose of your trash on a regular basis and keep it at a safe distance away from your campsite.

Stay Calm

The best thing you can possibly do in the event of a bear encounter is stay as calm as possible.

Whatever you do, don’t run. If you do come across a bear, back away slowly from the bear and keep your eyes averted.

You could also clap your hands or bang things together if you see a bear approaching.

Bears run extremely fast, so trying to outrun one isn’t going to end well for you.

And if you run, you risk engaging their predatory senses, which could cause them to chase you.

Have Bear Spray

If you find yourself in a sticky situation and a bear attack is imminent, you can use bear spray to protect yourself.

Make sure you acquaint yourself with the necessary safety tips beforehand. Essentially, bear spray is just pepper spray. So, you are also at risk any time you use it.


Can Bears Smell Food In A Bear Canister Or Cooler?

Yes, bears have an incredibly advanced sense of smell, so they will likely smell the food that is inside your bear containers, including canisters and coolers.

This is why it’s especially important to make sure all bear containers have been tested and certified by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC).

When a container has a IGBC certification, it’s been tested and stood up to real Grizzly bears at the Montana Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center.

How Does A Bear’s Sense Of Smell Compare To A Dog’s?

Bears have a better sense of smell than dogs by a longshot. In fact, it’s believed that bears may have one of the best senses of smell in the world!

For example, the average dog’s sense of smell is believed to be about 100-times more advanced than that of humans.

In comparison, bears’ sense of smell is believed to be about 2,100-times better than humans.

How Far Away Can A Bear Smell Blood?

Scientists have not determined an official distance for how far away bears can smell. However, it’s generally accepted that bears can smell potential prey from at least a few miles away.

For both grizzly and black bears, this number can get up to around 20 miles.

In one case, scientists recorded a mature male polar bear who travelled over 40 miles to find a female polar bear by smell alone.

Can Bears Detect Smells Underwater?

Yes, bears can smell potential prey underwater. In fact, polar bears have been known to follow the smell of seals underwater for miles.


If there’s one thing you should take away from this article, it’s that there’s no need to be afraid.

The truth of the matter is that bears are just as leery of us as we are of them.

So, if you stay out of their way and follow the above advice, you’re unlikely to run into any trouble.

When we venture out into nature, we always have to remember that we’re visitors. It’s our duty to do everything we can to respect the environment we’re in and all its inhabitants.

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