Camping is all fun and games until a bear shows up. Bear encounters while camping can be harrowing, but there’s a way to avoid the furry giant. Knowing how to repel bears while camping is crucial for everybody’s safety and enjoyment. Remember that we’re not the ones on top of the food chain when it comes to bear encounters.
In this post, I will discuss what attracts bears, how you can repel them, and what you should never do when faced with one.
Why are bears attracted to campsites?
Like any other wild animal, bears are attracted to campgrounds for various reasons. The following are some of the most common culprits you should know:
- Food. This is quite obvious since any wild animal would gravitate toward a food source. It could be the stew you’re cooking or the canned fish you just opened. All food has a smell, which will surely attract wildlife. Take note that bears have a keen sense of smell, and they can pick up odors from miles away.
- Trash. Like food, trash has a strong odor that can entice a hungry bear to come over. Most campers dump their food leftovers in the garbage bin, which brews a strong attractant for bears.
- Human pee. Even if you pour water on it, bears can still sniff human pee from afar. It indicates that a human is around, which bears also associate with a food source.
- Bug sprays. Bug sprays may repel mosquitoes and ticks, but they will surely increase the likelihood of attracting bears.
- Stove fuel. The heat and odor emanating from the stove fuel will attract bears.
How to repel bears while camping
Before your next camping trip, it’s essential to keep these tips in mind:
1. Choose the right camping spot
The best way to avoid bears is to choose the right camping spot. Avoid berry patches and trails as bears frequent these. Also, avoid sites with fresh bear signs like a dead animal’s carcass. It’s a sign that a bear has been there and is likely to go back to finish its meal.
It’s best to camp in an upwind direction. This way, all the cooking odors will be blown away from your camping site.
Aside from that, it would help if you observed the so-called ‘bear-muda triangle.’ This means you should separate your cooking area, sleeping area, and food storage area. You should keep these areas about 100 yards away from each other.
Even if a bear finds your food stash at night, the animal won’t go straight to your tent.
2. Use bear canisters
To hide the smell of your food and other items, you should utilize bear canisters. It’s a popular method used by campers.
Unlike other storage jars, bear canisters are airtight and won’t leak any pungent odors stored inside. It also has a hard-sided design that can put up with the chewing of raccoons, bears, rodents, and other wildlife.
Remember that bear canisters aren’t 100% smell-proof. You should still choose your food items and products wisely.
3. Changes clothes after cooking
Following the concept of the ‘bear-muda triangle,’ you should leave any cooking scent on the cooking area. After preparing and eating your meal, change your clothes right away. You can seal it in bags or wash it up to remove the odor. I suggest using unscented soap as cleaning products can also tickle a bear’s curiosity.
Aside from that, it would help if you also washed up your hands and face where food traces are left. The goal is to remove all the possible food smell on your body. This way, bears won’t sniff their way to your location.
4. Clean up before sleeping
Before you call it a day, make sure that you clean up around your campsite. Pick and pack up all trash items. These are often overlooked among campers, giving their location to hungry bears.
It would help if you also practiced low-waste camping. Consider swapping your single-use plastic containers to refillable or washable types. Also, opt for washable camp dishes instead of plastic utensils or paper plates.
5. Don’t carry food inside the tent.
Every camper should adhere to one golden rule: never bring food inside the tent. Doing so is equivalent to luring the bear into your location. Worse, you might be asleep by the time the bear attacks. It can take a gruesome turn, so it’s best to leave all food in the storage area.
You can schedule midnight snacks with your group if you get snacky at night. If that’s not possible, I suggest filling yourself up at dinner. Take note that even a bag of chips can be a dead giveaway to bears nearby.
6. Don’t pack aromatic food.
Another thing you should avoid is bringing smelly food to the campsite. Packing the likes of kimchi, sardines, tempeh, or tofu will increase your risk of encountering bears during your stay. Unless you’re sure that the area is bear-free, you should avoid stinky food items.
If you’re keen to bring these food items, make sure that you also carry odor-proof bags. This way, you can hide the smell from the bears.
7. Keep a bear spray handy.
Sometimes, no matter how much you try to remove attractants, a bear or two may find your campsite. In this case, it’s essential to have a bear spray and flashlight ready inside the tent. You should also know how to use the bear spray so that it wouldn’t backfire on you.
The moment the bear is within 10 yards from your location, that’s the time you’re going to apply the bear spray. Ensure that the wind isn’t blowing toward your direction, or it will sting your eyes. Also, spray it downward toward the bear instead of recoiling upward.
8. Keep your pets leashed.
Lastly, always keep your pets leashed when bringing them to campgrounds. A wandering dog can attract a bear since the smaller animal is a natural prey. You wouldn’t want to discover a bloodbath in the morning or wake up to a stand-off between your dog and a grizzly bear.
What TO DO when facing a bear
The following are some of the must-do if a bear intrudes your campground:
- Tuck and cover. If the bear charges at you, fall into the fetal position and curl to protect your head, neck, and stomach. This is the last resort if you’ve been cornered by a brown bear.
- Play dead. When it comes to grizzly bears, playing dead may actually save your life. Grizzlies tend to attack when they are threatened or startled. However, you shouldn’t get up and run the moment a grizzly turns it back on you. These bears can run faster than you.
- Get big and get loud. If you’re dealing with a black bear, sticking your hands out and making loud sounds will help scare the wild animal. Make sure that you only do this with black bears, as brown bears may attack when provoked this way.
- Bear spray is your lifeline. Whatever type of bear you’re facing, you’ll never go wrong with a bear spray. Just make sure that you spray it toward the bear’s face. The goal is to irritate the eyes and nose of the wild animal.
What NOT to do when facing a bear
If a bear still found your campground, you should know what to do. A bear spray will surely come in handy, but you should also remember the following points:
- Don’t yell at the bear. Yelling and shouting will just agitate the bear, which will increase the chance of an actual attack. Speak softly and wave your arms up to scare away the bear. This will also make you appear bigger, which is sometimes enough to drive a bear away.
- Don’t make eye contact. Whatever you do, never make direct eye contact with a bear. This may send an unintended message that you’re challenging the large animal. Instead, back out slowly and use a soft voice to distract the bear.
- Don’t panic. Panicking will just put you in harm’s way. Stay calm and composed to prevent startling the bear. And if the wild animal gets closer to you, a bear spray is your first line of defense.
- Don’t wrestle with the bear. While there are some anecdotal accounts of humans winning over wild bears, it’s not a good idea to wrestle with a wild animal. You can do so, but my money is on the bear. Unless you have sharp claws and large teeth, your chances of winning against a bear are slim.
- Don’t feed the bear intentionally. One of the reasons why wild bears lose their fear of humans is due to intentional feeding. Many campers lure bears deliberately for the sake of experiencing feeding them. While this would be fun, these bears will soon seek future campers. Unfortunately, not all campers are up for close contact with a wild animal.
- Don’t try to get closer to the bear. The moment a bear appears in your campground, your goal should be to get away. Never try to walk in the bear’s direction. Doing so may provoke the wild animal. Besides, who walks right into danger?
- Don’t run! No matter how scared you are, fight the urge to bolt when facing a bear. If you run, the bear may perceive you as prey. Stay calm and slowly walk away without losing sight of the bear.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What smells will keep bears away?
A: Strong odors attract bears, but some could drive them away. Anything with a scent of pine was found to deter bears. In this case, you can use pine-scented cleaners on your campground to help repel bears in the area.
Q: Can bears smell through Ziploc bags?
A: Yes, a bear can easily sniff through a Ziploc bag. Even humans still pick up the scent of food stored inside this bag. It’s better to use bear canisters and odor-proof bags to keep your food items. Aside from that, it would help if you steered clear of very smelly meals.
Q: How far can a bear smell a human?
A: On average, a bear can smell a human for as far as 15 to 20 miles. However, this depends on how smelly the person is and the direction of the wind. Either way, you shouldn’t be complacent whenever you’re camping in an area with bear sightings.
Q: Can you outrun a bear?
A: Bears may seem large and heavy, but they have powerful legs. On average, grizzly and black bears can reach a top speed of 35 mph. This is way faster than humans, with average speeds of 15 mph. Usain Bolt, the fastest human on the planet, has a maximum speed of 27.3 mph, which is still slower than a bear.
Q: Are pop-up campers safe from bears?
A: Pop-up campers are safe as long as you observe preventive measures. Cut back on odors and always keep your campground clean to prevent inviting bears. I suggest getting the advice of campground authorities to ensure that you’ll be safe during your stay.
Knowing how to repel bears while camping is a life-saving hack. Every camper should know this information before going on the trip. Remember that the goal is to repel or avoid the bears, not kill them. As wild animals, they are the original inhabitants of nature. We’re just visitors borrowing their space.