Whenever going camping in bear country – regardless of whether it is grizzly or black bears – you need to follow some basic safety rules. These rules help ensure that bears don’t come to your campsite looking for food.
The following bear rules are not just for your safety, they also help the bears stay safe too. When bears come to campgrounds because they smell food, they can become habituated – meaning they lose their natural fear of humans. Those bears are more likely to become food-conditioned, have dangerous encounters with humans and be killed as a result.
*Note that these bear safety rules reduce risk of a bear encounter. They are not a substitute for bear repellent. Make sure you have bear repellent as well as bear spray in case of an attack.
Recommended: UDAP two-pack of bear spray. It’s affordable and includes holsters.
1. Choose Your Campsite Wisely
When backcountry camping, avoid setting up camp anywhere with signs of bears or that a bear might like.
Watch out for:
- Bear scat
- Scratches or rubbing on trees
- Dig marks
- Ripened berry patches
- Streams with spawning fish
- Ravens (are a sign that an animal carcass is nearby, which a bear might come to eat)
2. Use the Bear Triangle
Also called the “bearmuda triangle”, this involves setting up your campsite to keep smells away from your sleeping area.
Your shelter is one point on the triangle. The other points are for food storage and cooking. They should be at least 200 feet away from your shelter and downwind.
3. Do Not Bring Heavily-Scented Items
It’s probably best not to cook foods like fish or bacon when camping in bear country. You also want to avoid items like perfumes, scented soaps or other scented hygiene items as this could attract a bear to your campsite.
4. Use Proper Bear Storage Methods for Food and All Scented Items
All food and anything with a scent (toothpaste, deodorant, creams…) must be properly stored so bears can’t get to it. Always use campground food storage lockers if available. If not, you can keep food in your car if car camping. If backpacking, use a bear canister, Ursack or approved bear bag hang. Never keep food or scented items in your tent.
5. Clean Up Immediately
Don’t wait to do dishes or pack away food. The scents could bring bears directly to your campground.
6. Dispose of Greywater Away from Camp
All greywater must also stay out of the bear triangle. Dig a hole at least 200 feet downwind from camp and dispose of the water in the hole. This includes water from brushing your teeth.
7. Change Your Clothes After Cooking
If you are cooking smelly foods like meat, don’t bring those clothes in the tent. Take them off and put them with your food storage.
8. Consider Odor-Proof Bags
If you have some stinky items, you might want to keep them in odor-proof bags. This includes items like used diapers when camping with a baby or used menstrual items. Use the bags when hiking and inside your bear-proof storage method.
Loksak odor-proof bags are popular with backpackers
9. Don’t Bury Garbage or Leftover Food
These should be kept in your bear-storage until you can pack it out. Alternatively, some foods can be burned – but only if you are certain that they won’t make an appetizing smell while being burned and that you can burn them completely.
Did I miss anything? What other bear safety rules would you add?