Bear-Proofing Your Site and Your Food

Wherever you are in the world, animals want your food so we’ve put together some handy tips to keep you and your food safe out in the wilderness.

Here in North America we’re mainly concerned with bears. Polars and grizzlies are just nasty beasts and you need to do everything possible to keep your distance when you’re in the wild. Black bears are a nuisance too, but generally are as threatening as raccoons. Regardless, you don’t want your trip ruined becase a bruin ate your nuts.

So what can you do to keep your food safe from bears?

  1. First: Keep a clean campsite.
  2. Second: Don’t sleep near your food.
  3. Third: Be smarter than a bear.

In other words, don’t cook or spill food near the tent. Store the food far from the tent when you’re sleeping. Find a way to make it hard for bears to eat your food.

Basically it boils down to this: Bears are active at night and sniffing around when the fire is out and you’re all quiet and sleeping. So if your campsite is dark and quiet and smells like granola and fresh trout, guess who’s coming to visit? If you have a scent-free campsite, you’re golden. Bears don’t care about human smells and campfires. If they do come around they’d rather spend their time trying to eat your food than flush you out of your tent.

Ever watch a bear? They’re silent and stupendously dextrous. Like ninjas. Bears are ninjas. So how the hell do you make food bear-proof?

Method #1 – Hanging

Hang the food bag really, really high up away from anything a bear can climb. I’ve heard stories of bears climbing trees and pulling the ropes down, but I’ve never seen that happen. In my 30+ years and hundreds of nights in bear country, this method has worked perfectly for me every time. I have never lost a scrap of food to an animal or even had a bag torn open this way. Granted, it takes a bit of work, but in my humble opinion this is foolproof.

Go for a walk in the woods with two 50-foot 3-mm ropes and look up, find a strong branch that sticks out far enough from the trunk. Toss one rope over it, tie a carabiner to one end and feed the 2nd rope through it. Haul the carabiner up. Now tie the food back to the end of the 2nd rope and haul that up. Voila. You can get inventive with angles and pull that food bag really far from anything.

Be Bear Aware hang up your food


Method #2 – Floating

If you’re on a canoe trip with multiple canoes, you can put all the food into a canoe, paddle it off, and anchor it somewhere. I’ve only done this a few times, and while it does have some drawbacks (what if a storm hits during the night?) it is pretty darned foodproof. It doesn’t even have to be floating in a canoe, here we tied our food to an old stump a hundred feet from shore.

Lake Food Pack


Method #3 – Bear Bins

Of course, many popular campsites now have these bear bins set up for you. These are awesome. I still prefer using the two-rope method because playing with ropes is fun.

Bear Bins for Camping


Method #4 – Bear Barrels, Canisters and Bags

I don’t use these, but they are mandatory in many places and very popular. If I was camping somewhere that required these, I’d use them of course. Don’t be a rebel. sells bearproof bags that you tie to a tree or loud neighbor. and Garcia Machine make canisters.

Bears with Heads Stuck in Bins

Written by Jens Petersen