Rule #1: Don’t feed the bears
When you are recreating in bear country, it is essential that you secure your food, garbage and other items that have an odour. Bears have a very keen sense of smell and may be attracted to anything that smells interesting to them. Items such as toothpaste, soap, lotions, deodorant or bug sprays (especially citronella) should be secured from bears.
There are several ways to keep attractant away from bears. The traditional method is to keep a clean camp and hang your food and garbage out of reach when you are not using it. Some campgrounds in parks provide bear hangs. If you’re not sure, carry 100-feet of cord that you can use to hang your food between two trees.
Another option is to surround your campsite with a lightweight, portable electric fence. Set-up properly and well-maintained, electric fencing is an excellent way to secure not only your food and garbage, but your entire campsite. These days, fences are inexpensive and ultra-light – many weigh less than four pounds with batteries – making them suitable for backpacking or kayaking. Read what Tom Smith, a research ecologist and bear expert with the USGS’s Alaska Science Center, has to say about electric fencing in the backcountry.
Food and garbage (along with your toothpaste and deodorant) can also be stored in portable bear-resistant containers. Some campgrounds offer metal storage lockers for your convenience, but it’s best to be self-sufficient and carry your own portable, bear-resistant food canister or odour proof barrier bags. There are several models to choose from.
A backpacker hiking in the Inyo National Forest in California was bitten on the shoulder by a black bear. According to a spokeswoman for the forest, the bear was attracted because the hiker hadn’t properly stored his food in a bear-resistant food canister. The man escaped with nothing more than a bruised shoulder. The bear got the death penalty.
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Preparation and adequate planning is the best way to respect the bears you’ll encounter in the wilderness. Bears are amazing, especially in their diligence to get your food. I respect them enough to not even try to outsmart them – instead, I carry a bear-proof canister whenever I’m on a wilderness patrol.
For more information on securing your food, garbage and other gear, get a copy of the Living with Predators Resource Guide: Recreating in Bear, Wolf and Mountain Lion Country. The guide contains several examples of bear-resistant containers and panniers in addition to those found on this site or approved by the SIBBG. See Section 2.
Each year black bears are killed in Yosemite as a direct result of human carelessness and improper food storage. Some call it a ‘bear problem’, but bears are not to blame.