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bear avoidance & cooking
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Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
bear avoidance & cooking on 11/07/2009 13:58:25 MST Print View

Over the years I have generally taken a conservative approach to avoid bears. Whenever possible I have cooked dinner on the trail before making camp, I try to stealth camp in places that bears don't habitually go, and for awhile my food was stored inside an OP bag (often inside a canister) 50-100 feet from where I sleep. I typically have not cooked under my shelter because I was concerned that food odor would be attached to my shelter. The only thing I don't typically do is strictly follow Philmont's requirement of having separate sleeping clothing to be sure there was no food odor on my sleeping clothing.

These steps have resulted in no bear visits when I have done all these things. But there are trips when I haven't been so careful and also wasn't bothered by bears. Maybe I have just been lucky. When I think about it, all but one of my bear encounters (which was on a trail in the late afternoon) have been when I was at a heavily used destinations with habitual bears. So I am wondering how much a difference these steps have made. Could it be as simple as avoid bear hangouts? What's the real risk of cooking in camp or under your shelter.

I have read that the bear nose is much more sensitive than a dogs. This makes me wonder about two things:

1) How far away can a bear detect food. If you are cooking with a slight wind, how close does a bear need to be to have a high likelihood of smelling your food.

2) If you have a food cache separate from a shelter than was cooked under can the bear tell the difference between the left over smell from earlier cooking and what is actual food that they might want to eat now.



Edited by verber on 11/07/2009 15:41:50 MST.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
works for me on 11/07/2009 15:13:41 MST Print View

I also follow the guidelines you lay out and I have yet to have a visit by maurauding nighttime Sierra bears after dozens on trips between Yosemite and Sequoia. But my theory why I've been lucky is that I generally smell too bad even for a bear!

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: bear avoidance & cooking on 11/07/2009 18:04:46 MST Print View

"These steps have resulted in no bear visits when I have done all these things. But there are trips when I haven't been so careful and also wasn't bothered by bears. Maybe I have just been lucky."


Those precautions are good general practice. Lucky when you didn't follow them? Perhaps. But that also has a lot to do with where you were(lots of bears or few to none), wind direction, what you were cooking(highly odiferous vs low odor), how carefully you clean up, to name a few possibilities.

In addition to these precautions, another technique is to pack cold food for days when you know you're going to be in bear country in addition to eating early and moving on before camping. Also be sure to wash your hands thoroughly right after eating, before you have a chance to transfer odors to your clothes, pack, etc, and maybe not use toothpaste(if you normally do-I don't). Just some thoughts.

Edited by ouzel on 11/07/2009 18:06:14 MST.

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Bear avoidance & cooking on 11/10/2009 00:48:22 MST Print View


Edited by skopeo on 04/27/2015 17:00:42 MDT.

Vick Hines
(vickrhines) - F

Locale: Central Texas
Re: Bear avoidance & cooking on 11/10/2009 10:35:22 MST Print View

Your precautions make sense in county where bears are habituated (read that "spoiled"). Except in the Smokies and Shenandoah, I have not had bear problems by following the simple expedient of cooking away from where I camp and hanging all food or using bear boxes when available. "Away" can mean a few yards. Bears that do not associate food with humans don't seem to try, but I would not keep food where I sleep in any case. I suppose I am saying, know the bears in your country. Sequestering food is always appropriate. Other measures are prudent if local bears are habituated to human food.

Jim Carr
(jcarr) - F

Locale: Humboldt County
bears on 11/13/2009 14:46:09 MST Print View

I heard that a bear can smell 6 times better than a blood hound dog and I saw a tv show where a blood hound tracked a person driving down a freeway to the exit they took. That tells me alot.

Denis Hazlewood
(redleader) - MLife

Locale: Luxury-Light Luke on the Llano Azul
Re: bears on 11/13/2009 23:39:47 MST Print View

Except for the times when I camp in areas known to have bear problems, areas where canisters are required, or when camping in national parks, I never take any special precautions regarding food storage. Golden Manteled Ground Squirrels notwithstanding -the buggers ate a hole in my beloved Evolution 2P.

I have backpacked in the northern Sierra -Emigrant Wilderness to Mt. Shasta- for more than forty years and have only had bears in camp once. In 1995 I was leading a party of 14 along the PCT, south of Carson Pass at Lost Lakes. We saw the bears coming and secured our food, etc. The bears -two of them- prowled around camp all night but didn't disturb my sleep.

In my experience wild bears don't like people and will leave the area. In 1986, on a solo hike, three bears roamed the area around Lake Winifred -north of Desolation Wilderness- from sundown to sunup -growling occasionally- and never came into my camp.

At Miller Flat, on the Lost Coast, I personally watched bears ravage a camp where canisters were not used. We had canisters and left them out with our pots on top, as an alarm system, hoping to get some bear photos. The bears didn't disturb our set up. Some of us believe that the bears learned to recognize the canisters and don't bother to try getting food.

Whether you see them or not, the bears are everywhere. Be aware but don't be scared.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: bear avoidance & cooking on 11/29/2009 13:00:04 MST Print View

In the Sierra Nevada, you can generally count on one of two situations: in the heavily used areas where the bears are habituated to humans and eagerly looking out for human food, those bears will check out your campsite regardless of whether they can smell food or not. They smell people, and they know people have food. But they are not interested in you - just your food. So unles your tent smells pretty strongly of food, it will smell much more strongly of you - at least mine will! And the bear will keep looking for the food.
The other situation is when you are well away for the trail and you encounter a wild bear, not used to people. those bears will usually avoid you like the plague. I would guess that if you were to leave your foodbag on the ground well away from your tent, they might go after it, but otherwise I wouldn't worry about a residue of food odor on your shelter if you've cooked under it on that rare occasion.So while cooking in the tent is not a great idea, I do it when I have to - which is rare in the sierra, since I can usually find a big tree to cook under if the thunderstorm comes at dinnertime, or just wait until it's over. If I was to spill some food inside, then I would be diligent about cleaning it up as thoroughly as I could.
Personally, I use my canister almost all the time now in the Sierra, even in non-problem bear areas. I have a couple of main reasons: one, it keeps the other, smaller critters out - to whom I have lost much more food over the years than to bears. For another, I consider it prevention. If an arae that hasn't had bear problems gets more usage, and people are careless about their food storage, then the bears may become used to getting human food and become a problem. Prevention is much easier than correction. And in areas where canisters are not required, but bears might be an issue, I am done with hanging my food. I've done it too many times, I'm sick of choosing campsites based on the trees instead of the view, I'm just done.
So store your food properly, and make a reasonable effort to keep the food odors off your clothing and shelter, but don't worry about it too much. And yes, It makes a HUGE difference to avoid bear hangouts. If you camp off the trail, away from the usual spots, you're very unlikely ever to see a bear or have any bear problems.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: bears on 11/29/2009 13:39:09 MST Print View

> I saw a tv show where a blood hound tracked a person driving down a freeway to
> the exit they took. That tells me a lot.
In a car?
That tells me a lot about the idiocy of the TV show. Nothing else.


Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
Re: Re: bears on 11/29/2009 14:22:37 MST Print View

Why hikers should consider bear canisters, bear spray, or other more lethal forms of bear-proofing, especially in Grizzly country. Local regulations apply. Use common sense above all else. YRMV.


Edited by wandering_bob on 12/04/2009 13:50:53 MST.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Re: bears on 11/29/2009 18:22:36 MST Print View

When in bear country or not, I have found that there are many other critters that will destroy a pack or stuff sack to get to my food, so I always take precautions against unwanted vermin. Squirrels, marmots, rats, mice and keas have all caused me problems in the past. On the same day that I encountered a California black bear on the trail, it was a squirrel that got to my goods, and that night a giant stag was nosing around my tent in an ominous way...but I never saw the bear again.

Unfortunately hanging your food is not much protection against keas, and they'll rip almost anything to shreds just for fun (including tents, boots and packs).

Mark Stalbird
(Off-road) - F
Possible solution. on 12/01/2009 20:03:00 MST Print View

I realize this is a touchy subject for some,
How about a well behaved/mannered trail dog?

I backpack in a region with an extremely high black bear population,highest in the eastern US and have had many encounters.

While I'll admit these are not habitual bears accustomed to human activity but rather wild bears in remote areas but still bears.

Bears have a natural fear of dogs and my Border collie has warned me on several occasions during the night of approaching bears and sits patiently waiting for my command.
Yes....i usually let him chase them off or we sometimes just watch them from a distant with my headlamp,Can be very entertaining.

Ok...the good part,
no precautions need to be made with food preparation or pack,cook on location and pack is in my tent or hanging from my hammock.
Ah...a mans best friend.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Bear avoidance??? on 01/10/2010 00:32:21 MST Print View

I do a high percentage of my backpacking in or around Yosemite National Park, so black bears are present. I don't do anything to attract the bears, but I don't do anything to avoid them, either. I led group trips for 20 years, and never once was any group food stolen by the bears. In the old days, I used the double-rope technique, and it never failed. We used to sleep with one guy on each side of the tree trunk (where the food was hung), so the bear was going to have to step over us to get onto the tree. Once bear canisters were made almost mandatory, I've used them without problem. Why try so hard to avoid the bears? How are you going to get any closeup wildlife photos?