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John Dee
(JohnD412) - F
Newbie question on 07/11/2012 00:22:03 MDT Print View

I know there's a lot of bear threads on this website already so I want to make this short. But first some background - I haven't done any backpacking since I was in scouts. When we were in scouts we would leave our food in our packs and leave the packs just right outside our tent.

Now I'm a little older and I want to get back into it. I have some nice entry level equipment, specifically my backpack, that I don't want varmin to chew up. Living in black bear country, is it appropriate to put all my food, clothes worn when cooking and toiletries in a bear bag, suspend it in a tree, do the cooking 100yds, cleaning 100yds, storing 100yrds adjacent, and sleep with my pack in my tent...use it as a pillow? Is this what most people do? I know you are all going to shudder at this, but I plan on doing a lot of solo hiking with my dog, so I'm packing on 5 more lb's to take a bigger, more heavy duty tent with me, as oppose to taking my good lightweight tent. I don't want the dog's claws to poke holes in that one. The point of me saying this is I will have more than enough room for boots and a backpack in my tent.

I haven't been able to find a straight answer on if this is appropriate or not. The way I'm reading it is that when in grizzly country a lot of people hang their whole backpack, am I wrong? I am not in grizzly country. But then again being solo and with a dog that may growl (or may cower) at the sounds and smells of a bear, I'd like to keep it away. I've read that when a bear wants to see something the bear will get to see it. I don't know how true this is with black bears. A lot are habituated and probably quick to anger? or is it vice versa?

I'm getting off subject here. I know I'm over thinking it, but I don't want a bear or raccoon clawing at my tent all night, but I don't want varmin chewing my pack up, and I'd rather not throw my whole pack in the tree every night if it is overkill.

I will also add I am talking Allegheny black bears, from what I know you are suppose to yell at the bears or even just roll around in your tent to scare them off. Is my dog's growling at it through the tent going to tick the bear off? will it feel threatened and want to be the bigger more macho animal ? or will it get scared and run off? I'm not experienced in black bear attitude... all I've ever heard is most are timid and shy, and will run off at the sound of a broken branch.

Just looking for some quick advice from experienced people. I've been googling for weeks now and feel like this is my best bet.

Much appreciated,

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Newbie question on 07/11/2012 00:37:29 MDT Print View

You seem to be seeking specific answers to your decidedly non-specific questions. All of the problems of the civilized world cannot be solved by Google.

You don't tell us what kind of dog it is, so we have no idea how that is going to work out with a black bear. In general, dogs and bears do not mix.

As far as animals and your pack, it's hard to tell. An animal like a black bear is going to tear into anything if it thinks that there might be food in there. It will only think of food in there if it sees the lump, or if it smells the food. It doesn't have to be real food in there as long as it smells like the food. In general, if the pack is clean of smell and it doesn't seem to have any lump in it, most bears will leave it alone. Lots of backpackers leave a clean pack flattened out on the ground. On the other hand, more of the little critters like raccoons and marmots and mice will chew on a backpack just to get the salt from your sweat.

Why don't you go on a trip with a few others in your area, and see how they do it?


Richard Scruggs
(JRScruggs) - MLife

Locale: Oregon
Re: Newbie question on 07/11/2012 01:23:13 MDT Print View

RE your question: "Living in black bear country, is it appropriate to put all my food, clothes worn when cooking and toiletries in a bear bag, suspend it in a tree, do the cooking 100yds, cleaning 100yds, storing 100yrds adjacent, and sleep with my pack in my tent...use it as a pillow?"

My personal answer is as follows (but please take it as just one person's opinion who hasn't been attacked by a bear, yet, so search BPL and other sites for views of others, plus getting out with other experienced folks is good, too) --

Yes, hang your food, cook kit, toiletries, pipe tobacco, and anything else with bear-attracting odors (I don't include in this category the clothes worn while cooking/eating, unless there's food spilled or dribble onto them, in which case guess might want to hang them, too).

I don't spill food on my clothes cuz I don't want to have to hang them, and I clean my beard real good cuz there's no way it'll hang comfortably while there's life in me.

As for hanging your pack -- for me, it depends on whether I've been careless and let a bunch of food, or other things with odors a bear might like, pollute my pack with said odors.

The odor-polluted-pack-problem can be avoided/mitigated by keeping that odorous stuff in odor-proof bags (I use OpSaks).

My pack ends up under my legs, providing cushion & insulation, not under my head.

As for cooking, cleaning, and storing bearodorous stuff away from campsite -- yes.

The one bear encounter I've had in my campsite was when a momma bear first managed to reach my 10' high hanging bag of "odorous stuff" and rip it open like a pin-yatta, slobbering all over the jerky, ripping open all the packages of freeze-dried food (licking everyone of them cleaner than a whistle), and then wandering with her cubs over to my pack (which I had left leaning against a tree near my tent) to sniff the pack over real good.

I watched her check my pack from the safety (???) of my tent, about ten feet away.

Not finding any odors coming from my pack that made ripping it apart worth the effort, she lead her cubs off into the woods to find some other campsite to maul.

Guess the momma bear didn't catch any attractive odors coming from inside my tent, either, since she never even glanced my way.

That bear incident, which is the only one I've had, happened the first (and last) time I backpacked in Yosemite NP -- more than 25 years ago. The bears can have Yosemite.

PS - I still hang the odorous stuff, but higher than I did in Yosemite. I use a bear cannister when required by "rules" of the locale. If not worried about bears, and a cannister isn't required, I've used an Ursack to protect stuff from little critters.

In all cases (hanging, cannisters, or Ursack), I use OpSak bags to eliminate odors.

Edited by JRScruggs on 07/11/2012 01:44:33 MDT.

John Dee
(JohnD412) - F
Re: Newbie Question on 07/11/2012 08:52:32 MDT Print View

Rich - At what point would you have started to move around and make noise? Isn't it better to do that than to wait for the bear to come up to your tent and realize someone's in there? I've read stories on here about how people will clap and yell and throw firecrackers at bears to scare them off from camp. Maybe that's because they do this with the confidence of being in a group. That is another thing I was meaning to ask - how do you draw the line between scaring a bear and letting them know you're there? I don't want to surprise it, but I'd rather it be surprised from far away and not with it's snout in my tent. When do you know to keep your mouth shut and stay still and when do you know to get up and yell at the creature?

The dog is a 2 yr old lab. Not a bird dog or anything. I've read about how dogs will go out, tick of a bear, then come running back to their master with the bear in hot pursuit. That is not the issue here. I'm asking more specifically about how a bear would react to a dog growling at it from inside a tent, along with a person moving around making noise talking to it. I know this can't be THAT uncommon of a scenario, but then again I know animals can be unpredictable.

Getting out there with other people would be ideal, but I don't have many friends who are into it, and I don't know where to find organizations.

I don't know how I can be any more specific - all other questions I've seen posted go something like "Can I store my backpack with food in it, in my tent?" As to which the obvious recommendation is a firm "NO!" My question is, do people who bear bag and keep a clean pack usually sleep with their packs (to prevent bugs and creepy crawlies from slithering in around your change of underwear or 'coons mauling the bag to get the sweat off your belt) or do people leave them outside a few feet away, exposed? What is appropriate?

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
+1 on Rich's answer on 07/11/2012 09:20:57 MDT Print View

I agree with what Rich said: Keep your pack, clothes, tent clean of food smells - for which OpSaks are a great help - and you shouldn't be worried about your pack in your tent.

Can't comment about the dog - my dogs are city dogs and I wouldn't think of taking them with. Years ago we had a husky that was a great hiking companion, and never had any bear issues. She was at her finest pulling us up hills!

Andy F
(AndyF) - M

Locale: Midwest/Midatlantic
Re: Newbie Question on 07/11/2012 09:43:27 MDT Print View

The short answer is that it depends on the specific bear. I hang food and anything with an odor, such as pots, toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, and sunscreen.

If you're in an area where bears are hunted using dogs, the bear will probably stay away from your camp just because it smells the dog.

I typically backpack in WV wilderness areas, both solo and in small and large groups. One of the areas I've done several trips in is the Cranberry Wilderness, which is a former black bear sanctuary area. I've either seen or heard a bear every time I was there, except in winter. I don't hang my clothes or pack, and neither did my four kids ranging in age from 1.5-7 years on one family backpacking trip there. They're very messy eaters, and even I had some food on my clothing. This was in fall when the bears are starting to fatten up for the winter. One night, dinner was late. I didn't start cleaning up until after dark and after the kids were in bed. As I did, I made significant noise which startled a bear who had came within 30 ft of camp to investigate the food odors. All packs were in the tent vestibules. Later that night, I heard a bear either jump or fall from a tree as he tried to get to the hanging food bag. I'm a light sleeper, and I never heard a bear in camp that night once the food was properly hung.

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
Newbie question on 07/11/2012 09:44:40 MDT Print View

I try not to pack foods that smell too strongly. When I do, I keep them packaged well. If your food smells, a bear might notice it. If a bear doesn't notice it, mice, squirrels, or other varmints might. If it smells strongly, the smaller animals will climb up and chew through most anything you have it in. I lost a good pack that way so never hang it anymore. I guess I would hang it if I spilled food all over it and could not wash it.
I think its fine to keep your pack in your shelter at night generally. Just make sure its empty of smelly suff.

Randy Nelson
(rlnunix) - F - M

Locale: Rockies
Bears/dogs/tents on 07/11/2012 11:04:50 MDT Print View

I almost always have a dog with me. I live and do most of my hiking in Colorado which isn't as buggy as some places and I generally go places where there are not habituated bears. So consider those things when reading my responses.

1. The dog won't poke holes in your tent floor so take your lighter tent. Better yet, get a floorless tent. Not because of possible tears but you don't have a wet dog getting your floor all wet and filthy. No floor means no floor to clean. And the first thing to teach your dog is that your sleeping bag is off limits. I carry a cut down piece of Zlite for the dog's bed. It's easier to teach a dog to do something than to not do something. My dogs get the "go to bed" command at home so the same thing works in camp with their Zlite instead of their dog bed at home.

2. Hard to predict how an individual bear will respond to anything. We do get habituated bears that come to our house looking for trash to pick through. I had one knock in a metal door on a shed and another try to tear a wooden door off a trash shed I built to replace the metal shed. Every time they run like heck when yelled at. But they won't necessarily run when dogs are barking at them from behind a fence. I'd bet that a barking dog and a yelling human would put most bears on the run. They generally do not want trouble. I personally haven't seen one in the backcountry since I've been in Colorado and didn't have any black bear encounters in California when I had a dog with me.

3. Do keep your dog leashed to keep it from chasing any wildlife. It's not just bears but mountain lions, elk, moose, porcupines, skunks, snakes, and even deer that pose a threat to your dog.

3. I use an Opsack for my food. But I do carry small baggies of jerky or trail mix in my pants pockets while I hike so my clothes are never odor free. So the triangle thing just doesn't make sense to me. A black bear can smell far better than a bloodhound. If you are upwind and they are 100 yards away, they can easily smell you. Or me, at least. I bear bag near camp so I can defend it if a bear does show up and tries to get it. Where I can't bear bag, like above treeline, it's in my pack next to me while I sleep. The dog does provide the luxury of having an alarm system with you and probably prevents rodents from chewing on your pack. If I do leave my pack in camp to go fishing, I generally hang it to prevent rodents from tearing it up.

4. My pack is always in my shelter as I have plenty of room. But lots of people keep them in the vestibule of their tent so they are close by and sheltered from the rain.

USA Duane Hall
(hikerduane) - F

Locale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
Newbie question, oldie answer on 07/11/2012 11:28:10 MDT Print View

Unless in the very high Sierra and further south from where I live in the extreme northern Sierra, I have my food with me and my pack by my shelter, close to where I can hear any scurrying or chewing. My old pack was chewed on the last night out on its first trip by a mouse I guess. When in more popular areas for hikes/bping, I will bring a canister, stashing it to where I can hear anything getting at it, just deer drool so far. I've never had any issues with bears and I always cook in camp, if you call boiling water cooking. Just my experience, maybe I do everything else neatly that allows me to not have any confrontations. I've even bped in Yosemite, Alaska without seeing a bear. I've heard there are supposed to be bear problems in Yosemite, maybe with me going in the Fall, I have no issues. Back east or other areas may have different issues than in the Sierra Nevada, I've heard the Adirondak bears are pretty sharp and the Yosemite bears can figure out ropes. I've been known to kill mice when they attack my food. So far 2 mice with assist from an owl on another.

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Newbie question on 07/11/2012 11:29:34 MDT Print View

I watched some interesting animal interaction one time. One guy was camped with his dog, and they were maybe 100 feet from the non-dog rest of our group. The black bear came into camp and was nosing around for food. The dog owner unzipped the tent door, and the dog came charging out of the tent after the bear, barking loudly. The bear ran away past us, but then turned around and bared its teeth at the approaching dog. The dog chickened out and ran back to the tent, and then the bear ambled off on its own.

The average black bear doesn't want to deal with angry dogs or angry humans. However, if you push them too far, they will at least bluff charge. Black bears are still dangerous animals.


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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Newbie question on 07/11/2012 11:47:38 MDT Print View

In 35 years of backpacking in Yosemite, I have never had any food stolen by a bear. Of course, dogs are not allowed in the backcountry at all there.

Marmots, however, will do a number on your gear. I had a marmot chew a gigantic hole in the back of a nice wool shirt (it was after the sweat salt), and the same marmot chewed the leather patches off a good backpack. You know how shoulder straps used to fasten to the main pack bag with sewn leather patches? The marmot chewed all of the leather out and left the nylon stitching in place. Then following that, the marmot does number two around your gear. Disgusting.

On some tents and shelters, you can stick your empty backpack between the inner layer and outer layer. That way, it doesn't take up room inside, but it is partly protected from the critters.


Kevin Babione
(KBabione) - MLife

Locale: Pennsylvania
Newbie Question on 07/11/2012 11:58:57 MDT Print View

I do almost all of my backpacking in the mountains of Pennsylvania and I have seen black bears while on the trail, but never had an issue with them in camp. I hang all food but I keep my toothpaste and other toiletries with me in my pack.

I keep my backpack near me, but it depends on my shelter:
- Tent: In the vestibule
- Tarp: Next to me on the ground
- Hammock: On the ground under the hammock

I'm also more concerned about a rodent chewing through my pack than I am about a bear getting to my food bag.

Jeffrey Windsor
(jeffreywindsor) - F
Bears vs critters on 07/11/2012 14:29:50 MDT Print View

Years ago on the JMT I did have a couple of uncomfortable (for me) encounters with a bear that never got past the sniffing around stage. Those were the days before mandatory canisters, and we hung our food (or used the lockers when those were available). Bears are scary, even when they're just sniffing around.

I have also had critters (marmots? Mice? Raccoons? Squirrels? Snarks?) gnaw through the pack cloth to get at the toothpaste, etc inside. I hate critters that gnaw on my stuff, but they don't scare me.

As a result, I always, always hang a bag of food, goops, and anything else that smells. I do not hang my pack, but either use it under my legs on the ground or hang it from the suspension lines of my hammock. I require those who share a campsite to hang all their smelly items, too; it is one area about which I stand firm: if you don't hang, I will not share a camp with you. Not that they have ever objected.

John Dee
(JohnD412) - F
Re; Newbie Question on 07/11/2012 20:13:45 MDT Print View

Thanks for all the responses!! I've come to the conclusion I will try to stay clean, if I spill any food on my clothes, those will go in the bear bag with scented items. Everything will be triple-bagged in heavy duty Ziplocs used for gathering water. I'll bring the pack in the shelter or tent with me and my dog. I bet that there are a lot of people with worse habits than this that sleep with their food and don't have problems.

I agree, bears can be scary, but I think (and it's easy to say while sitting on a couch) that if I hear things walking and sniffing, I'll just start unzipping my pack and get a pot out to bang on. The animal will probably be gone before I get the pot. I think doing something about it will get it over with faster so I will be able to go back to sleep instead of staying awake all night listening. Like I mentioned earlier it's probably better to alert it to youre presence from a distance rather than when it's snout is by your face - might shock it and scare it being so close.

Now the only thing I need to decide is, being a poor college aged student, should I take my 3lb Eureka Apollo 2 (I think it might be named Zeus 2. On the box it says apollo 2 though.) or should I take the 7 lb Walmart Ozark Trail with the heavier flooring. I suppose I could always duct tape the floor of the Eureka if the dog did poke through, and I may never use it because I plan on doing the majority of hiking with the pooch. But then again I'd like to preserve it in case I ever do some through hiking without the dog. Hmmm.

John Dee
(JohnD412) - F
Re: Newbie Q on 07/11/2012 20:36:46 MDT Print View

One thing other than the tent - Some of you mentioned not even hanging the bag, but when in black bear territory, do you hang your pack near your shelter or 100 yrds down wind?

Do you want to be able to scare the bear off or do you not want any interaction with it? probably no interaction, seeing as how you shouldn't need to scare the bear off if it is hung up.

Suppose I answered my own question..

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Newbie Q on 07/11/2012 23:48:58 MDT Print View

As a general rule, a full-size adult bear can't climb a tree very far (it's too fat), so a well-hung food bag should be safe. However, cub bears and yearling bears can generally climb very well. So, the mother bear sends the cub up the tree. It scratches or chews the cord, and the food bag falls down to the ground. Mom snatches it and runs off into the woods to dine.

Now, if you are tented very close to the tree, you can hear some of the commotion, so you can defend the tree by throwing rocks. Until the bears actually get paws on the food, it is still yours. Once they get paws on the food, it is theirs. I've slept next to the tree trunk.

Another trick is to put noisemakers around the tree trunk. I used to tie all of my metal pots and pans and spoons around the trunk on cords, then put one rock inside each pot. You tie that about five or six feet off the ground so that the bears can't simply jump above it to the trunk. You force them to clatter through the metal. That generally earns you at least a minute or two of warning. I also have some metal jingle bells on a nylon cord. If you come out yelling and screaming, or if you bark like an angry dog, it tends to send the bruins running. Throwing golfball size rocks tends to get good results.

Using a bear canister will actually simplify your life.


James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
"Newbie question" on 07/12/2012 04:53:59 MDT Print View

Blackbears are not Grizlies. They tend to be more stealthy and leave people alone. They generally have a real good sense of smell, as others said. Black bears can climb much better. Even adults can climb well. Generally, hanging from a 15' branch, 4-5' out from a trunk and down four feet or so will deter them pretty well. I have had bears going through camp, snuffling around a tarp or around a fire (they are not afraid of fires) but never have they retreived my food from a tree. Minibears are a different problem. Squirrels, coons, possums, etc can and will get into anything they think might have food. I have three packs with holes in them from minibears. Anyway, blackbears are fairly timid and it is rare to see one. Even hiking through the High Peaks in NY (with a good concentration of bears, I have only ever seen one in 40 years, there. They never seem to bother you during the day. Not to ignore them, take precautions, but they are not as aggresive as grizzlies. Grizzlies are more of a predator. Given any reason they WILL attack you. Blackbears under similar conditions, will simply leave.

Jen Churchward
(mahgnillig) - F
dogs & bears on 07/13/2012 20:34:06 MDT Print View

I do pretty much all of my hiking & backpacking in black bear country. I've seen bears twice when out on the trail... I'm sure there are many more out there. My 2 dogs (flat coated retriever and coonhound) come with me every time. They're not so much for protection from the bears as an early warning system... they hear much better than I do, and don't hesitate to offer up a low pitched "woof" if something gets their attention.

Personally I don't go to great lengths to keep my cooking area separate... I just cook in camp. I do make sure all my food and toiletries are tidied away into a bear canister or Ursack at the end of the night though. The canister/Ursack will also discourage nibbling by small creatures. I keep my pack in the tent vestibule so my dogs can alert me if any small creatures decide to try eating my stuff for the salt. If I was bear bagging instead of using a canister or Ursack I'd never hang my pack... I'd much rather a cheapo stuff sack gets chewed than my expensive backpack! That said I'm not much for bear bagging anyway... I'd rather carry a canister than spend all night worrying about cubs divebombing my food sack!

One last thing... if you're worried about your dog's claws on the tent floor, you could just take along a sheet of Tyvek to line the floor with... it's light weight peace of mind.

bears on 07/14/2012 07:32:44 MDT Print View

You dont say where you are, but the location makes a huge difference.

Bears are quite different in different locales. Depends on their exposure to people, and people food, population concentration(how hard they have to work to find food), and food conditions (berry crop, drought, etc.)

Some places, have plenty of bears but you will never see them or know they are around.

Others have plenty of problems with them.

Bears that are hunted with dogs seem to be more afraid of people.

I dont hesitate to sleep with my food in my tent in many places with bears. Other places i would not think of it.

For instance, the GSMNP. A few ridiculously large park bears get notoriously bold and not afraid of people. Best to hang everything.

Edited by livingontheroad on 07/14/2012 07:33:41 MDT.