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Cooking clothes in bear country – Needed?
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Craig Rosler
Cooking clothes in bear country – Needed? on 05/07/2007 16:01:12 MDT Print View

Greetings, all:

I wonder if I might tap the collective wisdom for some input and advice.

Friends and I are heading to Banff this September. Short trip: 5 days.

We’ll of course be taking various precautions for bear. The most experienced of us has suggested that we need a set of clothes just to cook in. I know of this tactic but cringe at the thought of hauling an extra (one purpose only!) set of duds along. Might the need for cooking clothes be negated by another common tactic: eating dinner one hour or so before making camp? You know - eat, get back on the trail for awhile, camp. This would obviously keep our camp well away from cooking-area orders; might it also give us time to air out and get the odors largely off our clothing? (The latter seems unlikely but I thought I’d ask.)

I have yet to see any ultralight gear list on BPL include a second set of clothes solely for cooking purposes. With the collective experience level here being enormous, I can’t imagine the food safety concern when in bear country is just being overlooked. So I’m wondering how ultralight folks handle this, and what you --- okay, I’m from Atlanta, I’ll go ahead and say it --- what y’all make of the cook-then-hike approach.

Many thanks in advance. And many rewarding miles to all of you.

- Craig Rosler

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Cooking clothes in bear country – Needed? on 05/07/2007 19:02:21 MDT Print View

Hi Craig,
Cook and hike is a prudent part of avoiding bear trouble in the backcountry. Grizzlies take the whole situation to a different level, and I would suggest a couple of other things you might consider in addition: 1) Go cold food, i.e. don't cook, or maybe limit your cooking to boiling water for tea(not coffee-it has a very strong odor which, if not attractive to bears, definitely alerts them to your presence from afar); 2) Carefully select your food items with a view to low odor and messiness. Odor is an obvious problem, messiness(stickiness, oily-ness, powdery-ness) is where food ends up on your clothes, or under your fingernails or cuticles and then on your clothes and, even worse, your sleeping bag; 3) Wash your hands thouroughly after eating, before touching any clothing or other gear. Wash around your mouth as well. 4) Consider not using toothpaste when brushing your teeth. It's a real bear attractant. The same goes for any other personal grooming products. Leave 'em home. I hope this all doesn't sound paranoid, but bears have an incredible sense of smell and keeping odors to a minimum is absolutely critical to avoiding problems. Have a great trip.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Cooking clothes in bear country – Needed? on 05/07/2007 21:51:56 MDT Print View

I hike in bear country almost always (black not grizzlies though). I am a boil water-add to bag type of cooker. Cooking long meals can be an issue, where you are leaning over the pot, getting covered in the aroma. Eating meals that are either freeze dried or doing freezer bag cooking avoids the pesky bathing of smells all over you. If you did cook traditionally, a second set of clothes could be acceptable, as tradition had it, you bear bagged those clothes at night. One more reason I don't cook traditionally ;-)

And definitely clean up after eating as noted. Nothing wrong with eating an hour or two before you get to camp. Helps break the cycle of bears connecting aroma=food.

Erin McKittrick
(mckittre) - MLife

Locale: Seldovia, Alaska
Re: Cooking clothes in bear country – Needed? on 05/07/2007 22:34:23 MDT Print View

I'll answer with a question. How human-food-habituated are the bears in Banff?

Bears are smart animals, and bear culture varies widely place to place. For instance, where I hike in Alaska, the grizzly bears are generally not habituated at all. Many people sleep peacefully with their food.

On the other hand, there are some grizzly bears in the lower 48 that are absolute experts in getting into hikers food.

In my experience, bear encounters during the day are far more likely than at night. Cook, hike, then sleep is a good idea. And go ahead and brush your teeth. If you're worried, just do it where you're eating, not sleeping. I don't think cook clothes are necessary.

If a bear already associates hikers with food, he might come poking around whether you smell or not (you probably always smell like all sorts of things to a bear) - just store your food well. If a bear doesn't have that association, chances are very low he'll wander into your camp.

And I hope you do see some bears (from a comfortable distance). They're amazing animals


Craig Rosler
Thanks! on 05/08/2007 06:02:27 MDT Print View

Thanks for the great advice, folks. I really appreciate it and am sure it will help. In truth, I do hope to see a bear --- though, as Erin says, from a comfortable distance!

That's a sharp point about bear habituation. I'll look into it. My guess is that they're pretty accustomed to human traffic in Banff.

Thanks again.

- Craig

cat morris
(catt) - F

Locale: Alaska
In Alaska on 05/08/2007 19:56:15 MDT Print View

I live in Alaska & have backpacked all over with many different backpackers. We hike among bears all the time. None of us sleep with our food, nor would we recommend it. We have buried food bags in rocks in high tundra, used ursacks, used bear canisters, hung our food, used bear lockers. Never should anyone sleep in brown or black bear country in Alaska with food in the tent, even though our brown bears are not (yet!) habituated. We want to keep them that way! At the Russian River where we salmon fish they have had to outlaw tents at the campground due to bears tearing into tents with sleepers in them, so the bears are developing some bad bear habits. Denali Nat'l Park does an incredible job training humans in keeping brown bears non-habituated. What they recommend is the triangulated campsite method with cook area, sleep area, & food storage area(canisters)100 yards away from the other. We minimalize foods odors by leaving our beloved smoked salmon at home along with strong smelling meats, tuna, sardines, etc. We air out the clothes we eat in & like Sarah we use ziplock bag method rather than boiling stews. We wash any food spills from clothes or equipment. We sleep in our skivies or longjohns. We don't wear perfumy lotions or any cosmetic odor. We keep out campsite meticulously clean of any food droppings. We keep toothpaste in our bear bag, not our tents. But we do brush our teeth! And yes, we have been lucky enough to see lots of bears, a couple a little bit too close!

Edited by catt on 05/08/2007 20:00:16 MDT.

Craig Rosler
Thanks, Cat. on 05/10/2007 06:18:00 MDT Print View

I appreciate the insight.



Aaron Bradshaw
(bradshaw) - F

Locale: Alberta
Don't worry about it on 05/29/2007 11:58:03 MDT Print View

I hike in/around Jasper and Banff often and the parks office doesn't even suggest you use cook clothes to avoid bear trouble. So I doubt it's an issue.

BTW, the only bears I've seen in the Rockies have been on the side of the road (both grizzlies and black). I have yet to see one in the backcountry.

James Loy
(jimbluz) - M

Locale: Pacific NW
I'm with you, Aaron on 06/03/2007 14:31:04 MDT Print View

I agree with you Aaron. I've done a fair amount of hiking & backing in Banff & Jasper, some where there was a bear warning notice, and I've not had a problem heating water for freeze-dried food. The only bears I have seen there are beside the road as well. I'd recommend checking with the Visitors Centers where you can also get your backcountry and camp permits, and following their advice. As for coffee, haven't heard of that one before and I've read a considerable number of books and articles about camping in bear country. Have fun!

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re coffee and toothpaste-a clarification on 06/03/2007 17:01:44 MDT Print View

From several of the postings above, I get the impression that the posters thought I was recommending against brushing teeth. What I wrote was: When brushing your teeth, consider not using tooth paste. Tooth paste was my intended culprit, not brushing one's teeth, for the simple reason that tooth paste smells, and smells sweet. There are plenty of alternatives. Enough said. As for coffee, I didn't find that in any article. My reasoning is based on the fact that bears are highly intelligent, inquisitive animals capable of making associations. Coffee is highly odiferous and is very widely used nearly everywhere people go in the backcountry, which IMHO makes it very likely that wherever bears have come in contact with people, they have come to associate it with people and, therefore, FOOD. Hence my recommendation to consider going without in areas where bears are a real problem, especially in grizzly country. Even where bears may not be habituated, the odor of coffee will appeal to their natural curiosity and they will likely come to check it out. Sound like the beginning of habituation? Like a number of the above posters, I have done a lot of backpacking in country where bears are problematic and since adopting the practices I posted above after 2 nearly trip ending confrontations in the Bubbs Creek drainage 30 years ago, I have had zero bear problems. Doesn't make me an expert, but I do feel comfortable tossing my ideas out for consideration. People can agree or disagree, but I just want to be sure they understand exactly what I said first. Good thread.

Edited by ouzel on 06/05/2007 17:36:12 MDT.