A curious bear investigating a bear canister
A curious bear investigating a bear canister via GoAwayBear.com

Learn To Be “Bear Aware”

With fall quickly approaching and hibernation seasons coming up, it’s especially important to be extra careful when venturing into the backcountry. Bears, black and grizzly alike are beginning the process of bulking up for their long winter sleep. They’re looking for all sources of food, weather foraging or hunting, making your campsite and food cache a potential target.

Permanent Bear Box
Permanent Bear Box

It’s particularly important to ensure that your food is properly stored when spending time at campsite. Bears aren’t normally a threat to humans, until they begin to associate humans as a food source. If you’re camping in a designated camp site, such as a National Park or KOA campsite, you will generally be provided with permanent bear boxes or fixed bear lines so that you can safely store your food. Follow the guidelines put forth by campsite administrators to ensure that you and future campers alike will maintain safety while enjoying the outdoors.

Traveling in the backcountry offers different challenges as there aren’t fixed areas to store food so you’ll have to develop your own. Here’s a few good ways to do so.

Bear Bag Line

Hanging Double Rope Bear Line
Hanging Double Rope Bear Line

The first, tried and true method is to build a bear line by hanging your food in a tree. Storage via tree has been the go-to option for years and years, and works fairly well, but isn’t perfect. Generally speaking, you’re going to want to try and hang your food with a double line pulley system to effectively suspend your food in-between two trees, rather than a single system that will dangle it from a branch. Find two trees that are about 20ft apart, with similar branches that range at least 17ft above the ground. Toss your rope over each branch and secure a carabineer to each end being lifted. Gather all of your smellables (food, clothing, cosmetics that smell like food) into one collection and secure both lines to the bag or container. Start by hauling up the bag on one side until it’s about half-way up the tree. Secure your first line and then head over to the second line. Haul up the second line and watch as the collection of food moves up and away from the first tree until it is safely suspended in between both trees.  Using the double rope system is best because of the way that it successfully suspended the food in-between the trees. While a single rope system will often successfully get your food off the ground, bears can and will (I’ve seen it) climb the tree in order to get to the food. While certain acrobatic bears will actually climb out onto the double rope in order to get to food, the chances are much less likely. It should be noted, however, that this system whether single or double line, is still accessible by squirrels and acrobatic raccoons

The Bear Canister

Lock-and-Key Style Bear Cannister
Lock-and-Key Style Bear Cannister

Bear canisters are specifically designed heavy duty plastic canisters that show high success in keeping bears out. Generally speaking they are highly durable plastic containers with latch and key, or screw on lids. Personally, I use the latch and key containers. Through my years I’ve heard rumors of bears successfully being able to chew off or unscrew the screw on containers. They generally carry 3-5 days worth of food and come with a handy carrying case. They work best for kayaking, horse packing and short backpacking trips, but can be used for any activity. They’re especially effective because they will protect your food from all animals as well as most weather conditions too, and they don’t require trees to hang.

The Bear Triangle

The Bear Triangle (courtesy of LNT.ORG)
The Bear Triangle (courtesy of LNT.ORG)

If you find yourself in an area without tree coverage, your best bet is to protect your campsite by building a bear triangle. If you’re using bear canisters you won’t need to worry about protecting your food on the ground as you can leave your food stored in the containers. If you’re not using containers, you can pile your food in a condensed area and pile rocks on top. I also like to stack noise items on top of my food as well. Noisy items, such as pots and water bottles, will bang and clang together when an animal tries to get under them. If you’re lucky and your critter is skittish, this will likely startle them and they will run off, but probably come back. Mostly what it will do is wake you up, or notify you that your food is in danger. DON’T GO FIGHT FOR YOUR FOOD. You never want to put yourself in a dangerous situation, but at least you will be aware if the animal decides to investigate the area. Set 3 locations for your camp. Put your tent and sleeping gear in one corner, your food storage in another, and your cooking area in the third. You’ll want these locations to be reasonably far apart, 100-300ft in distance, to prevent traceable smells from leading the animals back to you. Be mindful that this technique is important to use for bears, skunks, raccoons, squirrels, and any other form of dangerous or damaging critter that you might come across.

As always, check with your local authorities about bear safety. Certain parks have different standards about where, how and what to use when ensuring safe food storage in the back country. Take the time to do some research about what will be provided, the terrain you’ll be working with and the best practices to ensure the safety of you and your party.

Happy Trails Everyone!

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