When camping in bear country, make sure to follow a few simple procedures that will lower your chance of encountering one of these animals. Although a bear sighting can turn an ordinary camping trip into a lasting memory, the truth is that bears have become extremely efficient at stealing food from unwary campers. This is especially true in areas such as the Adirondacks and Smoky Mountains. Taking the proper precautions will make your camping trip a safe experience.
Choosing Your Campsite
The best way to keep you and your food safe from bears is to simply choose a campsite known to be in a bear-free area. If garbage is strewn about or tracks and droppings are found, there’s a good chance a bear has been around. These animals are quick learners and will often hang around sites where they know food is plentiful. Choose a spot that’s clean and has no traces of previous campers.
Make sure to pitch your tent at least 100 yards from any cooking areas, whether it’s your own or a communal space. Be sure to do all of your cooking and eating in this designated area to keep your campsite as scent-free as possible. This includes washing camping cooking equipment (away from your tent, of course) immediately and storing leftovers properly.
Never bring food inside your tent. Although black bears are not known for entering tents with humans inside, it should be best practice to keep any food away from you and in appropriate containers. The best option is to take along a portable bear-proof food cache. Bear-proof food storage containers are constructed in such a way that they can’t be crushed or pried open by a bear. Make sure that the container you choose seals in all food odors and is large enough to hold all the food you intend to carry, yet small enough to fit into your backpack.
Without a bear-proof container, you’ll need to do what Appalachian Trail hikers have been doing for years—sling a bear bag into the trees. To do this, pack your leftovers or any snacks into a sealed plastic bag and stuff it into your backpack. Tie one end of a rope to your pack, and throw the other end over a branch that’s at least 10 feet from the trunk and 10 to 15 feet above the ground. Pull the rope until your bag is high enough, and then tie it off to another branch, bush, rock, or stake.
If you use this method, be sure to also rig it up far away from your tent to avoid any encounters.
Over the years, bears have learned to equate human campsites with easy meals. In addition to their powerful sense of smell, they have strong color vision that can differentiate between coolers, backpacks, food bags, other containers, and camping gear, so it’s important to keep these items out of sight when you’re milling about camp or heading to bed.
If you choose to store leftover food in your car, keep it in your trunk. Bears have been known to open car doors and pry off windshields just for a taste of those Doritos.
It should also be noted that dogs kill more people every year than bears, and lightning kills more than both of these combined, by a long shot. Remember that most of the time, even if a bear does approach your campsite, it’s out of curiosity, not an intent to attack you.
Even so, it never hurts to play it safe. So follow these easy tips to ensure that you’re the only one enjoying your food when you venture into the wilderness.
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