30 June 2018
30 June 2018
An encounter with one of North America’s 600,000-or-so wildbears can be both a wonderful and terrifying experience. Wonderful in that, for many people (including us), seeingwild animals for the first time is always a specialmoment. But also terrifying in that coming face-to-face with a hungry 600lb (272 kg) black bear or 800lb (362 kg) grizzly is potentially the stuff of nightmares.
So, with the increasing number of tourists who visit the USA’s bear-inhabited National Parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, it’s perhapsnot surprising that human/bear encounters are on the increase, too. Where this becomes especially problematic, though, is when a bear discovers that there areeasy pickings for food at National Park campsites. Because if a bear is successful in finding food it learns quickly and is almost certainlylikelyto return for more.
Which can have consequences for the people who are camping there.
But even more serious consequences for the bear.
A fully grown black bear can grow as large as 600 lbs (272 kgs)
- Bears and food
- What’s a bear box?
- Things to consider
- Final thoughts
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- Submit a comment
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Bears and food
Despite their reputation, bears in the wild have a diet that largely consists of plants, although they also eat insects, fish and other animals. However, they are opportunist eaters, which means that if presented with the opportunity, they’ll happily consume human food and garbage.
If there’s human food close by – even if it’s locked away in a cooler box inside a car – a hungry bear’s incredible sense of smell will render it irresistible. To make matters worse, anything that has an odour, such as toothpaste, bug spray, soap and first aid kits, will be mistaken for food, too.
And don’t think that a locked vehicle is any barrier between a hungry bear and an easy meal. Its powerful claws can rip off a car window in seconds.
Unfortunately, if food or garbage is not properly stored away, the chain of events can end in tragedy. Typically, something like this:
- A bear follows the smell of food into a campsite, breaks into avehicle and steals what’s inside
- It remembers where it found the food and returns on another occasion
- It starts to prefer human food over natural sources and, at the same time, loses its fear of humans
- The bear then begins to approach humans for food
- It becomes aggressive and unpredictable
- As a result, the bear is euthanised/destroyed/killed by the authorities
So, although the curious sight of a large black bear feeding on scraps of food left beside a campfire might look amusing, there are serious implications for the animal.
The good news is that many of the USA’s National Parks provide a ready-made solution in the form of reinforced steel “bear boxes”. And, for the bear population, the proper use of them – as we’ve already discussed – can be a matter of life and death.
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A black bear looks for food in a bin
What’s a bear box?
Essentially, it’s a two-door metal food-storage box, which can be large enough to fit up to 12 cool boxes if needed. Where a campsite provides them, there’ll be one for each pitch. And you’ll be expected to use them.
They can differ slightly, depending on the campsite. And there are a variety of locker mechanisms. But each is designed to be bear-proof, so everythingstored inside is safe. However,they don’t come with padlocks, nor can you attach your own lock to them, either.
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A typical bear box used in North America’s National Parks
First of all, you should make it a priority to transfer everything from your vehicle to your bear box as soon as you arrive on site. After all, it’s easier to put up a tent or cook a campfire dinner without looking over your shoulder for a hungry bear.
Of course, if you’re moving from campsite to campsite, having to ferry everything between your vehicle and the bear box can become tiresome. However, with a little planning, you can make things a lot easier on yourself.
For instance, you can save a lot of time by placing your food, toiletries, cleaning products etc in separate cooler boxes or robust bags before you head out. In fact, packing food inside sealed containers not only helps with storage but keeps tempting odours to a minimum, too.
You’ll also need to take the weather into account as a hot sun beaming down on a metal box containing perishable food is never a great combination. So, if you can, look for a pitch where there’s good shade. And one where the box is close to where you’ll be cooking and eating.
Pick a pitch where the bear box is close to where you’ll be cooking and eating
There’s another good reason for using a bear box where a campsite provides one. And that’s because its use is enforced by federal law. Which can mean a fine of up to $5000 and the impoundment of your food or vehicle.
But, despite this, we saw several examples of wanton neglect during our recent California National Park road trip. There was even one couple who left out overnight at least a dozen cooler boxes full of food and drinks – stacked on the roof of their SUV and their picnic table. Fortunately for these reckless idiots, both the local bears and the park rangers appeared to have had the night off.
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Not using the bear box properly could cost you $1000 at Lake Tahoe, California
We were actually quite disappointed that we didn’t see a bear (at a safe distance) during our two weeks in California’s National Parks. But that wasn’t particularly surprising,given that bears generally tend to avoid contact with humans.
However, where contact does take place, problems typically arise because of two scenarios. One is where the human inadvertently separates a mother bear from her cub. The other is where a hungry bear is separated from its food. Especially after the hibernation season is over and it’s on the hunt for anything it can get its powerful paws on.
So, if you’re camping in bear country any time soon and you don’t want to be on the receiving end of a visit from a 600-pound single-minded beast in the middle of the night, then please heed the warning signs that are on full display at most campsites.
Use the bear box provided to store your food, rubbish and anything else that might give off an odour.
By doing so you’ll be able to sleep soundly in the knowledgethat not only are you protecting yourself but you’ll also be saving a bear from inadvertently signing its own death warrant.
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What did you think? Have you camped in bear country? Do you have any recommendations to add? Or perhaps you’re thinking of camping in a National Park in the near future? Either way, we’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below.
For more information on black bears and what to do if you encounter one, check out this page on the National Park Servicewebsite.
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Hi, we're Ian and Nicky, an English couple on a voyage of discovery around the world, and this blog is designed to reflect what we see, think and do. Actually, we'd like to think it also providesinformation, entertainment and inspiration for other “mature” travellers, too.So please feel free to pour yourself a glass of something suitably chilled and take a look around.
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Carrie Ann | Should Be Cruising on February 28, 2020 at 10:12 pm
This is excellent info to know! We just took our first trip to Alaska late last year, and saw quite a few bears. We’ve been thinking about returning and spending more time in the national parks. I’m glad to hear that many of them provide these bear boxes, for the safety of the campers and the bears. Thanks for the info!
Nicky on March 2, 2020 at 11:02 am
You’re welcome! Thanks for stopping by 🙂
Sinjana on July 14, 2018 at 6:01 pm
Very useful advice for responsible tourism. Loved the cute bear pictures and the fun facts about them
Ian on July 16, 2018 at 7:26 pm
Thanks, Sinjana.(Video) SCARY ROBLOX GAME! BEAR CHASE! 🐻 = 🏃 FGTeeV Creepy Hide and Seek (#55)
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Why is a bear bag important? ›
THE PURPOSE OF HANGING A BEAR BAG IS TO KEEP BEARS WILD! The primary purpose of hanging a bear bag at night or using a bear canister is to keep bears wild. Period. If a bear starts eating human food because of your carelessness or hubris (excessive pride), it's possible that it will stop seeking natural food sources.How effective are bear bags? ›
In a best-case scenario (i.e., a skilled hanger, a light food load, favorable trees nearby, and no mistakes), hanging a bear bag takes about 15 minutes. But it rarely works out that way. Why? Most backpackers have limited hanging skills and experience and are therefore inefficient.How do you use a bear box? ›
- Prepare food, eat, and store your bear-resistant food canister at least 100 yards downwind from your tent.
- Store your canister on the ground hidden in brush or behind rocks.
- Do not place canister near a cliff or water source. ...
- Watch for approaching bears.
- Invest in an odor-resistant liner, the OPsack that the company also sells. They 're made from a special film that is supposedly 17,000 times more odor resistant than other plastics. ...
- Hang them if you can and if it's legal. It just makes sense. ...
- Cinch and tie them.
Yes, if you're camping through bear country with food, you really should have that food in a bear canister. Not only could you put yourself in serious danger, you could pay up to $5,000 in fines if you choose not to at Yosemite National Park.What does a bear bag mean? ›
Definition of bear bag
A robust and waterproof food storage bag made to safeguard food in bear environments. Campers place their food items and cooking supplies into these bags. They then use a rope to suspend these bags from a high tree limb, out of reach and far from camp.
It's waterproof and nearly indestructible under normal use conditions. It's even got an optional shoulder strap which is great for lashing the bag down when paddling or carrying the food as you walk to your bear hang site. (Remember to always hang your bear bags at least 100 yards from your campsite!)What do you put in a bear bag? ›
What to Pack in a Bear Bag - YouTubeWhat are bear bags made of? ›
Bear Bags. Unlike bear canisters, bear bags aren't made of a hard material like plastic but are typically kevlar or another bullet-proof fabric. This makes them lighter and less bulky than canisters, and they are therefore easier to cart around.How do bear cans work? ›
In case you don't know, bear canisters are a hard-sided container with a locking lid. They often feature locks that require opposable thumbs or keys, making them more difficult to open for the bears. The canister is usually made of plastic or metal that is durable enough to withstand even the most determined bear.
Should you use a bear canister? ›
Generally, you should keep your food in a bear canister, or hang it using the counterbalance method. Hard-sided canisters are the most effective way to protect your food. They're the best choice for most of the trail.Can I use any bag as a bear bag? ›
Bear bags don't have to be fancy, odor-proof, or waterproof. If you're in a pinch, you can hang food in a tree with a garbage bag or any other way you can get everything suspended.How can we protect our food from bears? ›
To be bear-proof, food must be suspended at least 10 feet off the ground and 8 feet from the trunk of a tree. To accomplish this by creating a bear bag, you'll need to arry 50 to 100 feet of thin cord and two stuff sacks. Look for a load-bearing branch 20 to 25 feet overhead that extends far enough from the trunk.Can bears smell packaged food? ›
Bears have an insatiable appetite and an amazing sense of smell, and they consider anything with a scent to be "food." This can include canned goods, bottles, drinks, soaps, cosmetics, toiletries, trash, ice chests, sunscreen, bug repellant, fuel, items used for preparing or eating meals, etc.Are yetis bear proof? ›
Bear tested, YETI approved. Keep your goods safe and grizzlies out. YETI Tundra® Hard Coolers meet the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) standards for bear-resistant containers when used with extra-long shank Master Lock® Padlocks.Do bear proof containers work? ›
Bear-resistant containers only work if they are closed and locked. Be sure to keep the container closed and locked even while you're around your campsite. Place containers on flat, level ground 100 feet or more from your campsite.What to do if you see a black bear? ›
Back away when possible. If attacked, immediately fight back. DON'T feed bears. A word about bear spray: Bear spray (pepper spray specifically made as a bear deterrent) can be an effective tool if you encounter an aggressive bear.Can bears cut rope? ›
It's particularly helpful when you have heavy food loads. Bears are very intelligent and some bears are smart enough to know that by cutting the diagonal rope to the tree, they can bring down the food bag.How long should you hang a bear? ›
There is no benefit to aging bear meat longer than 24 hours. It is very important to thoroughly cook bear meat until gray in color but do not cook in a microwave.How long is bear bag line? ›
At least 25 feet of rope: Invest in something durable that you can leave in your backpack for years. Paracord is a great investment.
Is a bear bag necessary for backpacking? ›
If you're backpacking overnight in an area where bears are known to inhabit, you definitely should consider using a bear canister to store your food. Using a bear container is the simplest and most effective way to prevent bears from accessing your food.What is a bear bag and how does it work? ›
A bear hang is an improvised system of cord, sacks or bags, and sometimes carabiners and pulleys used to suspend food in a tree, primarily to protect it from black bears, as well as from rodents (especially in high-use campsites) and grizzly bears (in select areas only).What do you do if you don't have a bear bag? ›
Bear bags don't have to be fancy, odor-proof, or waterproof. If you're in a pinch, you can hang food in a tree with a garbage bag or any other way you can get everything suspended.Do bear proof bags work? ›
Unfortunately, bear bags aren't smell-proof, which means that they may still attract curious critters to investigate anything that smells like food. They can also be difficult to set up. They need to be hung to be effective, so you'll have to take time to find a strong branch far enough away from your camp to be safe.Are bear bags waterproof? ›
Bear Outdoor Waterproof Dry Bag -- Perfect Accessory for Kayaking Boating and Other Water Activities! It is made of premium quality 500D PVC Tarp for maximized protection against water.Are bear vaults smell proof? ›
The short answer is yes, bears still may be able to smell food in your canister. While canisters do significantly reduce smell transmission, they cannot eliminate it completely. That's why food storage safety isn't based on tricking a bear's nose—they can potentially smell just about anything.How do you keep food safe from bears when camping? ›
Be sure to keep the container closed and locked even while you're around your campsite. Place containers on flat, level ground 100 feet or more from your campsite. Do NOT place containers near cliffs or any water source, as a bear may knock the container around or roll it down a hill trying to open it.