Hanging Smellables, Using Bear Bags and Canisters, Planning Ahead

Camping in bear country can be tricky, especially when it comes to protecting food and smellables from being raided by a bear. The consequences can be significant for not just a camper, but also the bear itself. Taking some simple precautions can help lower the risk of this from happening.

What are Smellables?

A smellable is food or other products that have a smell that can attract a bear into camp. Bears will be interested in human food, as they have strong odors, and have more calories than a bear’s natural food sources. A partial list of other bear attractants can include:

  • Drink mix bottles
  • Lotions and creams
  • First aid items
  • Toiletry items
  • Clothing that has food spills or stains.

Check with the local land manager for items that they consider smellables.

Using Bear Bags to Protect Food and Smellables From Bears

Hanging bear bags is a common method to reduce the chance that a bear will get into food. Take one hundred feet of rope, such as thick cordage or clothesline rope, and throw each end over a tree branch. The branches should be high, forty or fifty feet above the ground. The higher the better.

Tie the bear bags close together to the rope using a clove-hitch knot or girth hitch. Have people on each end pull the rope out, and the bags up into the air. Tie the rope ends to separate trees. The bags should be twenty to thirty feet above the ground.

Using Bear Canisters to Protect Food From Bears

Plastic bear canisters are another method of protecting food from bears. These small barrels can fit in a pack, and are made of tough plastic that are virtually indestructible to bears. The plus side is that there are no bear ropes to hang. The downside is that it can be difficult to store more than a few day’s worth of food. This system works well for an individual or two people for a few days, but may not work as well for a large group of people.

Set Up a Smart Campsite to Deter Bears

When setting up camp, place shelters several hundred feet away from the cooking area, so that a bear will be less likely to come into a tent at night, and to isolate the shelters away from where most of the food smells will be. Bear bags or bear canisters can be several hundred feet away in the opposite direction. A common image is of a triangle, with shelters, the camp area, and food in three different directions.

Check Ahead for Bear Danger Before Hiking

Before traveling to an area, check with the local land manager for current bear activity, and any advice they may have on bear behavior for their area. For instance, Yellowstone National Park has detailed information for visitors on bears in the park, and precautions. Ask if they have facilities for hanging bear bags, such as poles or cables, or boxes to store food.

Not properly storing food and smellables can mean that a bear could become a problem bear, which means it could get into other camper’s food. Eventually the bear could be put down because of its threat to people. Campers who do not properly secure their food could receive fines from land managers. By taking some simple steps, hikers and campers can help protect a valuable and special part of the environment.