How To Keep Bears Away From Your Campsite

When you see a bear on your street, maybe digging through your neighbor’s dumpster, you’re not really scared, are you?

That’s because the bear is in your territory. It’s in the place you call home and are comfortable with. But the role reverses when you’re out camping or in the wilderness.

Bears are a common guest at campsites all across the United States. Most prominent among those guests are black bears, and occasionally grizzly bears. What do you do when you come face to face with a 500lb black bear?

Do you know how to keep bears away from your campsite? The best methods to do so are:

  • Scout out your site for signs of bears before setting up shop
  • Keep your sleeping, cooking, and food storage areas separate
  • Store your food and waste in airtight, bear-proof containers
  • Clean up the campsite, making sure to remove all trash and food scraps

Taking precautionary measures when camping is key to keeping bears away from your campsite. There are a few other tips for deterring bears, like what to do when a bear gets close.

Keep reading to learn how to scare away bears while camping and hiking, as well as the best protective measures you can take. 

Tips For How To Keep Bears Away While Camping

Bears are beautiful creatures, but they can be dangerous if they feel threatened. If you’re planning on camping in an area where bears live, it’s important to take some precautions to avoid an encounter.

Before you even pop out of the tent, you need to make sure you have a bear safety plan ready, which starts with where your campsite is located:

Scout Out Your Campsite

The best way to avoid problems with bears is to choose a campsite that’s not appealing to them. That means you should avoid areas where there’s lots of food for bears, like berry bushes or Clawberry trees.

You should also try to camp in an open area rather than in the woods or near a river where bears might be looking for food. If you’re camping in a park, check with the ranger station to see if any specific areas are known for being bear-friendly or not.

Also, do a quick sweep of the campsite and surrounding area for signs of bears. This can include pawprints, scat, fur on briars or branches, and claw marks in tree bark. Keep an eye out for food scraps or trash from previous campers, because they can be an alluring treat for bears, it might just take them a while to come and find it. 

Set Up Your Campsite Correctly

Setting up a campsite might seem like a pretty simple task, but when it comes to bears, there are a few rules to abide by.

Your core activity areas–sleeping, cooking, and food storage–must be in a triangle formation. Allow at least 100 feet between each area, that way you have ample time to react if you’re in a tent and a bear finds your food.

It might seem like a long distance, but to have your camping components so far apart ensures that no matter where you’re at, you’re always equidistant from the area the bear might show up. For example, if you’re sleeping, you’re equally as far from the food as you are from the cooking area. 

Protect Your Food

Bears have a very keen sense of smell, and even if your food is all sealed up in plastic storage bags, it might not be enough to keep the bear away. There are two steps to protecting your food from bears:

First, you need to store your food in an airtight, bear-proof container. Certain coolers are rated to keep scents contained and are built with tough materials that protect your goods from bear claws or teeth.

Second, you need to elevate your food cooler. What does that mean? Well, make sure to bring some rope, because you’re supposed to hoist your cooler at least 15 feet in the air to deter bears from even attempting to get at it. If a bear wanders up and sees that he’s going to have to do some serious acrobatics and climbing to get a few nibbles in, he’s likely to go looking for easier spoils.

You should also keep all scented items like sunscreen, insect repellent, and lotions in airtight containers. If you need to use them during the day, put them back as soon as you’re done. The same goes for your trash. Anything with a scent should be stored away so bears can’t smell it.

Clean Up After Yourself

Speaking of trash, the last tip is to keep your campsite clean. Small food scraps that fall off your plate while cooking should be picked up, any leftovers need to be stored properly, and all trash should be stored in airtight containers as well.

Make sure to clean all your cooking utensils after using them, and don’t bring any foodstuff into your tent. You have to keep smelly items separate from the rest of your gear.

Even though bears are mainly looking for food, if they haven’t gotten a whiff of your burgers and dogs yet, they might be drawn to unusual smells.

Kerosene, citronella, bug spray, sunscreen, etc, can all attract them. They know that where there are those smells, there is bound to be food.

Not only is cleaning up your campsite good for keeping bears away, but it’s also just common decency. Protect the planet by properly disposing of your trash, and leave the campsite bear-safe for the next guests.

How To Scare Away Bears While Camping

If you do happen to encounter a bear while camping, don’t panic. There are a few things you can do to scare it away without putting yourself in danger.

Use Bear Spray

Bear spray is essentially pepper spray on steroids, and it’s very effective at deterring bears. It’s a good idea to keep it within arm’s reach when you’re camping, just in case. Bear spray can even be used on other large animals such as cougars as well.

Make Loud Noises

If you see a bear from a distance, start making loud noises to scare it away. Yelling, clapping your hands, banging pots and pans–anything to get that bear’s attention. If the bear is close by, try throwing rocks at it or spraying it with your bear spray.

Don’t Run

One of the worst things you can do is run from a bear. Not only does it scare the bear, but it also puts you in danger. Bears can easily outrun a human, so if you encounter one and start sprinting, you’re going to end up as dinner.

This is why you should always back up slowly and keep your body facing the bear at all times as you attempt to evade. The second you turn around the bear will take that as a signal that you’re its prey.

If you’re faced with a situation where you need to scare away a bear, try using one of these above tactics. If that doesn’t work and the bear gets too close, your best bet is to play dead. Lie on your stomach, keep your head down, and clasp your hands behind your neck. Hopefully, the bear will lose interest and wander off.

Best Protection from Bears

There’s no one definitive answer for how to protect yourself from bears while camping, as each situation is different. However, the best protection from a bear is usually noise.

Bears have very sensitive ears and are accustomed to the quietude of the forest, so loud, man-made sounds frighten them more than you might expect.

Having an airhorn handy among your camping gear is a great idea. But you can also use a whistle or bang on pots and pans as we mentioned before.

In all honesty, the best protection from bears is prevention. While you can’t control what a bear will do, you can try your best to keep a clean campsite, scout out the site beforehand, and store your food in a safe area. Those things often work better than any weapon or noise for keeping bears away. What they don’t know is there, they won’t bother!

How To Avoid Bears While Hiking

The principles for avoiding bears while hiking is very similar to how you protect your campsite, with a few minor changes.

It’s important to know a little bit about your hiking route before you set out. While you might not be able to know every landmark along the way, you can at least do some research about the area online.

Is the trail close to any running water sources? Are there a lot of blackberries, raspberries, or other fruits along the trail? Does the trail pass through any known bear hideouts?

Once you’ve figured out what kind of area you’re passing through, you can take the proper precautions. Here are a few:

  • Don’t bring any super-smelly food items with you. Granola bars and nuts are probably fine but don’t bring a left-over hamburger from last night’s dinner.
  • Try not to wear overly fruity or fragrant deodorant or perfume. These smells can attract bears not because they indicate food, but because bears haven’t smelt them before.
  • Make a lot of noise if you see a bear. It’s best to bring a small whistle with you while hiking, as the shrill sound will drive off the bear.
  • Keep a map of the trails handy in case you need to switch paths to avoid a bar. You don’t want to end up getting lost in the wilderness. That’s a whole other issue!

Be Prepared, and Don’t Run!

After reading this article, you’ll be able to answer the “how to keep a bear away from your campsite” question any day of the week.

We want to express here that everything we’ve talked about hinges on respect. You’re in the bear’s territory, so try to be respectful of it. Bears are wild animals, but they won’t attack you unless they’re provoked. If a bear is a good distance away and hasn’t spotted you yet, don’t actively try to get its attention to shoe it away.

Just wait and see what it does. If it starts coming closer or messing around with your food or campsite, try to scare it away. Only use violence as a last resort.

Hopefully, you get what you needed from this blog, and we wish you happy, bear-free camping!