How to Keep Bears Away from Your Campsite

Our most recent camping trip was in a fairly remote area. I loved the idea of being away from everything for a while, but the downside was the possibility of a bear encounter.

I knew that food sometimes draws bears to a campsite but wasn’t sure if there were any other steps to take. Here’s what I learned about how to keep bears away from your campsite.

What Smell Do Bears Hate?

There are some smells that bears dislike, including pine-scented cleaning products, citrus, and ammonia. You can fill a bucket with bleach or a pine-scented household cleaner. Cover the bucket with a lid and drill some holes in the lid. It’s important to avoid direct exposure to these products since bleach and ammonia can be harmful to wildlife.

Will Campfires Keep Bears Away?

The short answer is no. Fire itself will not scare a bear away, and the smell of burning wood is something that bears will probably want to investigate. If you cook food over an open fire, the smell will definitely attract bears.

You shouldn’t count on a campfire to eliminate waste either. A campfire will not be hot enough to burn organic matter, which means it won’t eliminate any scents.

She-bear and bear cubs in the summer forest on the bog among white flowers.

What Do You Do When a Bear Is Outside Your Tent?

While the best method is to prevent bears from showing up at your tent, sometimes they will stumble upon your campsite anyway. If a bear shows up near your tent, they’re most likely looking for food. If you’ve packaged your food correctly, the bear should leave on its own accord in a few moments. 

Here are some key things to do when you hear a bear outside of your tent:

Stay in your tent: If you hear or see a bear outside of your tent, your best bet is to use your tent as a shelter. Stay inside your tent until the bear leaves. Chances are, the bear is looking for food and isn’t interested in interacting with you. Bears aren’t likely to try and tear down a tent, and will normally leave on their own. 

Make Noise: If you notice the bear is still lingering outside of your tent and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, you can try to make it aware of your presence by making noise. Most bears tend to avoid humans in general, so keeping a fair amount of noise will help keep them at bay. 

If any curious bears do show up, you should speak in a loud voice to warn them off. If this doesn’t work, you can use bear horns or bang your pots and pans to create a louder noise. Be sure to remain in your tent while trying to ward off the bear.

Try Bear Spray: If you’ve exhausted the first two methods and the bear isn’t going anywhere before you need to leave your campsite, it’s time to pull out the bear spray. Though a bear will normally leave after the first two methods, bear spray is an essential item to add to your pack.

Because bear spray contains Capsaicin, you should be sure to never use it while in your tent due to the extreme discomfort it will cause in close quarters. You’ll want to spray it upwind, and have a direct aim at the bear in question.

Fight: If you are in your tent, it’s very unlikely that a bear will attack you, but in the extremely rare event that this may happen it’s good to be prepared. If you are being attacked by a bear, it’s important to know whether it is a brown bear or a black bear as each reacts differently to aggression. If you are under attack by a brown bear, it’s best to play dead. Be sure to position yourself to protect your organs. You can do so by curling into a ball with your knees to your chin and hands behind your neck.

If you are dealing with a black bear, you will need to take a more aggressive approach. Use whatever you have handy to strike the bear. Aim for the weakest spot on the bear: it’s nose, and fight until it leaves.

How Do I Keep Wild Animals Out of My Campsite?

The best way to keep wild animals out of your campsite is to avoid any smells that could attract them. Avoid cooking foods with strong smells, and don’t bring any toiletries like perfume or cologne. Freeze-dried food is a good option, and you should opt for fragrance-free toiletries.

Yosemite National Park, California, United States - bear proof food storage locker.

Does Peeing Around Campsite Keep Animals Away?

Peeing around your campsite can keep some animals away. Wildlife uses scents to detect potential predators, and small animals will recognize human urine as a scent that a predator could have left behind.

However, a larger predator like a bear or mountain lion will want to investigate the smell instead.

Does Human Urine Attract Bears?

Even though bears don’t like ammonia, urine isn’t a good deterrent. Urine contains salt and other components that are appealing to wildlife. While small mammals might avoid areas that you mark with urine, a large predator like a bear or mountain lion will investigate the urine smell.

If you need to relieve yourself, you can choose to do it away from your campsite. There is no need to bury your urine but try going at least one mile away from your camp.

Will Vinegar Deter Bears?

Bears tend to dislike the strong smell of household cleaners, but you can use vinegar as an alternative. You can pour some cider vinegar on the ground to create a perimeter around your campsite or soak some cloths in cider vinegar and leave them around your campsite.

Will Playing Music Keep Bears Away?

You might have heard that playing music can keep bears away. The truth is that human voices will work much better. Bears want to avoid encounters with humans and won’t come near your camp if they can hear people talking. In fact, a human presence is one of the best ways to keep bears away from campsites.

Any noise can deter bears, including music. However, bears might not necessarily associate music with a human presence. If you have a radio, tuning it to a talk station is a much more effective way of deterring bears.

Will Bears Bother You in a Tent?

It depends. If there are food or toiletry smells coming from your tent, bears will want to see what’s inside.

You should keep your food and any items with a strong scent in another part of your campsite. The same applies to the clothes you wear while cooking. Store them away from your tent since they will retain traces of food smells. Don’t eat in your tent, and clean your camping stove thoroughly after preparing food to avoid attracting bears with the smell of grease.

You might have heard of hanging food in trees to keep it safe from bears. This method can prevent a bear from getting to your food because it’s impossible to access, but it doesn’t mean that bears won’t visit your campsite. Hanging food in trees isn’t a deterrent, but it can prevent a bear from eating your entire food supply.

Note that there is no need to hang food in trees if you’re using bear bags or bear canisters, which remain the best way to protect your food supply.

Grizzly Bear in a campsite.

Will Coffee Grounds Attract Bears?

Coffee grounds are easy to overlook since you wouldn’t think that this type of waste can attract animals. However, bears and other animals love the pungent smell of coffee grounds. In fact, some zoos use coffee grounds as an enrichment activity for bears.

If you are bringing coffee on your camping trip, your best option is to use bear canisters to store the fresh and used grounds.

Does Fire Attract Bears?

Fire can attract bears. These animals have a very curious nature, and the smell of your burning fire could be something they decide to investigate because it’s a new smell in their environment.

Can Bears Smell Through Ziploc Bags?

Bears have a very sensitive sense of smell and can detect odors up to a mile away. Ziploc bags aren’t good enough because these containers aren’t airtight and let plenty of smells out. Your best option is to bring bear bags or bear canisters since odor-blocking

containers will prevent bears from picking up on all the interesting smells from your campsite.

Can Bears Smell Fear?

The short answer is yes. They have a very advanced sense of smell. However, smelling fear doesn’t mean they will attack. Bears have smelt fear in every encounter with a human, and yet a majority of bear encounters don’t result in an attack.

Preparation Is Key

Camping in bear country requires some preparation. It’s important to know about how to keep bears away from your campsite in advance.

Take steps to reduce smells as much as possible. Bear bags and bear canisters are key items, but you should also walk away from camp to urinate, avoid scented toiletries, and use odorless containers for your garbage. You should also bring some bear spray in case of an encounter, a radio you can leave on to a talk station, and some noisemakers.

4 thoughts on “How to Keep Bears Away from Your Campsite”

  1. We have a log cabin in the woods as our main home.
    A black cub visits our property every now and then. How do I determine that ??

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