General Guidelines for Setting up Camp Near Bears

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General Guidelines for Setting up Camp Near Bears

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A high percentage of wilderness areas that we use for recreation or survival are also home to bears.  Bears can either be a nuisance or a threat, depending on the circumstances, and it’s important that we take appropriate precautions to discourage and minimize unwanted encounters.  A big part of accomplishing this involves choosing where and how to set up camp.  Take a look at the following guidelines, and see why incorporating them into your planning can help you to avoid attracting unwanted attention from bears.

Dividing up the Camp

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The first step is to create a site that gives you plenty of space to divide your resources and create some distance between them.  For example, you want your eating area separate from where you store your food, and you also want to keep food away from where you sleep.  You may also want to consider putting food in different locations in order to minimize any potential losses if a bear or bears decide to raid your campsite.   Dividing up your resources and putting space between them will also minimize the chances of having an unwanted one-to-one encounter with bears as well.

A good rule of thumb to follow is to keep these different sections at least 300 feet apart.  Another important consideration is to situate your site so that it is upwind of any nearby bodies of water.    Why?  Because bears tend to wander toward their favorite watering holes on a regular basis, and if one of them happens to be downwind from your site, chances are that they will notice.  While this is not always practically possible, doing so can reduce the chances of bears honing in on scents emanating from your site.

Hang Food

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Another great trick is to hang your food from a high tree limb so that bears won’t be able to reach it.  The easiest, and safest, way to do this is by tying a rock to one end of your cordage or rope before throwing it over the branch.  It may take a couple of tries to get it over the branch, but it’s a better option compared to climbing a tree and trying to anchor it in place yourself.  You can also use the weighted end on the other side as a way to easily raise and lower the food as needed.

Waste Disposal

You should also consider placing waste in a sealed container when possible, of if that’s not an option, bag and bury it a few hundred feet upwind from your site.  Make sure to place it in a location that’s just as far from your kitchen and living areas as well.  This will help to prevent the bear from associating the waste and your active site.  You can also burn a lot of leftover food and organic waste in your campfire as well. 

Just remember that this is to eliminate the odor of food waste, not as a means of garbage disposal.  Burning plastics and other synthetic materials can release toxic gases and create wood ash that is also hazardous to health, particularly if these remnants find their way into your water supply.

While these are just a few basic suggestions to consider, they really can be helpful out in the field.  However, it’s important to remember that this is just one line of defense to use to minimize risk associated with bear encounters.  Make sure that you are also aware of the right ways to behave and react if you and a bear have eyes on each other as well.