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Be BEAR Aware! Camping & Food Storage Safety

Updated: Jan 23, 2021

Camping in the wild, particularly in bear territory, doesn't have to be a scary thing. By no means should you be completely fearless either. You should carry a healthy respect for the wildlife, especially bears, when you are camping in their "home turf". What can you do to protect yourself and others while having the experience of a lifetime? Follow these guidelines, established by the Be Bear Aware Campaign, and be ready for the time of your life!

The "DO IT" List

  • Learn to recognize bears signs. Do not camp in an area with recent bear signs.

  • Camp in an open area away from trails and thick brush.

  • Always sleep in a tent (not under the stars). A tent can be a psychological barrier to a bear.

  • Total cleanliness of yourself and your camp is a must to prevent smells that could attract bears. Avoid scented deodorants, soaps, and cosmetics.

  • Cook downwind and at least 100 yards from where you will sleep.

  • Plan meals so that there are no leftovers. Select food in individually sealed packages or store food in airtight containers.

  • Set up cooking, eating, and supply areas at least 100 yards from your sleeping area.

  • Store food and odorous items by hanging at least 10 to 15 feet above ground and 4 feet from top and side supports or store in approved, bear resistant containers.

  • Store pet food, livestock feed, and garbage the same as food. Never bury it; pack it out.

  • Strain food particles from dishwater using a fine mesh screen and store with garbage.

  • Dump dishwater at least 100 yards from your sleeping area. Food odors may attract bears and other animals.

  • Combustible garbage should be burned completely to eliminate odors.

  • Keep sleeping bags and tents completely free of food, food odors, and beverages.

  • Store personal items (such as deodorants, toothpaste, soap, and lotions) with food and garbage when not in use. Any odorous product may attract bears.

  • Do keep your bear spray with you while you cook.

  • Do keep bear spray with you in your tent.

  • Wash your hands after cooking, eating, or handling fish or game. Minimize odors.

  • Rehearse what you and others in your group will do, day or night, if a bear appears in your camp or while you're hiking. Review local regulations.

  • Protect yourself and others and prevent wildlife from obtaining human food and garbage by keeping a clean camp. Deposit all garbage in wildlife-resistant trash containers or in your vehicle if one is not available.

  • Keep all food and food-related items inside a closed, hard-sided vehicle or special bear-resistant container except when preparing or eating food. Ice chests, coolers, boxes, cans, tents, and soft-sided campers are not bear-resistant!

  • Contain trailer waste-water and dispose of it frequently in the proper facilities.

  • Keep pets on a leash while with you or inside a cool, well-ventilated vehicle. Pets may threaten and harass wildlife and can lead predators to your camp. Pets are not allowed on hiking trails in most parks and refuges. Do not leave pets unattended in bear country!

  • When walking in a campground at night, always carry bear spray, use a flashlight, and stay alert.

  • Remove all food and garbage from campground storage boxes before you leave.

The "DON'T DO IT" List

  • Don't cook odorous foods.

  • Don't be careless with food or garbage when camping in a campground.

  • Don't camp where food and garbage are found or near a bear's natural food source such as a berry patch, fish-spawning stream, or carcass.

  • Don't place tents in a line and space tents apart so that animals can travel freely between them and not feel trapped.

  • Don't bring your pet as they can draw bears back to you. They are usually prohibited in back-country.

  • Don't sleep in the clothes you cook in.

  • Don't clean game and fish in or near campgrounds. Wear an apron and be sure to change your clothes afterwards.


  • Ask campers who are not observing precautions to clean up their camp for the safety of other visitors and wildlife.

  • Immediately notify the campground host if you encounter a bear in or near your campground area.

  • Always keep a clean camp.

  • Wild animals, especially bears, may wander through at any time of day or night.

  • Wildlife near a campground are more likely to be habituated or food-conditioned (used to people and their food).

  • Having lost their natural fear of humans, these animals often become increasingly aggressive in their attempts to obtain human, pet, and livestock food.

  • If a bear enters your campsite or your sleeping and cooking areas seeking food, it is acting in a predatory manner. Get your bear spray ready, group together and retreat to a place of safety. If your attempts from a distance of yelling and throwing things does not cause the bear to retreat, leave the area immediately. Report the incident to the wildlife management agency and retrieve your personal belongings with their assistance.

  • If a bear attacks you or a companion in your campsite or eating area, either during the day or night, consider it a predatory confrontation and aggressively fight back with everything possible, including your bear spray. If you cannot spray at the bear, spray the area you are in.

  • Protect yourself and others and prevent wildlife from obtaining human food and garbage by keeping a clean camp. Deposit all garbage in wildlife-resistant trash containers or in your vehicle if one is not available.

Happy Trails!

These helpful tips were created by the Be Bear Aware Campaign -
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