Protecting Your Food From Critters

Bear after food
Don’t hang your food in a tree, away from camp or at it.

One of the most delightful experiences when camping is coming unexpectedly upon a deer or rare bird, or some small creature you are unaccustomed to seeing in a more urban setting. If you have a camera and are quick, you can preserve that moment for showing others at home. Sometimes you are fortunate to have a friend or family member with you so it becomes a shared memory through the years.

You are consequently surrounded by creatures who regard this place as their home. So it should come as no surprise to you when you wake up one morning and find the box of cereal you left out spilled all over the table, and bits of rodent droppings merrily dotting the flaky torrent like raisins.

Follow these suggestions to keep your food safe from smaller–and larger–critters:


If you are in bear country, don’t store food in your car or the trunk or your car. Bears are extremely intelligent–in fact, scientists are now equating their intelligence to that of a great ape. Their incredible strength enables them to hook doors and pull the whole frame loose, or use their weight to rock one car against another to smash windows. One really interesting thing about bear behavior is that when they figure something out they teach other bears.

An fascinating case involves the BearVault 500, a container with double-tab lid that was built to be bear-proof, and it was, for the bears in two areas where it was tested. But in a third area–New York’s Adirondack Park–had a little female black bear that figured out how to release the double tabs to get at the contents. Then she taught her friends! So many black bears can now successfully open the container that it is no longer recommended for use in Adirondack Park.

Do not hang your food from a tree.

If a bear realizes that food is routinely suspended from a particular tree, he will get it down one way or the other. Don’t use rope. Rope can be chewed through; bears have been known to send cubs out on to lighter limbs they themselves can’t go on (I know! Smart, hey?) and they have even been known to launch themselves out of lowe4r limbs on trees and just grab the stash on the way down.

Some better ideas.

Store your food in sealable containers that won’t let odor escape.

One great suggestion is CampSource Odor Barrier Bags. These bags are especially made to prevent odors from escaping, and they are biodegradable and re-useable. Campers in B.C.–Invest in these! Canadian residents–order them here. If you don’t have any, you have other options:

Double-bag your food in plastic. Vacuum-seal smelly foods like meat and fish–(you may want to invest in one of those vacuum-sealers if you camp in bear country a lot.) Store your food packs outside of camp in a low-lying area. If you do that, what little odor there is won’t travel far. Then too, bears are creatures of habit so it is less likely they will find a sealed container outside, busy as they are looking for it inside camp. If you can, locate your tent at least fifty yards from your camp kitchen. Keep that kitchen scrupulously clean. The result is that if a bear can’t see or smell your food, he won’t find it.

Raccoons and other small critters.

Critters aren’t stupid. Many have learned that campers have easy food.

Standard camping coolers will deter most small animals from scavenging your foodstuffs. Pack your food in sturdy resealable plastic or metal containers. Don’t leave food in thin plastic containers, bags, or nylon back-pack-type containers. All rodents can and will chew through those like a drill through butter. Don’t wipe your eating and food prep surface off, brushing the crumbs to the ground. That only attracts rodents and other animals. Brush them into a pan or your hand and dispose of them in the campfire. If there are no bears about I still wouldn’t recommend storing your food in your car. Mice can find their way into the interior of a vehicle when they’re after something tasty.

Kep the smaller animals away from food by using stainless-steel mesh bags, like the Grubpack, or Outsak. . You also easily pack and unpack your food from them. You therefore don’t run the risk of contamination.

What To Do If They Find Your Food.

The woods are their home, and they know how to get around it. They can find their own food.

Discard any food left out that animals have rummaged around in. Don’t eat it. Animals can carry viruses that can make you very sick. Giardia is a water-borne virus commonly known as “beaver fever”. It is passed on through human-to-human or animal-to-human contact. It can therefore come on like a flu-like freight train. The vaccination for this isn’t effective for everyone, either. Because of that, it’s best to avoid the problem altogether if you can.

Remember that you are in the woodland creatures’ natural habitat, rather than the other way around. Treat them in a way that protects both them and us from our actions.

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