Packing food in bear containers can sometimes be hard work and annoying to do. People like to try to find the easy way out, and someone once said that dry food is the way to go. Because of the process, it takes to dry any type of food.
But can bears smell dry food and should you be careful if you decide to bring dry food on your camping trip?
Bears can smell dry food, and any other food for that matter and there is no simple solution if you meet one face to face. Some types of foods are more attractive to bear, but in the forest, there are other animals that may enjoy a specific meal from the products you prepared for your camping trip.
Table of Contents
How Strong Is a Bear’s Nose?
A single word for describing a bear’s smelling sense, it is – acute. Bears can smell up to seven times better than a bloodhound, and approximately 2300 times better than a human!
Their nose is among the most powerful ones on Earth, and they can detect different scents through fog, fire and different odor barriers.
Bear canisters come in different grades, and only a fraction of them is only somewhat odor-proof. Another thing is that people will make a common mistake of storing all food together and contaminating the outer materials with the specific food smell that is able to attract bears, but other wildlife as well.
Bears Are Naturally Curious
Even if you use a good odor-proof bag, there are quite a few reasons you should not skip the bear canister. Curiosity-driven bears might investigate a freeze-dried package. Things can get really interesting if the bear is habituated with previous contact and experience with humans.
Bears that are used to people already know that humans carry around packages of food, so they might come to investigate you regardless of the smell. It is advisable not to allow the animals a chance to get close, they may charge at you, and eat something bad for them.
Food Storage Tips for Camping Trips
Keeping the food (and yes, sometimes even other aromatic items such as toiletries) from animals requires a similar approach for both campgrounds and backcountry campsites. Be it dry food or fresh, here are a few tips you should follow:
- Never leave food, trash, or other scented products inside your tent.
- Never leave food without supervision, even if they are not carnivorous, jays, squirrels, and chipmunks will steal anything they find in the daylight. On the other hand, all the more dangerous animals have the practice to come foraging at night.
Store Your Food in a Campground
During the day make sure your food is stashed in a cooler or car. Do this even if you are nearby on a short walk to the outhouse, and particularly if you are away on a hike.
At night be sure to hide any loose food, and a cooler is hidden inside a vehicle or a metal bear box.
Raccoons and bears have become pros at opening some coolers. However, some manufacturers claim certain models are bear-proof, though you might expect some padlock to be included. Consider hanging a bag of food on a high tree branch, or use a bear canister (especially if they are known to roam the neighborhood).
Food storage in the Backcountry
If you find yourself in a bear inhabited backcountry like a national park or forest, be sure to follow the regulations and recommendations for food storage. There are some areas that have no defined or specific regulation, you can choose between using these three methods.
Campsites in the backcountry may provide large metal bear-proof boxes in which you can stash anything aromatized (food, trash, and toiletries). Another great thing is that they are sometimes communal, so there is no guarantee there will be room for your stuff (or that humans won’t take them).
Either way, if and when you decide to use them, it is most important for you to secure the latch properly so the bears can’t get in. In any other case, it is certain they will manage to bust out everything they want.
You might see that the first method does not provide too much security, especially with communal containers. Another option is using bear canisters, hard-shell plastic cylinders that have lids that all humans can screw on and off. Some even require a coin or screwdriver to lock or unlock.
Their design can fit into most backpacks, and come in different sizes. So if you are traveling on your own, you can choose a smaller one.
If you are backpacking in areas where there is a higher chance of meeting bears, make sure you have one. In some national parks, you may even pay a fine if you are caught without it, and if you don’t own one, you can rent it out.
Keep in mind that during busy summer days, especially on weekends, the rangers may run out of canisters for rent before you get there, so be sure to have a backup plan. Canisters are also great prevention from raccoons, protecting your food and garbage equally.
Benefits of Using Bear Canister When Camping
There are quite a few benefits from using this canister.
First of all, bears have rarely been known to open a canister (but some still do). In addition, you can leave them on the ground, and even use them as a great camp seat when you leave the lid on.
Even those bears that have encountered people, have already learned that canisters are really challenging and not worth their effort, and may simply move on from your camp once they see you have one.
On the other hand, each can is heavy and bulky, where most weigh 2-3 pounds. But it does keep your food safe. Another great tip is that you can put reflective tape on it, so if someone is trying to move it, and you hear a noise, you can see the reflection off of it and determine where the predator is located.
Using Bear Bags When Camping
Bear bags are another alternative, similar to using the canister. They are:
- Made out of aluminum and lightweight and compact
- The fabric is high-density polyethylene that prevents bears from easily ripping them open
- It includes odor-proof plastic bags (also waterproof), unlike the bag itself
- They have to pass the test of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC)
These bags are a great alternative to cans, but some national parks do not accept bear bags as a secure way to store your food. A bear will also be able to just carry it away.
Hanging your food is a great method if you don’t have any bear-canisters or cages around.
- Suspension from a high sturdy branch
- Bear poles (more easier and efficient over tree branches). They are big enough to hold a food bag or an entire backpack
- A horizontal metal cable hung between two poles, that has a system much easier to hang the food bag from.
Why Is Human Food Bad for Bears?
Experts explain how human food can change their habits for getting food from their natural sources. With it, they will lose their fear of humans and even start approaching people. A hungry bear is an angry bear, aggressive, unpredictable, and dangerous.
You can only imagine the scope of the damage they can make on private property, not to mention potential injuries they can inflict on people. With it, they are becoming a risk to public safety, and the ones that start damaging have to be euthanized.
Studies have also shown that bears that start eating human food live shorter lives than bears that feed on natural foods and are afraid of people.
So, Can Bears Smell Dry Food?
Bears are extremely intelligent creatures that love to roam around the woods, as well as urban surroundings if they are given the chance. With one of the strongest noses around they are able to smell foods they enjoy from a longer distance.
Dehydrated meals you can buy in stores seem to be odor-proof, and it appears that there is no need to put them in a bear canister/bag.
Although dry food has a ‘lesser’ smell to us, there is a high probability that you will attract several kinds of wildlife on your doorstep or even in your tent if you are not careful.
Caution and prevention will leave you your lunch and safety intact if you follow the simple guidelines on how to store food outdoors. Bears will consider everything that has an appealing smell in the category of food. This means they will even eat your toiletries, get a bad stomach, or poisoning.
If this happens you will be probably violating some laws for endangering a bear species. Every country has a specific law or at least a guideline on what you are allowed to do if and when you encounter a bear. Make sure to get informed about them before your next camping trip.