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-   -   Bears, attacks and food smell danger at camp (http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/staying-healthy-on-the-road/bears-attacks-food-smell-danger-58952)

brianrossy 30 Aug 2011 20:09

Bears, attacks and food smell danger at camp
OK, so in a search a few tales came up, including "bearings" "bearing replacement" etc. Not so handy, so tried rephrasing a thread a little better.

For myself, an Aussie who is well used to dealing with crocs in the backyard, relocating snakes (I'm a zoologist) and charging feral pigs from bowhunting trips...I lack the experience with bears!

So I know its wise to hang your food bag in a tree 50m away from camp. But do bikers all do this in bear territory? My soft panniers must be absolutely tainted with food smell, as well as the inside of my tent from putting my bags inside each night. Is it safe to have your pannier bags inside with food outside in another bag hanging? Or does everything need to be out? Tea, coffee? To what extent are we talking here? Not sure I wanna pitch my nice RJays pannier bag up in a tree 50m away from camp.

Looking forward to hearing bikers opinions, stories and advice for others!

Here's a few links...
Safety in Bear Country, Bear Facts, and Bear Encounter Stories
Bear Safety Tips - What You Need to Know About Bear Safety
Bear Safety : Dealing With Bears
Bear Safety, Alaska State Parks

This one is good...
Dr. Bob's Guide to Bear Safety

MikeS 30 Aug 2011 21:15

Hi, if you're camping in N America, pretty much all of the campsites in 'bear country' had big metal bear-proof metal lockers for your stuff. We just used a combination padlock on it. So never actually had to bother with the stringing up of food etc though wild camping is different and you'd be best following the advised precautions.

NEVIL 31 Aug 2011 03:20

Hi Brian,

Are you using soft panniers or hard ones? I ask this because naturally the soft panniers will be easy for Teddy to get into whilst aluminium or plastic ones will create a bit of a barrier.
Are you packing bear spray? If so did you fully read the instructions on the can? This can be a great deterrent if encountering bears at 20 feet or less. If you intend to purchase bear spray I would suggest "Frontiersman" that has a luminous safety catch on it so it glows in the dark.
Next.....where are you in North America? Are you in Grizzly or Black Bear country? (or both?). Black bears are more abundant and more of a cheeky scavenger whilst Grizzlies on the other hand can be predatory. Note:-all bears can be predatory, I'm just generalising here without going into reams of type. Most of the time in both the USA and Canada, the national, state and Provincial Parks systems will post warnings on trails or campgrounds if there has been a problematic bear in the area. Naturally you could encounter a bear at any time anywhere so it's best to visit a local ranger/visitor station to get clued up on what to do in case of an encounter.
On the lighter side, I haven't heard of a motorcyclist vs bear encounter in years!
Here's a nice little link for you. Stay safe in bear country, look for bear sign - YouTube ......please don't watch stuff by peple who call themselves "bear whisperer" etc....they usually get attacked eventually! LOL.

markharf 31 Aug 2011 06:56


Originally Posted by NEVIL (Post 347571)
Black bears are more abundant and more of a cheeky scavenger whilst Grizzlies on the other hand can be predatory. Note:-all bears can be predatory....

Actually, AFAIK most confirmed reports of predatory bears have been blacks, not grizzlies (plus polar bears, but who worries about polar bears while riding motorbikes?). Predation--stalking and killing in order to eat--of humans is quite rare, but it does happen.

I've run into both kinds on my bike: it's a privilege, and depending where you are might not be uncommon. If you're camping in bear country, use bearproof containers and don't bring smelly stuff into your tent (duh). That includes actual food, toiletries, cooking gear, trash, stuff which has recently held food, chewing gum, and whatever else you can think of. If camping in true wilderness, where troublesome bears are not routinely transported elsewhere or killed, you'll want to think carefully about cooking odors or spills which get into your clothes: I often wear goretex while cooking and leave it away from the tent at night. And unless you're willing to practice up and have nerves of steel, don't bother with the bear spray.

I've had a bear pawing through my pack a couple of feet from my head at night--it was the sound of ripping Kelty packcloth which woke me up. I've met bears on trails and had them wander through my camps at night. It's ok: they're not really interested in messing with you unless you happen to smell like salami, peanut butter or cooking lard, or you appear to take an unseemly interest in their cubs. Mostly. You'd be better off worrying about distracted drivers and slow-witted moose blocking narrow roadways.

Hope that's helpful.


John Downs 31 Aug 2011 09:54

I feel the same as the above posters. What are the chances of being attacked by a bear while tent camping? Quite small in most areas of the US. Even in areas of minimal bear activity if you follow all the precautions in the websites you have linked to. But in certain areas of major bear activity (ursa major?) I have changed my mind about the safety of tent camping and opt for cheap motels. And I'll tell you why.

A few years ago I was housesitting for a fellow rider and looking after his beloved dog while he rode to the BMW national rally. A couple days after he left I got an urgent call from his sister. He had been attacked in his tent by a bear the previous night and was in the hospital in Wyoming. Sister was worried and needed help figuring out the situation. Because the guy's hand had been mangled, no way he could ride the big GS. What to do?

So I hitched up his trailer to his nice new truck, loaded his dog and sister into the rig and headed off to Wyoming lickety split. We were thinking the worst. As it turned out, it was a media circus by the time we arrived in Cody, Wyoming the next day. Good morning America TV paid to put us up in a nice motel over the weekend so they could get a good live national bear attack victim story on the Monday show. So that was nice. My friend got his fifteen minutes of fame and then some.

As it turned out, he had taken all the precautions. All food and gear locked in a bearproof box. In fact the Forest Service checked his tent the next day and would have fined him if he had any food or personal care items in there, which was news to me. But they found it clean. He even locked his gun in the bear box, which was probably a good thing, since a couple wild rounds fired from inside the tent at 2 in the morning may have only made the bear angrier. It turned out to be a grizzly. My friend was camped in a campground with probably 30 campers at various campsites who heard him yelling. But it happened fast, with the bear mauling the tent and waking up my friend and chomping his hand through the tent as he was flailing away, and then miraculously heading off into the darkness. By the time the campground hosts arrived with a flashlight the bear was long gone. They took my friend for a long ride to meet up with an ambulance to the hospital for stitches to the hand. It could have been a lot worse. I can still remember all the TV trucks and camera crews. And then it was over and we were driving back to the little town of Cooke City near the campground to pick up his bike and gear, and 50 miles down to the Forest Service office to pick up his gun that was in custody for safe keeping and the long drive home. It was an unusual week. But there's no way I'm camping at that campground just north of Yellowstone, or anywhere around Yellowstone for that matter. And I got a motel heading up the Cassiar in British Columbia after seeing 6 bears scamper across the road that day, and out in Bella Coola B.C. got a cheap motel in bear country. But in most areas of the country I wouldn't hesitate to camp.

I saw in the paper this summer that someone was killed by a grizzly while camping in that VERY SAME CAMPGROUND that my friend was attacked! I couldn't believe it.

So, to sum up, while camping in bear country is probably safer on average than threading through rush hour traffic in Guatemala City or Bangkok, I personally opt for cheap motels in heavy bear country just to be on the safe side. Mind you, I am not as brave as some of you folks. I wear ATGATT and have noticed that people who ride in shorts and a tee shirt haven't done much asphalt surfing, and people who camp in major bear areas didn't see my friends hand.

Kindest regards,
John Downs

NEVIL 31 Aug 2011 15:00

In Summary Brian, It would be best to leave the panniers well away from your tent if they smell that much of food.
In reality, the flipping ground squirrels will probably be the bigger pest in this case because they can get into a backpack in record time if they smell grub.
All the advice above is good, try to utilise as many bear proof bins and resources as you can.

Kindest regards


naotweed 31 Aug 2011 22:03

I think that it's best to just do whatever you can to prevent a bear encounter and then the rest is just up to luck.

We were camping this summer in Fernie, BC and there was a bear in the area. We don't have bear caches for people (though i wish we did) here in BC, like down in the States. The Provincial Park employee did say that she could take any foodies/smelly items home with her, or that sometimes people put their stuff in a bag and then tuck it behind the animal proof garbage. I'm assuming this tricks the bear as he just associates the smell with the garbage he already knows he can't get to?
People at campgrounds are typically really friendly so you could also ask your neighbour with a car if you could lock your food in their car for the night.

Just because I am a risk adverse person I would try not to do any bush camping during peak bear season. More and more these days bears are becoming more bold. Lack of natural food supply? Climate Change? whatever it is i don't want to be around to ask the bear myself :helpsmilie:

At least the one good thing is, although a snake or spider might be able to sneak into your tent when you are not looking at bear usually isn't going to be hiding in your tent waiting for you. haha

MikeyMoto 1 Sep 2011 00:26


Very much enjoyed your Bear Safety presentation at the Horizons Unlimited meeting this past weekend. One of my highlights! Lots of valuable information, as well as a few good laughs. By the way, great shirt.

All the best, Mike

NEVIL 1 Sep 2011 02:36

Thanks so much Mike. It was a real pleasure meeting everyone too! I don't think any sane bear would dare wander into our campground that weekend! :)

Kindest regards


saralou 1 Sep 2011 23:12

Nevil. We loved your bear presentation in Nakusp. Note when we got home I reread the bear spray instruction with reading glasses on. Thanks Sara

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