Levi Boughn

How to Be Bear Aware When Bike Camping

May 23, 2019
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Traveling through bear habitat poses a special set of challenges for touring cyclists, especially if you’re primarily camping. While bears really aren’t interested in you, per se, they're always on the hunt for food, even if it’s your food.

Bears have a keen sense of smell and have been known to detect food up to 20 miles away. In addition to being omnivores, bears are opportunists — if it’s easy for them to take your food, they will. That would make for a bad situation for you and the bear.

When you’re camping in bear country, your first concern is how to separate you and your camp from any food or food smells. Always, always know and follow any local regulations to stay safe.

Locals know their bears and their habits and have reasons for any regulations they put in place. National Parks and other areas often post specific guidelines for visitors at entrances, visitor centers, campgrounds, and trailheads.

In general, however, there are some basic precautions you can take to ride and camp safely in bear country.

Don’t run if you see a bear.

Like dogs, bears have a “chase response.” If you see a bear, back slowly away.

A simple diagram explaining the distance scented items should be from your camp when in bear country.

Don’t keep scented items in your tent.

This includes food, drink mixes, cooking pots & utensils, chapstick, toothpaste, and soap. Instead, keep scented items in a bear-resistant food container, a bear-resistant locker provided by the campground, or in a sack in a tree, called a bear hang.

It sounds silly but bear hangs are common practice in bear country. Put all scented items in a sack and hang it from a tree limb: 200 feet away from your tent, 15 feet off the ground, and ideally 10 feet from the trunk of the tree. These target distances aren’t always possible, but try your best.

Carry bear spray.

Be sure to read the instructions and know how to use the bear spray properly. Bear spray is like pepper spray, NOT like bug repellent, so do not spray it on yourself — the result would make you extremely unhappy.

Singing and ringing your bike bell are simple ways to keep bears at bay in bear country.

Make noise on trails and backcountry roads.

Bears can react violently if surprised, so it’s best to alert them of your presence. Shouting, singing, or ringing your bike bell frequently are good ways to let bears know you’re coming. If you’re riding in a group, you can talk loudly to one another.

Handle food carefully.

Cooking, eating, and dishwashing are best done far away from your campsite. Some cyclists actually stop short of their campsite to cook, eat, and wash dishes before continuing on to reduce the food odors in their sleeping area.

When washing dishes, it’s best to sieve out any food particles and put them into a tightly sealed ziplock bag. Then dig a shallow hole far away from your campsite, pour out the dishwater, and cover again with soil.

Keep a clean camp.

Any garbage, food particles, and wrappers should be kept in a bag, which stays inside your “scented items” container.

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