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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Ask A Bear: Do Bears Really Like Toothpaste

Got a burning ursine question? Ask our resident bruin expert in our new weekly feature, 'Ask A Bear.'

by: Bear


 
 Q: Of course I hang my food when I camp—not just to keep you out of my dinner, but also because lots of other critters would jump at the chance of eating my famous Open Fire Burritos. What I want to know is if you're actually interested in my toothpaste and beeswax candles. I know plenty of campers who worry about such things.  Am I a fool for using my toothpaste as a pillow?  Are you going to bite my head off in order to be minty fresh for your hot date? —David "Preacher" Sullivan, via email

A: David, you should never underestimate the lengths I will go to in order to impress a date—and that includes going after your toothpaste. Nothing sparks my curiosity like unfamiliar or interesting smells. Toothpaste certainly falls into this category, and it doesn't take a lot for me to get excited. (Beeswax candles could fall into this category, too, but more importantly, why are you bringing candles into the woods? What's wrong with a headlamp/flashlight/lantern?)

Need specifics? Back in 2005, in Utah's Rock Canyon park, I woke up two brothers when I slashed open their tent and barged in, trying to get at a toiletry bag with toothpaste in it. I made a curious swipe at one brother's leg, and then bolted. You can imagine how much worse it might've turned out if I took that swipe at your head because you used toothpaste as a pillow. Lucky for you my girlfriend likes the scent of Aquafresh on my breath more than human head.

—BEAR

Got a question for the bear? Send it to askabear@backpacker.com.


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Reader Rating: -

READERS COMMENTS

Star
Scott
Mar 03, 2013

Who writes these dumba** questions?

claire
Oct 10, 2011

We had a lapse of our camp cleanliness near Muir Trail Ranch, and a bear took advantage quickly. We had put away all our food and cooking gear, but left our toothbrushes on top of the bear canister while we finished our hot chocolate . We heard a thump! Yogi had knocked over the canister and made off with our toothbrushes. Fortunately the store at MTR had some to sell us.
Bottom line: at least one bear likes toothpaste!

Long, Wei
Oct 07, 2011

We were also taught in the 70's to be extremely careful while camping in bear territory. We were taught to hang our food up a minimum of 12 feet (that's the bottom of the packs) and make sure that the distance between the trees was at least 12 feet. The numbers were easy to remember. We also had to change our clothes from the clothes we cooked in to the clothes we slept in so as to get rid of any food smell. We hung the "food clothes" up with the food bag. We slept 100 yards downwind from the food and DIDN'T EVEN HAVE OUR TOILETRY BAG WITH US IN THE TENT AT NIGHT. You had to take care of business before the packs were hung up or you were the one that was SOL.
I've been backpacking for 30 years now and (SO FAR) I haven't had any run-ins with bears. Luck? Grace? Mercy? Skill? Wisdom? or perhaps all of the above. Trips include: Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Mt. Ranier, Great Smoky Mountains, AT.

Hope this helps,

T
Sep 07, 2011

The old timers that showed me the ropes of backcountry safety, made sure that I had nothing smelly in my pack and that any product, deodorant, toothpaste, soap, had no smell at all. The only safe smell is human smell (BO) Just an interesting thought. A friend and I were in separate tents. She had a nose bleed during the night, and the coyotes were very interested in her tent. They never once came up to sniff mine.

SMB
Sep 01, 2011

All these stupid bear questions explains all the deaths in Yosemite this year. Darwin at work with survival of the fittest (smartest).

MrRedwood
Jun 27, 2011

Back in the '70s in my boyscouting days, the bear-avoidance technique we were taught was to "triple-bag", using three layers of plastic bags. Bears apparently weren't so curious then, 'cause that seemed to work.

Unfortunately, no one told us to triple-bag toothpaste, and when a bear slashed open a bag to get to the toothpaste, he also found the rest of our food. Luckily the three packs he tore open only contained a small portion of the troop's food for the trip. (Our rule was that packs were kept many yards away from sleeping bags at night, so no one even woke up.)

RevLee
Jun 26, 2011

Try using baking soda instead of toothpaste. Then you don't have to worry about it since it has no scent.

Steve Nelson
Jun 24, 2011

You use WHAT for a pillow? TOOTHPASTE??? Toothpaste belongs in your bear canister. Try a sack stuffed with clothes for a pillow. More comfortable and it belongs in the sleeping bag. Next you'll tell me you use frying pans for shoes!

Fredt4
May 20, 2011

jusboblyn - Honest Abe (How doug we know he was honest, guess that will be for another forum & day) sorta said, ' A fool believes half of what is said. You my friend are not fool, you take the hook, line and sinker. Why does my question bother you so much? What are you afraid of? Of course, you're afraid of Mr. Bear. I'm so sorry, I didn't know it was clinical. Well just stay out of the woods and Mr. Bear won't get you, unless you go to sleep. :-)

Anonymous
May 20, 2011

Idiots believe every thing someone tells them. Still skeptical, but not and Idiot. :-)

RYoung
May 19, 2011

Fred - when someone goes to their car (a good place to keep food and toiletries), takes out a small zippered pouch, removes toothpaste, toothbrush and a soap box (to go with the towel over her shoulder)...well, it was easy to assume that it was a "dopp-kit" or "toiletries bag", and not a bag of dirty clothes...

jusboblyn
May 13, 2011

No my friend, you are not a fool. However, you are, in fact an idiot. I'm thinking you should not venture outside. Ever. Not only are you endangering yourself and those around you but you are teaching Bear that humans have an endless stash of tasty treats right under their heads and that we are really stupid. The truth is only some of us are. Please tell me that you never hike the Sierra, Cascades or Rockies. Otherwise I might have to hurt you!

Sam
May 13, 2011

You use toothpaste as a pillow?

Sam
May 13, 2011

You use toothpaste as a pillow?

Deon
May 13, 2011

Hmm maybe because if you check your toothpaste is loaded with sugar. I'm just guessing but I think sugar sounds more appetizing than dirty laundry.

RYoung
May 13, 2011

While camped in Yosemite, I watched as a woman camped across from me took out her toiletries bag. After squeezing toothpaste onto her brush, she wandered off to the campground toilets, leaving the bag on a picnic table. Within moments, there was a bear sitting on the table, chewing on the tube of toothpaste. Have seen it with my own eyes!

RYoung
May 13, 2011

While camped in Yosemite, I watched as a woman camped across from me took out her toiletries bag. After squeezing toothpaste onto her brush, she wandered off to the campground toilets, leaving the bag on a picnic table. Within moments, there was a bear sitting on the table, chewing on the tube of toothpaste. Have seen it with my own eyes!

Old Bill
May 13, 2011

Candles are romantic and warm. I miss my old Hope candle lantern.

Richard
May 13, 2011

A friend's food bag which was hung too close to the tree trunk was captured by a NC bear. The bear liked the ramen (we heard the bag pop like a gunshot in the middle of the night) but did not eat the plain rolled oats.

Pete Lane
May 13, 2011

Bear ate our daughters bug spray in the 100 miles of Maine, during black fly season.

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