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The DAILY DIRT - The nitty and the gritty of outdoor news

Ask A Bear: Bear Canisters in Winter?

Our resident bruin expert answers all your questions in our weekly feature, 'Ask A Bear.'

Q: I'm planning on doing some winter camping this year, and I wanted to know if it's still necessary to use a bear canister during colder months. I've heard that bears are not true hibernators, and I didn't know if one may wake up if they could smell the food. I live in Pennsylvania if that makes a difference.—Michael Daubert, via email.

A: As in so many things regarding me ad my furry kin, the answer is "that depends." While it's correct that I'm not a true hibernator, my actual behavior changes greatly depending on my species and where I live.

In places like Yosemite, bear canisters are required year-round. At lower elevations, I've been known to get up for a stretch and tromp in the snow for a bit before going back under. If you're nearby, and I smell accessible food, it's possible that I'll go ahead and indulge. The chances are minimal, but still there.

Olympic National Park, on the other hand, has a temperate climate at lower elevations and tons of active bears, even into winter (I once had a huckleberry party with nine cousins in a single day). Here, you're more likely to encounter winter bears—and bear canisters are required in several locations. (These bears aren't quite as crafty as Yosemite bears, so in some places you can use park-provided cables to hang your food.)

To get to your specific question, though, you'll probably be able to winter camp in Pennsylvania without much risk of bear intrusion. Winter freezes hard enough that bear activity will be extremely limited, and populations won't be as dense as in places in the west. You can leave the canister at home (pending local regulations), but it's still a good idea to hang your food in an Ursack or similar protective food storage bag. While I might not mess with your goodies, there are plenty of rodents, birds, and other winter-active animals who might.

—BEAR

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

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I was visited by a Black Bear at Coosa Backcountry (North GA) just a few days ago. Mr. Bear smooshed 3 (sugarfree) Powerade bottles that I had filled w/ creekwater & filtered through my Katadyn twice.

It was my 1st solo backcountry hike and I had not seen another person the entire day. Needless to say, it was an experience...

Rangers said that the 'wacky weather' has led to the critters acting 'unusual'. (Does that mean he was really just wanting to get in my tent to snuggle?)

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What did first-nations people do to protect their food from bears?

mike
Feb 10, 2011

out of the 2 times i went backpacking, we never encountered bears, or any animals for that matter. i don't own a bear canister, we just throw our food in a odor-proof/waterproof bag, and set it next to a tree 50 yards from camp, and never had anything touch it. the 2 places I've been, Catskills in the fall, and western North Carolina in the spring.

mike
Feb 10, 2011

out of the 2 times i went backpacking, we never encountered bears, or any animals for that matter. i don't own a bear canister, we just throw our food in a odor-proof/waterproof bag, and set it next to a tree 50 yards from camp, and never had anything touch it. the 2 places I've been, Catskills in the fall, and western North Carolina in the spring.

mike
Feb 10, 2011

out of the 2 times i went backpacking, we never encountered bears, or any animals for that matter. i don't own a bear canister, we just throw our food in a odor-proof/waterproof bag, and set it next to a tree 50 yards from camp, and never had anything touch it. the 2 places I've been, Catskills in the fall, and western North Carolina in the spring.

mike
Feb 10, 2011

out of the 2 times i went backpacking, we never encountered bears, or any animals for that matter. i don't own a bear canister, we just throw our food in a odor-proof/waterproof bag, and set it next to a tree 50 yards from camp, and never had anything touch it. the 2 places I've been, Catskills in the fall, and western North Carolina in the spring.

Zach
Feb 10, 2011

What about in the adirondacks?

david
Feb 10, 2011

I waw told that bears do not eat during the winter, so I never hung my food while hiking in the mountains of the North East. There occasionaly were tracks in the snow where bruin took a stroll. But one New Years day at 4,000' I did find bear skat with deer hoofs. Carrion ? ? So...do you or don't you dine while enjoying the winter woods ? And are you only Ursa or Ursala ? If Ursala, what to you do with your tiny cubs when you leave your den ?

Numa
Feb 10, 2011

I've seen bear tracks in February near Banff and Lake Louise, but I've never heard of anyone losing any food to a bruin. The main problem we have here is pine martens, so you still have to protect your goodies.

sawoodhick
Dec 16, 2010

I have never used one for camping in PA and I have been camping here year-round for about 30 years.

Zach
Dec 03, 2010

I never have used one in January in northern Minnesota - thinking they don't wanna leave their snug dens when it's 30 below!

Prasant
Dec 03, 2010

Does it not freeze at cold temperature?

boneguru
Dec 02, 2010

In Arizona we use Bear Boxes year round they rarely sleep more than a few hours at a time and graze continually throughout the year, its always a good idea to use them, get your moneys worth and perpetuate a good habit

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