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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Ask A Bear: Scared By Flashing Lights?

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

by: BEAR

Q: I heard that a steady flashing light will keep most critters out of your camp, including bears. Will this really work? And if so, where do I find these lights? —Jason LaPort, Southern Adirondacks, via email

A: When police cars turn on their flashing lights, it gives you a little bit of a start, no? Me too: According to the Colorado Division of Wildlife, flashing lights can startle me and cause me to flee the scene.

But there's a problem: It will most likely only work once. Unless something happens to reinforce the light (i.e. you yelling, banging pots, etc.), I'll learn to call your bluff. You might get a few more scares out of me by altering the pattern of lights, but eventually I'll figure out that there's nothing to them. If you're camping in a location with highly motivated problem bears used to raiding camps, it might not even work at all.

In either case, the best option for you is to keep all smelly items (food, toothpaste, deodorant, you know the drill) in a canister or in a properly hung bear bag far from camp. Since you're in the Daks, it's probably best for you to use a locking canister, since some of us up there know how to open screw-top canisters.

Flashing lights are sometimes recommended for houses with bear problems, but lighting systems can be heavy or problematic to camp with. And how will you sleep with all those flashing lights?! Even with blinders on, you could be ruining the wilderness experience you came for in the first place. Never mind the bears—I think you'd have more trouble from fellow human campers who come from far and wide to see what that annoying flashing is all about.


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Star Star Star Star Star
Peter Rade
May 07, 2014

We use a small solar powered flashing light unit called "Predator Guard" whenever we go camping. It does actually keep bears away from our campsite.

Al from Concord, CA
Apr 04, 2011

And . . . by the way . . . I've never lost food to bears . . . mini or otherwise.

Al from Concord, CA
Apr 04, 2011

And if you are backpacking think of all the batteries you're going to have to pack in AND pack out. I have small strobes that take "C" batteries. One battery will last one night. Ten Day trip = ten batteries. Two strobes = 20 batteries. Do the weight math = more trouble than they're worth . . . when there are better ways of dealing with bears. Skillfully hung bags and bear cannisters are just two.

Mar 31, 2011

When are we going to stop thinking of animals as stupid. I've had deer grazing in flower beds with motion activated lights going on and off. raccoons enjoy the extra light when feeding and playing. Quite frankly strobes are more likly blind one or both of you and get you both crashing around and into each other.

Mar 31, 2011

Looks like we are on the same wavelength (pun) with the ultra sound devices. Great minds think alike....of course, so do the mentally ill.

Mar 31, 2011

Maybe a motion-sensitive strobe light? Of course, don't leave the tent in the middle of the night.

How 'bout the motion-detector sound blasters that are supposed to keep dogs and raccoons out of the garden??? Humans can't hear them but they supposedly annoy the heck out of wildlife.

Mar 31, 2011

Thanx for the input guys. I'm thinking that a Strobe Light is a bit strong of a word. It leads to one thinking of a super bright steady party flasher. I was thinking more in the lines of something dimmer and much less frequent. Like every 15 to 30 seconds. A deflector could easily keep the light out of your own tent at night as well.

I also saw a commercial for a solar ultra sonic critter repeller. Something humans can't hear but most fur bearing critters can. At this point the unit seems to me to big to pack in but maybe an advancement in technology could make such a unit worth packing in to keep the bears from wandering too close to camp. I've never had bears come in and steal anything but they have been close enough to cause concern at times. To be honest I've had raccoons cause more trouble then bears. Jason

Mar 31, 2011

If you were camping near me with a strobe going all night it wouldn't be the bears you would have to worry about.
One year on the JMT a big Yougi tried to crawl under my tarp with me. I woke up with him in my face. I flashed my LED headlamp in his eyes and told him/her (didn't check that close) "Get the explintive outta here! The bear grunted at me then wandered off.

Mar 31, 2011

In the Adirondacks -- buy, borrow or rent Garcias. Plus they can double as great little camp seats.

Mar 31, 2011

A lot of high performance flashlights these days have built in strobe options for tactical applications. I carry a Fenix LD30 in the backcountry, a Streamlight PT1L if I am concerned about every single oz. and both have built in strobe features. I do not think that the idea was to bring a separate lighting system to keep running constantly, I interpreted the question as if you were to find a bear in your camp, would it be worthwhile to use, in which case the answer seemed to be yes, which I am glad to find out as I had often wondered myself if it would be a good idea to strobe and blow my whistle and holler at a bear if I found one in my camp.

Otis from Mayberry
Mar 31, 2011

No Doubt ! A strobe in your camp dude ? I don't know about most people but I'd rather have the possiblity of a bear sniffing around my camp than flag my location with a strobe - that could be seen for miles in the right environment- so any loser human with bad intentions ( happens a lot more than bear problems ) can find my site in the middle of the night.

Mar 31, 2011

I once took a picture of a grizzly bear and my flash went off and the bear bolted for the woods only to spin around and come back to see what was up seeming more curious in us once the picture was taken. I also opened my porch door once to see a black bear enjoying a feast in our garbage can so on went the light and the bear didn;t move or even say thanks for the light so in my experience lights don't work to deter bears.


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