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

Ask A Bear: How Long Do Food Smells Stick To My Tent?

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

Q: I am well aware that you should always keep a clean camp and cook/eat well away from camp when backpacking in bear country.  My question is that I often cook and eat in camp when not in bear country. Do those delicious smells stay with my tent and gear between trips so that you’re still interested? Go Bears!! — Josh Quigley, Chicago, IL

A: Hey Josh—glad to see you're supporting my favorite NFL team. Of course, if they'd actually drafted me, maybe we would've actually beaten the Colts in 06. Grrr.

But on to your question. I applaud you for following proper precautions in bear country—that's a great habit. But if you slack when I'm not around, it's possible that scents could impregnate your tent and gear and linger during your next trip to my backyard. This is especially true if you cook smelly foods inside your tent or from underneath the vestibule.

It's probably a good idea to cook away from camp anyway, since even when you're not in bear country, other animals might be interested in the food odors you create (and not just squirrels—coyotes are all over the Midwest, and they're not afraid to get aggressive or raid a tent). 

If you must cook highly odorous foods inside or very near your tent, there's two easy fixes. You might consider owning two tents—one for bear country and one for non-bear country. If this isn't an option, you can always wash your tent in between trips. Here's how.


Got a question for the bear? Send it to


blah blah
May 27, 2010

do wild vegetables w/o meat or much seasoning attract wild animals too or do only smelly foods like candy bars and peanut butter etc. only attract bears

John Neal
May 25, 2010

At the 2007 Maine Canoe Symposium, noted canoeing author Cliff Jacobsen recommended bear spray as a superior alternative to firearms in bear deterrence, and he was an Army sharpshooter! You need no training to use it safely, you only need to point it in the bear's general direction for it to work, and it will disable the bear without causing permanent harm. Also works on other predators and people, too! Available from UDAP.

Rich Allcorn
May 25, 2010

That's why it's always good to have a "dog" (pet) with you to alert you of "visitors" BEFORE they get there. And a good campfire will often keep predators away. If that doesn't work, a good 30/30 Winchester carbine rifle will.

Seriously ... I never cook in my tent - fire hazard alone keeps me from that. If it's rainy? I guess you're gonna have to rough it with some CLIF bars until the rain stops.

May 25, 2010

In the Adirondacks (and northeast in general) the bears have become more aggressive over the last 15 yrs of so. Also, the bears here will be attracted to a tent sometimes, regardless of the newness or smell of the tent. There have been folks staging a brand new tent, heading off to finish a peak then returning to camp to find a bear had made quick work of their new tent. These are black bears though and they all have very individual personalities ... so ya never know!

Carol Bowen
Apr 30, 2010

You can't cook by yout or keep food in you tent if you are in javalina country either. They will rip your tent open with their long fangs? I saw them do this at the Rio Grand Village Camp site in Big Bend National Park several years ago. We had to chase them away from a couple of tents A herd of them came thru the camp several times a day. One camper was attacked at night when he went to bed in the same clothes he barbecued in so be careful out there. The rangers provided critter proof boxes to put all food in but you had to share with other campers.


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