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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

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.'

by: 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.

—BEAR

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


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READERS COMMENTS

Cal 20 Sailor
Jul 26, 2012

I've heard that grizzlies have a more sensitive sense of smell than bloodhounds, and bloodhounds can track a person days after they've passed just from the skin cells sloughed-off while walking... And if synthetic clothes are so hard to deodorize, well tents are made of synthetics...

Jerry W Doyle
Jul 26, 2012

Everyone has his or her preferences on where to cook and eat when camping in the backcountry. I respect Josh's prerogative to do so in his tent, but outside of inclement weather it always appeals to me to enhance my enjoyment of the outdoors by eating around the camp fire under the stars. Additionally, Bear is correct that his sense of smell is powerfully acute and that I suspect that he would detect food scents still lingering on Josh's tent fabric. In his book, "Bear Attacks," Stephen Herrero writes that under the proper wind conditions, a bear can pick up particular scents one mile away.

Myself Josh, I would not sleep soundly in your tent when in bear country.

Jerry D

benji
Oct 14, 2011

hey woodhick, Chicago comes to mind, hawhaw...
no seriously, I've lived in MI, UT, a few places in So.Caland the central valley, never had any problems 'til I moved up here to the Sierra's, so to answer your question: lots o' places. :P

James
Oct 14, 2011

I quit using a perfectly good tent several years ago when I let my wife and daughter use it for a girlscout outing and they spilled hot chocolate inside the tent. Smells stay and critters have excellent noses.

sawoodhick
Jul 08, 2011

Where is there not bear country?

Aaron
Jul 08, 2011

Jeez... you bears are so friggin high maintenance. Must be due to having such an awful football team. :D

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