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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Ask A Bear: Why Did You Steal My Empty Pack?

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

by: BEAR

Q: Why, when I did not have ANY food in my pack, did you come sniffing around and steal it? I do not want to get up in the middle of the night and chase after you to try and retrieve my things. Is it my 10-day dirty trail laundry that attracted you? How should I protect my non-food items from you in the future? —Margaret R., via email

A: Oh, boy. Sounds like you had an encounter with my species' version of a junkie: a bear with a habituation problem. On behalf of him and all bad bear seeds, I apologize.

You don't say where you were camping, but in areas where bears and humans cross paths too often, I can become so habituated to your presence that I become a chronic thief of all human items. This particular bear probably learned long ago that human packs usually contained food, so he/she promptly employed the crafty technique of cutting and running with the safe and finding out what it contained later. Though he might have ended up disappointed, I doubt your poor pack would've survived his rummaging.

As you likely know by now, make sure no scented items whatsoever are in your pack; store them all with your food in a bear canister or hang them in a bear bag. Also, in between trips, it won't hurt to wash your pack, especially if you were carting particularly smelly food items (like salmon jerky) on your backcountry jaunts. Finally, you may want to hang your pack like a bear bag, even if it's empty and you have a canister. Getting it up and off the ground is the best way to keep habituated bears (not to mention mice, squirrels, and marmots) from investigating and maybe even heisting your pack.


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Star Star Star Star Star
Mar 22, 2013

Hegh Hort BaG Bear winimim camyayoska! Ees?

Dec 10, 2011

Why couldn't you put your pack in your tent with you if it didnt contain odiferous items?

Mark Laube
Dec 08, 2011

Hanging your pack seperately, and away from,your food is a good idea--I can do without my chow for awhile but without my pack I could be in serious trouble

Dec 08, 2011

When backpacking at Philmont Scout Ranch, we hung serveral packs on teh bear lines because boys had carelessly spilled food or drink on their packs. Only had two run-ins with black bears there--both uneventful.

Dec 08, 2011

the article says hang your pack "like a bear bag", not "with a bear bag".

Aug 12, 2011

You shouldn't need a bear bag to hang a pack. When hanging a pack using the bear bag hang method, the pack IS the bear bag. You hang your pack by lashing the rope or line to parts of the pack.

I've never thought to hang my pack, but I use a bear canister for food and odors and keep the pack mostly empty and easy to "investigate". No problems here. Most visitors I've had are the smaller rodents and I've seen them tear into bags from careless campers who left something out of their canister. It's more than just bears we are trying to keep out and protect.

Apr 27, 2011

jesus will save you

Apr 27, 2011

satan did it

What next?
Apr 15, 2011

Last summer there were signs in the backpackers camp at Tuolumne Meadows (Yosemite) recommending putting packs in the bear lockers if there was room. Apparently bears had run off with a few packs.

Apr 15, 2011

Only speaking of black bears, has anyone hear of a black bear taking food off a person that hada not been feeding a bear.

Apr 14, 2011

Where does one find a bear bag large enough to stash a pack in?

Anon Ranger
Apr 14, 2011

Habituation is a decrease in response to a given stimulus, eg: coming into contact with humans without receiving a negative or positive result. In habituation, a bear is just used to people, which can unfortunately lead to conditioning. This is what happens when a bear receives a "food reward" from humans. Bears are extremely intelligent and it only takes one time getting food from a pack to condition a bear to believe that "packs mean food."


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