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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Ask A Bear: Is Submerged Food Safe?

Got a burning ursine question? Ask our resident bruin expert in our weekly feature, 'Ask A Bear.'

by: Bear


 
 Q: Does sealing food and sinking it in a lake or river create an odor barrier that will prevent you from finding and partaking of my food? —John, via email

A: If you've got reliable waterproof bags on you when you go camping, the combination of plastic and submerging your food underwater will create an odor barrier that should keep me from narfing on your vittles. Several layers of plastic bags are key, though: Contrary to popular belief, a single plastic bag is slightly odor-permeable, so you should use more than one to back it up. Between the several layers of plastic and the lake or river water, I probably won't be able to sniff out your Lucky Charms.

But there's one element that keeps this from being a foolproof technique: Submerging your food in a lake or river will do nothing to keep me fromseeing your stores of snacky goodness. Since I regularly prowl riverbanks and lake shores for fish, carrion, and other natural goodies, I'd stand a decent chance of getting curious about your underwater foodbag. Remember, I can spot fish cruising by in dark, rushing water well enough to catch them in my mouth mid-air, so don't think I won't notice your Oreos bobbing just below the surface. Are you willing to take that chance? 

To be 100-percent safe, you'd have to paddle out to the middle of a large lake, weight and submerge your cache, and attach a buoy so you could find it. That's not going to be fun when oatmeal time comes the following morning, so given all the hassle involved, you're probably better off using a bear canister and shoving it into a deep rock crevice or atop a large boulder (we're crappy rock climbers) far from camp.

—BEAR

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


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READERS COMMENTS

James
Nov 09, 2012

If I attach my bag of food to an RC airplane, and have it flying in a circle over my campsite until morning, would a bear be likely to find the remote control, land the plane, and eat my food? These "Ask a Bear" questions get a bit ridiculous at times.

sherri
Nov 08, 2012

i dont think this would work.....cadaver dogs find submerged articles for part of their training.....and bears are trained by the environment a million times faster. Certainly polar bears would think it handy.....and theyre just a few traits away

SJ
Nov 08, 2012

Like Dogs, Bears have great sniffers and like dog they will detect the scent under water...

johnsw40
Oct 16, 2011

I just kill the bear

Mike also
Oct 13, 2011

Agreed, it's not easy to sink a waterproof bag. I've done it in the redwoods when there were no low-enough branches but it was a pain. (I didn't have my canister with me.) For much of the west we don't have to worry about turtles or especially gators.
Hanging between trees doesn't work in much of the Sierras 'cause the bears have figured it out and above timberline there are no trees, and there's lots of above timberline there. Canisters are the answer there.
The Canadian Rockies require that you hang your food but there are often hanging poles provided. Some more popular back country sites have metal lockers now.

Trevor
Oct 13, 2011

I'm just going to say, DO NOT put your bear canister in a rock crevice! I have heard storys about smart bears that will use the crevice to wedge the canister and open it. I've always been told to put it in a large open area where if a bear finds it he will just throw it around a bit...

Trevor
Oct 13, 2011

I'm just going to say, DO NOT put your bear canister in a rock crevice! I have heard storys about smart bears that will use the crevice to wedge the canister and open it. I've always been told to put it in a large open area where if a bear finds it he will just throw it around a bit...

Dave
Oct 13, 2011

Ok people, the word for the day is "Duh".
Does it need to be said that if you are camping near waters that have alligators or creatures that might make a meal of your underwater cache, you should not use this method? I give my fellow readers the benefit of the doubt and assume that common sense will prevail. Lighten up.

Scott
Oct 13, 2011

FYI... Loksak.com has odor-proof bags. I don't know if I would stake my life on them against a big bad stalking bear, but they come in handy for other purposes and their customer service is excellent.

Scott
Oct 13, 2011

FYI... Loksak.com has odor-proof bags.

Anonymous
Oct 13, 2011

Hey modern man, how do you think our ancestors kept food cold while traveling? This was it. Submerging food in a cool stream kept some of our ancestors from getting sick on spoiled food, so it's not an "urban myth." But, if visible to racoons and bears, they might plunder your under water fridge.

Anonymous
Jun 22, 2011

".also, it's darned hard to sink a waterproof bag full of food."

If necessary, sink the waterproof bag in an outer bag, then use good sized rocks to sink that bag.

john d
May 29, 2011

sweet! Thanks for the heads up.

johnjdaniels.blogspot.com

Brooks Davis
May 23, 2011

Bad idea............I would say you are littering and a possible wildlife killer by allowing a turtle or gator to : a) possibly suffocate when said creature tried to ingest the contents

b) the leftovers from the plastic bag(s) would then be free to roam around in the lake and be trash for years, possibly claiming more wildlife through repeated ingestion........

This is one bad idea !!

Ikan Mas
May 21, 2011

Could we just dispense with the urban legends here. Use your bear canister!

SirVive
May 20, 2011

Gotta agree with Mike - especially with dry foods they will float like a cork. It can be done though.
And by the way ... a lot of us live where there is no such thing as a gator ... or a turtle bigger than a small plate for that matter - including most places where bears are an issue so I don't see a conflict there.

Bruce Harrington
May 19, 2011

Ya know how your brain can read an incomplete sentence or something and leap to it's own conclusion? Well, when I got the email I thought the title was "Can bears smell underwear?" I thought "Oh Sh*t, I'm dead."

You have nothing to fear but fear itself...and bears.

CASMO
May 19, 2011

YOU PEA-PLE ARE OBSESSED WITH BEARS!!!!

Anonymous
May 19, 2011

It is very time tested idea that indians and old-timers alike used. Short answer is it works. Before portable fridges, old-timers for years did this to cool watermellons, milk, eggs, etc. A crate or submergible box helps, but not great when backpacking. To help keep critters out, surround items within a stone wall.

Brooks Davis
May 19, 2011

Bad idea............I would say you are littering and a possible wildlife killer by allowing a turtle or gator to : a) possibly suffocate when said creature tried to ingest the contents

b) the leftovers from the plastic bag(s) would then be free to roam around in the lake and be trash for years, possibly claiming more wildlife through repeated ingestion........

This is one bad idea !!

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