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.
Got a question for the bear? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.