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Here’s the Bear Protection You Need in the National Parks

Bag, can, or locker? Here's what you'll need to use to keep your food safe from bears.

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Want to keep bears safe? Make sure they don’t get into your food. Bears that associate humans with their next meal are more likely to initiate encounters and become problem bears, which wildlife managers often end up exterminating. (Not to mention that those run-ins can go badly for humans as well.)

Strategies and gear for safe food storage range from hanging a bear bag to using a bear-resistant container. Depending on the local terrain and the resident bears’ familiarity with people, public land units may require specific storage methods unique to their area. To help make it easier for you to find out what gear you’ll need, we’ve compiled the info from 10 popular national parks into the list below.

But first, two notes: “Food” in this case refers to all items with an odor, including cleaned dishes, sun protection, and hygiene products. Also, not all bear canisters are created equal. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) maintains a list of products it has certified as bear-proof, and the list is used by a number of national parks.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: The bears here have cracked the code to most bear bag methods, so more creative measures are necessary. Every backcountry campsite is equipped with a bear-hang cable system, and all food must be hung from the cable. 

Yellowstone National Park: Many backcountry sites come with bear-hang poles, but containers are allowed as well. Containers must be on the IGBC Certified Bear Resistant Product list. 

Rocky Mountain National Park: Bear-resistant canisters are required from April 1 to October 31 in all wilderness areas below tree line and the Longs Peak Boulder Field. 

Grand Teton National Park: Backcountry campers are required to use IGBC-approved storage containers, except where food storage boxes are provided. 

Grand Canyon National Park: There are no bears in the canyon itself, but some black bears have been spotted around the rim. Regardless, you’ll need to use an animal-proof storage container (it doesn’t have to be bear-proof) to protect against rodents and other animals. 

Yosemite National Park: Bear canisters are required for backpacking. Yosemite has its own list of approved containers. 

Olympic National Park: Olympic has some areas with bear-hang wires or where tree hangs are allowed, but canisters are required in other parts of the park. It has its own approved list of containers.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks: The parks highly recommend bear-resistant containers, and they’re required in certain areas. Food storage boxes are provided at some sites, but bear hangs are not recommended. The parks have their own list of approved storage containers.

Glacier National Park: Poles and storage lockers are available, but if there aren’t any at the campsite, you must store food in an IGBC-approved container. 

Denali National Park: IGBC-approved canisters are required for overnighting in the park.

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