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Are bears, mountain lions, and other predators attracted to, or repelled by human urine? I often ‘set up a perimeter’ when camping in bear country by peeing in different locations outside of camp. Is this effective or am I just watering a lot of different rocks? —Looking Out for Number One.
Pee, by any other name, still smells the same, and bears, lions, and other predators are interested in anything that smells interesting. Stephen Herrero’s book Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance, considered the definitive work by many authorities, says “human excrement/urine attracts bears and should not be near your campsite.” The National Park Service promotes that belief as well, adding that the salt in urine attracts wild animals (including bears and lions) and should be deposited well away from camp. There are some folks, however, who disagree with urine-as-attraction and believe that human urine deters nosey bears. But the majority of experts oppose this view.
Two other no-no’s that you should be aware of: You don’t have to bury urine; and you shouldn’t pee on vegetation. Urine is harmful to many species of plants. Move about 100 yards from camp to urinate in big predator country, and you should be far enough for a safe deposit. Finally, you can pee fearlessly into large bodies of moving water for the safest bet of all.
So how can you actually keep bears out of your camp? For starters, make sure there’s nothing to attract them to it: Store food and scented garbage safely and do your cooking at least 50 to 100 meters away from your camp. Applying bear spray to your tent won’t keep curious ursines away. In fact, it’s not unlikely to attract them, as the pepper products in bear spray smell like food; anecdotally, some campers who have tried it have woken up to find bears licking their shelters. If you’re camping in an area with a heavy grizzly population or even around polar bears, a portable electric fence is another option to keep a solid perimeter around where you plan to sleep.
Originally published 2008; last updated January 2022