6 Tips for Animal-Proofing Your Campsite

April 12, 2017 How to

As the snow melts and temperatures rise, campers, backpackers and wildlife rejoice. However to be a happy camper, animal-proofing your campsite is a necessity. Now bears might be the first animals you want to keep out of your campsite. However animal-proofing your campsite goes beyond just bear-proofing. Little critters such as squirrels and mice can also do some damage to gear and food if you’re not paying attention.

These seven tips below are predominately aimed toward backpackers yet car campers can gain some insight here too. Animal-proofing might seem like a hassle but it is important for three reasons: protecting your campsite/gear/food, protecting wildlife, and protecting future campers.

When good animal-proofing measures are taken, we won’t be stuck without food while in the backcountry, wildlife won’t get an unhealthy appetite for our food, and the campsite remains safe from wildlife for future campers. If a bear or critter knows that a certain spot always has food, the animal will continue to come back to that spot, potentially ruining the campsite and making it dangerous for future campers. In essence, animal-proofing a campsite should be viewed as a “Leave No Trace” policy.

With this in mind, here are six tips for animal-proofing your campsite.

1. Store Your Food Properly (Hang, Bear Canister, or Bear Box)

bear box bear canister for food storage at Yosemite NP

Bear box. Photo Credit: Jerome Bon via Flickr

This first tip is animal-proofing 101. You should always store your food properly. There are three main options to use here, which are hanging a “bear bag,” using a bear canister, or using a bear box.

Bear Box:

Now some campsites, especially in national parks in bear habitat, have bear boxes. These boxes are just metal boxes used to store food and other scented items like toothpaste.

Bear Canister:

A bear canister is a bear-proof canister used for backpacking. The canister is small enough to fit inside a backpacking pack but sturdy enough to prevent a pesky bear from getting inside.

Hanging a “bear bag:”

Even if you aren’t in bear country, hanging your food is still a good idea to stop critters and even insects from invading your food supply. Referred to as a “bear bag” by some backpackers, this is simply a waterproof stuff sack filled with your food. There is a proper way to hang your food bag and a rope is necessary. Experts recommend hanging your food approximately 20 feet high and 8 feet from the trunk of a tree.

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bear canister for animal-proofing campsite

Bear canister. Photo Credit: Tom Fassbender via Flickr

hanging bear bag in a tree

Bear bag in a tree. Photo Credit: brenda denton via Flickr

2. Use the Triangle Method (aka Bear-muda Triangle)

bear-mude triangle for camping, cooking and storing food.

Bear-mude triangle. Photo Credit: ByBikebyTrain.com

The idea behind the Triangle Method is to not eat and cook where you sleep and to not store your food where you eat or sleep. This method comes highly recommended if you are camping in a place with no trees and many wildlife predators. Use this method only if you have a waterproof and odor-free container, such as a bear canister. If possible, cover the canister with rocks before heading back to camp to sleep.

Personal Note: I used this method while backpacking in Denali National Park in Alaska. The rangers there recommend to sleep 100 yards away from where your food is stored. Then, eat and cook 100 yards away from both your camp and food storage spot. This creates a triangle. Think of your tent as one point of the triangle and your food storage and cooking spot the other two points of the triangle.

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3. Don’t Leave Wrappers or Trash in Your Pack

backpack with food in the pocket

Photo Credit: Steven Bernacki via Flickr

As a backpacker, wrappers sometimes get stashed in odd pockets of our pack. Make sure to give your pack a good look-through so that you aren’t accidentally leaving wrappers inside your belt or side pockets.

Personal Note: I left a granola bar wrapper inside of my belt pocket once. Overnight, a mouse chewed a little hole inside my mesh belt pocket to get to the wrapper. Avoid a repair but not letting this happen to your gear!

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4. Don’t Bring Personal Scented Items

campsud soap attacked by marmot

A marmot got into this Campsuds soap. Although it is intended for camp use, it may have had a scent. Photo Credit: house via Flickr

Beginner backpackers may have the strongest urge to bring along scented deodorants, soaps, lotions, and perfumes. However please don’t. These scents also will attract animals. If you must bring a deodorant or soap, make sure it is not scented. However many backpackers just don’t bring these items. It saves on weight in your pack! Read more about personal hygiene tips while in the backcountry

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5. Wash Dishes Properly

camp backpacking cookware

Photo Credit: eeems via Flickr

Your cookware with leftover food can attract unwanted wildlife guests. Therefore proper dishwashing techniques are necessary for animal-proofing your site. One of the easiest ways to avoid a messy meal is to choose foods that aren’t messy in the first place. Avoiding dishwashing altogether makes camp time less tiresome. Eating dehydrated food from a pouch is a great way to keep your dishes clean. Using your pot only for boiling water will prevent dirty dishes.

However if you do cook in your pot, also eat out of your pot. Using another dish to eat just makes another dish dirty, which equals to more cleaning and mess.

When it comes to cleaning your dishes, wash at least 200 feet away from your site. Some backpackers choose to bring a biodegradable soap and a small sponge for cleaning. Avoid cooking excess food so you don’t have leftover food. If you do have leftover food, pack it out with your trash. Spread the dirty dish water, also known as grey waste water, by spewing it out over a large area. Alternatively, if you don’t broadcast this water over a large area, an animal is more likely to find it because the grey water didn’t evaporate quickly enough.

Note: If you are notorious for being a messy eater, it might be beneficial for you to have a set of “eating and cooking” clothes. Pack these clothes away in your bear bag or bear canister.

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6. Pack Out Your Trash

packing out trash in a bear canister

Food and trash in a bear canister. Photo Credit: daveynin via Flickr

You should always pack out your trash. Do not burn your trash. It may be tempting to burn your trash. However trash particles may still get left behind. And burning plastic is unpleasant to smell and pollutes the air around your site. By packing out your trash, you are keeping the area clean for future campers.

How do you animal-proof your campsite? Tell us your recommendations in the comments below!


Madison Dragna