Avoiding Bears

Bears are generally not a problem until careless humans teach them to find food unnaturally. In the past, we were able to put our food on one end of a rope and suspend it from a high tree limb. Bears have learned how to down these lines, so bear bags are no longer allowed in most Sierra wilderness areas. Several areas in the Sierras now require food to be stored in proper containers. Failure to do so can result in a citation along with a hefty fine. Worse yet, failure to properly store food leads to "problem bears" being shot and killed.  There are some storage lockers at established camps along the PCT, JMT, and other major trails, but these constrain where you may camp.

Bear Canisters
Ray Jardine and other well-known lightweight hikers sleep with their food, making noises to scare off any curious bears that wander nearby. While this would probably work, it's not completely safe. They do this to save pack weight, but we don't feel that weight savings justifies the risk to either humans or bears. For a discussion of specific gear, see the bear canister gear page.

Campsite Selection
Ray Jardine calls the concept "Stealth Camping". The idea is to be purposeful when finding a place to sleep for the night by avoiding established campground and water sources. First, established campground will often have remnants of food, or at least they might be associated with food to bears, who are more likely to visit these sites during the night. Also, the ground at established campsites is usually more compact and can lead to uncomfortable nights of sleep. Second, water sources are obviously for bears as well. Additionally, there are more flying insects and the temperatures are often colder near water sources. So, the solution is to select a campsite that it remote. Bears are less likely to be scavenging for food in the unproductive woods. Avoiding bears is the first step and, as obvious as it may seem, most people skip this step.

Many people don't quite understand that bears aren't only attracted by food scents. They're curious creatures with good noses. We use the term "smellable" to label any item that needs to be in the bear canister at night. These items include food, food wrappers, scented products (lip balm, sunscreen, insect repellent, etc.), first aid ointment, and clothing that has come in contact with food. When using sunscreen and insect repellent, we are sure not to apply any within 3-4 hours of going to sleep. During the summer, we often use 5pm as the cut-off time for the final application. It's important to thoroughly check all clothing pockets and backpack compartments for food/wrappers before going to sleep, and to double-check after getting into the shelter. We prefer to keep all smellables separate at all times, in their own bag, which makes it easier to get to sleep. Instead of having to locate each of the smellable items at the end of the day when we're tired and it's dark, we know everything is already in the smellable bag, which is already in the bear canister.

Lightweight Hiking Concepts