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Friday, July 9, 2010

Backpacking Tips: Are You Attracting Bears?

Brown Bear
Image via Wikipedia
Seeing bears in the wilderness from a distance can be exhilarating. Inadvertently attracting them closer is another thing.
I remember a perfume ad that crooned persuasively of the attractive qualities of a particular perfume brand. It went something like this: She walks by and her tantalizing scent lingers long after she is gone.
Ha! I’m glad I’m not trying to make a living at writing perfume ads.
Bears have an acute sense of smell. Are you leaving a scent tantalizing to their sensitive noses? They like the smell of perfume as well as humans do. But, there are a number of other smells besides perfume and cologne that might attract bears.
Bear hunters study bear attractants to lure their prey into their rifle range. Hikers and backpackers seek to do the opposite. Here is a list of 16 bear attractants that you might want to pay attention to so you can avoid unwanted encounters with bruins:
#1: Perfume,
#2: Cologne,

#3: Deodorant,
#4: Sunscreen,
#5: Lotion,
#6: Used feminine pads or tampons,
#7: Food that you are carrying in your backpack,
#8: Food that you are carrying in your pocket,
#9: Food wrappers from meals and snacks already eaten,
#10: Food left on unwashed dishes, cooking pots and utensils,
#11: Food and grease left on your clothing after cooking a meal,
#12: Food left in your tent,
#13: Food smells left on your tent fabric and sleeping bag after stupidly eating in your tent (well, not you but the other guy),
#14: Food that you leave carelessly at your campsite after a meal,
#15: Fish guts,
#16: Burned garbage.
This list is certainly not all inclusive. So, just let it help you understand principles of not attracting unsolicited bears with scents and smells.
Here are a few general rules to follow that will diminish your chances of attracting bears:
Rule #1: Never eat in your tent or leave food in your tent:  in other words keep your bedroom and your kitchen separate while in the backcountry;
Rule #2: If you fish, clean the fish at a good distance from your camp;
Rule #3: Do all food cooking and preparation a good hundred feet downwind from your sleeping quarters at your campsite;
Rule #4: Keep all food, cosmetics and anything else with a scent tightly sealed in Ziploc(s) bags;
Rule #5: Practice proper food caching while you sleep;
Rule #6: Pack out all your garbage including used feminine hygiene materials and used toilet paper in tightly sealed plastic bags;
Rule #7: Never sleep in or store in your tent the clothes that you use to cook in;
Rule #8: Wash all dishes, utensils and cookware thoroughly after use;
Rule #9: Don’t wear anything to make yourself smell pretty;
Rule #10: Don’t do the dishes or dispose of dishwater near your campsite sleeping quarters;
Rule #11: Brush your teeth at a good distance from your tent;
Rule #12: In short, keep it clean and tidy.
By the way, there is some discussion on whether bears are attracted  to menstruating women. Even though some caution women to not hike in bear country while menstruating, others point to research that suggests that this is not the case. They are, however, attracted to used feminine hygiene materials. Here is a website that might be of use on the topic of bears and menstruating women.
Study. Know. Survive.
by Richard Davidian, Ph.D.
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