Critter-Proofing Your Campsite

With summer here, many of us eagerly await that first weekend under the stars, sharing our favorite campfire meals with special friends. Sometimes, however, it’s the uninvited guests that we have to worry about.

When it comes to marauding critters in camp, we as campers are our own worst enemy. We’re the ones that bring the food into an environment where the quest for same is an instinctive part of each animal’s struggle for existence.

Frequenting popular camping spots, such as in designated campgrounds, we have conditioned animals into knowing that this area produces food whenever those weird upright creatures are around. They leave their food out, smeared on their clothing, and spread about the grounds like the leaves of autumn. We have educated many animals into knowing right where the food will be as we set up camp.

Keep Camp, Self Clean
Camp kitchen etiquette typically demands that your kitchen and food prep area be kept clean and at least 50 yards from your site. Utensils, prep area, extra food — everything involved in meal prep’ — should be thoroughly cleaned before being put away. You might think that tiny smudge of food on the thigh of your jeans is nothing, but with animals whose smelling is 100 times better than ours, you might as well be grilling a juicy steak over a bed of mesquite coals!

Children repeatedly wipe their hands on their clothing. Those items should be stored in odor-proof containers. Tossing them in the dirty clothes pile in the corner of your tent invites a late night visit.

Bear barrels and other bear-proof containers are a good idea, especially when used in conjunction with other clean camp practices. Hanging your food in a bag high above the forest floor may make you look and feel like a backwoods Jock, but in reality they are not that effective. Bears know what’s in the bag from too many prior experiences. They can push over trees, rip off branches to which the rope is applied, even untie knots in some cases (more a point of poor knot tying than clever bears I would guess).

Be Careful With Salt
Besides food, the salt residue from you body sweat is like a dinner bell to many mammals as well. Small rodents to huge porcupines are attracted to the salt on canoe paddles, backpacks, even the gunwales on a canoe. Smaller gear can be brought inside the tent or cabin, but anywhere a critter can climb is fair territory.

Boats can be anchored off shore with special retrieval systems that allow you to push the boat back out onto deeper water, yank a line that drops a rock anchor and enables you to still retrieve the boat later.

Some choose to pile their gear onto the picnic table and then string or lay out pots and pans around the cache so anything attempting a heist will rattle a pot and signal an alarm. This could work, but there are cases where bears have pulled out food packs without even touching the outer line of defense at all.

Use common sense and keep your campsite tidy — after all it’s you who is the guest in the woods.

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2 Responses to “Critter-Proofing Your Campsite”

  1. woodswolf1

    Some years ago, three of us had portaged into Boundary Waters in Canada along the MN border. We dutifully hung our food pack way up in a tree. As we canoed back to the campsite after a long day of fishing, I could clearly see the bottom of the food pack hanging down. A mamma bear had sent her cubs up the tree to weight the branch down so she could reach it. She ripped the canvas like it was butter. They really enjoyed the cooking oil, but it gave them diarrhea all over the campsite! LOL! If the critters want it bad enough, they will find a way to get to it!

    • Tom WAtson

      Indeed, you still see some outdoor website “experts” telling campers to hang food from trees…bears have learned, as you mention, to get to these lofty caches of food. Sadly, advice seems more aimed at implying backcountry know-how rather that even mentioning the importance of campsite cleanliness and housekeeping – even in a spike camp.