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Is a Campground Bear Box Really Worth the Effort?

Finding a bear box at your campsite is expected in some parts of the country. Unfortunately, many campers are unaware of how to use them.

These solid structures can help protect you and others in the campground. Ignoring them could be a costly and dangerous mistake.

Today, we’re chatting about what bear boxes are, why they’re important, and some excellent alternatives.

Let’s dig in!

A food box in a campground to protect food from bears
Bear Boxes protect people and bears

What Is a Bear Box?

A bear box is a storage container used to help protect campers and hikers. Manufacturers use metal and the strongest plastics to construct these devices. As a result, they’re capable of withstanding the strength and intelligence of any animal. 

You can find them in campgrounds, national parks, and other wilderness areas with wildlife populations.

In some areas, it’s a requirement to use these devices. So, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with how and when to use them. Failing to do so could result in costly fines, especially if your actions attract wildlife. You don’t want a citation to be your souvenir from your epic adventure.

Your car is not a bear box, especially if you don’t lock the doors!

Why Are Bear Boxes Important?

Bears have a sense of smell that’s a hundred times more powerful than the average human’s. They can use their powerful nose to track down a scent from miles away. When they latch onto a smell, not much will stop them from getting to it. That delicious bag of beef jerky you were snacking on? They’ll break into your vehicle or tent to find it, even if the bag is empty.

While they’re not cats, curiosity can get the best of them once they find your campsite, which can lead to deadly consequences. Dangerous encounters with humans are rare, but they do occur. 

Unfortunately, officials often have no choice but to relocate or euthanize these marvelous creatures after these events. 

Because these storage containers protect human food from bears, they also protect humans and animals. Humans can camp peacefully without fear, and the creatures continue to live in the wild. They help with conservation efforts and maintaining a natural environment for all to enjoy. Do your part and use them to store the appropriate items.

What Goes in a Bear Box?

Those incredible noses we mentioned earlier can smell anything with a strong scent. We mentioned beef jerky, but they can smell far more than just dehydrated meat. 

Food is the most obvious thing you should put straight into them. However, people often overlook many things that should go into a bear box.

For example, deodorant, soap, and feminine products are just a few. These products typically come with strong scents. While you may find them useful, they can spark a bear’s curiosity if it catches a whiff. 

Phil and Stacy, the creators of the YouTube channel Today is Someday, learned the lesson the hard way. They left a handful of items in their car, and a bear broke into it. The animal likely smelled a container of gum, vanilla-scented chapstick, two bottles of lotion, and mint-flavored toothpaste.

Don’t learn this lesson the hard way. Store all of your scented items in it, and stay safe. You don’t want to take any chances that one of these critters shows up at your site.

Your RV might not even be strong enough: Can (And Will) A Bear Break Into Your RV?

Alternatives to Bear Boxes

While many campgrounds offer these containers, they’re not always available. This is where these alternatives come in handy. 

Bear Canister

Bear Canisters are similar to steel units but are smaller, lighter, and more portable. It’s an excellent option if you’re heading out into the wilderness. Adventurers love these because they’re strong and keep food away from animals. 

In fact, some parks require them for anyone camping in their backcountry or wilderness areas.

They typically don’t store much stuff and can be heavy. In the best-case scenario, you may only be able to squeeze three to five days’ worth of supplies into them. They may be an option to consider if you only take short trips. 

Example Bear Canister: BearVault Bear Resistant Food Canister for Hikers, Backpackers, and Campers.

Hanging Bear Bag

A hanging bag isn’t much more than just an ordinary bag that you hang from a tree branch. It doesn’t do much to prevent bears from smelling the contents. It’s difficult for them to reach, though, because it’s hanging 12 to 14 feet above the ground.

This is a commonly used option with hikers because bags are easier to carry than canisters, which aren’t flexible. Unfortunately, it can be time-consuming and ineffective if you don’t do it correctly. Many experts no longer recommend this option because of the increased potential for failure.

Example Hanging Bear Bag: Selkirk Design Ultralight Food Bag Hanging System.

Hard-Sided Vehicle

Some campers store their gear in a hard-sided vehicle. However, as mentioned earlier, Phil and Stacy’s vehicle didn’t do well against the determined mammal. The bear shattered their window and entered their car to find whatever its nose smelled.

Because wildlife has learned how to get into vehicles, many parks don’t consider these safe alternatives to steel containers. You’ll want to get familiar with the local guidelines to avoid any issues or potential fines. When in doubt, find a park ranger or camp host to answer any questions.

Bear approaching a passenger vehicle. Your car may not stand up to a bear like a steel box would.
Your car might not even stand up to a bear wanting your snacks

Bear-Proof Cooler

As its name indicates, a bear-proof cooler is one that wildlife can’t open. These are typically made from durable components and have secure latches that will frustrate the animal. They’re not as strong as a true bear box, though.

Most of these coolers will come with an Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) stamp of approval. However, that’s not always true for every model. Some of the less expensive brands will do the job just the same. Remember, these only work when you use them, so make sure you lock up your stuff to keep it safe.

Example Bear-Proof Cooler: IGBC-Certified Canyon Coolers Outfitter 35.

Bear-Proof Bag

These bags are similar to the hanging bag but offer more protection, incorporating features that reduce a bear’s chances of getting into it. The manufacturer provides detailed instructions on closing and securing them to keep you and your stuff safe.

Bear bags are costly and can be challenging to hang from a tree. As with the other hanging option, use it correctly. If not, you’re defeating the purpose and risking your safety. Be sure to look for the IGBC certification, too.

Example Bear-Proof Bag: IGBC-Certified Ursack Major XL Bear Backpack.

Keep Everyone Safe by Using Proper Bear Containers

If you pull into a campsite and it has a bear box, definitely use it. The containers help you, the animals, and other campers to stay safe. These creatures are intelligent and powerful. Once they lock onto a smell, it’s not easy to stop them. If you don’t take the proper precautions, they’ll undoubtedly find their way into your stuff.

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