9 Tips for Car Camping in Bear Country

Car camping can be tons of fun, but if you’re car camping in bear country, it’s important to take some precautions to avoid unwanted encounters. Bears are wild animals and should always be treated with caution. If you’re not prepared, an encounter with a bear can quickly turn dangerous, so it’s best to take the necessary steps before and during your trip to stay safe.

In this blog post, I’ll give you some tips on how to do just that, as well as advice on what equipment you’ll need for a safe trip. Let’s get started!

1. Store Your Food and Scented Items Properly

Bears have an extremely keen sense of smell, so it’s important to avoid leaving any traces of food on yourself or your gear. Be sure to wash all dishes and utensils thoroughly after each meal, and never cook inside your car or tent while camping in bear country.

Most importantly though, is the proper storage of your food. Because bears have such an amazing sense of smell, you have to store all food in airtight containers, whether it be beef jerky or M&M’s, or ensure that all food is completely out of reach to bears.

You can do this by hanging your food from a tree or other high point, or by storing food in bear boxes, special containers designed to keep bears out.

2. Don’t Use Scented Products

Food isn’t the only thing that will attract unwanted attention from bears – scented products like soap, shampoo, insect repellant, lotion, and deodorant can do the same. For this reason, it’s best to avoid using scented products while camping in bear country.

3. Dispose of Trash Properly

Trash is another big attractant for bears, so it’s important to dispose of it properly. Be sure to seal all trash in airtight bags and put it in a bear-proof container, or hang it from a tree or other high point like you do with your food.

4. Don’t Store Food in Your Car and Clean Your Car

This is somewhat self explanatory considering everything you’ve read above, but I want to make sure to drive the point home. Do not store food in your car – not an apple, not a sandwich, nothing. The only thing that can safely be stored are air-tight containers like an unopened bag of chips or something of that nature.

Also, make sure your car is clean before you go car camping in bear country. Bears will be more likely to approach a messy car due to residual smells leftover from garbage and crumbs.

5. Keep Car Doors Closed and Locked at All Times

This one is pretty simple – just keep all windows and doors to your car closed and locked at all times, even when you’re inside. Bears can absolutely open car doors, and not by accident. They open car doors all the time, and if you don’t believe me, here’s a video of it.

6. Keep Food Out of Sight

This might sound unbelievable, but bears, especially those familiar with humans, can learn to recognize human food packaging. If they see a package that they recognize as food, and they’re hungry enough, odds are they’ll try to break into the car.

This is why if you’re going to store unopened packages of food in your car, it’s important to do so out of sight. Put snacks in the truck or glovebox to be safe.

7. Check for Updates on Bear Activity

Before you go car camping in bear country, it’s important to check for updates on local bear activity. This way, you can be aware of any areas to avoid. The best place to find this information is on your state or provincial wildlife agency website.

8. Always Bring Bear Spray and a First-Aid Kit

I cannot stress this enough – always, always bring bear spray and a first-aid kit with you when car camping in bear country. Bear spray is the best way to deter a bear if you’re attacked, and a first-aid kit can be handy in case you or someone else is injured.

In circumstances like this, its better to be overprepared rather than underprepared. Counter Assault’s Bear Spray is the one I use, and I 10/10 recommend it. It’s been chosen as the best bear spray of the year by various editorial groups over and over again, and it has a 40 feet spray distance with an 8-second spray duration.

9. If You See a Bear, Don’t Panic!

If you encounter a bear while car camping in bear country, the best thing to do is to stay calm and avoid sudden movements. Let the bear know you’re a human and not a prey animal by talking calmly.

At this point in time, when the bear hasn’t determined you to be a threat, don’t scream or make sudden movements – this may trigger an attack. Remain still, but stand your ground and slowly wave your arms. This will help show the bear you aren’t a threat, and if the bear does not see you as a threat, it will usually move on.

It may not seem like it in the moment, but most bears do not want to attack you and really just want to be left alone. If the bear remains calm, move away slowly and sideways.

If the bear does determine you to be a threat, keep in mind that you should never run from a bear, as this will only trigger its natural instinct to chase and catch prey. Don’t climb a tree, either, as both grizzlies and black bears can climb trees.

What you do next is extremely important, and it is different for each type of bear. Most bear encounters are with black bears – which is good, they are much less dangerous that grizzlies – but it’s best to know how to act in the event of either a brown bear or black bear attack.

Here is an excerpt straight from the Nation Park Service’s website on what to do during a bear attack:

  • Brown/Grizzly Bears Attack: If you are attacked by a brown/grizzly bear, leave your pack on and PLAY DEAD. Lay flat on your stomach with your hands clasped behind your neck. Spread your legs to make it harder for the bear to turn you over. Remain still until the bear leaves the area. Fighting back usually increases the intensity of such attacks. However, if the attack persists, fight back vigorously. Use whatever you have at hand to hit the bear in the face. (and you better pray you have bear spray, because the odds of you surviving a serious grizzly attack without it are very, very slim.)
  • Black Bears Attack: If you are attacked by a black bear, DO NOT PLAY DEAD. Try to escape to a secure place such as a car or building. If escape is not possible, try to fight back using any object available. Concentrate your kicks and blows on the bear’s face and muzzle.

This is why it’s so important to bring bear spray – it really is your last line of defense in a worst case scenario bear encounter. Invest in some, please!

That’s it!

I hope these tips help you have a safe and enjoyable trip while car camping in bear country! If you heed caution and make sure you’re properly prepared, I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time. And as always, remember these tips are just meant to be a guide – use your best judgment in any given situation.

Happy camping!

Hi, I’m Ash!

I’m a laid back traveler who loves experiencing new things and spontaneity. My favorite hobbies are hiking, gardening, skincare, and all things tea.

My biggest goal is to spread the word about sustainable travel and show everyone how easy it is to partake in. If you wanna learn more about that or get to know me better, feel free to click here.


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