A partnership of the National Park Service and the United States Forest Service.

The Bear Essentials

“All I had in there was a granola bar wrapper.” - Forlorn camper after finding his car window broken and back seat ripped out

Storing your food correctly is the single most important thing you can do to help protect bears. Whether you’re car camping, backpacking, staying in a hotel, or just visiting for the day…

Bear Essentials: follow these simple guidelines:

  1. Store all “food” properly at all times – DAY AND NIGHT: Make a conscious mental shift whenever you’re in bear country (pretty much anywhere in the Sierra). See below to learn what “properly” means in different settings.
  2. “Food” includes anything with a scent: That means trash, toiletries, recyclables, candles, first-aid kits, window cleaner, pet food, dirty dishes, dirty diapers, baby wipes, air fresheners, beverages, canned food, coolers (full OR EMPTY), mosquito repellent, lipstick, tobacco… seriously, anything with any scent. Really.
  3. Keep a clean car, camp, and cabin: Never leave “food” in the open and unattended.
  4. Plan ahead: Don’t wait until arriving at your campsite. Do you need to rent a bear canister? Is your car full of old food wrappers? Are there bear-proof food storage lockers or dumpsters at your trailhead?
  5. Learn about area-specific food storage instructions: Read signs, listen to local employees, and ask other visitors. Regulations differ between areas depending on bear activity.
  6. Report all bear incidents to local officials: help land managers concentrate their resources on areas with the most human/bear activity.

Bear lockers are available for food storage at many trailheads and camping areas

Front Country (Hotels, Car Camping, Day Trips):

  1. Follow the “Bear Essentials” listed above.
  2. Remove all those pesky scented items from your car before your trip: the apple core under the seat, the gum in the glove box, etc.
  3. Once at your destination, empty all “food” out of your car and place it in a bear-proof locker or dumpster whenever possible.
  4. Do not leave food unattended “just for a minute,” no matter where you are.
  5. Properly close and latch bear lockers, hotel doors, and windows.
  6. Check area-specific information for local instructions regarding bears.
El Cap bear cans

Bear-resistant containers are the most effective way to protect black bears in the backcountry

Backcountry (Backpack and Stock Trips):

  1. Follow the “Bear Essentials” listed above
  2. Carry an allowed bear-resistant container whenever hiking or riding into bear habitat.
  3. Pack your food container(s) BEFORE your trip to verify that ALL your food will fit.
  4. Plan ahead: Check area-specific food storage regulations. What backcountry facilities are available in the area? Which food storage canisters are allowed?
  5. Increase the capacity of bear canisters by packing efficiently. Want some backcountry food ideas?.
  6. Clean all “food” out of your car before you reach the trail. Some trailheads don’t have bear boxes or trash facilities.

Check with each national park or forest for their specific list of allowed canisters.