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Bear boxes are locked containers that campers uses while sleeping in proximity to bears. Since bears are smart, other methods for protecting food tend not to work as well as these boxes do. For example, storing food or a cooler in one’s car may mean the bear simply breaks into the car.
An alternative to keeping food in a special box is hanging it several feet above the bear’s access, as in a tree. Research shows this method is not very effective, and bears are quite capable of accessing food hung above them. Once a bear learns how to do this, a camper can be left with no food as well as a potentially dangerous animal in his or her campsite.
Some campgrounds offer installed bear boxes for use, but individual campers must usually bring locks to make sure the boxes are tightly secured. A box should contain not only food items but also anything that might smell attractive to a bear, such as soaps, detergents, cans of soda, and pans used for cooking.
The goal of a bear box is to keep the bear out of the campsite by keeping any attractive items completely out of sight and out of smell range. Merely hiding the food is not suggested, and campers should never keep any type of food in a tent. The bear will be able to smell food and soap products in a tent, leading to a precarious situation for the camper and the bear.
Campers can check with campgrounds about the locations of bear boxes. If none exist, sturdy ones can be purchased for use while camping. These are often very strong metal boxes that often have an interior metal can that reduces scent and holds food and scented items.
When a person is backpacking, lugging along a metal bear box is usually not feasible. Since backpacking tends to bring people in closer proximity to bears, it is essential to carry bear canisters, a smaller and lighter version of the box. These are also typically fairly resistant to opening by bears.
Even on backpacking trails, a hiker may not need to bring bear canisters because many trails have available boxes. Again, checking with a park ranger can help one decide if bringing a bear canister is worth the expense and the extra weight. Park rangers can also tell a hiker the exact locations of any bear boxes, so he or she can plan daily walks and pit stops accordingly.
@Calvin77 - I hope that the trees were far away from camp.
The campground I go to every year has built in bear boxes. They've never actually had bear trouble, but they wanted to make sure that it stays that way.
I've seen a bear when we were out hiking -- but never around the camping area. I guess people are pretty good about stashing their food in the bear boxes before bed.
The last campground I went to required that you hang all of your food in the trees. They literally had a guy that would come around at dusk and tell you that you should hang your food before it got dark. It was nice of them to check.
I read enough about camping before I actually went to know never to keep food in my tent. My friends told me horror stories of people sneaking beefy jerky into their tents and getting a wake up call from a bear. I don't think the stories are true, but I know that they're making a point.