How to Safeguard Camp Snacks From Furry Bandits

August  1, 2018

Whether it’s your annual family campout, a backcountry backpacking adventure, or just a weekend under the stars, if you’ve been to a park, you’ve seen the signs: “Do Not Feed the Wildlife.” Well guess what, Yogi Bear? We weren’t planning on sharing our picnic baskets, anyway!

But the problem isn’t really choosing to feed the woodland creatures. Those sneaky bandits are more than happy to help themselves when you aren’t paying attention. From small critters like mice, opossums, and raccoons, to lumbering bears like Yogi, it’s important to safeguard your provisions from all animals. Shenandoah National Park Management Specialist Sally Hurlbert shares how.

Know your surroundings.

In Shenandoah, we have two types of camping: campgrounds where people can drive in and set up, and backcountry camping where you’re backpacking in the woods. Both environments have animals, from mice and rats to raccoons and bears. Learn which animals live in the environment where you’ll be camping by calling the local Forest Service or BLM station. They’ll know the lay of the land better than Google Maps.

Looking for a road trip snack?

Lock your car doors.

We used to have a problem with people setting up their campsites, then leaving their coolers on the picnic tables when they left for a hike. We don’t allow that anymore. When you’re gone, a bear can find your cooler and rip right into it—metal, plastic, they have no trouble getting inside them. Put food and garbage in your car and make sure to lock it. One year we had a bear figure out how to get in a car that wasn’t locked. The more animals come in and are rewarded food, the more likely they’ll keep coming back.

No car? Find a tree.

If you’re in the backcountry, you have two options. You can buy or rent bear canisters, hard plastic tubes that can lock, or you can hang your food up in a tree. To hang your food, find a good-sized branch that sticks out from the tree, that’s at least 10 feet high, and 4 feet from the trunk. If it’s too close, then the bear will just climb the tree and grab it. You want the branch to be strong enough to hold the food up, but not strong enough to hold up a bear. It doesn’t matter the type of bag, you could use a garbage bag or cloth russack. Anything to get that food in the tree. You want to hang the food at least 100 feet or more away from your camp. That way, if the bear smells the food, it’s not right in your campsite.

Wash your dishes.

Again, scent is important. Wash your dishes after eating to prevent animals from smelling your food. Use a soap without scent, and wash the dishes away from your campsite.

Food’s not the only temptation.

Animals don’t know the difference between food and things that smell like food. It can be garbage, toothpaste—they still might try to eat it.

When you catch an animal nibbling on your snack...

If it’s a little animal, I’d clap my hands, approach it, and try to scare it away. Nine times out of ten, it will run away. But you don’t want to mess with a bear. Just back away. Don’t put yourself in danger.

Shop the Story

Has an animal ransacked your camping provisions? Share your best tips and stories in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • HalfPint
  • Charlie
  • BerryBaby
Katie is a food writer and editor who loves cheesy puns and cheesy cheese.


HalfPint August 6, 2018
Years ago, my cousin was robbed by a raccoon on a Costa Rican beach. We even have pictures of the incident. We were forewarned but didn't think that the little bandit was brazen enough to do it on a somewhat crowded beach. Fond memories :)
Charlie August 2, 2018
One time when I was backpacking in ice house canyon, so we had to tied our food up in a tree. The perfect height, distance, etc. To find the next day that two squirrels had no prob getting in that bag! So the next time we had used a freesbe as a spacer..... That time I got to enjoy my trail mix without getting squirreled! Lol!
BerryBaby August 1, 2018
Never camped but do get critters in the backyard...especially raccoons. I put out pinwheels to keep them away from plants. Can't leave any cushions on chairs. They try to steal them and, when that doesn't work, they rip them open and take the stuffing!
One stole my garden gloves the other night, but gave them up on the front lawn.