If you’re planning on spending some time outdoors, but you’re worried about bears invading your campsite and eating all your food (or worse!), you may have looked into purchasing smell-proof bags to store your food in. But can bears smell through smell-proof bags, and are these bags enough to stop a bear’s keen sense of smell?
Bears can smell through most bags, even the best smell-proof bags on the market. Their sense of smell is powerful, so even the best smell-proof bags aren’t sufficient to stop bears from sensing food odor molecules.
Let’s look in detail into why smell-proof bags aren’t necessarily bear-proof, what smell-proof bags are and some of their uses, bear canisters, and if bears can smell through Ziploc bags. I’ll also discuss some things to consider before buying a smell-proof bag. If you want to be as safe as possible from bears on your next trip, keep reading.
Are Smell-Proof Bags Bear-proof?
Most smell-proof bags aren’t bear-proof. Bears can smell through most smell-proof bags, as they have one of the best senses of smell in the animal kingdom. Although many odor-proof bags aren’t bear-proof, they can still help reduce the scents that attract bears to campsites.
Some recommend odor-proof bags like the LOKSAK OPSAK bags because they use airtight seals to keep the odor from escaping, but even these aren’t entirely effective in stopping any odor from reaching a bear’s keen nose.
Putting your food in one of these bags and then putting the bag in a bear canister is one of the best ways to keep your food and yourself safe from bears while camping.
What Are Smell-Proof Bags?
Smell-proof bags are bags that use barrier technology to block air, odor, and vapor from entering or exiting the bag. Most of these bags use carbon lining so that when odor molecules come into contact with the carbon, they get trapped within the carbon pores.
Smell-proof bags have a variety of uses. One primary use for these bags is packing food to bring camping so wildlife, namely bears, won’t be able to smell the food and ruin a camper’s campsite looking for a snack.
You can also use smell-proof bags to carry your sweaty clothes after a workout, so your car doesn’t smell like the gym. Additionally, if you’ve ever gotten fast food and then hated the way your car smells for days after, putting the food in a smell-proof bag as you transport it back to your home is one way to avoid the stench.
If you live in a state where marijuana is legal, smell-proof bags are a great way to hide a scent that others may find offensive in public.
Can Bears Smell Through Ziploc Bags?
Bears can smell through Ziploc bags. They do so because scent molecules escape through the thin plastic. Another reason is that bears have a great sense of smell.
If you’re planning on being in bear country and you’re hoping to avoid the cost or hassle of acquiring a smell-proof bag by simply using Ziploc bags, you should reconsider. Bears can smell through Ziploc bags.
Certain molecules are small enough to squeeze between plastic molecules, so odor can pass through thin plastic, even if the Ziploc bag is airtight. That said, you and your food are vulnerable to wildlife, especially bears, known for one of the best senses of smell in the animal kingdom. A bear’s sense of smell is 7 times better than a bloodhound and 2,100 times better than a human.
Some sources claim that a bear can smell food from over two miles away, so if even a little bit of scent molecules escape your Ziploc bag, a bear will be able to know and track it even from miles away.
Things To Consider Before Buying a Smell Proof Bag
There are many smell-proof bags on the market, so here are some things to consider before you invest in one:
- Ask yourself if you want disposable or reusable. Reusable smell-proof bags are padded with carbon that filters out the smell, whereas the disposable options contain the odor. If you seek a smell-proof bag to pack food in for camping, I highly recommend getting a reusable one, as these bags are better at concealing smells.
- Determine what you want to put in the bag. However, leakage is something to consider if you intend to use the bag for food items. Ensure that you wrap particularly smelly or leak-prone foods in a grocery bag to protect the reusable smell-proof bag.
- Decide what bag size you need. You can roll up most disposable smell-proof bags, so the size isn’t a problem. Reusable bags, however, come in various sizes, so think about how much food you’ll need to store in them before you make your purchase.
Bear in mind that a smell-proof bag alone isn’t sufficient to stop your food’s odor from reaching a bear, so make sure you take all the precautions you can to keep yourself safe.
Smell-Proof Bags vs. Bear Canisters
Bear canisters aren’t designed to mask the smell of their contents, but they’re designed to keep bears out if found. The best way to protect your food from a bear is to put the food in a smell-proof bag and then put that bag in a bear canister.
A bear canister is bear-resistant storage that hermetically seals. It’s extremely durable and designed to resist slashing, which is how bears try to get into any sealed container. A standard bear canister can hold between 10 and 15 liters (338–507 oz) of contents.
One downside to camping with a bear canister is that it’s bulky and heavy, so it adds additional weight to your pack if you’re camping and carrying all your stuff. However, the protection that it provides is worth the hassle.
How To Stay Safe Around a Bear
Even if you’ve done everything you can to stop a bear from being drawn to your campsite, there’s a chance you’ll run into one if you’re spending time in the wilderness. Here are some safety tips if you do:
- Help the bear recognize you as a human. Most bear attacks happen because the bear mistakes the human for prey. You can help identify yourself as a human by talking calmly to the bear and slowly waving your arms. The bear may stand to see you better and don’t panic if it does. A standing bear is usually curious, not ready to attack. Move to higher ground if possible to make yourself appear larger.
- Stay calm. Screaming or suddenly moving could trigger an attack, so try to stay calm. It’s important to remember that most bears don’t want to attack you; they want to be left alone and go about their business.
- Move away slowly and sideways. This way, you can keep your eye on the bear and avoid tripping. Moving sideways is also a way to appear non-threatening to the bear. Don’t run. If the bear starts to follow you, stop and keep still. A bear can outrun and outclimb you, so running is never a good option.
- Use bear pepper spray to stop an aggressive or attacking bear. You should only use this as a last resort. But if a bear attacks, use bear pepper spray to stop it.
Bear attacks are extremely rare, and if you leave a bear alone, it’ll most likely leave you alone, too. Following these tips is a good way to keep yourself safe if you see a bear in the wild.
Bears have an incredible sense of smell, so stopping them from smelling your food while in the great outdoors is a challenge. Bears can even smell through the best smell-proof bags, so it’s best to double up on smell blockage to protect yourself and your campsite from a hungry bear.
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Erick is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast. Growing up in Nairobi Kenya and now calling Glasgow, United Kingdom home. Sipping on homemade spiced swahili tea and enjoying a good book is his idea of bliss.