Bear and Critter Concerns : What to do?

With The Colorado Trail hiking season upon us, I’ve been getting a fair amount of questions concerning bears on The Colorado Trail.

For someone not used to backpacking where there are bears, I can see the trepidation.

For the most part, though, I think critters (meaning squirrels, chipmunks, mice, porcupines and even deer at times) are more of an issue than black bears.

You are more likely to have your food attacked or compromised by a mouse than a bear.

Having said that, the same strategies I suggest for critter control equally apply to black bears.

Now notice I did not say grizzly bears.  A different discussion is required for these large, but very impressive, animals. Something outside the scope of this article.

First, let me state a few things:

  • Though written in mind for The Colorado Trail, these tips apply to any area where there are concerns about black bears and/or critters.

  • I don’t believe in the effectiveness of bear bagging. I think it is time-consuming, difficult to find the proper tree, can cause injuries, easily defeated by many bears and is seldom done correctly anyway.  But, again, if you have to hang a food bag due to regulations, the PCT Method is advocated by some.

This chooch was injured by bear bagging. 🙂 Being serious, I was the “patient”, and wore the makeup, for an exercise on bear bagging injuries during a Wilderness First Aid course I took. Injuries while bear bagging is common enough that it is a scenario for NOLS/WMI courses. 🙂

  • Unless mandated, a bear canister is an overkill for most black bear/critter areas.
  • Ditto with bear spray
  • Finally, most people reading this article are probably new to backpacking in black bear country; esp if they are asking questions about it.  Though many successful hikers will cook and eat their dinner, hike on a mile or so and sleep in a non-popular camp spot with their food in their shelter,  I am guessing most people new to black bear area camping are going to want to be more conservative. Plus, land managers don’t look too kindly on this tactic. Not saying not to do it..but if you are asking about it and not sure, you probably should not. 😉

So, having said all that, what to do?

Here are my personal recommendations for someone new to backpacking in black bear country and aren’t sure what to do. And, I emphasize again, you are more likely to have problems with critters (rodents especially) more so than black bears. These tactics work equally well for critter control.

  • DO NOT CAMP IN A POPULAR AREA IF YOU CAN AVOID IT   Animals are smart.  They go where acquiring food is easy. See a large, impacted area with a fire ring and possibly trash? Don’t camp there!  Obviously, esp in a National Park Service campsite where the spot is designated,  that is not always an option. But try to avoid these obvious and heavily used sites if it is an option.
A fine vintage of boxed wine is optional as well…
  • On a similar note, try to avoid camping where animals obviously feed or linger.  A huckleberry patch or a watering hole area? I would not camp there.
  • Sleeping and eating in different areas is always a good tactic when possible.

From South Park. Of course…

So fear not “Da Beahs“.  With some simple execution of these ideas, the critters and such will not be as much of an issue.

No bears..but here’s a cute critter who was around for many of these articles. 🙂

Happy Trails!

“Do you hang your food?” The bears just may not GAF. 😉

A post shared by Paul Mags (@pmagsco) on

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8 years ago

We didn’t have any run-ins with bears when we hiked the CT many long years ago (though we did see some mighty impressive piles of mountain-ash-berry-infused along the trail at one point), but mice ate our chocolate and our oatmeal and nibbled holes in our food bag and our underwear and anything else tasty or salty. I’d be interested to see if an Ospack fools the rodents.

8 years ago
Reply to  Andrea

that would be “mountain-ash-berry-infused scat”…

8 years ago

I have used Ursacks backpacking in the Grand Canyon where the mice leap from branches and chew through thick stuff sacks. I am happy to say they could not chew through an Ursack!

8 years ago

Every since a microbear (marmot) runoft with 3 days food in a giant sack next to my head on the Colorado Trail I’ve opted for a more conservative approach. I use the BPM also known as Bear Piñata Method. My food is secured safely in carbon fiber neon green tiny horse festooned with purple ribbons. The proper method is to hang it about 5 feet from the ground so the bears may pick at it. On the AT I’d only do bear measures if it was posted, if they had hangs or boxes set up. I do believe this to… Read more »

Doug K
8 years ago

never injured myself bear-bagging, but did put a hole in the tent oncet.. was out last week with a pack of Boy Scouts in the Weminuche, bear sightings and tracks, scat etc all around.. We would have needed half-a-dozen Ursacks for all our food. My plan is two large nylon waterproof bags, trash compactor plastic bags inside that, all bags knotted tightly then hidden in the woods a good hike from camp. So far (last 10 years) this has worked, but I may just have been lucky. On the hike out we saw a camp with a beautifully text-book hung… Read more »

8 years ago

I’ve yet to come close to doing damage to myself throwing a rock with a line attached to it over a tree branch. So, I’ll keep using the PCT method – the true PCT method, I have seen other “methods” labeled as PCT method on YouTube that made me chuckle – after having a bear visit my camp one dark and stormy night in the Trinity Alps of Northern California. There was plenty of evidence of bear activity in the area (ahem, scat), and I had a close encounter my second night out. It was pitch black du to the… Read more »

8 years ago

I am condor table back aping in black bear territory.
I normally sleep with the food in my tent.
My question is “. There is grizzly bear in the CT? Or just black bears.”?