Can Bears Smell Through Plastic?

Keeping your food safe from local wildlife can be a real struggle, especially when it comes to bears. You can hang bear bags, and use bear canisters to keep them out of your food, but they’ll still smell their way into camp. Is there anything that can stop a bear from smelling your food?

Can bears smell through plastic? Yes, a bear can smell through plastic. Bears have some of the strongest smell receptors on the planet and they can even smell better than a bloodhound. There are ways to make it harder for bears to smell your food, but you will still need to store everything in bear canisters.

How can I keep bears out of my food? You need to keep everything locked up in bear resistant containers like the bear vault bv500 and use odor proof bags like the Opsak to cut down smells. Keep reading to find out more.

Can Bears Smell Through Plastic?

Bears are notorious for getting themselves into trouble and that’s mostly because of their incredible sense of smell.  They’re curiosity and high level of intelligence can cause serious problems.  Leave out a little bit of food and you’ll attract bears from miles away.

But, just how good is a bears sense of smell?  Can a bear smell through a plastic container? Yes, bears can smell through pretty much anything.  They’re notorious for digging through garbage cans to get into leftovers and raiding camp coolers.  They can easily smell through plastic and if there’s food nearby a bear will surely find it.

Some coolers with spots to put padlocks are sturdy enough to keep out bears, but I wouldn’t trust them. Plus you don’t want a bear to tear apart your $300 yeti cooler, because you’re trying to protect granola bars and a few bags of rice. Use the cooler for beer/drinks and store everything else in a bear canister.

Bears can smell through bear canisters, but they’ll have a hard time getting to your food. There’s not much you can do keep them out completely. It’s all about slowing them down and giving you enough time to scare them off. A bear canister will work for a while, but a determined bear will find a way in eventually.

The Bear Vault is by far the most popular bear canister on the market. They hold enough food for a multi-day trip and their sturdy enough to withstand the full weight of a curious bear. Plus they pass bear canister certifications in every State/National Park. I’ll give you a few tips to help you use a bear canister below.

What About Smell Resistant Bags?

The juries still out on whether or not bears can smell through smellproof bags like the Loksak Opsak. It’s been proven that bears can’t smell through the bags, but they can smell humans and associate humans with food. So they know foods around somewhere, but might not be able to find it.

So storing food in a odor resistant bag probably won’t hurt, but with enough time they’ll probably find your food anyway. Since you’re just trying to slow them down that might give you enough time to scare them off.

How Far Can A Bear Smell?

It’s hard to say exactly how far bears can smell, but we do know that a black bear can smell 7 times farther than Bloodhound Dog. Most researchers think bears can smell at least 20 miles away with wind facing them.

A human has around 5 million scent receptors in their nose and bears/dogs have over 300 million scent receptors. Bears have a huge advantage because of their massive nasal cavity. They have more room for smell receptors to spread out and olfactory bulbs that are 5 times larger than ours.

The fact that they can follow a scent trail for 100s of miles and detect 2+ week old scents is even more impressive.

How To Lock Your Food In Bear Canisters

Most bear vaults are fairly simple contraptions. They have a screw on lid with some kind of locking mechanism. I use the BV500 bear vault, because it’s relatively inexpensive and stores about a weeks worth of food. The locking mechanism works like a pill bottle so it can be somewhat of a pain to get into.

Once you’ve opened up the container make it’s time to start stuffing in food. Take all your food out of boxes and start filling up ziplock bags. Ziplocks make it easier to fill up all the nooks and crannies in your container. You might want to check out my post comparing different bear canisters and explaining how much food can fit inside each one.

Make sure you store anything that smells in the canister. Obviously all the food goes in, but you also need to include deodorant, soap, toothpaste, gum/mints, etc. You don’t want a bear to rip through your pack to get at a tube of toothpaste.

Once you’ve locked up the lid store the canister 100 yards downwind from your tent. Store it on the ground where it’s easy to spot. Some people recommend storing it in brush or behind rocks, but that just makes it harder for you to find. A bear will smell find your food regardless of where it is so it really doesn’t make a difference. Just make sure it’s far away from ledges, hills, and water sources. They will knock it around a bit and you want to be able to find it.

Once you’re done eating try to consolidate the trash and stuff it back into the container. I like to keep all my trash in a gallon ziplock so I’m not rooting around garbage to find my food.

Scaring Bears Away From Your Food

The only way to keep a bear out of your food is with a certified bear resistant bear canister and even they can be penetrated with enough time/effort. Most backpackers will eventually have a run in with a hungry bear. You can respond to a rummaging bear in one of two ways. Either make your presence known and scare them off, or hunker down and wait for him to get bored and move on.

It’s up to you, but most experts recommend making your presence known and scaring off blackbears since they’re fairly timid. Getting big, yelling, and making your presence known is enough to scare away most black bears.

Grizzly bears are a whole other story. Attempt to scare them off and you’re bound to get mauled. It won’t take long for an experienced grizzly to get annoyed by a bear canister and move on. Younger less experienced bears might want to try their hand at the canister for a little while. They might get lucky and find a leverage point to smash the container open.

All of this is assuming your food is in a bear resistant container and they’re not actively eating. Don’t try to get in between a bear and his meal. There’s no getting your food back once he’s inside a cooler and chowing down. He will stalk you through the woods and keep coming back.