Skip to content

Can Bears Smell Through Smellproof Bags?

Can bears smell through smellproof bags?

If you’re planning to spend time in bear country, you need to pay attention to how your food is stored. Bears can pick up the scent of food from miles away, invade your campsite, and tear through your food. You’ve probably looked into purchasing smell proof bags, but do they actually work? Can bears smell through smell proof bags?

Using a smellproof bag won’t be able to completely block food odors from bears, but it will make them less likely to find your food. Bears have a strong sense of smell and can smell food from miles away. A smellproof bag will slow them down, but they will still be able to find it. So make sure you protect your food with a bear canister or bear bag.

Let’s examine why smellproof bags aren’t necessarily bear proof and go over why you may still want to use them. There are products that will severely limit a bears sense of smell (ziplock bags won’t cut it). Keep reading to learn how to use smellproof bags and protect your food with bear canisters.

Are Smellproof Bags Bear Proof?

The answer to this question is a resounding “no.” Bears can smell through most smellproof bags and will be able to quickly gain access to your food. Although odor proof bags aren’t entirely bear proof hey can still help reduce the scent of your food and reduce the likelihood of encountering bears.

Most people recommend odor-proof bags like LOKSAK OPSAK because they use airtight waterproof seals to protect your food against any curious animal trying to access your food. They try their hardest to see what’s inside and smell through the bag to get a sense of the contents. So how effective are smellproof bags?

I use Opsak bags in my bear canisters to cut down scents, but bears are intelligent creatures. They can smell almost anything and have learned to associate humans with food. A bear might not be able to pinpoint the foods location, but that won’t stop them from searching around. I haven’t had any issues with bears getting into my bear canister and bag, but I also take precautions washing the outside of my bags and try to keep all smelly items in odor proof bags.

However even these aren’t entirely effective in stopping all smells reaching a bear’s keen nose. They won’t be able to smell from a distance, but it will be hard to hide your food once they’ve entered camp. A smellproof bag paired with a bear canister should buy you enough time to scare them off.

Store your food inside a Bearvault bear canister or any of the other bear canisters on the market. I prefer the BearVault, because it’s affordable and the perfect size for a weekend (BV450) or weeklong (BV500) camping trip. Plus it doesn’t require a special tool to open up the canister.

What Are SmellProof Bags?

Smell-proof bags can keep your food fresh and limit your exposure to bears. The best part is they don’t take up much room and they’re reusable! You can use the same smellproof bag to odorproof your food supply over and over again.

Smell-proof bags are a great way to pack your camping food without drawing animals into your campsite. They work by blocking air, odor and vapor from entering or exiting the bag thanks to the carbon lining. The lining captures any odor molecules that come into contact with the bag and trap them inside their pores! It neutralizes the smell and makes it much harder for animals to pick up a scent.

Smellproof bags became popular in states where marijuana is illegal and people needed to hide the strong scent from police officers. They were strong enough to hide the scent from drug dogs so jumping into the camping/backpacking market made sense. Bears have a much stronger sense of smell than dogs so they may be able to pick up a scent, but it will definitely help reduce a bears range.

You Still Need To Use A Bear Canister

BV500 Bear Canister

Smellproof bags will reduce the likelihood of run-ins with bears, but you still need to use a bear canister to protect your food. Bears have learned to associate humans with an easy meal. They won’t hunt you down and eat you (probably not), but they will forage around your campsite.

If there’s food anywhere in your camp a bear will most likely find it. You could take every precaution in the world, but a bears sense of smell is extremely strong and they’re highly intelligent. The point of bear proofing methods are to slow a bear down while you have time to scare them off. Odor proof bags will help, but they’re no match for a food driven bear.

That’s why you should always store your food in a bear canister. Most state/national parks require some type of bear canister, but they’re a good idea even if you’re camping in a park that doesn’t require them. Bear canisters will keep raccoons, possums, skunks, rodents, and every other type of animal out of your food supply.

I highly recommend the BearVault! It’s affordable, extremely durable, and easy to use. The BV500 bear vault is big enough for a weeks worth of food (for one person) and the BV450 is the right size for a 4 day weekend trip. There are other options available, but none of them hit the right price point and ease of use of the Bearvault. Here are a few of the other options so you can see for yourself.

ModelWeightCubic InDays Food
Bear Vault BV450
(Favorite Weekend Canister)
33 oz4404
Bear Vault BV500
(Favorite Extended Trip)
41 oz7007
Backpackers Cache43 oz6146
Frontiersman Canister56 oz7347
No-Fed Bear Canister
(Budget Pick)
38 oz5005
Counter Assault Bear Keg
(Premium Build)
56 oz7169
Bare Boxer
25 oz2753
Lil Sami21 oz3003
Big Daddy36 oz6506

Can Bears Smell Through Odorproof Ziplock Bags?

Yes! Almost any animal will be able to smell through an odorproof ziplock bag. They might be able to help reduce smells for humans, but the thin plastic lining isn’t strong enough for most animals. Bear can smell scents for up to 20 miles so a ziplock bag is no match for them.

If you’re planning on camping in bear country it’s worth spending the extra money on a real smellproof bag (Loksak Opsak). Even if your ziploc bag is airtight it doesn’t have a strong enough lining to trap in every smell. Bears will be able to smell right through them.

Food molecules are microscopic making them small enough to squeeze through plastic molecules. You probably won’t even be able to smell the food inside, but odors will be passing through the thin plastic found in Ziploc bags. It’s not even easy to compare a bears sense of smell to a human.

A bear can smell 7 times stronger than a bloodhound and more than 2100 times better than a human. Researches estimate that a bears sense of smell goes anywhere between 2 miles and 20 miles. That depends on who you ask, but a Ziploc bag will be no match for a bears keen sense of smell.

Reusable vs Disposable Smellproof Bags

There are lots of smellproof bags available on the market and they’re all a little bit different. You need to ask yourself if you’d like to purchase a disposable or reusable bag. It might seem obvious to go with the reusable, but they can get pricey. I’ll quickly go over the difference between each style and give you a few product recommendations.

Most campers and backpackers prefer reusable smellproof bags. Reusable bags are padded with a carbon layer that filters out the smell. Over time that carbon layer can clog, but you will be able to reuse the bags dozens of times before it becomes a problem.

The Loksak Opsak is by far the most popular reusable smellproof bag on the market. They come in a wide range of sizes, there’s a dual level seal, and they’re reusable. I’ve tried cheaper options,b ut they don’t last nearly as long.

Disposable mylar bags will also help conceal scents, but they don’t have carbon filters. So they trap the smell of food, but they’ll pick up the odors inside the bag. They definitely help some, but disposable bags are much less effective and usually used to hide the scent of marijuana.

What Size Smellproof Bag Do I Need?

You need to have a big enough smellproof bag to store all your food and anything else that could attract bears. Everything that smells needs to go in the bags. Foods obvious, but that also includes soaps, toothpaste, deodorant, etc. Anything that’s left out of the bag can easily be smelled by bears.

I recommend separating your food into individual meals or pack a full days worth of food in each bag. I use a 9″x10″ smellproof bag to pack a full days worth of food and then I pack down each meal into individual ziplocs. Remember that each of the ziplocs need to go inside your odorproof bag.

Watch Out For Leaks

Watch out for leaks when using an odorproof bag. The carbon liner will trap the odor of anything that it comes in contact with it. Food leaking into the bag will quickly clog the carbon pores so try to protect the inside of your bags.

Make sure you wrap particularly smelly food and anything that could potentially leak. I store all my food in ziplocs before placing it into the odor proof bag. This reduces the chance of leaks and makes cleaning the bags easier.

How To Clean A Smellproof Bag

Cleaning a smellproof bag is fairly straightforward. You will never be able to completely clean out the carbon liner, but cleaning out loose food and wiping down the insides will extend your bags lifespan. Smellproof bags can be expensive! So you don’t want to cause premature wear on the carbon liner. So how do you clean a smellproof bag?

The OPSAK bag will pick up a lot of smells so you need to regularly wash them between use. I recommend washing your bag with unscented dish soap and water to get rid of most of the smell. You might also need to use a vinegar water mixture if it’s a particularly funky smell. Leave the bag open and allow it to dry and you shouldn’t have a smell after that.