Camping gets you out into the great outdoors to enjoy fresh air and the beauty of nature, but nature includes a number of wild animals that are likely to show an interest in your garbage. There are a number of animals commonly attracted by the smell of food and garbage such as raccoons, chipmunks, squirrels, and even some birds, but bears are the most dangerous of them all. Proper storage of your garbage while camping and hiking can prevent a bear encounter as well as a big mess in your campsite, including the destruction of expensive gear and camping furniture.
The method in which you take care of or store your garbage depends greatly on the type of campground you are visiting. Developed campgrounds are likely to provide clearly marked garbage bins and employ staff who empty the bins regularly for safety. The frequency of the garbage pickup depends on the size of the campground. When camping in backcountry or un-serviced campgrounds, finding your own garbage storage solutions is important. Even with garbage bins provided, there are several important things to remember:
- Never leave food or garbage unattended overnight or when leaving the campsite
- Take garbage to provided bins right away
- Always secure the lid of the provided bin after dumping your garbage
- Notify campground staff of any overflowing garbage bins
Besides the smell of food in the garbage, anything with a strong smell may draw the attention of bears. Aside from food, bears may be attracted by other items, including toothpaste, shampoo, soap, insect repellant, perfumes, deodorant, and feminine hygiene products. These items should not be left around a campsite and should be secured properly just like your garbage.
Depending on how you choose to camp will determine what type of garbage storage options you will need. Those traveling in a motor home or hard-walled travel trailer might be safe leaving garbage inside the camper; however, it’s important to be aware that bears can access a camper, especially through a window or screen door that is not closed. Even in an RV it’s best to follow proper garbage storage procedures. Most RV owners tend to camp in well-developed campgrounds where garbage bins are readily available. Tent campers and those using any kind of soft-wall camper need to be more cautious. Never store garbage of any kind in a tent, no matter whether it’s a small tent or a large one, or in a soft-walled camper. Consider your camping equipment and the right garbage storage for your needs.
If you are camping in an undeveloped campground or in the backcountry, you will need to take measures to ensure that your garbage is out of reach when you sleep or are away from the campsite. Garbage should always be kept away from sleeping areas and the area where you have set up your cooking gear, including your cook stove and, of course, all food. The washing and bathing area should also be far away from the garbage and cooking areas.
If you have a vehicle, store all food and garbage inside with the doors and windows closed. It’s preferable that you park your vehicle as far away from the sleeping area as possible in case a bear comes along and wants to investigate.
A bear hang is a common method used to hang up your garbage in the trees and out of a bear’s reach. Remember that bears are excellent climbers, so hanging the garbage in one tree is not a deterrent. Garbage should be hung in between two trees as far out of reach as possible. A bear hang has certain requirements in order to be effective, including being at least ten feet off the ground, at least 4 feet from the trunk of any tree, and a minimum of 100 feet from the sleeping area of the campsite.
It’s essential to keep a clean campsite and ensure garbage is secured whether you are in a large developed campground or out in the wilderness. Any campground can draw the attention of hungry raccoons, squirrels, and bears. Proper garbage storage is the best way to avoid a big mess and a potentially dangerous bear encounter and is an important part of your camping gear.