Motorcycle Camping in Bear Country: Bear Safety Best Practices for Motorcyclists, is a Riders Blog series of articles adapted (with permission) from the author’s Horizons Unlimited Travelers Meeting presentation given in Yosemite CA. We hope you find the information helpful. Ride safe. Have fun. (And don't feed the bears.)
Motorcycle Camping in Bear Country: Bear Safety Best Practices for Motorcyclists, is a Riders Blog series of articles adapted (with permission) from the author’s Horizons Unlimited Travelers Meeting presentation given in Yosemite CA.
We hope you find the information helpful.
Ride safe. Have fun. (And don't feed the bears.)
Essential Safety Gear For Motorcycle Camping in Bear Country
There are a few must have items of bear safety gear needed for camping or travel in bear country. In certain locations, some of these items are required by law.
Be aware not all bear safety products are approved for use in all National Parks. Be sure to check with the specific National Park(s) or National Forests you plan to visit.
A great reference to download is the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee List of Certified Products.
Used to store your food and other odorous items that attract bears, a bear proof canister is the preferred storage method wherever a bear-proof locker is not provided. In many National Parks bear-proof canisters are a mandatory item if you want to camp, but not all bear-proof canisters are approved for use by the National Park Service so be sure to check the NPS list of approved bear-proof containers for the specific park you are visiting before making your purchase.
As of this writing the National Park Service list of approved bear-proof canisters includes:
- Garcia Backpackers Cache — model 812
- Bear Vault — models 110b, 200, 250, 300, 350, 400, 450, 500
- Wild Ideas Bearikade — Weekender MKII (1766 and higher), Expedition MKII (1766 and higher)
- Counter Assault Bear Keg
- Bare Boxer — Contender(101), Champ (202)
- Lighter1 — Big Daddy, Lil’ Sami
- UDAP No-Fed-Bear
Take Note: Hard panniers are not bear-proof. Nor are they National Park approved.
Odor-proof bags are an essential piece of bear safety gear used for both keeping odors in and keeping odors out. For example, odor-proof bags are used inside your bear proof canister to contain all the smells. Conversely, odor-proof bags are used to store important odor-free items (such as your sleepwear) and protect them from accidental odor cross-contamination.
Odor Proof bags are inexpensive, come in a variety of sizes to suit different uses, and are quite durable.
Never go into bear country without a deterrent. Ever.
With that said, when it comes to deterrents, in the case of an up-close and personal encounter with a bear, bear spray is the deterrent you want. Bear spray is statistically and by design the most effective deterrent there is in an unexpected bear encounter. Far more effective in than a firearm. Plus it has the added benefit of being non-lethal to the bear. So win win.
Buy a brand of bear spray with quick release holster and make sure you know how to use it. Our brands of choice are:
How to use bear spray
When using bear spray the idea is to create a wall of mist that the bear will have to pass through if it wants to get to you.
Important! — Get it in your head now that bear encounters can happen extremely fast! In a matter of seconds. So get yourself familiar with how to use your bear spray before your trip, before you might need it, while in the safety of home.
Begin firing your bear spray when the bear is about 30-60 feet away (10-20 yards, 9-18 meters). Start firing low and move upwards side to side making a Z shape to create that wall of mist. Keep spraying until the bear changes direction. If the bear keeps coming at you spray directly into its face.
Bear spray and international borders
When crossing international borders with bear spray be sure to check the applicable regulations for the country you are entering and make any necessary declarations.
Should you wake to a bear visiting your campsite and scavenging around outside your tent for food, a loud blast from an air horn will often send it running away. It works equally well in the daytime and can also be effective at shooing off cougars and other large cats.
Additionally, an air horn is a great thing to have on hand should you ever need to signal for help. Three short blasts is the recognized signal for distress.
Air horns are small, light, and very inexpensive. Riding Gear Warehouse carries a mini-air horn that is particularly well suited for motorcycle travel.
Electric Bear Fence
An effective but more cumbersome protective option to bring along is an electric bear-proof fence. Just as you’d expect, an electric bear-proof fence is a deterrent which surrounds the perimeter of your food storage area or campsite and delivers an electric shock to bears (or anything else) that touch it. These fences can be very effective but are a bit on the large side for motorcycle travel.
Other Safety Gear
The safety benefits of being able to warn fellow riders of a bear sighting, call them for help, or for any other reason communicate while riding together can not be overstated. A simple hands free bluetooth communication device such as the SENA 30k is a must have for remote motorcycle travel. Bonus, you can listen to music too.
Emergency Satellite Communication Device
Any time you’re traveling to a remote location, alone or in a group, it is advisable to have an Emergency Satellite Communication device or Personal Locator Beacon with you. Always be prepared for the worst. And definitely do not count on having cellular signal in bear country. We prefer InReach products for their 2-way communication capabilities but there are other options.
Campsuds is a bio-degradable and odor-free detergent concentrate. Small and lightweight for moto-camping, Campsuds does the job well and can be used for dishes, hair, clothes, even washing your motorcycle.
Reminder — When camping in bear country always dispose of dirty water by straining solid food waste from the water (placing that solid waste with your other solid garbage) then dig a 6”- 8” deep hole 100 yards away downwind from your campsite. Pour the wastewater in the hole and fill it in.
Knife or Hatchet
This is not bear specific, but never underestimate the practical benefits of having a good ol’ camping knife, survival knife, or hatchet on hand, or the sense of ease they can provide. I never ever (ever) want to go hand to hand with a bear (ever), but if it did come down to it, having a knife would be nice.
A word about bear bells… no. Bear bells are not particularly effective. Some people do like to wear them, and wearing one will certainly do no harm, but they are not an effective replacement for the need to make human noises. Singing, clapping, yelling “hey bear!!”… bears need to know that human beings are coming down the path, not an ice cream truck.
One particularly relevant comment I heard regarding the ineffectiveness of bear bells (from a bear expert) is that for a bear bell to work effectively, first someone would have to teach bears that the dingle dingle dingle sound they are hearing was something to be feared and avoided rather than a dinner bell or some other curiosity.
Other Related Gear
There are a few more items of gear we will mention throughout the rest of the series of articles but they are not strictly bear safety related. Items like Paracord for making a bear hang, or a Motion Sensitive Disc Lock to alert you should a bear or some other thing be giving your motorcycle some unwanted attention. More on these as the series progresses.
The Bear Necessities
That pretty much covers all the bear-specific safety gear you will want for your motorcycle camping trip to bear country. It’s not a huge list, nor a very costly list as far as motorcycle gear goes, but it is an exceptionally important list. Be safe. Never go into bear country unprepared.
Ride safe. Have fun.
Next in the Series…
Next up in Best Practices for Motorcycle Camping in Bear Country we start to put everything together — Part 5. How to Pack Your Motorcycle For A Camping Trip To Bear Country (Coming soon.)
- Understanding Bears And Bear Behavior
- Preparing For A Motorcycle Camping Trip To Bear Country
- Essential Gear for Motorcycle Camping In Bear Country
- How To Pack Your Motorcycle For Camping In Bear Country
- How To Set Up A Bear-Safe Campsite
- Best Practices To Avoid A Bear Encounter
- What To Do In The Event Of A Bear Encounter
Products mentioned in this article
- Bear Proof Canister
- Odor-Proof Bags
- Bear Spray
- Mini Air Horn
- Electric Bear Perimeter Fence
- Emergency Satellite Communication Device
- Bear Bell
- Motion Sensitive Disc Lock
- Paracord (rope for hanging pannier/bear bag)