How to protect your camp (and food) from bear at BWCA

  • Article by: RON HUSTVEDT JR. , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 28, 2013 - 12:50 PM

The “bear walking into camp” portion of the required rules and regulations video, watched by all campers heading into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, is a personal favorite of Dave Seaton’s. “I like watching people’s reaction at that part of the video,” said Seaton, owner of Hungry Jack Outfitters on the Gunflint Trail.

That portion of the video plays like a horror film for some. “Most girls just giggle while the guys cross their arms or legs. No matter whether they are leaning against the counter or standing up, it’s a pretty defensive mode they take,” Seaton said.

With sharp teeth, claws and a weight ranging from 150 to 500 pounds, the black bear is a frightening prospect for BWCA campers. Fortunately, humans are not on the bear’s menu. Human food packs, however, can be too tasty to resist.

Like humans, bears are omnivores and opportunists. Selecting a clean campsite, keeping it clean and filleting fish away from camp are smart ways to prevent confrontations with bears.

Over the past decade, none of Seaton’s customers has lost food packs to bears, but several packs have been damaged by squirrels, chipmunks and mice. Hanging your food pack in a tree, whenever it’s not being used, is the best way to ward off hungry non-humans, including black bears.

“We use a double-rope system for hanging packs, and it does a great job,” said Seaton. All it takes is one 40-foot length of 5/16 braided nylon rope with a large carabiner tied to the end for hooking your food pack, plus another identical length of rope attached with a strong pulley. The first rope elevates your pack off the ground; the second rope ensures the pack is several feet from the tree, just out of reach from critters.

“Bears are crafty,” Seaton said. A bear can easily feast upon the contents of your food pack, even if it’s securely fastened, so long as the pack can be reached from tree or ground.

Seaton told the story of some friends who witnessed a bear approach a food pack left at a portage, unzip the pocket where trail mix was stored, remove the mix and slip back into the woods. “If they hadn’t seen it,” he said, “they’d never have known what happened.”


Ron Hustvedt Jr. is a Ramsey-based writer. Find him at

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