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Do Campfires Keep Bears Away?

A campfire with chairs around it with a bear in the background

A popular myth among campers is that bears are afraid of campfires. If you want to keep the grizzly bears away during a camping trip, it’s easy to believe that simply making campfire every night will do the trick, but how effective is this, really?

Do campfires keep bears away? Campfires do not frighten bears or prevent them from entering campsites. Despite popular belief, a campfire may actually do the opposite and attract bears.

Bears don’t actually wish to be near humans but will sometimes wander in and out of campsites regardless if there is a fire or not; most bears are not aggressive and are solely in search of food the majority of the time. Although they cannot be kept away by fires, there are other methods to keep bears at bay during your camping trip.

What Attracts Bears to Campsites?

Interactions with bears can be completely preventable when camping, but there are some things that will actually attract them to your site. Since bears use their noses to track their food, they could be led to your campsite if you don’t take the proper precautions. The following are a few things that usually attract bears to campsites:

Cooking Food

The scent of food cooking is the biggest reason why a bear will enter your site. The smell of food carries past your campsite and will feed to the hunger of the bear.

If you use a campfire for cooking your food, the scent from the campfire’s smoke will possibly be the driving reason for a bear to come your way. So, rather than keep bears at bay, campfires are more likely to welcome them in.

Improperly Storing Your Food and Trash

Leaving your food out or not containing your trash will definitely attract bears to your site. Unless you want your campsite to be raided by wildlife, using odor-proof bags and sealed containers are the essential items to remember when camping.

Urine and Droppings

The same way bears are attracted to other animals’ urine and droppings, they are attracted to humans’ as well. When using the bathroom outside, it’s important to be cautious and do your duty far away from the site.

What Keeps Bears Away During Camping?

Camping is a wonderful time to escape our daily lives and venture into nature. This means all of nature, including bears.

When camping, it’s important to remember that we are setting up tents and building fires in their territory. Even though they may not mean to give a surprise visit, there is always the possibility a bear will enter your campsite.

Luckily, there are a few basic things that can keep bears away from your campsite:

Make Your Presence Known

The best way to keep bears away from your campfire is noise. Since bears don’t actually want to come near humans, noise is a warning sign for bears and lets them know there are humans present. Of course, banging pans 24/7 is not the most realistic approach, so it’s always a good idea to bring a speaker of some sort to play music.

Clean Your Campsite

If you want to prevent an encounter with bears, the first precaution should be keeping your campsite clean. The first step in keeping bears away is to have all food and toiletries adequately stored in a tightly closed canister, as well as cleaning up and containing, or disposing of, if possible, all of your garbage. You want to keep anything that may attract bears by smell up and out of their reach.

Most people hang their belongings and trash in trees, but this isn’t always the best set up to ward off bears. There are several items you can buy to successfully store and seal your belongings, like bear-proof containers and odor-proof bags.

Cook Outside the Campsite

Another way to keep bears from entering your campsite is by preparing and cooking meals away from where your camp is set up. This may not always be practical depending on the location of your campfire or how large your site is, but it will keep bears from coming near your tents and belongings.

Leave Lights On

Bears are easily frightened by lights, especially if they are flashing. It is a good preventative measure to leave lights on outside the tent at night. This will let bears know there are humans present and will keep them from entering the site while you sleep. There are several long-lasting battery operating lights for camping.

A sign that says you are in bear country

How to Avoid Camping in Bear Territory

The previous tips are useful if you are camping within a bear’s territory, but to reduce your chances of a grizzly encounter, you could also look for campsites that do not have a high bear population.

If you’ve decided to not camp on designated camping grounds, there are a few things to look for when choosing a site to determine animal activity.

  • Flat Open Ground
  • Low Grass
  • Deadfall & Fallen Trees
  • Open Water Sources
  • Trails
  • Animal Droppings & Prints

If a national or state park is your camping destination, call ahead and talk to a park ranger and find out the best areas away from animals. They are experts on wildlife and will steer you in the right direction.

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If You See A Bear What You Should Do

Taking all the proper precautions doesn’t ensure a bear won’t enter your campsite. If a bear happens to appear, the most important thing is not to panic and remain calm. Here are some other tips that are helpful if you ever find yourself in the presence of a bear:

Be Loud

Making loud and obnoxious noises like clapping and yelling will most likely scare off the bear. If this doesn’t work, find something near you to bang on if you can. Bears will dislike these noises, but you need to make sure it’s isn’t done in a combative or aggressive way.

Use Bright Lights

If your smartphone or flashlight is near you, use the light to scare off the bear. This will only be effective if you are a safe distance from the bear.

Do Not Make Eye Contact

Not making eye contact is essential information to remember. Making direct eye contact with any predatory animal bears included is a sign of aggression. Unless you want to go toe to toe with the bear, do not stare or make eye contact.

Do Not Run

The best way to exit the situation is to back away from the bear slowly. The worst thing you can do is put your back to a bear. When you run or turn your back, they may then distinguish you as prey and chase you.

Additional Tips to Keep Bears Away

Even though campfires will not keep bears away from your campsite, there are several ways to decrease the risk of a bear interaction. So far, we’ve covered the main ways to prevent bears from entering your campsite, but here are a few more useful tips and tricks for your next camping trip.

  • Do Not Use Your Clothes as Dish Towels
  • Do Not Eat Inside Your Tent
  • Thoroughly Wash All Dish Equipment
  • Inspect Your Tent for Rips and Tears
  • Hide All Shiny Objects


While campfires may keep us warm and cozy on chilly nights and are perfect for roasting marshmallows, they do not repel bears like we’ve all been taught to believe. In fact, a campfire’s smoke can do the opposite and attract bears to campsites. Even though the best ways to repel bears from campsites are relatively simple, they can be easy to forget during all the excitement of camping.

Remember, the best precautions you can take to keep bears away from your campsite are:

  1. Be Loud and Make Your Presence Known
  2. Keep Your Campsite Clean and Food Contained
  3. Cook Away From Your Site
  4. Leave Lights on at Night

If you enjoyed this post, we have another called “9 Tips You Should Know Before Going Camping,” you can read it here.

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The western part of the country draws me with its mountains, deserts, and red rock vistas. Still, there are numerous other wonders I'm ready to explore., from Maine's rugged coast to California's Big Sur cliffs and everywhere between.