How far can bears smell?

How Far Can A Bear Smell?

The one fear every camper and hiker has when trekking through the forest is stumbling across dangerous wildlife. Many of us have seen wolves, mountain lions and various other animals. The one I think we can all agree on as being the one no one wants to stumble across is a bear.

We have all heard the horror stories of bears tearing through a campsite and destroying tents if not worse.

There are ways to ensure the chances of encountering a bear when camping is low, I will cover a few solutions in future blog posts. For now, though I am going to answer the most common question, I get when talking about avoiding bears when camping.

How far can a bear smell?

There is no doubt about it. Bears have the best sense of smell of all land animals. This is because bears have more scent receptors than any other land animal.

Black bears can smell an animal carcass from 18 miles (29km) while Grizzly bears can smell an animal in water and seals under 3 foot of solid ice. How about Polar bears, any idea how far a polar bear can smell? Well, male Polar bears have been known to trek hundreds of miles when they catch the scent of a female bear.

To put a bears sense of smell into context. Dogs are known to have a sense of smell 100 times better than the average human whereas a bloodhound dog has a sense of smell around 300 times better than a human. The black bear though has a sense of smell over 2100 times better than a human!

Bears sense of smell has thought to have evolved to protect themselves from other animals, protect their cubs, better find food and prey as well as to find a mate. The part of the brain that controls the sense of smell in a bear, olfactory bulb, is five times larger than it is in humans. That on its own should tell you just how important and how powerful a bears sense of smell is.

So next time you are out in the wilderness and see a bear in the distance you can be sure they knew you were there from miles away.

Fun Fact: Black bears are short-sighted and will rely on their nose to track prey and food. They also have as much dexterity in their nose as a human has in their fingers.

Bear sense of smell

Avoid Bears When Camping

The best advice I can give you is to ensure all your food is kept in coolers and locked away. Having it left out will mean a bear will be able to smell it from miles away and will likely come looking for some treats.

The Food Smell

You can also buy a Ursack which can be used to both hide and protect your food from any curious bears. Another options, which I have used, is to purchase some odour-proof food bags to ensure no bear can smell my delicious food.

If you enjoy a bit of fishing, then you should either store any fish in an odour proof bag, cook and eat it or discard of the fish a fair distance from your campsite.

One last tip is to wash and clean up your campsite. Make sure your trash is all stored away, and you don’t leave snacks sitting out for too long.

Campsite Prep

Depending on where you are, you may be allowed to use bear spray to protect you and your campsite from any bears that get too close for comfort.

Make Noise

Having an active campsite that has a little bit of noise to it will prevent bears from coming close. Generally, bears will only go into a campsite if they don’t expect to come across people or animals, they try to keep themselves to themselves. If you have food laying out and go to bed though a bear will more than likely come around have a sniff around for your best snacks.

Keep Dogs Under Control

You already know bears can smell you from miles away. So they will be able to smell your dog too.

I am a big advocate of taking dogs on camping trips but owners must ensure dogs are well behaved in a known bear populated area. Bears are curious animals so they might wonder the area and comes across your dog if they have been left off the leash. You do not want this happening!

Wilderness Junkie’s Final Sniff Thoughts

So you now know that bears can smell further than you can likely walk in a day. As a camping and hiking enthusiast, I will always try to give you the best information and opinions, but my final advice for those of you looking to avoid bears is to ensure you research the area you will be setting up camp. If an area is a known hotspot for bears you may want to change your mind.

Finally, I would say that having problems with bears is relatively rare when you take into consideration how many people go camping. That doesn’t mean you can be complacent and not prepare.

Remember to be safe and remember that every bear for miles will know you have arrived before you even set up your tent. Just don’t give them a reason to come and visit you.