Setting Up a Safe Camp

Posted by

This one is definitely for my girl tribe. The more I write, the more I realize I didn’t do a good job explaining certain aspects of backpacking, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do it now. This summer will be our 5th backpack trip. After this post, I think we will have a very safe campsite.

For this post, safe = keeping ALL animals – bears, racoons, coyotes, chipmunks, skunks, etc. – from entering your campsite.

Two Goals

The first goal of animal proofing your camp is to minimize odors that might attract them.

The second goal, is to set up a secure and safe storage area for your food, garbage and hygiene items.

5 Steps to Implement

1. Create a Triangle

When looking for your campsite, try and create a triangle between these 3 core areas in your head: 1) Sleeping, 2) Cooking/Eating, 3) Cleaning. The recommended distance is 200 (~75 steps) – 100 feet (~35 steps) away form your sleeping area. However, many established campsites don’t provide enough room to make this a reality. If this is the case, do the best you can to create space between these three areas. In all honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been able to get more than 50 feet (~14 steps away) between these areas at designated camp sites.

Finally, your cooking/eating area should be setup so the prevailing wind carries the smell away from your sleeping area. See diagram below to get a visual for the core triangle.

Example of how to set up your core camp areas.

2. Store and Secure (all items with a smell)

Regardless if you are in bear country or not, you should always store your food, garbage and hygeine items 200 feet away from your sleeping area. Busy parks with lots of tourists usually have bear proof lockers, which are a bonus. If not, you will either have to rent or buy a bear canister OR hang these items in a tree, because, bears can climb! If you hang, best practice is: 10 -12 feet up and 4-6 feet away from the tree’s trunk. See diagram for the official PCT technique.


I do a simplified method; attach a rock to the end of the rope, throw it up and over, then attach the bag, hoist it up and tie off the end to the tree.

Side Track: Two years ago, our backpack location had branches that hung down from the trees. What the heck?! Therefore, we had a horrible time trying to hang our bags. Furthermore, it was getting dark and I was getting frustrated. Although, it was rather comical watching us all try to throw up and over something pointing down. The rope just kept sliding off.

Needless to say, we might have been 10-12 feet up, but we were not 6 feet away from the trunk. Luckily our food was still there in the morning. Despite hearing, what I thought to be, a bag drop in the middle of the night.

Food for thought: This year, I decided to invest in a bear cannister to make life easier. Given where we backpack (Pacific Northwest), I decided on these cannisters from REI. I like that they are see-through and have a big opening. I did get some reflective tape in case they get moved in the middle of the night by a critter. The tape will make them easier to spot. I also bought these smell proof bags for all of our items that will go in the canister.

3. Keep a Spotless Camp

Dispose of all trash and litter right away! Because smell is the main attraction to a campsite, everything that has a smell should be stored. This includes items that get dropped on the ground. A dropped nut or spilled coffee should be picked up and put in the garbage right away.

4. Keep Smells Out of Your Tent

In order to keep your tent safe, never take food or hygiene items into your tent. Keep all of those items 200 feet away from your sleeping area. We don’t “cook” on our trips, we just boil water and have pre-packed food. However, if you cook, I would have a set of clothes for cooking/eating in and a separate set for sleeping in. Imagine cooking bacon…who doesn’t love the smell of bacon? No one wants a bear or a raccoon trying to join them in the middle of the night. : 0

5. Clean Up Right After Eating

Don’t wait to clean up after eating. Do it right away. Waiting to clean up gives food odors a chance to linger and be carried away in the wind. Animals can smell odors from a miles away. Make sure to dispose of your dishwater downwind and away from the dining and sleeping area too.

Hint: To be extra safe, I would brush your teeth in the same manner, downwind and away from the dinning and sleeping area.

Safey is more important than convenience!

Hope this is helpful to you and your planning! In addition, 7 Leave No Trace Principals is also a valuable post to share with your tribe BEFORE your adventure!

Aloha, Inky

Leave a Reply