Can Bears Smell Through Cans?

grizzly bear smelling for foodYou want to go camping, but you may be afraid that the smell of your food is going to attract all sorts of wild critters — especially bears. You plan to bring canned food so that the odors are sealed in, but is that really enough to keep them away? If you are heading out for a weekend in bear country, you need to know all the facts. Improperly sealing and storing food can turn an adventure into a nightmare really fast. I do not plan to let that happen to you. I’ll answer your question as well as giving you tips to ensure your safety while camping. Bears, beware!

So can bears smell food through cans?

Bears can not smell through canned goods. Since canned food tends to be around other food when camping the bears can pick up the scent on the outside of the can as well as scents that got on the outside of the can during the canning process.

Here’s what we will cover to help keep your trip as bear-free as possible.

Which Foods Do Bears Love?

Bears do not rely solely on meat for their sustenance; they are omnivores. They are adventurous eaters, and certain things you may have will attract them more than others. What are these foods?

  • I mean, this is obvious, right? Any meat you have, canned or not, will attract these predators.
  • No, this is not just a TV trope. Bears really are addicted to honey! They will rip apart a tree just to get to it if they have to. It would probably be best to leave this sweetener at home.
  • It makes sense, right? Nuts contain lots of protein and nutrients for all animals. Bears like to snack on these most right after hibernation, so be wary of bringing these during the early spring months.
  • What a bummer! If you were planning to bring nice and crispy insects to munch on, rethink your meal plan. Bears eat bugs whenever they can, though they prefer other foods.
  • They are a sweet treat for bears, and the juice is extra fragrant. You have to eat them with your hands, too, so there will be a lot of residual essence on them after you are done.

You can’t just give up all sources of protein on a camping trip. Even if you do not eat meat, you know that beans and nuts provide enough to keep you going. Without this in your daily diet, you will feel weak and sluggish. How can you enjoy your trip if you do not have any energy? Well, the good news is that there are ways to store these bear snacks that will deter them from stealing your food.

Anti Bear Food Storage

Though you absolutely can’t throw bears off the scent, you can make it a little harder for them to get into your goodies. People have manufactured containers to store things in with you brave campers in mind. Let’s go over some options and talk about how these bags, cans, and boxes effectively stop bears from eating what you have.

  • Bear Canisters

Bear canisters or bear cans, as they are more popularly called, are big tubs made with all sorts of mechanisms meant to weather the attacks of a hungry bear. They are sturdy enough to use as makeshift seating, so that’s a big bonus! That is due to their hard outer shells made of thick plastic that will not crack under impact. No matter how many times a bear stomps on it or paws at it, your food is staying where it is, safely tucked away in your bear can. Many of them are made with screwtop designs. As you can imagine, a bear might have trouble unscrewing a lid with those claws.

There are a few pros and cons to using these, so consider them carefully before buying one.


  • Sturdy and rugged, meant to withstand attacks
  • Locking mechanisms are hard for bears to open
  • Multiple uses
  • Do not have to hang them up like you may with a bag


  • Usually heavy and bulky, so they are hardy to tote around
  • Rigid material makes it possible to only store a few days of food
  • Bear Bag

This is the more flexible cousin of the bear canister. Bear bags can be just as effective, but they offer just a little bit less protection for your food. There are upsides and downsides to buying one. What you choose just depends on what you need for your specific situation.


  • Weigh less than bear canisters
  • Can fit more food and items into them
  • The fabric is sturdy, will not likely rip if a bear swipes at it with claws
  • Can be used in conjunction with aluminum liners or waterproof bags for extra protection


  • Some campsites will not allow these; they prefer you use a metal locker or canister
  • Bags do not protect against blunt force; items can be crushed
  • Have to be hung from a tree, which requires more effort on your part
  • Metal Lockers

If you are staying at an established campsite, look for food storage lockers. Some sites offer them for your use. This method is pretty useful if you are trying to save some money, but it has its downsides as well.


  • Save space when packing
  • Cheaper than other options
  • Metal is more bearproof than fabric or plastic


  • Can be communal, so your neighbors may use all of the space and leave you with nothing
  • Space is not guaranteed, so you could find yourself with no protection
  • The mistakes of another person could cost you your own items if they forget to lock the box back up after eating


Weigh your options and come up with a solution that fits your needs best. Anything is better than nothing! Since bears will still be able to smell whatever you have, though, you should take steps to ensure that you minimize the risk of a bear attacking your food or going straight for you.

black bear looking for food

Minimizing the Risk

Going camping is fun, but there are always rules to follow if you want to have a safe, fun time. Minimizing your risk of a bear attack or food theft is easier than you may think; all you have to do is use a little common sense.

  • Wash your hands before you touch your can, bag, or locker. Wash them with soap, in case you are the kind of person who does not do that usually. Even things you can’t smell anymore will leave traces on your containers, attracting the bears to it directly. After you eat, wash your hands again before putting your items back.
  • Layer your protection. Canned food inside of a bear can inside of a metal locker is always a safe bet. Even if a bear can get to one thing, it surely can’t peel off all the layers. The chances are that the creature will get too tired before getting to the prize.
  • Always store your food away from your base camp. 100 ft. Between you and your snacks will keep you safe in the event of a bear attack.
  • Never keep food in your tent. You want the bear to go for what is out there if necessary instead of your shelter. The same goes for your vehicle. You do not want to risk that damage.
  • Doublecheck that your containers are locked up tight before retiring to your sleeping bag. If they aren’t, you can bet you won’t be getting breakfast in the morning.
  • Hang it up in a tree. Bears can climb, that’s true. However, they are far too heavy for a branch that is far out from the trunk. Only cubs could manage that, and they are not quite as strong as mama bear is.

None of these things take a rocket scientist to figure out. I am sure you already thought of it, but everyone needs a reminder now and then.

What to Do if a Bear Attacks

In the unfortunate event that a bear does find your camp and wants some of what you’ve got, you need to keep a level head and make a strategy for getting away unharmed. If a bear is just going for your food and you are safe in your tent, be quiet, stay alert, and turn the lights off. Do not attract it to your presence. It’s always better to let it eat your jerky instead of you. If you get caught outside with it, then you need to change up what you do a bit.

  • Slowly back away. Do not run. Do not turn your back. Predators see both of those actions as a green light to hunt you down. Instead, keep your eyes on it and retreat at a calm pace.
  • Make yourself bigger and make noise. Wave your arms and shout if you need to. The bear may decide that you are just too much trouble to mess with. Don’t be aggressive, but do not cower in fear. Send a clear message to the bear that you are not prey.
  • Use bear spray. Bear spray is like a mace on steroids. It is an effective tool against a direct attack but only use it as a last resort. It is going to agitate the bear quite a bit, though it will be deterred because of the pain. It isn’t wise to use the spray if you are facing the wind; as you can imagine, your plan will backfire immediately. The last thing you want is to be incapacitated.

Apply these techniques, and you should be safe.

In conclusion, bears can definitely smell your food, but you know how to outsmart them. Go out and have some fun! Enjoy your time knowing that you came prepared for anything.

Here are some related articles that we think you will love.

Storing Food In Bear Country ( How To and What in )

Type Of Poisonous Plants While Camping ( How to identify and treat )


Rickie Arms

Hi, I'm Rickie Arms, owner of Glampingorcamping.com. I am so invested in writing the best and most informative articles for you that I went out and bought a travel trailer just so I could write about it for you. I spend just about all of my off time both camping and glamping so I can share everything I have learned and will learn with you. I have spent my whole life camping and over the last 10 years, I have spent a large amount of time checking out glamping experiences with my wife and kids as well. Thank you for coming by and we hope to see you back here getting great information in the future. Rick Arms-

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