When people do not store their food properly, bears can become used to looking for food near inhabited areas. Using bear-resistant containers that meet the standards of the Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group or the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee is one of the best ways for people in bear country to protect their belongings and to lower the chances of contact between bears and people [sources: National Park Service, The Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group].
Bear-resistant containers come in many sizes and shapes. Small, lightweight food canisters made of high-strength polymers can hold a few days' worth of food for a camper and are made to withstand the force of a bear. Bear-resistant steel barrels have locking lids that keep bears from opening them. Cooler-sized food containers made of heavy-gauge aluminum have lids with internal hinges that bears cannot break, and they're insulated to block some of the smells of the contents. You can also find large, walk-in bear-resistant containers designed for bulk storage of food or other things that may attract bears. There are even special bear-resistant dumpsters, since bears can easily learn to open the latches on regular dumpsters.
Bear-resistant containers often work better than other ways of trying to keep food away from bears, since both black bears and grizzlies are very clever and determined when it comes to getting your food. In the past, bears have broken the windows out of cars and popped the tops off of campers in pursuit of a meal. When campers have tried suspending their food from tree branches, bears have bitten through branches and even climbed up in the tree and "dive-bombed" onto the package of food. Some rock climbers reported that a bear got the food they had suspended from a cliff by pulling the package up by the rope. At least one smart black bear learned to swim out to rafts where campers had stashed their food on a pond [source: The Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group].
Bear-resistant containers trump all of these tricks since only human hands can open them, and since they can withstand a bear's brute force. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee approves containers as grizzly-resistant only if the weakest part of the container can withstand the force of a 100-pound (45-kilogram) weight dropped from a height of 2 feet (0.609 meters), and if the container can withstand 135 pounds (61 kilograms) of force made with a pointed metal rod on areas where a bear could bite [source: Windell]. Make sure to close your bear-proof containers, and put them in a safe place at least 100 feet (30.5 meters) from your campsite, away from any cliffs or bodies of water. Bears can sometimes still smell food inside of bear-resistant containers, and you don't want a curious bear to come into your campsite or knock your food over a cliff or into a lake [source: National Park Service].
Bear-resistant containers are a great way to keep bears out of your food, but what can you do if you think a bear is about to attack you? Read on to learn about bear deterrent spray.