Camping can be an amazing adventure if you’re properly prepared. Of course you should study the area and stock up on gear, but you should also know how to keep animals away when you make camp for the night. It’s OK if you never learned that in class — we’ve got everything you need to know covered here.
Choosing a campsite
The best way to keep animals away from your campsite is to pick an ideal place to camp. This means knowing where specific animals like to make their home.
- Water is attractive to snakes, mosquitoes, raccoons, and bears.
- Wooded areas are good homes for mosquitoes, other insects, snakes, raccoons, and bears.
- Fallen trees, piles of locks, leaf piles, and rocky areas are friendly to snakes and insects.
- Dampareas are natural homes for insects, and bears like to eat the vegetation that grows there. This includes marshes, still water, and the bottoms of valleys.
- Tall grasses are good homes for snakes and insects.
Knowing this, here are some tips for choosing the best campsite possible.
- Choose a flat, open area with low or no grass to keep snakes and bugs away. An open area will also protect you in case an animal wanders in. Enclosed areas can make them feel trapped and cause aggression.
- A place with some elevation will be helpful in case it rains. It will help keep the moisture away.
- Make sure there are trees nearby so you can hang your cooler, backpack, and garbage bags.
- There should be a water source near enough for hydration, washing and cleaning, but far enough away to avoid the animals seeking it out — about 200 feet should be good.
- Find a spot at a distance from any trails, since animals use them as well as humans.
- If you can find a place with a constant breeze, that will help keep insects away.
Keeping animals away from your campsite
Once you’ve picked a campsite, there are other measures you should take to ensure that animals aren’t interested in visiting.
How to keep mosquitoes away
To keep these pests away, bring items that repel them! Mosquitoes are deterred by the following:
- Citronella candles
- Coffee grounds
- Apple cider vinegar
- Fire — it also eliminates moisture and darkness
How to keep rodents away
Rodents, which includes squirrels, chipmunks, moles, mice, and skunks, are repelled by the following:
- Natural dog and cat repellant
- Light (for nocturnal rodents, like skunks)
How to keep raccoons away
These masked bandits are known for disliking:
- Natural dog and cat repellant
- Cayenne pepper
- Black pepper
How to keep snakes away
Snakes are repelled by these smells:
- A combination of cinnamon and clove oils
- Commercial snake repellents
How to keep bears away
No one wants to wake up to the sound of a bear outside their tent. To deter these creatures, consider the following repellents:
- High-pitched noises
- Flashing lights
- Human voices — leaving a radio on while you sleep can keep them away.
- Citrus scents
Most animals dislike the smell of fabric softener sheets, the kind you use in your dryer. They can also cover the smell of food. Take a pack with you in your camping supplies and put them everywhere: in your cooler, tent, sleeping bag, and backpack.
How to store food
Of course, the number one thing animals will be drawn to is your food. Here’s how to cook, eat, and clean up after yourself properly:
- Wash all your cooking supplies before and after you use them. Mice come into campsites and eat food scraps off pots and pans, leaving germs behind. They can also defecate there and make you sick.
- Cooking food with strong smells can attract bears from far away since their sense of smell is much more acute than ours. Pack freeze-dried food and avoid cooking meat if possible.
- Never eat inside your tent, as the scent of food can linger, and never leave food unattended, even if you’re only going to be gone for a few moments.
- Make sure to be incredibly clean. Ensure that all food, clothing, trash, toothpaste, etc., are packed away, especially when night falls. This will leave your campsite smelling as much like nature as possible.
- Another part of campsite cleanliness is making sure that you don’t leave any of your things out at night, even if they don’t contain food. Some animals, like bears and raccoons, are familiar with campers, and will destroy containers and supplies in the hope of finding an easy meal. Snakes aren’t attracted to the smell of food, but flies, toads, and mice are. These animals can attract snakes.
- If your campsite doesn’t have a way to take care of trash, bring strong garbage bags with you. Double-bag your trash and hang the bags as high as your cooler. You can use odor-proof bags, as well. Don’t bury your trash because animals can dig it up, but don’t burn it either — burning can produce toxic smoke and leave behind toxic residue.
- Store your food in a locking cooler, then wrap it in rope for extra protection. Hang the cooler at least 20 feet off the ground and at least 8 feet from the trunk of a tree. This will keep it safe from skunks, racoons, snakes, bears, and other animals. If you’re having trouble doing this with one tree, you can hang a rope between two trees at least 16 feet apart. Tie each end of the rope to a rock so it’s easy to throw over a branch.
- Never use the same tree as other campers — this will make it a target. If there isn’t a tree available, take your belongings away from camp and hide them in the woods, use a bear-box if one is available, or put it all in your vehicle if it’s nearby. But be careful when it comes to keeping food in your car, many national parks and other campgrounds advise not leaving any food items or containers in your car. Consult local authorities for their recommendations.
- After you pack up your food, garbage and clothes, wash your hands meticulously to get rid of lingering odors.
How to protect yourself
There are a few other measures you can also take to avoid unwanted animal guests:
- Before you head out to camp, make sure there are no rips in your tent and that all the zippers work perfectly. This will keep animals out of your tent while you sleep.
- Any unnatural smell can bring a wild animal to your campsite, so using things like deodorant, lotion, toothpaste or soap can be dangerous. It may not sound pleasant, but avoiding these things can keep you safe. If this isn’t something you can do, make sure to use anything with an artificial smell in the morning, so the smell has a chance to dissipate by nighttime. If you do use something with an artificial scent, change into clean clothes before you go to bed and put the ones you were wearing in garbage/odor-proof bags, as you would do with trash.
- Keeping yourself cool and dry at your campsite is important if you want to avoid mosquitoes. An easy fix is using unscented towelettes to wipe yourself down.
- Be certain that shiny objects like aluminum foil, tin cans, jewelry, keys, and cutlery are stored out of sight, as they can attract raccoons.
- When brushing your teeth, make sure that you don’t spit anywhere near your campsite. Raccoons and bears are attracted to the smell of peppermint.
- Set up your tent or sleeping area at least 200 feet from where you cook, store items with artificial smells, or where you drain the water you wash in.
- In case an animal does come to your camp, you want to make sure you have something to protect yourself. Make sure to take a heavy-duty flashlight with you. A bright flash of light can spook off some animals. Raccoons can be scared off by clapping or other loud noises. For others, like bears, be sure to research how to defend yourself in case of aggression or an attack.
Now you know all the tricks to keeping animals away from your campsite. You know how to choose the right spot to make camp. You can make sure to pack things that ward off specific animals (hint: ammonia does the trick for most of them!). You’re aware of how to handle food while camping, and you know the extra steps to take to make sure you can sleep undisturbed by fauna. All that’s left to do is enjoy your trip!