How to Keep Animals Away from Your Campsite: Proven Prevention Measures

Encountering wildlife can be an exciting part of camping, but unwanted animal visitors at your campsite can pose risks. In this article, I share my tips and strategies for securing your campsite, storing food properly, and using effective animal deterrents to avoid potentially dangerous encounters and keep critters away. Read on to learn how to enjoy a safe, animal-free camping experience.

As an avid camper, I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with curious wildlife looking for an easy meal. Over the years, I’ve learned that the key to peaceful coexistence with animals in the outdoors is being proactive about campsite security and food storage. By taking some simple but critical precautions, you can greatly reduce the chances of waking up to a ransacked campsite or worse, a face-to-face confrontation with a hungry bear.

In my experience camping in bear country, I quickly realized how crucial it is to keep a meticulously clean camp and lock up food. Once, I let my guard down and left a candy bar in my tent. I was startled awake by heavy snuffling and scratching right outside my tent! Fortunately the bear left after not finding any food, but it was a close call that taught me to never take food storage lightly in the wilderness.

Secure Food Storage: The Key to Avoiding Animal Visits

The number one way to keep animals away from your campsite is by securely storing all food and scented items. Animals have an incredibly keen sense of smell and will go to great lengths to access an easy meal. Store food, trash, toiletries, and even clothes you cook in either in a bear canister or suspended at least 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet from the trunk of a tree. Use multiple layers of protection, like putting food in odor-blocking bags inside a cooler inside a locked vehicle. The most determined bears can even break into cars, so consider investing in a bear-resistant food locker if camping in bear-heavy areas.

When I’m backcountry camping, I always use a bear canister to store my food. These portable barrels have special latches that bears can’t open and are designed to fit in a backpack. After cooking and eating, all food and trash goes straight into the bear can. I store the canister at least 100 feet downwind from my tent. While hanging food is a classic method, bear canisters are much easier and the park service requires them in some areas.

Another critical element of food storage is to keep unused food sealed and put away. It’s all too easy to leave a bag of trail mix or snacks sitting out on at the picnic table, but even small amounts of accessible food can draw animals in. Get in the habit of always putting food back in odor-proof containers immediately after use. Seal up not just food but also items like toothpaste, chapstick, sunscreen, and trash in airtight bags or canisters.

Maintaining a Clean Campsite to Deter Wildlife

Animals are opportunistic and will be attracted to any potential food source, including crumbs, wrappers, grease, and food waste. That’s why keeping a clean campsite is so important. After cooking and eating, do a thorough sweep of the area for any dropped food. Wash dishes and cooking equipment at least 100 yards from your campsite. Don’t dump food scraps on the ground. Pack out all trash or dispose of it in animal-proof dumpsters, not the campfire pit.

To properly dispose of food waste while camping, I recommend either burning food scraps completely to ash in your campfire or packing them out in odor-proof bags. Burying food scraps is not advised, as animals will still smell and dig them up. If you have a campfire, scrape all food particles from pots, plates, and utensils into the fire. Avoid dumping food scraps into waterways, as this pollutes and alters the diets of water dwelling animals.

In addition to food waste, it’s important to remove all garbage from your campsite before nightfall. Animals are drawn to scents on wrappers, bottles and cans. Stash trash in odor-blocking, animal-proof bags or containers. Dispose of trash regularly in bear-proof dumpsters or pack it out. Never leave loose garbage at your campsite or toss it in the woods, as animals will scatter it everywhere.

“Many people don’t realize that animals are attracted to any scented item, not just food,” advises wildlife biologist Dr. Sara Callahan. “Toiletries, trash, pet food, and even citronella candles can all be wildlife magnets. Proper storage of these attractants is just as critical as securing food to avoid animal encounters while camping.”

Choosing the Right Campsite Location to Minimize Animal Encounters

Being strategic about where you set up camp can help minimize animal interactions. When you choose your campsite, look for established sites at least 100 yards from natural animal attractants like berry patches, rivers, lake shores, and carcasses. Avoid camping in areas with tall grass, thick brush, and dense vegetation, as small animals tend to shelter there. Camp away from animal trails, which often parallel waterways and lead to feeding areas.

In bear country, it’s especially important to avoid areas thick with brush that could conceal a bear. Choose open, visible campsites and always look for signs of bear activity like tracks, scat, and claw marks on trees. If you see fresh sign, move camp elsewhere. Also avoid camping near dead animals, as bears will feed on and guard carcasses.

Using Repellents and Deterrents to Protect Your Campsite

In addition to proper food storage and campsite cleanliness, using repellent sprays around your camp perimeter can help keep animals at bay. Natural repellent sprays containing capsaicin, the compound that makes peppers spicy, can deter many animals when applied to vegetation around your campsite. Ammonia-soaked rags hung around camp can repel raccoons and other small mammals.

For an extra layer of nighttime campsite protection, consider using a portable electric fence or perimeter alarm system like Nite Guard. These solar-powered, flashing red lights mimic predator eyes and can scare off curious animals. To use, simply stake the lights around your tent and let them flash from dusk til dawn.

AnimalEffective Repellents
BearsBear spray, electric fences, air horns
RodentsAmmonia, mothballs, peppermint oil
RaccoonsAmmonia, cayenne pepper, bright lights
InsectsCitronella, DEET, permethrin

Understanding Animal Behavior for Effective Campsite Safety

Learning about the natural behaviors and patterns of animals in the area where you’ll be camping is key to avoiding unwanted encounters. Research what species are common, how they react to humans, and what attracts them. For example, bears have an incredibly strong sense of smell and can detect food from miles away. Raccoons are clever scavengers that can open coolers and unzip tents. Mice will chew through bags to access food.

By animal-proofing your campsite with the specific traits of local wildlife in mind, you’ll be better equipped to outsmart them. Use wildlife avoidance strategies like being vigilant at dawn and dusk when many large mammals are most active, never keeping food inside your tent, and cooking and eating at least 100 yards downwind from your campsite. Make noise as you hike to avoid startling animals and never approach or feed wildlife.

Essential Tips for a Critter-Free Camping Experience

To sum it up, here are the key tips for critter-free camping and campsite animal safety:

  • Always store food and scented items in animal-proof containers
  • Keep a meticulously clean camp and pack out all food waste
  • Choose campsites away from dense brush and natural food sources
  • Use repellents and deterrents like bear spray and battery-powered lights
  • Learn about the behaviors of animals in the area and how to avoid them

By being proactive and implementing these simple but essential practices, you can share the outdoors peacefully with wildlife and enjoy a safe, animal-free camping experience. Remember, preventing animal problems is far easier than dealing with them after the fact. With a little knowledge and preparation, you can protect yourself, your food, and keep animals wild.

For more expert advice on selecting and using animal repellents to protect your campsite, check out the Nite Guard website at or call their customer service line at 1-800-328-6647.

Photo of author

Gary Osbi