Two weeks into our first bicycle tour, we set up our camp the same way we had the previous 13 nights. We put all of our panniers tied together hanging from a tree limb. Moments after we crawled into our tent for the night, we heard a commotion outside. Matt investigated, only to find raccoons fighting over our panniers and the food inside. They were vicious! He had to fight them off, and with no better option, we brought the panniers into the tent with us for the night, terrified the raccoons would come clawing through our tent. There had to be a better way!
One of the joys of bicycle touring is getting back to nature. Bicycle tours can take you to remote places, where it’s just you and nature in all its glory. Unfortunately, wildlife encounters can turn an enjoyable tour into a nightmare. There’s a few things you can do before you set out that can make all the difference.
Bear can: We found this is the most convenient method of keeping the critters out of your food. Raccoons, rats, skunks, possums, and other nocturnal animals can be very persistent when it comes to going after food, and in some areas bears can be a huge problem. Keep in mind that smells from any food items will linger on your belongings and tempt the animals. Panniers are not animal resistant! A bear canister will prevent any animals from getting your food (and may even be required depending on where you’re going). You should keep everything that smells (toiletries included) in the bear proof container. On our latest tour we used the Bearikade (the Weekender size), and highly recommend it.
At night, place the bear can at least 100 yards from where you’re sleeping (if there’s bears) and make sure it’s in a safe place-that is, it won’t roll off a cliff or into a river or other natural hazard. The bear proof container won’t keep the critters from smelling the food, it will just make it impossible for them to get to it. They will invariably check it out, and maybe even claw at it for a moment; after some time they’ll probably get tired of it, and your breakfast will be safe for the morning.
We found it to be very convenient and easy to use the bear can. It kept our panniers from getting smelly or dirty, and the food was always easy to access. When we came it camp we could just leave our panniers on the bicycles and not have to worry about anything clawing at them. It made camping very simple and less stressful.
Bear box: Some campsites will have bear boxes to put your food in. Again, don’t limit what you put in it to food; put all toiletries into them as well. This means all sunscreen, lip balm, toothpaste, etc. If there is no bear box available, but there have been critter sightings, check to see if it would be ok to leave your panniers in the restroom. A lot of times the door will be enough of a deterrent to the smaller animals. Be careful in some bear areas, though, because they are smart enough to get in. Check with the ranger or camp host to find out the best thing to do with your food.
Smell proof bags: These can be a deterrent, however they should not be your only protection. Smell proof bags are a great place to put your snacks for the day in. This can help you reduce the smell of food in your panniers or handlebar bag. We used these bags on our latest tour and had no issues with animals.
Bring your food in your tent: This is one of the oldest trick in the books and many people swear by this method. Make sure that the food is only in your tent while you are in the tent with it, if you leave food unattended animals may claw through your tent. While we have done this in the past, I hesitate to do this now. It could teach animals that a tent means food and seems risky versus our positive experiences with our Bearikade.
Bottom line: be smart. Think about your food and what you’re going to do with it. Make it as difficult as possible for animals to get it. You’ll be glad you did and sleep better if you aren’t worrying about it.