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Are Cars Bear Proof?

Are Cars Bear Proof?

If you’re heading off into the great outdoors on a camping adventure, the thought of sleeping on the ground in a tent might not appeal to you. Sleeping inside your vehicle can be much more comfortable, and eliminates the need to struggle with setting up a tent. But what if you’re camping in bear country?

Cars are not specifically made to be bear-proof, but you can take some simple and straightforward precautions to make a bear much less likely to try and get into your car. This includes removing temptations such as the sights and smells of food, locking your doors, and closing your windows.

Keep reading to learn more about bear-proofing your vehicle!

Is it Safe to Sleep in a Car in Bear Country?

Bears are naturally cautious but have an excellent sense of smell which can sometimes lead them towards campgrounds or vehicles parked in a National Park or other wilderness area.

While it is possible to safely sleep in your car while in bear country, some research and precautions should be taken before you hop in the back and go to sleep!

  • Know the area. Ask the park rangers what bears frequent the area and if there are any nuisance bears around. These bears would be the ones that are most likely to attempt to get into your vehicle.

  • Lock it up. Ensure your vehicle doors and SUV rear hatch are locked as campground bears do know how to open vehicle doors. Also make sure you close all windows if possible. A small gap can be left for ventilation but will allow scents to get out of the vehicle.

  • Keep food away. If possible, keep your food away from the vehicle. You can use a bear proof container, a campground locker, or hang it from a tree nearby. If a bear does come into the area, he will be drawn away from your vehicle by the scent of the food instead.

Can Bears Smell Food in a Car?

Bears can absolutely smell food inside your car. Even if you think it is sealed tightly in a storage container, inside a cooler, and in the trunk of your car – chances are good, a bear can smell it. And it doesn’t have to be just edible food!

In fact, bears will be interested in smells from soaps, sunscreen, propane, toothpaste, citronella, and more.

If you plan on car camping while in bear country, storing your food inside your vehicle is normally not recommended. If bears rarely come into the particular area you are stopped for the night, you should be fine to store food inside your vehicle.

But if bears are common, and nuisance bears or those that are much more accustomed to seeing humans are known to be nearby, food should be stored away from where you plan to sleep.

How to Bear-Proof Your Car

Entirely bear-proofing your car won’t be possible in most cases. Your goal instead is to make your vehicle seem unappealing to a bear. You don’t want a bear to be passing by, get a whiff of some food on the breeze, and make a beeline right towards your vehicle which is packed full of snacks and treats.

Ensure your vehicle is locked. Whether you are inside the vehicle or out on a day trip, make sure all doors are locked. Bears can open unlocked doors and will tear apart your interior looking for food.

Keep food hidden. Studies have been done with bears and it is proven that they can learn to recognize certain packaging types. If a bear sees a package of granola bars or a box of cookies inside your car, that can be all it takes for that bear to decide to get inside.

Consider Odor-Proof Containers

Some companies make plastic bags and containers which are odor-proof. This means the plastic is thick enough that smells will not leak out from seams in the bag or tiny cracks around the lid.

This is an excellent option to consider for very fragrant foods such as jerky, salami, potato chips, and dried fruits.

You can use these smaller containers inside coolers for extra protection. Multiple smaller odor-proof bags or containers can be placed inside a single cooler for easy storage of even the most odorous foods.

Consider Using Bear Canisters

Bear canisters can be a very useful tool if you are camping in bear country. The entire purpose of these oversized and heavy-duty canisters is to help protect your food from overly curious bears. The canister can both prevent access, as well as restrict smells from getting out. You can also store them in your vehicle, or hang them from trees.

Bears that get ahold of human food can quickly become a nuisance as they will associate humans with easy snacks, and become less afraid of being near those humans.

Over time the bears will invade campgrounds, break into vehicles, and just generally cause problems. This leads to higher chances of bear and human interaction, some of which may end badly for the human, the bear, or both!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can a bear smell food in a Yeti cooler?

Bears have an excellent sense of smell and can definitely smell the food you may have stored inside your Yeti cooler. However, Yeti coolers are certified bear-proof by the Forest Services’ Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee which means a bear of any species will be unable to get into your Yeti cooler if it has two padlocks on it.

Can bears smell period blood?

A number of studies have been done since the 1980s, and while all bears can definitely smell menstruation blood, most species do not show any more interest in it than they show in other scents. However, a study in 1983 showed a very small sample of 4 young Polar Bears to be unusually interested in the scent.

Is a car safe from bears?

While a bear can easily get into your vehicle if it wants to, you can easily reduce the chance a bear will be interested in your car. Keep your doors and windows locked, remove all signs and smells of food from the vehicle, and if you must keep food stored in your vehicle ensure it is inside bear-resistant containers.


Whether you are planning a trip to bear country, or just parked for the night at a campground, knowing how to keep yourself and your vehicle safe from curious bears is important. The easiest way to bear-proof your car is by storing food away from your vehicle and keeping the doors locked.

Bears normally lose interest in something after a few minutes, so if you store your food in a bear canister, locked Yeti cooler, or other bear-tight containers they may try for a few minutes to get in but then will move off elsewhere.

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Zach Reed

Hi, I'm the founder of! Having owned a wide variety of vehicles in my life, I was astounded at how hard it can be to find answers to common automotive questions. Rather than sit idly, I decided to create this website to help others!