Bears are mostly attracted by smell of food. That is why we are supposed to keep the food items in airtight and sealed packs or preferably finish up all the food (cooking and consuming) far away from the campsite.

People usually tend to follow this protocol. But does this all apply to Body lotions, Deodorants, Scented soaps, Face washes and perfumes?

I believe bears are just keen animals who tend to get attracted towards things that have strong odor/smell.


4 Answers 4


It does. Rule of a bear cache is to put EVERYTHING that smells, in your bear cache and hang it. This applies to toothpaste, deodorant, food, lotions, perfumes, yes.

More info: What precautions should I take to protect myself and my camp from bears?

  • sorry, linking to another SE.outdoors question, where the accepted answer makes the same claim about toothpaste and all, without itself citing any sources or studies, essentially amounts to citogenesis. Commented Jul 12, 2021 at 19:43
  • Totally agree with food. Lotions, deodorant, etc... may attract bears, it is part of general backcountry lore, but so far seems to lack scientific studies proving it either way. See menstruating women myths and facts for "common lore" shortcomings. Commented Jul 12, 2021 at 19:51

It is true that people say this. While I know that the plural of anecdote is not data, I will tell some stories. I camp in black bear country (Algonquin and other Ontario parks) and we hang our food or put it in barrels. We never allow any food in the tent, but we do keep soap, toothpaste etc in the tents and we may have someone in the tent who has rubbed scented hand lotion on just before bed. Certainly everyone brushes their teeth before bed.

I have had two bear encounters. One was broad daylight, we were washing breakfast dishes, I saw the bear coming down the trail and said "oooh" and after a period of mutual staring, it turned and ran back away from us. It was not fullsize. Our food was down but the bear was technically never in our site. The other was at night during a very dry period in which all campfires were banned, and there had been reports of very hungry bears interacting with people. The bear walked past our two tents (each family thinking it was an adult from the other family walking past) then bashed around the bear barrels for a while. This got everyone's attention. It then gave up and walked right past our tents and off into the woods again.

This second bear utterly ignored our tents, didn't even pause and sniff. It walked right past. Trust me, I was paying great attention to where it was, how it was breathing, etc. My children were in that tent with me. And the children of my closest friends were in the next tent. We were scared. Yet, the possible presence of toothpaste inside did not attract the bear. This bear was hungry enough to smack at barrels, and at stacked empty pots and pans, but didn't even stop for a better smell of the various lotioned, scented-shampooed, toothpasted people and their supplies inside the tents.

I've heard all kinds of wild claims about what will make bears break into your tent. Women in general have been listed as dangerous. Then only women who are fertile, or menstruating (debunked by an actual study) , or wearing perfume. None of it is backed up by actual anecdotes, just by the fear of "wouldn't it be awful if a bear busted into the tent and attacked us! Surely any inconvenience is worth it to avoid that!" From where I sit (and remember, I put my own children where my mouth is,) telling people to be afraid of their toothpaste and shampoo is not sensible. If it's simple to toss your "ditty bag" in with the food, then go ahead. But don't lie there in the dark wondering if the peppermint on your bedtime breath will lead to the death of you all. It won't.

  • One can use a small OPSak/nylobarrier for these items stored inside the tent.
    – ppl
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 3:38
  • 2
    The claim is not just the sealed containers of toothpaste, lotion etc, but the scent of them on your hair, skin, or breath will bring bears to your campsite or into your tent. My position is that this is ridiculous, like the "women attract bears" advice that preceded it historically. Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 11:02
  • 1
    Oh ya, I agree. I was just commenting on the part where you mentioned placing them with the food bag. It is sometime inconvenient if you are hanging your food to not have access to those items; sent proof small containers can be an alternative to that minor annoyance if one is concerned with the scent of those items.
    – ppl
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 16:27

When I participated in a couple of forest surveys in the Indian subcontinent, I was strongly advised by the forest officials to keep away from anything which would give off a strong scent (deodorants, soaps included). The reason being, many animals are inquisitive and are attracted to strong smells. Bears, I believe are no exceptions. Hence yes, bears do get attracted to all the scented items you have mentioned in the question.


All potentially smelly things can attract bears, which is why they are on the list of items that should be avoided or stored properly. Speaking from personal experience though, MYSELF will be far smellier at the end of day after hiking, sweating, hanging out at the campfire, and applying copious amounts of bug spray, than a tube of toothpaste, or a water bottle, that only ever had water in it. The bear WILL smell me in the tent either way, and if it comes after me, I will fight back, as this will not be a surprise encounter.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.