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Hikers warned to carry bear canisters as encounters with hungry animals increase

Bear ransacking campsite for food
(Image credit: Getty)

Officials are warning hikers on the Appalachian Trail to carry bear canisters as encounters with hungry animals increase, putting both bears and humans at risk.

Bears can be found in many US states, particularly in woodland, and encounters with campers and hikers are on the rise as the animals seek out food. Habituation, where wild animals lose their natural fear of humans, is an increasingly serious problem, with bears, wolves, and other creatures seeking out humans and their settlements after becoming used to consuming our food.

Hikers visiting areas populated by bears are often advised to keep their food, toiletries, and other interesting-smelling belongings high above the ground in a bag suspended in the tree canopy, where animals will be unable to smell and reach it. However, this isn't always enough. 

As Backpacker (opens in new tab) reports, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) is now warning visitors that bears have wised up to conventional methods of keeping food out of reach. Rather than relying on bags, the ATC is now recommending hikers and campers bring their own bear canisters to avoid the trail's native black bears accessing supplies.

Help prevent habituation

"Black bears along multiple sections of the Appalachian Trail have become increasingly adept at defeating traditional food hangs, where a hiker stores their food over a tree branch using a rope and storage bag,” Hawk Methany, ATC vice president of regional and trail operations. explained in a blog post (opens in new tab).

"This is even when food hangs are done completely right, and sometimes that just isn’t possible depending on where you are camping. By using a bear-resistant container, hikers are minimizing their chances of a negative bear encounter on the Trail and helping prevent more bears from becoming habituated to humans as a source of food."

Bear canisters are hard-walled food lockers designed to resist attack from bears. They are bulkier and heavier than a nylon bag, but the ATC advises that it's a sacrifice worth making. It recommends using canisters approved by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (opens in new tab).

If staying overnight, you're advised to use permanent facilities like metal lockers and poles. but carrying your own canister means you're prepared in case these are full, or out of service.

For advice on what to do if a bear gets too close for comfort, see our guide what to do if you meet a bear.

Cat Ellis
Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 13 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better).