Can Bears Smell Dehydrated Food?

Bears are notorious for their noses! Their acute sense of smell is many times more sensitive than specialized breeds of dogs that are trained to follow scents. This uncanny smelling ability of bears has caused much trouble for backpackers and bears alike over the years.

Many people who enjoy the outdoors regularly in bear country have tried many different ways and techniques to hide or disguise food from detection by any bears in the area. One question that frequently arises is, can bears smell dehydrated food?

Dehydrated food may not have much smell to our noses, but a bear can definitely smell dehydrated food. The degree to which the bear will be able to sniff it out will depend on how the dehydrated food is packaged. It is always good practice to use additional precautions when carrying food in bear country!

When traversing wilderness areas where you may encounter bears, it is not only food that you need to protect from their sensitive noses. Bears are curious by nature, and any pungent smell will be an irresistible invitation for them to investigate!

Types Of Dehydrated Food

There are many types and options for dehydrated food, some commercial, and some homemade when it comes to outdoor activities.

Many foods can be dehydrated to improve their shelf-life without the need for refrigeration, including fruits, vegetables, meats, and grains.

Most commercially manufactured dehydrated foods come in either foil or airtight plastic packaging. These can either be sealed with positive air pressure or a vacuum seal.

There are also different methods of dehydrating the food, from air drying to freeze-drying, each method having its benefits and downsides, depending on the food type.

Homemade dehydrated foods are mostly air-dried and are usually fruits, vegetables, and meats. The dehydrated meats are often in the form of jerky or smoked meats.

While all these methods are great for preserving food for use in the outdoors, when it comes to avoiding detection by bears, it all comes down to the packaging.

Commercially packaged dehydrated food is definitely more successful at sealing the smell of the food inside the packaging than homemade and packaged foods. Many homemade versions will have residue of the foods on the outer surface of the packaging, which will be ringing the dinner bell for a bear’s nose!

How Sensitive Is A Bears Sense Of Smell?

A bear has one of the most highly developed senses of smell in the animal kingdom! Here are some comparative statistics to give you an idea of the level of smell you will be dealing with regarding these animals.

The average dog’s sense of smell is around one hundred times more sensitive than that of humans, and we all know how effective dogs are at sniffing out trails, drugs, and other contraband.

A bear has a sense of smell that is incredibly over two thousand times more sensitive than that of the average human!

So when you sniff the outside of the packaging of a dehydrated food item and smell nothing, a bear can probably identify the individual ingredients from a couple of miles away!

Dehydrated foods should still be considered as an important, lightweight outdoor food source for people enjoying the wilderness, but it doesn’t mean we can take chances with the way it is packaged, simply because it is dehydrated food!

You should also not solely rely on the packaging that the dehydrated food comes in to protect it from bears. Some additional steps will have to be taken to make sure your food does not attract the bears to your campsite!

As we have mentioned, it is not only food that needs to be protected from an inquisitive bear’s nose. Any item with a strong smell, such as toothpaste, soap, deodorants, insect repellants, and spices and sauces, will all have a strong, unusual smell for a bear in the area.

The bear will notice the smell and come to investigate, just to satisfy his curiosity, if not his appetite!

As a result, you not only need to take extra precautions to hide the smell of your food but also to seal in the smell of any other strong-smelling items that you may be carrying with you outdoors!

So when it comes to taking precautions to protect your food and other items from bears, what steps can you do to keep yourself, your food, your gear, and the bears safe?

Can Bears Smell Freeze-Dried Food?

Bears can smell freeze-dried food, but once again, the risk of this happening will be determined by the packaging. Commercial packaging works well, but it is no guarantee that the bears will not smell the food.

It is always best to take additional precautions when packing your food for an outdoor adventure in bear territory!

Can Bears Smell Sealed Food?

Yes, bears can smell sealed food too! Often even the packaging has a smell that is foreign to the wilderness, so the strange smell of the packaging may even trigger the curiosity of the bear to investigate.

When the bear follows the scent and discovers a food source, it will associate the smell with food, and the next time it smells the same smell, it will come looking for the source.

Often people fall into the misconception that if they can’t smell anything, then the bears cannot either. Even food sealed in airtight containers can leak smells or have residual odors on the outside of the packaging, which will be enough to attract a bear in the neighborhood.

Bears Habituated To Humans

The biggest problem with humans, their food, and bears out in the wilderness is often not that the bears can smell the food, but that they have learned to associate humans with an easy meal.

As a result, when bears detect humans in the area, they will investigate to try and find an easy meal, and this is where the problem comes in.

Bears will confront people in order to get at their packed food and will raid campsites for the same reason. This becomes dangerous when the bears come face to face with people, and people get injured or killed.

Bears that frequent human campsites for food quickly become labeled as problem bears, and the authorities have no option but to destroy these animals before someone gets seriously hurt or killed.

This is the most important reason why you should go through additional measures to make sure your food stores limit the escaping smells as much as possible. Feeding of wild animals, even from your leftovers or trash, can become a death sentence for the animals that begin to rely on this food source.

How To Bear-Proof Your Food

There are a number of ways to protect your goods from bears while on the trail and at the campsite, where the bears a most likely to be attracted to since that is where you open your food to cook and eat.

Bear canisters are specially designed containers to help bear-proof your food! In some states in the US and national parks, if you are entering bear territory, it is mandatory to carry not only your food but also any goods that have a strong odor in a bear canister.

While these canisters may not mask the smell of the food completely, the bears will not be able to gain access to the contents and therefore, will not associate people with an easy meal.

Another option is a bear sack, which is a sack that is made from a material that a bear cannot bite or claw, though. Some areas that require bear canisters will not allow bear sacks as an alternative, so you will have to check with local authorities before you go out.

Bear canisters are great, but they are bulky and add extra weight to your backpack. Bear sacks are lighter but are not allowed in some areas.


The important thing to remember when we visit the wilderness is that we are visitors in the region. If we want to preserve the wilderness and its wildlife for others to enjoy in the future, we need to be responsible and take the necessary precautions to protect the environment.

If this means you need to carry a little extra weight in your backpack, I reckon the trade-off is worth it!

Bears can smell way better than most people realize, so don’t take unnecessary risks in the outdoors that could put your life or the life of the bears in jeopardy! Protect your food and your gear in a bear canister or a bear bag!

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