how to

Ask Liz / What do I do if an animal comes into my camp at night?


Photo Credit:  Nat Geo Wild

Photo Credit: Nat Geo Wild

FULL QUESTION: "If there is an animal that comes into my camp at night, what do I do?...How can I tell [what it is] in case I can't see it? What do I do if it is a bobcat/bear/mountain lion? If I see a bear around dusk, should I keep walking to put as much distance between us as possible? I guess it is the animal/night combo that is giving me the creeps - any advice would be appreciated."

Here's Vicky and Al Noack. (My husband took a baking class from Vicky when we lived in Ennis, and I tried moose for the first time at their home.) They are some of the kindest, most generous people I've met.

Here's Vicky and Al Noack. (My husband took a baking class from Vicky when we lived in Ennis, and I tried moose for the first time at their home.) They are some of the kindest, most generous people I've met.

I asked my friend Al how he would answer this question because I needed some backup. Al's a 62-year-old Montanan, through and through, and he has a lot more experience in the wilderness than I do. Al's spent 3/4 of his life in the wilderness. He's been teaching a hunter and bowhunter class for the Fish, Wildlife, and Parks for the state of Montana, for 20 and 25 years respectively. Overall, Al has a great sense of what to do and not do in the wilderness. I trust what he has to say and want to impart his knowledge here. I think his responses provide a sense of sobering reality and relief. 

AL: "I think a person only has to fear one animal at night in camp, and that is a bear...The other animals, not at all. Don't let movies that show otherwise ruin a great chance to get out and enjoy the outdoors....MOST animals fear humans." 

I wholeheartedly agree that your fear shouldn't stop you from enjoying the wilderness, but there are some things you should definitely practice to be empowered to help yourself. 


AL suggests some best practices to avoid making dumb human mistakes that draw animals into our camps.

  • Plan your day to get to camp before dusk. "Most human/animal conflicts happen during the day, but can happen at night. Most happen when a human walks upon an animal while it's feeding, sleeping or has young. It goes into defense mode and bad things happen. At night, animals are not out looking to attack something, most of all, a human."
  • Don't set up camp right next to a water source. (This is a Leave No Trace principle as well.) "If it's easy for you to get water, it's easy for animals also and they might come at night to get a drink."
  • Don't cook and eat your meals in camps or in your tent. "The smell can last a very long time" and sometimes we might spill food. This is bad! In addition, "If you build a fire, NEVER throw food or its containers in the fire."
  • "Never store food or anything [with a scent] anywhere close to camp." You should put food in a bear canister or bear hang and have it at least 200 feet away from camp.
  • Carry bear spray and a light source with you at all times. There's a small chance you might encounter an animal when you walk away from camp to use the bathroom.


  • Don't assume the animal wants to attack you. It may just be walking through your camp.
  • "NEVER run. Get your spray ready and turn on the flash light. Just seeing the animal will take away some of [your] fear." Al says it's probably not going to be the killer griz your mind might make up. It's likely a porcupine, raccoon or another little critter.
  • Talk to the animal in a low voice. "Don't yell. Hopefully hearing your voice will cause it to turn away and leave."
  • Keep the flashlight on it, and move it in small arcs. 
  • "Don't use the bear spray unless it attacks you. Using the spray to scare it away is just a waste of spray."

"We don't know why bears attack." But HERE'S WHAT TO DO IN CASE THEY DO

If a bear charges towards you, spray a one second burst using a sweeping motion (left to right or right to left).

  • Spray it where the bear will be, on it's path towards you (versus aiming for the bear). Bears are really fast and you want to have a cloud of bear spray in it's path. 
  • Be ready to spray again, holding your can with two hands. Stand and wait to see what it does.
  • Spray again if the bear keeps coming. 
  • If the bear halts, take a couple steps back, slowly. 

If the bear actually attacks you, there are different responses to different bears (relevant to the lower 48 states. Alaska is a whole other playing field.)

  • GRIZZLIES: Play dead. You'll get mauled; it will be painful, but play dead. Stay in fetal position. Protect your neck.
  • BLACK: Fight back with everything you have. 


This one is a tough one to answer because it depends on what the bear is doing. Does it have cubs? Is it feeding on a dead animal? Is it moving away from you or moving towards you? 

First of all, you need to have a plan you can enact. Al sums it up with: Observe. Decide. Act. This is what he would do in that situation.

  1. Know how to use your bear spray. Practice getting it out removing the clip, holding it out, and fake-spraying.
  2. Get your bear spray out, slow and easy. It should be easily accessible! Not in your pack, but attached to your hip or pack strap.
  3. Rapidly assess the situation. Are there cubs? A food source? Is it a sow (mama bear)? Where are the cubs? Is the bear being aggressive? Is it curious? Which direction is the wind blowing? What's behind you? Are you between the sow and cubs? 
  4. Decide what you need to do. Stay calm and get yourself out of that situation without provoking the bear.
  5. Take a few steps away from the bear/cubs. Be ready with your bear spray and back up away from the bear. Keep slow and steady and get far away as possible. 
  6. Set up camp somewhere safe. 

Bears can be especially defensive if there are cubs involved or if they're feeding. Move away slowly. NEVER RUN. Even if you have to back track, stay out of that area. You're at risk of provoking the bear when it's most protective and defensive. You'll need to decide what direction you think the bear is headed and go the opposite way.

What about mountain lion? "If you see a mountain lion trailing you, you're probably lunch." (Al said that, not me! I don't want you or me to be anyone's lunch!) They attack people when they're moving around, not when you're settled in camp (necessarily). Make yourself as big as you can and make a ton of noise. Make it think it's going to take on godzilla! If they attack, fight with everything you have. 

When you're out of danger, remember to take some deep breaths. Get your heart rate down. Give thanks that you're alive. Decide on a new campsite and get situated to hunker down for the night. Sleep. Rest. Relax as much as you're able. Take care of yourself. 

On an adorable (and frightening) note: I couldn't resist posting these "bears at camp" photos I found on google. They tickle me silly! Please remember to practice being bear aware. Protecting your food = protecting the bears. 

How to eat a whole apple

Mmm, yum! Fresh fruit on the trail is such a treat. Sometimes I wish I could have a juicy watermelon whenever it gets hot and dusty, but I know that ain't happening. I won't take anything that leaves any kind of remainder, like watermelon rind or an apple core. I would have to pack that out and why would I carry extra weight if it can be helped?

I'm not about to eat watermelon rind, but what if you could make the apple core disappear?

True story: I had never considered eating the ENTIRE apple before I met an experienced backpacker who talked about eating the whole apple as if it were nothing. Well sir, for this suburban-raised girl, that was not even an option. I was like, "He's crazy." Well....that was until I tried it and thought, "K, he's not crazy, but I don't like this one bit." 

Yet, I now eat my whole apple (when backpacking) and I'll tell you how I do it so you don't make the same mistakes I have.



  1. Take the stem completely off. Twist twist twist until the whole things comes out. (If you forget to do this, it's okay, you won't even notice it in your pack out trash bag.)
  2. Wash the apple thoroughly.
  3. Don't leave the core for the end. Eat through the apple from one side to the other side. That way, your last bite is a good one. (If you decide to eat around the core and save that for last, it's a truly unappetizing process. I did that the first time because no one ever told me how to eat a whole apple!)
  4. When biting into the core, get a good ratio of apple meat mixed in there so you don't only taste the seeds. 
  5. PRO TIP: Beware of biting into the hardened parts (aka: endocarp) that encases the seeds. It can get stuck in between your teeth yo!

Honestly, you might not enjoy this process. I still don't, but I tolerate it so I can take an apple or two on the trail as a delicious juicy treat. I never regret eating an refreshing apple on the trail while my trail mates eat dry nuts. ;-P

What fresh fruit/veggies do you want to take on the trail?

Ask Liz / What do you put in the bear canister and where do you put it?


Q:  What do you put in the bear canister? Where do you put the bear canister?

Here's the full question for reference: "I was wondering if you've had any experience using a bear canister. Where do you keep the canister overnight? What about your cook kit? Do you transfer chapstick, sunscreen, etc. from pack to canister in the evening? Do you distance cooking area from canister from sleeping area? How far?"

THE SIMPLE ANSWER: Always put everything that has a scent in a bear canister (or a bear hang) before you go to bed. If you're not sure if you should, put it in. Find a secure spot away from ledges about ~200-300 feet away from camp. Better safe than sorry!

Bears are definitely one the most frequently voiced fears I hear about when people talk about going into the woods! "The bears are gonna eat me!" It's both funny and real (no, not that the will eat you necessarily...), so knowing how to protect yourself and the bears is a skill you need to learn if you're going to backpack in bear country.

Bear canisters are great because (sure) it keeps your food safe, but mostly because you can use it as a seat (as demonstrated in the photo above) or a small even surface. Unfortunately, they can be heavy and fit awkwardly in your pack.

Types of Bear Canisters

The bear canister I use is the Bearikade Weekender. It weighs a hair under 2lbs and I bought it after spending 7 days hiking with an old bear canister rental from the ranger. OMG. It was so heavy and hard to fit everything inside, I decided to go lighter and more spacious. Here are three of the most common bear canisters out there listed in order of lightest to heaviest. (From L to R: Bearikade Weekender, BearVault BV500, Garcia Bear Resistant Canister)

How far should you go from camp?

You should place your bear canister about 200-300 feet from your campsite. Take ~70 steps away from your camp and then start looking for a secure spot. I try to lodge it somewhere it would be a bit more challenging for a bear to get to. That's not always available, so use your judgement and do your best with your situation. Also, keep it away from water sources (where it could get rolled into and disappear forever) and ledges (where it could fall off and *sad face*). 

What should you put in your bear canister?

A general rule of thumb is to put anything that has a scent in your bear canister. If you're not sure, take your item through this decision tree. 


  • Chapstick
  • Cup/bowl
  • Deodorant
  • Electrolyte tablets
  • Floss
  • Food (all of it!)
  • Cook set
  • Snacks
  • Soap
  • Spoon/spork
  • Sunblock
  • Tea bags
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Trash


  • Clothes (unless you spilled your dinner all over it or it smells like your food!)
  • First aid kit
  • Hand sanitizer (non-scented)
  • Map
  • Your stinky socks (but golly, I hope you don't have to smell that all night)  ;-P

PROTIP #1: People tend to forget to check their backpack hip pockets at the end of the evening. There's always something small and bear-baitey hiding in there. Check it!

PROTIP #2: Here's a process that works well for me so I don't forget anything. Most people eat dinner after they set up camp. If that's you...

  1. Check EVERY pocket for trash, wrappers, snacks, and other scented items. Gather your bear canister and everything that has a scent including your toiletries.*
  2. Take it all with you to the place you're going to eat dinner (about 70 adult steps or more away from camp).
  3. After you eat your heart out, take care of your teeth and APPLY CHAPSTICK LIBERALLY (if you're that type). You're going to need to put your chapstick in the bear canister, so this is it for the night.
  4. Go find a place to secure your bear canister by moving away from your camp area.
  5. Walk back to camp and get horizontal! (I love laying down after a long day of hiking! It's the best.)

*Trust me, it is crazy annoying to be ready for bed and all of a sudden you find a snickers in your tent or something. You have to get out of your warm sleeping bag and walk for what seems like forever in the cold to put it away. (Can you tell I've had to do this before?)

Alternatives to Bear Canisters

Bear canisters can get heavy (upwards of 2lbs). An alternative is to carry the supplies you need for a bear hang. This might be a using something like an Ursack or making your own by using a stuff sack and getting some rope and a carabiner. 

This will be a lighter and more flexible option since it's a bag versus a rigid canister. You will need to figure out how to hang it, but it's a fairly simple skill you can learn. (Bear hang basics coming soon.)

Other helpful tidbits on the internetz.

How to pack a bear canister
Bear canister basics from Leave No Trace

Any comments, questions or feedback? I'm human and sometimes miss things! Please let me know if you think of ways I can improve this article. xo

Hygiene / Backcountry Dental Hygiene

Have you heard yourself say, "Ehh, I'll just skip brushing my teeth tonight. I'm too tired and I feel so dirty anyway...what's skipping one night gonna do?"

Ha! I've said that a hundred times! (Ok, I exaggerate.)

Even if you might be feeling dirty from a good ole day's hike, I believe dental hygiene (hygiene in general) is important in keeping up your mental game. I really think it's the little things that extend mental longevity in the wilderness. Anyway, I love feeling clean at the end of a physically demanding day. (Who doesn't like that feeling of stepping out of the shower after getting filthy?) It's wonderful! But more importantly, being clean helps me sleep better and feel refreshed at the start of a new day. It's not just about being OCD with cleanliness, it's really about having a long-term strategy to help me keep going so I can stay out longer in the wilderness. 

All that to say, one piece of floss and some easy teeth brushing skills can help your mental game, not to mention your breath.


1. Floss your teeth.
If anything, flossing is the least you can do. It's SO good for your dental hygiene!

2. Dab just a tiny bit of natural toothpaste on your kid-size toothbrush.
You don't need a lot of toothpaste. It suds too much and it gets messy if you use a lot. Instead, try just a dash just to get that minty fresh feeling without frothing all over (which means more clean-up).
TIP: Baking soda is also a great natural option!

3. Add a tiny splash of water and brush like normal.
I have my water bottle with me (with potable water) and I put the tiniest bit of water in my mouth before I start brushing. (This is my equivalent to getting my toothbrush/paste wet under the faucet when I'm at home.) Then I brush brush brush. I have a small toothbrush, so it takes a little more effort.

4. Add a little more water in my mouth, swish, and spit. 
Spit into a cathole or have you ever tried the spitting method where you create a really fine mist? (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, I really need to make a video!)

5. Final rinse.
One more mouth rinse and toothbrush rinse and voila! Minty fresh....Ahhhhhh! Time for bed. 

This is my entire hygiene kit I used for a 9-day trip. From L to R: Sunblock, toothpaste, lotion, Diva cup, tweezers, comb, kid toothbrush, floss, all-purpose castille soap, small piece of broken mirror. I had too much toothpaste, castille soap, and sunblock. I could've lightened my load even more. (And the lotion was gold!) Total weight: 4.5oz


Buy: Kid-size Preserve Toothbrush
Buy: All-natural Tom's of Maine Toothpaste
Buy: Oral-B Glide Deep Mint Floss


*All purchases made with these affiliate links support Snowqueen & Scout. Thanks!

How to Filter Water / Aquamira Water Treatment

There are a lot of different ways to treat water in the backcountry. This summer, I've been giving Aquamira my full attention and I want to share my thoughts on it because it's a really great system. 

Aquamira is very well-known in the ultralight (UL) backpacking community, but most folks don't know about it when they're first starting out. It's probably the most effective, smallest, ultralight water treatments out there. It's basically a two-part chemical that you mix and then drop into your water. Easy! Unlike a filter, you unfortunately can't drink your water right away. The chemicals need to do their magic, killing all of the water-borne diseases (for about 15-30 minutes). 

For some strange reason, I trusted Aquamira's effectiveness right away, unlike it's pill-form counterparts. I think there's something about seeing the chemical mix into the water right away that feels like it's at work, versus having to wait for (let's say) an iodine pill to dissolve. (Inside voice: "What if the pill doesn't mix thoroughly with ALL of the water?!") Plus, research always helps. 


THE PROS: Very effective, ultralight, tiny, affordable, easy, and water tastes pretty good compared to iodine treatment.
THE CONS: Chemicals are strong so you don't want to get it on your skin; the water does have a tiny sour taste (barely noticeable, but still worth noting); 15-30 minute wait time




  • Purchase small bottles to take only what you think you'll need on your trip. 
  • Drop about 20 drops of each A and B into the mix bottle in the morning. That way your Mix is ready for use all day.
  • Keep your Mix safe from heat and sun. If it's not bright yellow, it's probably compromised. Start over.
  • If you have a little left over at the end of the day, mine tended to evaporate.
  • Be careful not to get A, B, or Mix on your skin. You can smell the strength of the chlorine dioxide when you open the container. Definitely don't want to be getting that directly on your skin. 


Buy: Small bottles
Buy: Aquamira

Would you give Aquamira a try? Why or why not? 

*All purchases made with these affiliate links support Snowqueen & Scout. Thanks!