Coffee and Bears: Staying Safe Outside on the Trail

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When you go out on the trail, a great many hikers love to have coffee either after a hard day or to start their new day. What this leads to though can be left over coffee grounds and what to do to store them and ensure they don’t attract bears to your location.

Do coffee grounds attract bears? Anything that smells pungent will have the possibility to attract bears, coffee grounds is one of the stronger smelling things you can keep on you. This is why many hikers will carry instant coffee that has no grounds after used so you can carry it easily in a trash ziplock in a food bag.

There are reasons why bears and coffee are such a potent mix but when you are out and on the trail you are keeping clean and not leaving smells for yourself and the next hiker coming so please make sure to take care.

Do Bears Like Coffee Grounds?

Well if I bring coffee with me do bears actually enjoy trying to eat them or are they able to be buried like my other business?

Bears appear to love coffee more for the strong smell than necessarily to eat them. The issue is these smells are always attached to people and the association of people with being food is the most dangerous thing you can do to bears and to us backpacking in the wilderness.

Interestingly enough there is stories out of zoos that when they lay out coffee grounds on the ground the bears will roll in them like catnip getting it into their fur and helping them to smell more.

What Scents or Smells Attract Bears?

Just like you or I, bears heavily use their sense of smell to know that food is available in the general area. They may not be able to see you cooking or unpacking foods, but they can smell them from very far away.

Many foods you bring may not have a strong smell to you but to animals like a bear, who have better smelling function than us will be attracted.

The overpowering scent of food and other gear can reach a bear and then many will be compelled to seek it out and possibly eat it. Here is some items to think about from your gear:

  • Cooking
  • Toiletries
  • Food and Beverages
  • Candy and Sweets (Including Fruits)
  • Urine and Feces

As you can see there may be more causes to attracting bears than just the coffee you may be bringing, make sure to do some good safety work to make sure your camp area stays free and safe of animal interaction!

Cooking

When you cook you want to avoid being around any areas where camping typically would occur, normally on trail an hour or so before you stop would be good timing to gain separation.

You must NEVER eat inside your tent or in your sleeping bag. Try to do your best to have any cooking done at the camp area be downwind from your tent and far from your eating area.

Make sure to clean your cookware and utensils as soon as possible and thoroughly prior to securing them. Wash up immediately after eating so smells do not linger nearby.

Toiletries

This is more than just your toilet paper, you need to think about any wipes, toothpaste, and similar goods you pack in that all have smells and could possibly pull in unwanted advances from bears and other animals.

Food and Beverages

Obviously the one most of us who hike and backpack know we need to hang and get a large distance from camp over night to maintain safety in case any animals should come along.

There is the typical PCT bear hang, ursacks, and bear can or vaults that all have their followers and specific trail needs. Note for those intending to hang, this can take a lot of time and practice so make sure to know it well before needing to implement it.

Candy and Sweets (Including Fruits)

Additionally to food your sweet snacks along with fruits fall in with food but many times can be forgotten in your backpack stash for snacks on the trail, this can lead to bears but also rodents eating into your tent!

Urine and Feces

I know for many this may be gross but in the night many people will need to go and sometimes become far more lazy in getting proper distance from the trail and camp along with failing to bury appropriately.

Before night falls you should know your plan for using the restroom and make sure everything is available to allow you to do your business in peace without attracting animals.

Photo is of a bear parent and 3 cubs in the grass near the water of what appears to be a large lake.
Bears relaxing in the nature

What to Do With Coffee Grounds When Backpacking

When you choose to hike and carry coffee, especially if not in sealed single serve packets you need to work to make sure you keep the smells under control to stop wild animals, including bears, from visiting you.

Most hikers should carry an OPSAK, like this one, to help conceal the smells prior to use and then to store the trash afterwards. Then you will pack this all out until you find a trash can and then you can deposit the food in the proper trash receptacle.

Please don’t think you can leave them in the firepit, or bury them, or other way to enable you to stop carrying them out. This will pull in wild animals who will then cause problems for other hikers and backpackers on the trail and maybe lead to the animals death.

Final Thoughts on If Coffee Grounds Attract Bears

If you love to enjoy coffee on the trail there are options to help you cut down on the weight and need to carry grounds until you can find a real trash can that will save you some effort.

I would say look to things like Coffee featured on Garage Grown Gear and similar ones from less cottage on REI and Amazon. There are also easy ones like Folgers you can probably find at your grocery store to test more.

If you choose to bring a full on coffee setup then you will need a loksak to hold in all the odors of the coffee grinds and carry them out following strong LNT principles to drop in the trash later.

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