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Are bears, cougars and other predators attracted or repelled by human urine? I often establish a perimeter when camping in bear country by peeing in different spots outside of camp. Is it effective or am I watering a lot of different rocks? — In search of number one.
Pee, by any other name, always smells the same, and bears, lions, and other predators are interested in anything that smells interesting. Stephen Herrero’s book BEar attacks: their causes and their avoidance, considered the definitive work by many authorities, says “human feces/urine attracts bears and should not be near your campsite”. The National Park Service also promotes this belief, adding that salt in urine attracts wildlife (including bears and lions) and should be deposited away from camp. There are people, however, who disagree with urine as an attraction and believe that human urine deters curious bears. But the majority of experts oppose this view.
Two other no-no’s you should be aware of: you don’t have to bury the urine; and you should not pee on vegetation. Urine is harmful to many species of plants. Move about 100 yards from camp to urinate in large predator country, and you should be far enough away for a safe deposit. Finally, you can pee fearlessly in large bodies of moving water for the safest bet of all.
So how can you actually keep bears away from your camp? To start, make sure nothing attracts them: store food and scented waste safely and cook at least 50 to 100 meters from your camp. Applying bear spray to your tent will not keep curious bears away. In fact, it’s not unlikely to attract them, since the pepper products in pepper spray smell like food. Anecdotally, some campers who have tried it have woken up to find bears licking their shelters. If you’re camping in an area with a high population of grizzly bears or even around polar bears, a portable electric fence is another option for keeping a solid perimeter around where you plan to sleep.
Originally published in 2008; last update January 2022