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Sleeping in minivan, bear safety tips?
I am going to dip my toes in the water and do a trip up towards Michigan from Florida this summer. I own a Honda Odyssey and bought a couple of cots for my SO and i to sleep on. Since it is summer, will bring a battery operated fan.  I also bought one of those tents you can attach to lift gate to get maximum ventilation.  All camping will be in state parks along the way.  

I have backpacked, camped for days from my canoe and kayak all in wilderness but never camped in a van in a state park. Food is kept in bear canister when in wilderness and away from tent. If in a state park or national park, I stash food in car and sleep in tent.  Where do you put food and hygiene products when van camping? I now feel that tent on lift gate might not be a good idea if my food is in the van with me?  

What do you all do?
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My experience when camping in state parks in bear country is that they have bear vaults at the camp site where you can lock up food and toiletries when not in use. If there's no vault available in bear country, I sleep with all windows rolled up tight and the vents closed (recirculation mode).

Your planned trip sounds wonderful. Safe travels!

Solo travel in a Prius --
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Other than canned food and canned drinks I have always kept my food and trash in the truck cab with me when I sleep there in the back country. This includes the dog food. I do leave the windows cracked for ventilation, even in Grizzly country, but not wide open. My dogs are good at alerting when critters are nearby so I would have some warning. If you have a tent set up which attaches to the minivan with the tailgate open I wouldn't be doing this.

I would treat your set-up just like camping in a tent...don't keep the food with you. I wouldn't mess with the tent part personally and just leave the windows cracked at night...with some bear spray close by.
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My best advice is to ask at the state/national campground.  Rangers will have the best information for their area.

I grew up in Northern Minnesota, canoed, tent camped, and backpacked since 12 Y.O.  Most of my adult backpacking has been in grizzly country.  I've never had a problem; always hang my food when in a tent.  Problem I have had is with rodents getting into the food stash.

Camping in a vehicle:
  1. Ask and follow the rangers advice.
  2. Keep a clean camp.
  3. Use bear vaults if provided; their presence means that they have had enough problems to install them.
  4. If no ranger or vault, keep food in sealed containers, out of site in your vehicle.
Serious bear encounters are way down the list of dangers in the wilderness.

 -- Spiff
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Using the search function you'll find there are a couple of older threads that cover various issues with regard to camping in bear country

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As others have said if bears are an issue in the park you're in, the staff, rangers, signs, etc will make it well known and will they tell you how to handle everything. I have a Yeti Cooler which is rated bear proof and can stash my food in that and away from camp if necessary. At any rate, bear encounters are rare, attacks even more so, and once again even more rare from Black bears which would be all you might encounter on the East coast of the country.
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Lots of good advice here.  One last bear safety tip:


Life is not about discovering yourself.  Life is about creating yourself!

Talk is cheap because of simple economics: The supply FAR exceeds the demand!
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The following 2 users say Thank You to Optimistic Paranoid for this post:
GrayWhale (12-28-2017), Gunny (04-20-2017)
Well, I guess I won't be bringing that tent that clips on to the lift gate, LOL!  I will make some screens for the side doors and get more info from park management.  However, I am an avid paddler/camper here in Everglades National park and the rangers down here know very little about the backcountry. They are seasonal and it takes them a while to figure things out. Take what they say with a grain of salt unless they are year round rangers.
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Can't speak for farther north, but I've never heard of a bear issue anywhere in Illinois or most of the Midwest.  So bring your tent, you will DEFINITELY need the airflow in the summer up here.  Think FL humidity, without the ocean breeze.  (I'm from IL and have a place in New Smyrna)
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BTW, are you bringing something to paddle?? There are some wonderful lakes and rivers to throw a boat into.
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