Can a Bear Smell Food in a Yeti Cooler?

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Have you ever gone camping in bear country, pulled into the campground to check-in, and had the groundskeeper remind you to keep your food locked up so a bear can’t get it? It can be a nerve-wracking thing to hear if you didn’t come prepared. But you have a Yeti cooler, so you’re safe, right?

Bears can smell food in a Yeti cooler because they have a sense of smell that is about 2100 times greater than that of humans. To keep your food and other items safe from bears while storing them inside a Yeti cooler, use bear canisters, and bags. 

Don’t worry, there are ways to prevent your food from being destroyed by keeping it in bear-safe containers. A Yeti Tundra is one of them. Read on to find out more.

Keeping Your Food Safe From Bears

Whether you’re out for the day, living in your van, or camping in the backcountry, preventing bears from getting into your stash of food might be something you need to consider. Bears are quick learners and it doesn’t take them long to learn to associate people with food. 

Remember Yogi Bear and his insatiable appetite for picnic baskets?

So even if you are careful to clean the outside of your containers, dispose of waste properly, and cook food away from camp, a bear is likely going to investigate, even if he can’t smell the food from far away. 

Bear Canister

There are several companies that make bear-safe canisters and bear bags. A bear safe canister, like this clear, lightweight model by BearVault Bear Canister for Backpacking from, can be thrown in your backpack or wedged between rocks to keep it safe. 

A bear is still going to smell the items inside, but if he finds it wedged between some rocks or sitting somewhere close to camp, he’s likely going to fumble around with it, give up, and move on. 

Bear canisters are round-shaped to make it difficult for the bear to be able to grip. Make sure when choosing a bear canister, go for one that is IGBC certified so that you know it has been tested. The IGBC stands for Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and is a trusted organization when looking for bear-proof items. 

Bear Bag

A bear bag is another option. Again, a bear is going to be able to smell the items inside, but the goal with a bear bag is to store it in a way that makes it very difficult for the bear to reach it.

You want to toss your bear bag over a sturdy branch so you can fill it then elevate your food. Aim for at least 6’ (1.82 m) from the trunk of the tree, otherwise, the bear can just climb the tree to get the goods. 


What if you are going to be camping overnight or you are staying in your van and have food that needs to stay chilled? That brings us to the subject of coolers. Bears can most likely smell food inside of a cooler, no matter what cooler you use. 

Depending on where you are, it is sometimes recommended that you keep food inside a cooler, inside your vehicle also. If a bear is accustomed to people, he probably knows how to get inside a car as well. 

Picking a cooler that is right for you can be a daunting task. 

Because you need to choose one that is resistant to bears, it becomes even more difficult. Since a bear’s sense of smell is about 2100 times greater than ours, you will need to assume that a bear can smell the food inside wherever cooler you choose, including a Yeti. 

Whether they smell the food on the outside of the cooler or recognize that coolers usually contain things they want to get into, you’ll need to choose a cooler that is certified bear-resistant by the IGBC. 

Coolers with this endorsement will have a sticker on them stating they are bear-resistant. They are made of more than one thick wall of plastic with rounded edges on the lid complete with holes drilled so they can be locked

My Pick: The Yeti Tundra 35

All Yeti coolers are certified bear-resistant. They most likely have a Yeti that is the perfect size for your specific needs.

YETI Tundra 35 Cooler, Seafoam
  • The YETI Tundra 35 is portable enough for one person to haul while still having an impressive carrying capacity of up to 20 cans with a recommended 2:1 ice-to-contents ratio

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For me and my needs, the Yeti Tundra 35 Cooler from is my top pick for bear-resistant coolers because this cooler has been manufactured for many years and has been built to withstand the roughest treatment. 

Yeti has perfected the art of keeping a bear out of your food with their coolers, but the Yeti Tundra 35 is my top pick because it’s small enough for me to carry into the backcountry when I’m alone. 

Bear-Proofing Your Yeti Cooler

The lid of any hard-shelled Yeti cooler has a place for a lock on both sides, and yes, you do need to have it locked for it to be considered bearproof. If you don’t, it’s possible for the bear to rip off the rubber lid latches with his teeth. 

YETI Bear Proof Locks
  • Set of two solid brass padlocks prevent thieves and bears from accessing cooler contents
  • Tested in controlled bear simulations and with wild grizzly bears
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Yeti Bear Proof Locks from makes these great padlocks which you can buy in sets of two that have been thoroughly tested up against actual grizzly bears which you can see in this clever YouTube video by Yeti. 

You can see in the video that the bear pulls at the latches and scrapes at the sides of the cooler, but due to its design coupled with the padlocks, he’s unable to get in and eventually moves on. 


As I wrote earlier, it’s safest to assume that a bear can smell your food inside your cooler, including in your Yeti. Hopefully, you have learned a few things about storing your food and can make a decision based on the method that suits your needs the best. 

You can’t go wrong with a Yeti and some locks for the lid. Whether he can smell the food or not, your food is safe from that bear.

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