No, Bears Aren’t Attracted to Women on Their Periods

Reno, NV: As Subaru Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers, it is our job to travel the country teaching outdoor workshops on minimum impact practices and sustainable recreation. A large part of this is discussing proper waste disposal techniques in the outdoors, including menstrual waste. In teaching this subject it has shocked us to learn that across the country, spanning all types of recreation, the misconception that bears are attracted to women on their periods still holds strong.

 

According to the Outdoor Industry Association’s annual participation report for 2018, women make up 46% of all outdoor recreation. Why then is this harmful myth that keeps them from getting outdoors still so prevalent?

This belief, which stems from a night of bear attacks in the 1960’s, has for years kept women from participating in outdoor recreation, or caused them to participate less frequently than they otherwise would. We have personally met and talked with women of all ages across the country, hearing their stories of staying home or saying no to outdoor opportunities during one week a month for most of their life. For some women, this has even affected their desire to work in outdoor fields.

So let’s clear up this myth, find out where it comes from, and learn the proper precautions to take while recreating in bear country, whether on your period or not.

Where Does This Myth Come From?

In 1967, two women were killed by bear attacks in Glacier National Park, both on the same night. One women was menstruating, and the other was carrying tampons. In response to these events, the National Park Service issued a statement linking the attacks to menstruation, and later both the NPS and the Forest Service released a pamphlet on bear safety advising women to stay out of bear country during their period, all stemming from the one night of attacks.

What Are the Facts?

We have come a long way since 1967, and while more research still needs to be done, a great deal has been learned about bear habits and attacks as well as their attraction to menstrual blood. Since the 1967 attacks, bears’ habituation to human food has been heavily studied, resulting in many changes to how all outdoor recreationists conduct themselves in bear country. Studies have also disproven that grizzly and black bears are attracted to menstrual blood, and only loosely suggest that polar bears may have some attraction to it.

In 1991 a study found no interest from black bears in the scent of menstrual blood when they were exposed to used tampons and four menstruating women. An analysis in 1985 of hundreds of grizzly bear attacks found no evidence linking any of them, including the 1967 attacks that created the myth to begin with, to an attraction to menstrual waste.

Long story short, unless traveling in polar bear country (and even then the one study done with polar bears is not conclusive) there is no issue with women recreating in bear country while on their periods. The real issue is with bears being attracted to human food and trash.

“Although actual statistics are not available, thousands of menstruating women undoubtedly visited, hiked and/or camped within YNP over the last 36 years. From 1980 through 2015, 46 people were injured by bears (38 by grizzly bear, 5 by black bear, and 3 by bears where the species was not identified) within YNP, an average of only 1.3 bear-inflicted human injuries per year (Gunther 2016). Of these 46 injuries, 36 (78%) were men, and only 10 (22%) were women…. There was no evidence linking menstruation to any of the 10 bear attacks on women.” - Yellowstone National Park

 

What Should I Do in Bear Country?

While bears are not attracted to women on their periods, they are attracted to human food, trash, and smellables, and there are precautions that everyone should take while in bear country.

  • Securely store all food, trash, and smellables (including both used and unused pads or tampons) based on the recommendations for the area you are visiting. Depending on where you are, this may include: a bear locker, cannister, or other bear proof container, a vehicle or solid camper, or suspended in a bear hang 12 feet from the ground and six feet from tree trunk and branch. Never store food, trash, or smellables in your tent.
  • Know what to do if you see a bear
  • Use the “bear” muda triangle when setting up a backcountry country. Your kitchen, sleeping area and food storage should all be 100 yards apart, in the shape of a triangle. Find more Leave No Trace for bear country tips here.
  • Pads, tampons, toilet paper, wipes, and all trash and food scraps should be packed out with you. Find more Leave No Trace tips for periods here.
  • Never bury any food, trash, tampons, or pads
  • If using a menstrual cup, waste will be disposed of in a 6-8 inch deep cathole at least 200 feet away from water, trails, and campsites.

 

Share this information with friends, family, outdoor groups, or whoever you get outside with so that everyone is able to #EnjoyTheirWorld and #LeaveNoTrace, regardless of gender.

 

Leave No Trace's Erin Collier and Brice Esplin are part of the 2018 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, REI, Eagles Nest Outfitters, Deuter, Thule, Taxa and Klean Kanteen.