Bears are incredible creatures that are exciting to see, but they are also incredibly dangerous and should only be observed from a safe distance. These gorgeous and powerful beasts are unpredictable and territorial, so before you end up in an area inhabited by black bears, grizzlies, or both, you need to step up your backcountry survival skills a notch. Should you see or come into contact with a bear while hiking or camping, we hope you’ll be able to remember these tips. They just might save you!
Before heading out for the woods you should always plan your trip. This includes researching the rules and regulations for your destination.
Most locations offer important information on bears and bear-related regulations, so you know what to pack, and what to expect while you’re out on the trails. More specifically, some national parks require bear canisters and some don’t.
In national parks where many bears live, rangers will often encourage visitors to carry bear spray. But remember, bear spray isn’t permitted at Yosemite where black bears live, which is why it’s important to know the specific bear rules of your destination.
It’s also important to read up on the rules and regulations to find out what gear you will need (ie. bear spray). Some parks offer bear-proof metal lockers to store food at some campsites, which would also help lighten your load and save space in your pack.
How to Avoid Bears While Hiking
- Avoid hiking at dawn or dusk when bears are most active.
- Hike in a group and stay close. Bears are less likely to attack groups.
- Make noise while you’re hiking to avoid surprising a bear. Do not whistle or scream, as bears can mistake these sounds for an animal in pain, which ultimately attracts them.
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times (you don’t want to be caught off guard by a bear).
- Carry bear spray (when permitted). Bear spray contains red pepper derivatives that affect the eyes and respiratory system. A canister of bear spray empties in 7-9 seconds and is effective at a distance of 12-30 feet. *Do not use it like mosquito repellent, if not used correctly it can actually attract bears.
How to Keep Bears Away from Camp
- Do NOT leave food unattended
- Store food properly in bear canisters, bear bags, provided metal lockers or hang it from a pole or tree. You should be storing any food, snacks, empty food containers, cookware, personal hygiene products, all trash, and even the clothing you wore while cooking since all food odors are highly attractive to bears. You should also cook food and wash dishes away from your tent.
- Follow Leave No Trace principles
Encountering a Bear: How to Avoid an Attack
First things first, you should NEVER approach a bear. Never. Ever. NEVER EVER. Keep your distance! Follow these general rules when in the presence of black bears or grizzly bears.
Black bears live throughout most of the country, so you are likely to see one at some point on your trips. Here’s what to do if you encounter a black bear.
- Raise your arms to look as large as you can and yell loudly, make noise, throw objects to scare it and grab a sturdy stick for defense.
- If you’re near camp, lock away any food or grab it and carry it with you - do NOT let the bear get it.
- If you’re continuing to back away and the bear comes towards you and seems more interested in the food, drop the food as a last resort and move away.
- Even if a bear seems harmless, keep trying to scare it and back away.
- If the bear does attack you, do NOT play dead. Instead, fight back aggressively, use sticks, rocks and punch its eyes and nose.
Grizzlies live in Western Canada, Alaska and a few places in the lower 48 so you may not see them as often. They have distinctive characteristics such as a shoulder hump, small rounded ears, and a concave face profile. Here’s what to do if you encounter a grizzly bear.
- If it stands up and looks at you, talk calmly, do not make eye contact, and back away.
- If it charges you, but it’s not a full-blown attack, try not to panic; stand your ground and talk to the bear. Be friendly and get your bear spray ready.
- If it attacks you silently with its head low and ears back, use your bear spray at 30 feet away. It’s important to not spray too early, and aim low so you don’t miss the bears head.
- If your bear spray fails or you don’t have any, the best thing you can do is play dead. To do so, lie flat on your stomach with your feet spread apart and your hands behind your neck to avoid being flipped over. If you do get flipped over, keep rolling until you’re on your stomach again.
Pro Tip: Keep your distance from bear cubs. Mother bears are very dangerous and have a tendency to charge and attack without warning (who can blame her?).
Take some time to do your own research on proper bear encounter techniques before your next trip. Remember, bears are as dangerous and powerful as anything else in nature. Respect their space - and they won’t eat your face!