Bear Safety For Hikers

Black Bear
Black Bear

When you’re plan­ning your next adven­ture, make sure you keep bear safe­ty in mind.

Know Your Bears
There are three kinds of bears in North Amer­i­ca: black bears, griz­zly bears, and polar bears. Black bears are the small­est and least aggres­sive and are iden­ti­fi­able by their straight muz­zle, point­ed ears, dark claws, and lack of a hump. Griz­zlies are larg­er, lighter in col­or, and have round­ed ears and a shoul­der hump. Polar bears are the most aggres­sive but are only found in the Arc­tic regions.

When you’re plan­ning your trip, research what kinds of wildlife you’re like­ly to encounter. Check with local experts and call local rangers or land man­age­ment if you have any ques­tions about the pro­to­col. The locals will know their bears and are always hap­py to share advice on how to inter­act with them safe­ly and respect­ful­ly.

Grizzly Bear
Griz­zly Bear

Make Noise
Most bears are inclined to avoid con­tact with humans, and will often leave the area if they hear peo­ple approach­ing. Unin­tend­ed encoun­ters hap­pen most often when bears are sur­prised and feel cor­nered or trapped—so tell them you’re com­ing! Tie a bell to your back­pack, sing out loud as you’re hik­ing, clap your hands, what­ev­er suits your fancy—just make enough noise so that they know you’re there.

On trails or in envi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions that might make it hard for ani­mals to see, smell, or hear approach­ing par­ties, make sure to pay extra atten­tion to mak­ing your­self known. For exam­ple: if you’re walk­ing into the wind, bears might not smell you. Blind cor­ners or trails that ascend hills might block their view of approach­ing hik­ers. Berry patch­es or rivers with fish might dis­tract bears, and low light con­di­tions at dawn or dusk can reduce vis­i­bil­i­ty.

Keep a Clean Camp
When you get to camp, imme­di­ate­ly coor­di­nate with the rest of your par­ty to estab­lish a plan for keep­ing your camp­site clean. Nev­er leave food unat­tend­ed and store all edi­bles, food con­tain­ers, cook­ware, scent­ed prod­ucts (like lip balm, sun­screen, and scent­ed wipes) and trash (includ­ing fem­i­nine hygiene prod­ucts) in a bear can­is­ter, food lock­er, or in a stuff sack hung in a tree or bear wire at least ten feet off the ground (which is out of a bear’s reach.) Nev­er throw garbage into toi­lets, and be wary of leav­ing any­thing that a bear might mis­take for food in a locked car—they’ve been known to break win­dows in search of a snack.

Keep in mind that bear safe­ty at camp­sites is a team sport, too. If the site next to you attracts a bear, it’s as much your prob­lem as it is theirs. Com­mu­ni­cate with fel­low users, and don’t be afraid to ask local rangers for advice or assis­tance.

Polar Bear
Polar Bear

In Case of Encoun­ters
If you see bears at a dis­tance of more than 100 yards, observe them respect­ful­ly. Keep the animal’s line of trav­el unin­hib­it­ed, and always make sure they have an escape route so they don’t feel trapped or cor­nered. Move away if they approach you—every bear has his own require­ments for per­son­al space, and you want to error on the side of safe­ty.

If you’re close to a bear, back away slow­ly. Try to assume a non-threat­en­ing posture—turn side­ways, be qui­et, and act sub­mis­sive. Don’t make direct eye con­tact, which might be inter­pret­ed as threat­en­ing.

Con­sid­er Car­ry­ing Bear Spray
If you trav­el fre­quent­ly in areas where bear encoun­ters are com­mon, con­sid­er car­ry­ing an aerosol pep­per spray designed specif­i­cal­ly for ani­mals. Sprays are effec­tive, non-tox­ic, non-lethal tools to deter aggres­sive bears. Read the instruc­tions care­ful­ly, prac­tice with a dum­my spray, and remem­ber: car­ry­ing spray is not an excuse to get slop­py with pre­ven­tion and good habits.