Bear Safety Tips

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Every year people die from bear attacks, yet we are often told that confrontations with bears can easily be avoided, and that even if you do encounter a bear there are things you can do to scare it off/make it realize you’re not a threat.

If you’re planning on going hiking/camping into the wilderness (or to places where you might find bears), it’s important to make sure you’re prepared.

During my time I’ve heard so many conflicting pieces of bear safety advice that I thought I’d research it for myself to find out just what the best way to protect yourself from bears is.

Bear protection can be split into two categories: How to keep bears away from you (and your camp) and what to do when you do encounter a bear.

So how do you go about avoiding bears in the first place, and what should you do if you do accidentally run into one? Let’s find out…

Educate Yourself

Also, it’s important to know which kind of bears you’ll be encountering. Black bears and grizzlies are the two most common found in the USA, and they should be handled differently.

Grizzlies are typically the more aggressive of the two, whereas black bears are tend to scare a lot more easily.

You’ll want to be able to identify both kinds of bear upon sighting, so that you’ll know how to act and so that you can accurately report it later.

Grizzly Bear

How to Hike in Bear Country

When you’re out hiking in the wild, it’s important to remember that you’re in the bear’s territory and that you need to respect them. Most bear attacks are out of self-defense (i.e. the bear is trying to protect her cubs) and can be easily avoided.

It’s advisable to hike in large groups (as there’s safety in numbers, and bears will be unlikely to attack a large group).

Also, try to avoid areas where bears have been recently spotted. Keep an eye out for bear feces as this is an indication a bear may be close by.

What to Take in Your Backpack
Here’s a quick video of the different things you can take in your backpack when heading into bear country:

What to Do if You See a Bear

Don’t Run
Don’t run away. You’ll never outrun a bear, and by running you’ll entice the bear to chase you (as you ‘stimulate the animal’s predatory response’).

In addition to this, don’t try climbing a tree, as both grizzly and black bears can climb extremely well (in fact, some bears are said to be able to climb faster than they can run!)

Instead of running or climbing, stand your ground and try to make yourself look as large as possible (by holding your arms up). You want the bear to recognize you as being human, so by speaking outloud to the bear you can help it identify you as just that.

Be Loud
Very often you can scare bears off before they ever become a problem. By traveling in groups and talking loudly (as well as using ‘bear bells’) you can make your presence known and help bears to avoid you altogether.

Worst-Case Scenario – What to Do if a Bear Charges at You
Yellowstone Park ranger Kerry Gunther has this to offer:

“That nanosecond before it hits you, drop to the ground and play dead. By putting your hands behind your neck so your elbows protect the sides of your face, you’re more likely to survive an attack (bears usually go for the head and face). Being passive will usually put a stop to the aggressive behavior and send the bear on its way”

How to Keep Bears Out of Your Campsite

Just like most other animals, bears will try and do whatever it takes to get a meal when they’re hungry.

Bear bagKeeping food in your tent is a big no-no, as bears will be able to smell it and won’t have any hesitation trying to take it from you.

Many designated campsites (such as the ones in Yosemite) will have special boxes that you can leave you food in.

These boxes lock tight and stop the scent of your food from escaping, meaning it won’t attract and bears.

When you’re camping out in the wilderness, make sure to hang your food from a tree branch in a ‘bear bag’ away from your campsite.

This means that even if they can smell it, it’ll be too high up for them to reach, and it’ll keep them away from your camp.

Here’s a quick video talking about this:

Remember that the odds of ever seeing a bear (even when out in Yosemite or other bear hotspots) are extremely slim.

Don’t let the threat of bear attacks ruin your trip or discourage you from doing the things you enjoy doing.

That being said, it’s always best to be prepared and to take the proper precautions just in case.

Related posts:

  1. Travel Safety Tips – Staying Safe While You’re Abroad

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