Part of a backcountry adventure is being immersed in nature and the possibility of seeing wildlife first-hand. It is always fascinating to see animals in their natural habitat. However, there are times that the encounter could be dangerous, especially in the case of bears. These creatures are beautiful, but could be dangerous. Here are some tips that you should use when exploring bear country.
Featured Photo: Bears (photo by Claire Denesovych)
Information is your best tool
Try to find out as much as you can about the area you are planning to explore. Knowing the wildlife in the park will help you prepare for what you may need.
Be in the now
The beauty of nature could be very enthralling at times that you forget where you are. Just make sure that you remain aware of your surroundings at all times so you will not be caught off guard by the presence of a bear. Listen to the sounds around you and look ahead frequently for bears.
Noise is your friend
When exploring bear country, talking loudly could help. The noise you produce could alert bears of your presence and most of the time will cause them to move away.
Avoid being alone in the dark
Never hike alone at night. Bears may be active at dawn or dusk, so encountering them at night is definitely possible. If this happens, having numbers will greatly help fend them off.
Stay on the trail
Most parks have marked trails that have been tested to be the best and safest route. You will have a better chance of avoiding the bears when staying on these trails.
Fresh scat is a sign of nearby bears
Should you encounter fresh bear scat (filled with berries) on the trail, it is best to be even more vigilant. They could mean that bears are still close by. If possible, choose a different path or make a lot of noise to alert them of your presence.
Less scents make more sense
Aromatic or strong smells could attract bears so it would be wise to stay away from strong scents at a minimum and if unavoidable; store them in sealed containers. This does not only apply to food but to other items like cosmetics, lotions and other odorous items.
Keep the “kitchen” far away
Since strong smells could attract bears, it is best to cook your food at least 100 feet away from your campsite, or avoid cooking and bring pre-cooked meals if possible. Some campsites will provide bear-proof containers which we highly recommend. If these are not available, hanging your food is your best option.
A fed bear is a dead bear
Never feed bears, or other wildlife for that matter. They might associate humans with food and cause trouble for other hikers. In extreme cases, the animal may be put down.
A neat camper is a safe camper
Keep all your gear and supplies packed and close by. Do not leave them unattended so that they will not attract wildlife. If unavoidable, store them in bear-proof containers or hang them up in a tree.
A snapshot is not worth your life
Keep your distance from wild animals. As much as it is enticing to take a better photo of the bear up close; risking your life foolishly is never worth that photo.
What to bring into Bear Country
Here are some additional tools that you could use to help you:
- Airtight containers or zip-lock bags: these are very useful in storing food or items with strong smells.
- Binoculars or cameras with zoom lenses: You could use them to scout the trail or view wildlife/snap a photo from a good distance.
- Bear spray: Although these are to be used only when absolutely necessary, we suggest that each hiker have one of these when in bear country. Be sure the spray is not expired and you know how to use it.
How to Survive a Bear Encounter
Should you still have an encounter with a bear out in the wild, here are some reminders that will help:
- Try to find out if it is a Black or a Brown (Grizzly) Bear. Other than their coloration, black bears are usually smaller than grizzly bears.
- For black bears, shouting at them usually scares them off.
- Never run away from a bear. This could cause them to chase you. If necessary, walk away sideways, like a crab.
- When using bear spray, use it when the bear is relatively close otherwise the spray/mist could dissipate and will be of no use.
- If a brown or grizzly bear gets too close, you could play dead. Lay on your stomach with your hands at the back of your head. Use your gear and backpack to cover as much of you to serve as protection should the bear attack.
- If attacked by a black bear, playing dead is not recommended. Fight back with your pack, trekking poles, sticks, etc. and hope that you can scare it off.
By following these tips, you should have a safe trip even through the densest bear country.
Do you have any suggestions regarding bear awareness? If so, let us know via a comment below and also check out the rest of our blog for other backpacking tips.