Hiking, mountain-biking and camping in bear habitat is an awesome way to spend any amount of time. Plus, seeing a bear is far more likely to enhance your wilderness experience than spoil it. Knowing what to do and how to behave when the moment comes will keep you and the bear safe and your spirits high! With these 10 bear safety tips I hope to help keep your wilderness experiences positive and conflict free.
10 Bear Safety Tips
1. Be prepared! Learn how and why bears behave and know how to react to an encounter or attack. If you’re having fun in grizzly country, make sure you can tell the difference between a black and a grizzly (brown) bear.
2. Before setting out, check with the appropriate authorities (wildlife officers, park rangers or similar) to see if there has been any bear activity along your route. Obey all trail closures and information signs. If there are bears in the area, consider choosing a different route.
3. Always, always carry bear spray or another deterrent. The key is to also know how to use it. Bear spray can be purchased at many outdoor stores especially ones close to bear country.
4. Stay alert and watch for bears and bear signs. Tracks, trampled vegetation or scat are all signs that bears may be nearby. Be especially alert where bear foods are abundant including berries.
5. Make noise. If a bear hears you coming, it will usually avoid you. Warn bears of your presence by talking calmly and loudly, clapping or singing, especially in heavy brush or a turn in the trail makes it so visibility may be limited or around rivers or streams where bears have trouble hearing you coming. Your voice will help identify you as human and non-threatening.
6. Travel in a group during daylight hours. Especially in grizzly country. There is no record of a bear attacking a larger group of people. At least don’t hike alone, if you can avoid it.
7. Avoid animal carcasses. Make a wide detour if you smell or see signs of a dead animal (e.g. ravens circling). Black and grizzly bears can kill large animals for food, and they are attracted to carcasses that have been killed by other causes. Leave the area if possible.
8. Keep dogs on a leash and under control. Dogs may be helpful in detecting bears, but they may also agitate them and create a conflict situation – sometimes returning to their humans with the bear in pursuit.
9. Keep your distance. Never approach bears. If a bear (or any animal) approaches, back away in order to maintain a safe distance. Use binoculars, spotting scopes and telephoto lenses to view and photograph wild animals up close. Get more tips here.
10. Secure all potential bear attractants. This includes all food, toiletries, cookware, etc. Never feed a bear, either intentionally or unintentionally, by being careless with your garbage or food scraps. Always store your food and garbage in a bear-proof container or hang it in a tree when backpacking or in a hard-sided vehicle if car or RV camping. The following are campsite rules to be followed to ensure safety for both you and bears.
“Bare Campsite” Rules
Follow these rules whenever you leave your campsite unattended for any length of time. This includes at night when you’re sleeping, when going for a hike, swim or to the bathroom. If no human is around, then it better be clean.
What Attracts Bears?
Anything that has an odor or could be considered food may attract wildlife to your site.
- Coolers – either full or empty
- Food and Condiments
- Garbage/Plastic Bags
- Pet Food/Bowls
- Bottles/Cans – either full or empty
- Tablecloths (think crumbs left behind from your sandwich)
- Toiletries including Sunscreen, Bug Spray, deodorant, toothpaste
- Camp Stoves & BBQs
- ANY items associated with food preparation or clean up (soap, towels, & clothing worn while cooking)