Bears are no joke, and safety when you’re working in or exploring their territory is no joke, either. If your next day hike, expedition, or job takes you deep into bear country, use these safety tips to help keep yourself safe and leave the bears happy.
1. Make Noise
Many negative bear incidents occur when the animal is taken by surprise and reacts suddenly to the unknown. One way to prevent surprise encounters is to go ahead and make noise while walking in bear territory. Converse with your hiking buddies, and just talk at a normal volume. Use a bell or whistle as you hike. If you’re approaching a blind spot, clap, or yell a few times to be sure the coast is clear.
2. Stay Alert
It’s fine to appreciate the scenery and soak in the sights of nature, but always be on the alert when hiking or camping in areas that bears are known to inhabit. Regularly scan your surroundings — it’s better if you see a bear before it sees you. If you do see a bear in the distance, try to stay downwind while you quietly retreat.
3. Watch for Signs
Keep an eye open for signs of bear activity, such as scat, broken trails, tracks, and markings. These can alert you to the recent presence of a bear. Stay away from animal carcasses; bears are attracted to these areas.
4. Hike with Friends
Generally, experts feel that bears are less likely to attack a group of people. Negative incidents with bears tend to involve a lone hiker. Travel together and stay safe.
5. Don’t Run
If you do see a bear, don’t run. This may encourage it to chase you, and all bear subspecies are very fast. Always retreat slowly. This is especially true if the bear is standing up on its hind legs or making warning noises. It’s trying to figure you out, and running won’t help the situation.
6. Carry Deterrent
Bear pepper spray, or bear mace, is a highly effective method of stopping a bear that’s approaching you. Most bear sprays become effective at about 40–60 feet from the animal. Practice ahead of time so that you know exactly how to rapidly arm and operate the spray if the need arises.
7. Pack Out Trash
If you’ll be camping in bear country, it’s critical to keep a handle on your trash. If you hauled it in, you need to haul it out. Even the smallest bit of garbage — whether that’s an empty can of Rip It Energy or a potato chip bag — may have food smells that can attract hungry bears.
8. Store Your Food Safely
Nothing will attract bears to your campsite like food smells, so it’s highly important to contain all of your food in bear-proof containers. Hanging your food cache from a tree and hoisting it into the air can work, but this takes practice.
9. Know the Species
In the rare event that you’re attacked by a bear, it’s critical to know that there are different defense methods depending on the species. Grizzly/brown bears require different defense methods than polar or black bears. Learn what types of bears are in your area and how to defend yourself.
10. Avoid Dens
Under no circumstance should you approach a bear’s den. If you see cubs, leave the area immediately. The sow won’t be far away and can be very protective of her young.
Don’t stop here — continue to educate yourself as you prep for your trip into the wilderness. Read up about the species of bear you may encounter in the area you’re heading; knowledge is the key to safety.