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Top Bear Safety Tips Every Hiker and Camper Should Know

Posted by Raine Vergara on

Top Bear Safety Tips Every Hiker and Camper Should Know

One of the biggest thrills about camping and hiking is seeing wildlife in action. It's not every day that one witnesses these majestic creatures firsthand. Whether it be a bear, a deer, a moose or something else, they should all be observed only from an appropriate distance for your safety.

If you're planning to visit bear country, there are 2 important things you should learn about - how to take precautions to lessen the chance of a bear encounter and what to do if you actually have one.

Bear Safety Preparation Tips

  • Learn the bear-related regulation of the area - Bear territories in different areas have different rules and regulations. For example, in Grand Teton and Glacier National Parks which are inhabited by grizzlies, visitors are encouraged to arm themselves with bear spray. In Yosemite National Park where only black bears live, carrying bear spray is not allowed. Some parks also require canisters and some don't.
  • Familiarize yourself with your chosen campsite/hiking trail - It's important to know the area you're planning to camp or hike. Find out what type of bear inhabits the area and learn their habits. It's wise to call the park office or the local park ranger beforehand - they will be able to update you with recent bear sightings and let you know which parts of the park to avoid.
  • Always carry bear spray - Experts believe that bear spray may be one's best defense against a bear attack, so it's the most important thing you should pack before heading to bear country. Consider range and duration when buying your spray (the average being 12-30 feet for 7-9 secs). More importantly, KNOW how to use it. Always keep it on you. Practice removing the spray from the holster as well as removing the safety wedge. In doing so, you'll be able to stay calm and rely on muscle memory during a bear encounter.

Note: Pack at least 2 cans of bear spray. This way, you'll have a spare and a second line of defense in case you've used 1 can in a bear attack.

Tips To Help Lessen The Chance Of A Bear Encounter:

  • Don't hike alone - When in bear territory, it's better to hike in a group of 4 or more. Larger groups are less likely to be attacked. Also, DO NOT hike at dawn or dusk as those are the times when bears are most active.
  • Make your presence known on the trail - It's very crucial not to startle a bear. In order not to surprise them, make loud noises while hiking so they can hear you from a distance and let them know of your presence. Try shouting words, talking or singing loudly, clapping, or clacking trekking poles together every so often. The National Park Service advises not to scream or use a whistle (bears can mistake these sounds as an animal in pain and may attract them). Take nature sounds into consideration - a noisy stream, dense vegetation, wind and more can prevent a bear from hearing you.
  • Store food properly and keep odors at bay- To discourage bears from coming to your campsite, always keep your food and trash organized. Never leave food out unattended - always use a bear bag or cannister to store any leftovers. Any food, snacks, food containers and cookware (even clean ones), fragrant hygiene products, trash, and even the clothes you used for cooking should be stowed away properly. Cook, wash dishes and bathe away from your tent.
  • Do not use bear spray unless you encounter one - Bear spray doesn't work like insect repellant. DO NOT spray it into your tent or your things, thinking it will keep bears away. The smell might actually attract bears where you are!

Tips When You Encounter A Bear:

  • Always keep your distance - NEVER APPROACH a bear on the trail when hiking. Keep your distance especially away from cubs - mother bears are particularly dangerous and are known to attack humans as a way of protecting their young. If you spot a bear before it sees you, slowly back away, keeping your eyes on the animal. Stay close as a group to look more imposing. Reroute or postpone your hike if you can't progress on a trail.
  • Get your bear spray ready - If you run into a bear, access your bear spray right away and get ready to deploy it. Never keep your eyes off the bear. Slowly back away - don't turn your back and run. If the animal starts to charge, spray in a sweeping motion at a 45-degree angle downward. This will create a wall of capsaicin that the bear will have to run through, which will irritate his eyes, mouth and nose. The spray can irritate you, too, so be careful.

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