One of the best things about hiking is the chance to encounter wild animals. It is thrilling to see a fox or other critter while on the trail. But what happens if you run into something a little more dangerous? A bear perhaps?
Fear and panic can lead you into a situation in which you make things worse, not better. To alleviate fear, it is important to increase your knowledge on the subject so that you will know what to do when the time comes.
Because if you do any bit of hiking in bear country, that time will come. I have seen plenty over my years of hiking.
9 Tips For Avoiding Bears While Hiking
1. Avoid Areas With Known Bear Sightings
The best way to avoid running into a bear on the trail, don’t go hiking in places they have been known to frequent. Before going on a hike, research the trail to see if others have mentioned any recent sightings in the area.
There is a plethora of websites these days that can help in this research. A simple google search might be enough, or you could visit the comment sections on Alltrails.com that cover the trail you are planning on hiking.
2. Avoid Hiking During Dawn Or Dusk
Some of the best experiences on the trail occur during the early morning or late evening hours, but this is also the time when bears are most active. An easy way to avoid the chance of having a bear encounter during the spring or summer is to save your hike for the midday.
If you are looking for that sunset photo, you always have the fall and winter months when bears are less active or even hibernating.
3. Hike In Groups
Hiking with others is a great way to avoid bears while hiking. Not only does a larger group of people look a little more intimidating to a bear, but normally there is a lot of chatter going on. It is this chatter that will scare off bears long before you ever get a chance to see one.
4. Make A LOT Of Noise
If you are out hiking the trails on your own, it is best to make some noise while doing it. Stomping loudly. Humming a tune. Rustling leaves. Jen likes to sing to the bears (the ones that aren’t actually there).
These are all ways that you can alert a bear of your presence so that they do not get surprised by you.
Bears are normally pretty shy creatures, so if given the chance to slink away undetected, they’ll take it. So why not give them a chance to avoid encounters with you by letting them know you are there.
5. Carry Bear Spray
Bear Spray is a great precautionary Item to have on you when hiking in grizzly country. It is not so much needed in areas frequented in black bear country.
Places like Yosemite encourage you not to carry bear spray because only black bears live in this area. But if you find yourself in grizzly country such as the Tetons and Glacier NP, you better be ready.
Bear spray is not a repellent, like a mosquito spray would be. Spraying bear spray on your clothes will not repel bears but may in fact attract them. Bear spray should only be used when an attack seems imminent.
6. Be Aware
It is important to always be aware of your surroundings while hiking. Liken yourself to a tracker. Watch for bear tracks or tree rubs. Look for scat or fresh kills.
Bends in trails, dense vegetation, watering holes are also areas to be aware of while hiking. These can be places that bears frequent or can be found by surprise.
Also, don’t be that guy wearing earbuds on the trail. If you are busy listening to music or a podcast while out hiking, you will miss signs of a possible bear. So be aware, use all of your senses and be ready.
7. Keep Dogs On Leash
There is nothing scarier than having your dog encounter a bear while off leash on a trail. Dogs off leash tend to run ahead and get into trouble that they are no match for. A dog facing down a bear, will not only put your dog in danger, but now you are in the position to have to try and save your dog, which will put you in danger as well.
Be a responsible dog owner for the sake of the wildlife and keep your pet leashed. After all, you are in their house while out on the trail, respect that.
8. Keep Children Within Sight
Same thing goes for kids. Having them run ahead on a trail might just put them face to face with a mamma bear protecting her cubs. That is no place for a kid.
Before heading out on a trail, explain to your kids the possible hazards and precautions that they should take. A good bear story leading to the need for children to stay close to their parents tends to work wonders.
9. Keep Food Tightly Packed
Minimizing odors from your food can really help decrease your chances of an encounter with a bear. Bears have a great sense of smell and may come searching for any food that they can sniff out.
Also try not to make a mess of your food on the trail, which can lead to attracting bears to places other people may pass by. Help keep everyone safe by keeping your food in tightly sealed containers and don’t make a mess of it when it comes to lunch time.
Grizzlies Vs Black Bears
If you hike enough, there is a great chance that you will eventually run into a bear. How you respond to a bear encounter will vary greatly depending on what type of bear it is.
|Grizzly Bears||Black Bear|
|Widespread across Alaska and Western Canada, in pockets of Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and The Northern Cascades||Widespread across much of North America|
|Prominent Shoulder Hump||No Shoulder Hump|
|Concave Face Profile||Flat Face|
|Short, Rounded Ears||Long Ears|
|Fur can range from Blonde to Black||Fur can range from Blonde to Black, except for eastern US where they are black only.|
What To Do If You Encounter A Bear
1. Do Not Approach A Bear
If you encounter a bear while hiking, first thing you should do is stop. Don’t get closer to take a picture. Just stop and watch. Did it notice you? Can you quietly back away? If it did notice you, how much does it really care about you?
2. Look Imposing
If you see that the bear has noticed you and may actually be coming towards you, make yourself look intimidating. Stand tall, raise your arms up, find a large stick or if you are in a group, get together to look even bigger. The idea is to get the bear to think twice about attacking.
The more a bear persists, the more imposing you should make yourself look.
3. Get Bear Spray Ready
If a bear continues to show an interest in you, this may be a good time to take out your bear spray in a calm and relaxed manner. Do not give the bear a reason to charge, but do find a way to defend yourself if the need arises.
4. Talk Softly, But Firmly
If a Black Bear still has not retreated by this time, try speaking softly, yet firmly to it as if it was a dog that you were trying to train. Do not yell or scream, but let it know you are not afraid and in fact, strong and ready to take control of the situation.
If it is a Grizzly, speak softly, do not make eye contact and slowly walk away. You do not want to be perceived as a threat.
4. Slowly Walk Away
Hopefully, by now you can slowly start to walk away from the bear. Stay calm, keep your eyes on the bear and back up away from the animal. Most of the time this is enough to diffuse any situation, but be prepared for the bear to respond aggressively.
You may need to drop your food and continue your retreat. Just be sure to keep your eye on the animal as you do so.
5. Prepare For Attack
Sometimes there is just nothing you can do. You stepped into a bear’s territory and they’re going to protect it. If a Black bear charges you, try to spray it with bear spray when it comes within 30’. If that doesn’t work, fight back. Punch it, kick it, hit it with a large stick, do whatever you can do to fight it off.
If it is a Grizzly, it may do a bluff attack. You can recognize this by its huffing and bounding action, with ears up. Just try and sound friendly, stand your ground and have your bear spray ready.
If the Grizzly attacks, it will be running at you silently with head and ears down. Try spraying it with bear spray in a similar manner as with a black bear. Be sure to aim low so you do not miss. If it does not work and the grizzly is still charging, lay flat on your belly, cover your neck and head with your arms and pray.
The best way to avoid bears while hiking is to avoid hiking where bears are going to be in the first place.
If you do encounter a bear, the best defense is to be mentally prepared, have a plan and stay calm. Be smart and be safe out there!