Bears safety tips for hikers, backpackers, and campers
Novice hikers should learn about bear safety before setting out on a hike or going backcountry camping. Many people had questions about safety in bear country. I’ve collected the top bear safety tips for hikers, backcountry campers, and drive-in campers from the internet—also, some tips on what you should do if you spot a bear.
You can check the conditions on trailhead signage and parks websites before you travel. Be prepared if there are bears in the area, especially if they have been aggressive or have cubs.
“Top 10” BEAR Safety Tips (or HOW TO AVOID BEING EATEN ALIVE!)
Be on the lookout for signs of bears along the trail, including tracks and scratches on trees.
To make noise, you can sing or talk to signal your presence as humans. Bear bells don’t carry the same message as human voices. It would be best if you made more noise where you are most likely to surprise or see a bear, such as near berry patches and areas with new signs.
You can avoid encountering a bear by walking along the trail and hiking throughout the day. If you see a dead animal, leave the area immediately.
Bear attacks on groups are almost impossible to prevent, so it is best to hike with a small group.
Pets should be kept on a leash. Roaming dogs may cause bears to become agitated, and chase them back towards hikers is not a good situation for anyone.
Food and garbage can attract bears, so make sure you get rid of them. These include things such as apple cores, banana peels, and eggshells that emit an odor that could attract bears. Even if you don’t intend to feed it garbage, a fed bear will be dead.
It would be best if you carried bear spray where you can easily reach it, such as on your pack’s hip belt or shoulder straps or in an outside pocket. Bear spray is lightweight and cheap and can be used to stop bear attacks. Bear spray is an excellent way to scare off bears, but bear bangers and small air horns are also available. Bearsmart.com has more information on when and how to spray bear spray.
I recommend that you always have bear spray with you when hiking in bear country. It is kept in my side pocket so I can quickly grab it.
Safety Tips for Campers who are Drive-In
Before you visit a campground, make sure to check the conditions and information about the facility. This will help you determine if bear precautions are required (such as the Bare Campsite program).
Maintain a clean campsite. Cook and eat together in the same area, but away from your tent. Clean up after yourself, including any food scraps and spills.
Your food, including your cooler, cooking equipment, and toiletries (including sunscreen or bug spray), should be kept in your car at night and in your campsite. You should not store any food or drinks other than water in your tent.
All garbage should be placed in a bear-proof trash can or your vehicle, should not be burned in a firepit, bears could still get at it, and do not leave garbage in your firepit after returning home.
Backcountry campers should be aware of these bear safety tips
Before you visit, make sure to check the conditions and information at the trailhead sign and the park website; it will help you determine if bear precautions are required. Check to see if there are food storage and cooking facilities.
Choose a campsite away from game trails, berry patches, or animal carcasses. Do not block water sources.
You can cook and eat in the backcountry campgrounds with a kitchen shelter, picnic tables, or fire rings.
You can cook and eat anywhere you like, as long as there is a designated cooking area. Your campsite should be at least 100m from your cooking area. It should also be 100m from your food storage area. These three areas should be viewed as a triangle, with each side being 100m in length.
Safety for backcountry bears
Make sure you have a clean area for cooking. Clean up after yourself, including food scraps and spillages. Bears can be attracted to garbage left on campsites, in firepits, around cooking areas, or along trails, including biodegradable food waste such as apple cores, sandwich crumbs, and eggshells.
Disperse the used water in large quantities or a separate area from your campsite. Take out any food particles and bag them with your garbage.
You should never store food, garbage, or cooking equipment in your tent or backpack. These items should be stored in bear-safe containers (see below) when you’re away from camp at night and whenever possible.
There are many ways to secure food in a bear-safe manner in the backcountry.
Stay in a designated campground with a bear locker (a metal box) or bear pole (a pole that has hooks for hanging your food bag).
You should plan ahead and bring a rope, carabiner, sturdy stuff bag, or dry bag to make your hang. A bear locker or bear pole may not be available. You will need to make a bear hang by suspending your bag from a tree branch, at least 1.5m (5ft) away from the hanging branch and trunk and 4m (12ft) above the ground. This technique is not easy and can require a lot of practice. Please don’t wait until it gets dark to set up your bear hang. Online instructions and tips are available for building a bear hang.
Bear canisters are recommended or required in some areas, such as American National Parks. These tough, hard plastic containers can only be opened with tools or thumbs. Fortunately, bears don’t need either. Fill them with food, trash, and other personal items. Then, store them away from your campsite. Bear canisters are more challenging to pack and heavier than a rope and stuff bag. They are much easier to use. Consider investing in a bear container if you often camp in areas where bear poles or lockers are not possible or above treeline (where bear hangings are impossible)
I recommend a Garcia bear canister, a Bear Vault Bear canister, and an URsack. The Bear Vault is my favorite because it’s the easiest to pack.
What to do if you see a bear
Bears are excellent runners, swimmers, tree-climbers, and climbers. They can run faster than you. They can also hear, smell, and see better than anyone else. They are rarely afraid of you and will often just want to get on their own way. These are some tips to help you deal with a bear encounter. You can find more information on websites such as bearsmart.com or others listed under the Additional Reading section.
You should be prepared to leave the area and then end your hike. You should leave the site if the bear behaves aggressively or you cannot navigate it safely.
Take the safety cover off to get your bear spray ready.
Do not run or attempt to climb a tree. Instead, slow down and speak softly to the bear.
Do not try to get close enough to take photos. Allow the bear to roam.
Don’t play dead. Black bears will eat dead animals, which makes them more attractive. You can play dead in certain situations, such as when you are defending the bear from an attack.
Do not offer bear food to distract it.
Give a bear an escape route, and then make sure your group stands up to shout or bang on the bear to get it away. Unfortunately, this won’t work for grizzly bears, so you’ll probably have to move.
Bear spray can be used to target bear eyes if the bear is within range.