Hiking in Bear Country: Tips to Stay Safe
Hiking in bear country is something that most hikers will end up doing at some point in their travels. As exciting as it is to spot a bear, it can be a bit of a nerve-racking experience. The backcountry is filled with animals – some dangerous, some harmless – and one of the more common animal encounters is that with a bear. Luckily you can safely navigate your way through bear country if you follow some pretty basic tips.
Travel in Groups. Bears are more likely to attack an individual than a group so bring your friends with you to stay safe.
Stay Vocal. Bears would rather avoid contact with humans so making noise will let them know that you’re around and hopefully keep them at bay. Things like bear bells, loud conversation and even singing all make enough noise to do the trick.
Don’t Startle Them. With mountain lions, coyotes and a lot of other wildlife, the general rule is to get as big and threatening as possible to scare them away. This is NOT how you want to handle a bear sighting. Make enough noise to let them know you’re around but don’t make any sudden movements or loud sounds. When it comes to fight or flight, bears trend more towards the former than the latter.
Be Smart With Scents: Food should be kept in a bear canister and a good distance away from your tent. Remember that bear canisters aren’t air tight so, even though you might not be able to smell yesterday’s leftovers, your bear buddies probably can so keep it away. Also, avoid using strongly scented hygiene products (soaps, shampoo, etc) and keep to the odor neutral products.
Stay Alert: Keep your eyes open to your surroundings and try to get to know the trail well before you go out. Knowing your surroundings can help you plan to an avoidance and (if necessary) exit strategy.
Pack Pepper Spray: As a precaution you should carry pepper spray or some other deterrent (there are plenty of bear sprays commercially available) with you in bear country. If you see a bear that’s relatively close to you (60-100 feet) and you can’t avoid it, pull it out and get it ready but don’t use it unless the bear starts coming toward you. Spray it when the bear gets within 60 feet of you.