In my recent trip to bear country (Alaska), I was taught the tips and tricks to prevent myself from ending up in a dangerous situation with a black or grizzly bear. But Alaska is not the only place in the world where you can encounter bears. There are 600,000 American black bears in the United States alone. Other types of bears, such as the Asiatic black bear can be found in most of Eastern Asian countries, and the Sun bear can be found in most of Southeast Asia. The Andean bear can be found in the Andes Mountains and the Polar bear in the Arctic Circle. The point is, bears are everywhere, so when hiking or camping in any place where bears are prevalent, it becomes necessary to take some precautions. Here is a list of 10 safety tips when adventuring out in bear territory:
1. Be “bear-aware”
Always pay attention to your surroundings. When you go on a hike, make sure to keep an eye out at all times, including for bear tracks, especially when you are in a remote place. Be particularly alert in places that could be potential food sources for the bears, such as close to salmon spawning streams or berry patches. Other signs to watch out for are large dug up areas, trees containing claw marks or trails that could have been formed by bears. The more remote the area, the less bears are used to humans and the higher the chance that they will not like you.
2. What to do if you see a bear
If you encounter a bear, and the bear has not noticed you yet, slowly and quietly walk away. Make sure you get out of sight, and watch the bear at a safe distance. Bears like their space, just like us. It’s better to zoom in with your camera than to get too close to a bear. If the bear changes its behavior suddenly, it is most likely because of you. If you see the bear looking up and sniffing the air, it means you are too close to the bear! When you encounter a bear and the bear sees you, stop moving immediately. Put your arms in the air and try to make yourself as big as possible.
3. do not run!
If you encounter a bear and the bear sees you, do not run! Running away is probably what you want to do most (trust me that would be my first instinct), but it’s the last thing you want to do. First of all, the bear is probably way faster than you (they can run faster than 30mph) and will catch up with you in like five seconds. Secondly, running away is felt as a sign of weakness and you definitely don’t want the bear to become the dominant one in the story. Hold your ground, put your hands in the air and do not drop anything on the ground. The bear may just not know what you are and might come closer to smell you or get a better look at you. This behavior is usually just a curious one, and should not be seen as a threat.
4. Hike in groups and make noise
The bigger the number, the higher the chances at safety. It’s always a better idea to hike in groups than by yourself. Make also sure to make a lot of noise when you walk (my personal favorite is singing Disney songs but you get the point). Use your voice, whistles, clapping or whatever other way you can make sure the bear knows you are there. Remember: it’s all about NOT surprising a bear.
5. If you encounter a brown bear, play dead
If a grizzly bear (more commonly a brown bear) makes contact with you, always play dead. Lay on the floor, curl up into a ball with your knees tucked into your stomach and put your hands behind your neck. If you have a backpack, leave in on to add an extra layer of protection to your body. Grizzly bear attacks are usually very short and as a reaction to feeling threatened. The bear will usually end it’s attack if it feels like it’s no longer being threatened. Therefore, make sure to lay motionless on the floor for as long as you can (until the bear is gone and out of sight). If the bear attack persists, then get up and fight energetically.
6. If you encounter a black bear, do not play dead
On the other hand, if you encounter a black bear and it attacks you, do not play dead! Black bears are too curious and have sharper claws, and will easily just rip you open to “find out what’s inside of you”. So if a black bear attacks, fight back immediately and as vigorously as you can. The chance of being attacked by a black bear is extremely small, but they may happen, so it’s good to be prepared. Black bear attacks are often predatory (versus defensive). Remember, a black bear approaching you does NOT mean that it will attack you. Bears are in general extremely curious animals and always attracted to food, so keep that in mind before going all Sparta on the bear.
7. Keep your gear together. Do not leave it unattended
Always minimize the amount of space that you occupy. This does not only apply to your food, but also to your clothes, your water bottles, your tents, and all the rest of your hiking and camping gear. If a bear approaches you, use the tactics discussed above, but do not surrender your gear to a bear! The more you keep your camping space or lunch/dinner space clean, the lower the chances are that a bear will come close to you.
8. Store your food in bear-resistant food containers
Use a bear-resistant food container to store all your food especially when camping. This also includes non-food items such as sunscreen, wrappers, lip balm and so on. Your trash should also go in a bear-resistant food container, until disposed of. Make sure to prepare, eat and store the food at least a 100 yards from your tent. Make sure that your bear-resistant food container is close to you would you have a sudden encounter with a bear
9. Carry bear spray with you
I’m not a big fan of bear spray, but in certain situations it might be your only option. This is especially the case when the bear is showing aggressive behavior. The spray contains capsaicin, a red pepper extract which is a non-lethal but effective deterrent against bear attacks You can buy it mostly anywhere when you are in an area that is known to have a lot of bears, or even online.
10. Report any bear encounter
Always report your bear encounters to a park ranger as soon as possible. This allows them to track the bear and alert other hikers and campers in the area. In Denali National Park, a bear was reported close to the campsite. This led to rangers monitoring the bear and eventually closing down the campsite. The bear visits were becoming too frequent and more dangerous, so necessary precautions had to be taken.
For more information about staying safe around bears, visit the National Parks Service Website , and make sure to pick up the necessary information regarding safety measures before the start of your hike or camping trip. For more information about bears in general, click on this link.