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How to Be Bear Aware When Camping and Hiking

Flickr/The Eye of Noah

When it comes to camping and hiking there is a chance you may encounter a bear, so here are some top tips on how to be bear aware when enjoying your outdoor activities.

There are many people who are fearful of camping and hiking when in bear country, and understandably so; however, while there is a risk of being hurt by a bear when camping and hiking that risk is relatively low.

Although most bears traveling through an area will make every effort to avoid humans, if they come across unattended food or garbage left outside they may be unable to resist inspecting it due to their keen sense of smell. Of course, by taking the appropriate steps you can learn about bears and know how to go about avoiding them or what to do should you come into contact with one.

Hiking in Safety

Bears are naturally afraid of humans and will do their best at avoiding people, so much so that hikers will often not realize how close they passed by a bear.

  • Never feed or approach bears.
  • Travel in groups and avoid letting children run or stray ahead.
  • Always stay alert and announce your presence by singing, clapping, wearing bells, talking loudly etc.
  • Discard any garbage in bear-proof containers making sure to leave no trace of your presence.
  • Avoid surprising a bear and use extreme caution if you are traveling downwind, in dense vegetation, along noisy streams and in windy weather where a bear may not hear you.
  • Remain on the trail and comply with posted warnings.
  • Keep pets on a leash as free-running pets can anger bears and provoke an attack.
  • Watch out for bear signs such as tracks, droppings, clawed, bitted or rubbed trees, fresh diggings or trampled vegetation.
  • Always check ahead for bears that may be walking away or toward you in the distance. If you spot one, make a wide detour and leave the area as safely as you can.
  • Take note of any circling birds and offensive odors which may indicate an animal carcass. If possible, avoid this area or use extreme caution when passing.
flickr/Jim Mullhaupt
Flickr/Jim Mullhaupt

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Camping in Safety

Bears that search out food will begin to associate food with humans which will ultimately desensitize them as they become food-conditioned. It is these bears that lose their fear of humans and become a threat as they roam about in search of an easy meal. Unfortunately, there is little or no chance of reverting a food-conditioned bear which often sees them being euthanized when they become aggressive toward humans.

  • Pick an open site that is away from dense vegetation, forest cover, or natural food areas. Avoid messy sites and areas that indicate bear activity such as trampled brush, claw marks on trees, scat and tracks.
  • Never leave food out when it’s not in use. Store your food in bear-proof containers or a bear-proof locker.
  • Do not store food in your tent.
  • Keep your camp clean and free of odors as cosmetics, toothpaste and insect repellent can attract them.
  • Restrict all cooking, cleaning, eating and food storage to 100 feet downwind of your tent.
  • Clean up after you’ve eaten straight away and never leave cooking utensils, grease and dish water lying around.
  • Secure scented items by hanging them at least 10 feet off the ground.


What If a Bear Approaches?

  • The main thing to remember if a bear approaches you is to remain calm and avoid running as this could elicit a chase response with a bear.
  • Pick up small children, so they don’t run away or panic. This will also make you feel big toward the bear and may make them back away from you.
  • Talk to the bear in a calm voice and wave your arms about.
  • Gather the group together, and if you have a dog with you, restrain it on the leash.
  • Slowly back away from the bear, avoiding eye contact.
  • If the bear suddenly rushes toward you and then stops this is known as “bluffing” and is a way of intimidating you. Stand your ground momentarily and avoid the urge to run, but slowly back away as you continue to talk in a calm voice to the bear.
  • If the bear slaps the ground or snaps his jaw, he may feel threatened as he thinks you’re too close. Slowly retreat from the area making a wide detour around the bear.
  • If the bear follows you, make sure you stand your ground and yell, wave your arms and clap your hands.
  • As a last resort, try and drop something such as a hat, but avoid throwing your backpack or food to the bear as the bear will learn to confront other humans in order to receive food rewards.

Bears are wild animals and you need to keep this in mind whenever out in the bear’s habitat.

If you are respectful of bears, the bears will be respectful of you.

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How to Be Bear Aware When Camping and Hiking