I have traveled to over 50 countries on seven continents, more than half of which were visited solo. I love traveling, being outdoors, and hiking. I hope to inspire others to travel and explore further, even if that means going alone.
Hey, I'm Ashley!
For those who love to explore the great outdoors, encountering wildlife can be a thrilling experience. However, when it comes to bears, it is essential to approach with caution and be prepared for the unexpected. Whether you are a seasoned hiker or a first-timer, understanding how to stay safe in bear country is crucial. Let’s cover my top 10 bear safety tips to reduce the risk of a dangerous encounter.
One important aspect of hiking in bear country is to let someone know where you will be going and when you plan to return. This is a crucial safety exercise in case of an emergency or if you do not return at the expected time.
Before you head out on your hike, inform a friend or family member of your route and expected return time. If possible, provide them with a map of your route and details about your planned stops. I typically share the trail map on AllTrails with someone.
Once you’re on the trail, try to stick to your planned itinerary as closely as possible. If you do deviate from your planned route, make sure to let someone know as soon as possible. By taking these simple precautions, you can help ensure that someone knows your whereabouts and can alert authorities if necessary.
Carrying bear spray is an essential bear safety precaution when hiking in bear country. Bear spray is a type of pepper spray that is specifically designed to deter bears. It’s an effective tool for defending yourself in the event of a bear charge. Studies have shown that it can be more effective than firearms.
It’s important to keep your bear spray easily accessible at all times. You never know when you might need it. Be able to quickly and easily access it in the event of a surprise encounter with a bear. Ideally, you should keep the bear spray on your person, such as in a holster or in a chest harness.
Always carry the bear spray with you, even if you’re just stepping off trail or away from camp for a moment. The key to using bear spray effectively is to deploy it quickly and accurately. Keeping it accessible at all times to do so is important for bear safety.
It’s also important to know how to use bear spray properly. Make sure to read the instructions and practice using it with a practice spray before you hit the trail.
Remember, bear spray is not a substitute for safe hiking practices, such as making noise and staying alert.
When you’re hiking in bear country, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings at all times. This means keeping an eye out for any signs of bear activity. Signs to look out for include things likes tracks, scat (poo), or claw marks on trees.
Many people use headphones to listen to music on the trail without disturbing others. I would not recommend this because it does take away some level of awareness. If you must listen to music on the trail with headphones, at least keep only one headphone in.
Making noise periodically while hiking in bear country is a crucial bear safety measure. This can help reduce the likelihood of a surprise encounter with a bear. This is particularly important when hiking in areas with limited visibility, such as blind corners or dense vegetation. By making noise, you alert bears to your presence. This gives them time to move away from the trail and avoid a potential confrontation.
The noise can be as simple as talking or singing loudly, playing music, or clapping your hands. Some recommend using bear bells. I have tried them and don’t think they are truly loud enough. Whichever method you use, make sure you remain respectful of other hikers on the trail.
It’s also important to make noise consistently. Do not rely solely on occasional bursts of sound. This can give bears a false sense of security and may actually increase the risk of a surprise encounter. By making noise periodically, you can increase your chances of a safe and enjoyable hike in bear country.
When hiking in bear country, it’s important to know the difference between a black bear and a brown bear. This can determine how you react to an actual bear charge. While color is often used as a quick indicator, it’s not always reliable. Black bears can have brown or blonde fur, and brown bears can have black fur.
The most reliable way to distinguish between the two is by their physical characteristics. Black bears have a straight face profile, no shoulder hump, tall pointed ears, and a shorter claws. Brown bears have a dished face profile, a hump between their shoulders, short rounded ears, and long claws.
Encountering a bear when hiking in bear country can be a scary and intimidating experience. It’s important to remain calm and remember the proper bear safety protocol for bear encounters. If you encounter a bear while hiking, the first thing you should do is back away slowly, avoiding any sudden movements. Talk calmly to the bear as you back away. If you are with others, group together as you back away. Never run, as this can trigger a predatory response in the bear and may escalate the situation.
If you encounter a bear on the hiking trail, it’s important to remember that you are a guest in their area. The best course of action in this scenario is to move off the trail. Ensure you give the bear plenty of space to pass. Step to the side of the trail and allow the bear a clear path to continue on its way.
Do not approach the bear, as this can be perceived as a threat. Additionally, never try to feed or interact with the bear in any way. It’s important to be patient and allow the bear to move on before continuing on your hike.
An important bear safety practice to remember is that where there’s a cub, there’s likely a protective mother nearby. In this scenario, it’s crucial to ensure that you are not between the mother and her cub. This can trigger an aggressive response from the mother bear.
If you see a cub on the trail, immediately stop and look around for the mother bear. If you don’t see her, slowly back away in the direction you came from. Keep an eye out for the mother bear and any signs of her location. Check out this TikTok from when I ended up face-to-face with a young black bear on the trail.
It’s important to never attempt to approach the cub or get too close to the mother bear. This can be extremely dangerous. Respect the natural instincts of mother bears to protect their cubs and keep a safe distance.
Knowing the difference between black and brown bears is important. It can affect how you react to an actual bear charge. In general, black bears are less aggressive than brown bears and are more likely to bluff charge than actually attack. Brown bears are more likely to attack if they feel threatened.
Bluff charges are meant to scare or intimidate. When a bear bluff charges, it will have its head and ears up and forward. The bear will puff itself up to look bigger. It will bound on its front paws toward you, but then stop short. Often bears retreat after a bluff charge.
If you can see a bluff charge is about to happen by a black bear, back away slowly and make yourself appear bigger by waving your hands or trekking poles above your head and grouping together with others. Make noise and throw things at the ground, not the bear. Black bears are more easily scared.
For a bluff charge from a brown bear, back away slowly, group together, do not appear threatening, and do not make eye contact. Speak to the bear in a calm voice to make it clear that you are a human and not a threat.
When the bear charges you, hold your ground and stay calm. After the bear charges, slowly retreat while keeping an eye on the bear. Continue to speak to the bear in a calm voice.
During an aggressive charge, bears may pound their front paws on the ground while huffing. The bear will have its head down and ears pointed back. Use your bear spray if the bear comes within range of the bear spray.
If a black bear makes contact after you have deployed your bear spray, fight back with anything you have at your disposal.
For a brown bear that makes contact, play dead by lying flat on your stomach with your hands clasped behind your neck and your legs spread apart. If the bear turns you over, turn back on your stomach. After the bear leaves, continue to play dead for a bit. Brown bears are known to wait around to see if their victim will get back up.
When hiking in bear country, it’s important to remember that bears have an incredible sense of smell. To avoid attracting bears to your campsite or along the trail, make sure to pack out all food and packaging, even the smallest crumbs. Additionally, when camping, be diligent about properly storing food in bear-resistant containers or hanging it from a tree.
Even if you think you’ve done a good job cleaning up after a meal, do a final sweep of the area to make sure you haven’t missed anything. Remember, bears are highly motivated by the scent of food. They will go to great lengths to get it.
With your better understanding of bear safety, see these posts for my favorite hikes in bear country:
April 8, 2023