It took just one night in the Bob Marshall Wilderness to convince Robert Struckman never to take his young son backpacking in grizzly country again. Haunted by nightmares of an attack leaving his son "alone with this mangled thing that was his father and an angry bear nearby," Struckman has stuck to grizzly-free sites with his kids ever since.
The Real Risk
Your odds of being attacked by a bear in Yellowstone are 1 in 3 million (and there have been only five bear-related fatalities there since 1872). And you have a better chance of being crushed by a vending machine anywhere than killed by a bear in Glacier.
The 3-Step Fix
- Knowing how to minimize the risk of an encounter where bears roam will make you feel in control. Hang your food and scented items, or use a bear canister; make noise when hiking near dense brush or rivers; avoid carcasses that a griz might defend.
- Find out what to do in the unlikely event a bear does attack (play dead for a grizzly, fight back for a black bear). "That allays fears," says Outward Bound’s Jayne Nucete. "Even if we do encounter a bear, we have a strategy."
- Talk to rangers or fellow hikers who’ve run into bears without a catastrophe. It will reinforce the fact that simply seeing a bruin doesn’t mean imminent disaster.
The Big Test
Black bears and grizzlies are frequently spied lumbering on the open hillsides near Yellowstone’s Lamar River Trail. nps.gov/yell
Head for the cacti and canyons of South Dakota’s Badlands. The state hasn’t recorded a single bear sighting–let alone attack–in 20 years. nps.gov/badl