Stay Safe In Bear Country

Here are some key skills every hiker should know before entering bear country.
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Here are some key skills every hiker should know before entering bear country.

Prevent an Encounter

Don’t hike alone. Bears are less likely to attack groups than individuals.

Make Noise. For real. Bells are a nice thought, but loud conversation or singing will better alert bears to your presence. Given the opportunity, most bears will avoid a human encounter.

Carry pepper spray. Keep it handy (Mike now hikes with his in hand, but a holster works), and know how to use it. Wait until a charging bear is within 60 feet, then sweep the spray to create a cloud at ground level. (Check out our primer at backpacker.com/bearspray.)

Be scent smart. Store food in bear canisters or hang it properly (see page 42). Avoid fragrance-heavy shampoos and hygiene products; they smell just like food. Never, ever preemptively fire pepper spray around your tent; it’s like marinating your campsite.

Stay vigilant. Paying attention to terrain features can give you an advantage; if you come to a section of trail with recent evidence of bears (such as scat or overturned stumps), make extra noise. Give bears a chance to hear you and flee before their protective instincts kick in.

If Attacked by a Grizzly

Play dead. Lie face down with your pack on, spread your legs (so it can’t roll you), and protect your neck and head with your hands.

Climb a tree. Grizzlies are poor climbers, but they can ascend trees if the limbs are arranged like ladder rungs. Make sure you can climb higher than 15 feet on slender branches.
Fight. If a grizzly starts to feed or you’re attacked by a black bear, you have to fight. Go for the nose, eyes, and ears. Give it your all.

Bear Aware: Get essential skills and safety tips in BACKPACKER’s Bear Country Behavior ($13; falcon.com).