There are a lot of reasons we love bears, but let’s start with this one: They’re the ultimate survivors. No matter what life throws at them, they find a way through.
Bears aren’t picky eaters. The black bears and grizzlies spread around North America will fatten up on almost anything they can get their paws on. They’ll feast on carrion, pillage beehives for honey and larvae, snack their way through berry patches, and tear apart pine cones in search of seeds. In the Rockies, black bears fatten up on thousands of fatty army cutworm moths; on the Alaskan coast, brown bears come back to the same streams year after year to perfect their salmon fishing technique.
Bears are also smarter than we usually give them credit for. Some research has shown that bears can count, and they remember food sources. (Their curiosity does get them into trouble, though, as anyone who’s ever had their car broken into by a bruin will attest.)
Perhaps most importantly, we could all learn something about social distancing from our bear neighbors. They’re masters of staying at home, going into torpor for months every winter alone or with only their immediate family. Even when they emerge, they’re generally solitary animals.
At times like this, it’s hard to ask for a better role model. So this week, BACKPACKER Magazine is becoming BEARPACKER Magazine, with new stories about the science of America’s favorite omnivore. We’ll be exploring the mysterious world of spirit bears and explaining how bear-resistant gear gets made. We’ll also have answers to your most pressing questions from a Real Bear*, our favorite apparel and accessories for showing off your bear appreciation, and travel advice for (safely!) seeing the big guys. So climb on out of your den, take a big spring stretch, and get ready to jump in with both paws.
*Not actually a real bear.