Stay Safe In Bear Country
Here are some key skills every hiker should know before entering bear country.
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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).