When hiking in bear country, it is important to take certain precautions before hitting the trail. You want to be prepared, but you also need to learn how to avoid bear encounters on the trail.
Hiking is one of my favorite things to do while traveling. It’s a great way to get outside, breathe fresh air, and see some of the most beautiful landscapes imaginable. Hiking brings you closer to nature, and in some areas, that means closer to bears.
Hiking in bear country involves a higher risk. Bears will generally try to avoid humans, but there have been quite a few reported bear attacks in recent years. Most of these attacks are in relation to hikers. Organizations, parks and wilderness areas are pushing education more and more to try to prevent these attacks, but often hikers just don’t take the proper precautions. You CAN go hiking in bear habitats, but you MUST be aware and be prepared.
What is “Bear Country”?
When I say Bear Country, I mean habitats and wilderness areas where bears live. For this article, I am specifically referring to grizzly bears and (to a lesser degree) black bears. “Bear Country”, as I am referring to it, is in North America, specifically in places such and Wyoming & Montana (like Yellowstone), Alaska, and Western Canada.
When hiking in these areas, please be “Bear Aware”. While encounters aren’t too common on most trails, prepare for the possibility anyways. This article is not meant to scare you or deter you from hiking in these areas, it’s simply here to tell you what to do if you encounter a bear, or ideally, how to avoid a bear encounter. You should always be aware of possible dangers when exploring the outdoors.
If you are planning to go hiking in bear country, please take these steps to ensure your safety.
Hiking in Bear Country: How to Avoid Bear Encounters
on the Trail
1. Hike in Groups
In most situations, it is recommended that you hike in groups of 3 or more, but this is especially important when hiking in bear country. The bigger your group, the less likely a bear is going to want to mess with you. More people also means more noise–I’ll tell you why that’s important in a minute. Hiking alone puts you at a much greater risk of danger, but if you do go alone, stick to popular trails at busier times of day so that you’re not completely alone.
2. Make Some Noise
This may seem counter-intuitive to a lot of people, but making noise while hiking in bear country is a good way to avoid bear encounters. If there is a bear nearby, “sneaking” up on it (by being too quiet) will startle it. And remember: a scared bear is an aggressive bear. Making noise–walking loudly, talking, singing, clapping–will alert it that something is near, and it will most likely retreat. Bears don’t usually want anything to do with humans.
3. Stay on Marked Trails
It’s extremely important to stay on the trail while hiking (for many reasons beyond bear safety). Not only will this keep you from getting lost, but designated trails are going to have more people, more foot traffic, and more noise. This means bears are generally less likely to be around. Once you stray from the trail, you’re really out there on your own in bear country. This could unknowingly put you in dangerous territory.
4. Carry Bear Spray
Bear spray is a must when hiking in bear country. It works a lot like mace, and it is a major deterrent if you find yourself in a bear encounter. Bear spray is effective, but you need to learn how to use it properly. Bear spray is pricey, but it’s more than worth it when you find yourself in a situation where you need it.
You can find bear spray at most outdoor stores in areas with grizzly bears, or at national park and wilderness area shops. If you don’t spend much time hiking in bear country, you can rent a canister for your hike as extra precaution. If you want to buy bear spray online, you can get it right here.
5. Do Not Run
While bear encounters on the trail are not that common, they DO happen from time to time. They are, of course, more likely to happen if you’re spending time in remote wilderness areas without hard-worn trails. Here’s what to do if you encounter a bear on the trail.
First, hopefully you’re carrying bear spray like everyone has warned you to do a million times. Whether you have it or not, absolutely do not run when you see a bear. That’s only going to trigger a reaction you don’t want–the bear is going to become defensive or aggressive and see you as prey. You’re more likely to leave a bear encounter safely by speaking calmly and then slowly backing away. Do not turn your back to the bear.
These are all basic precautions and guidelines when hiking in bear country. I urge you to read more detailed information here to learn more about what to do if you encounter a bear.
This post is not meant to stop you from hiking in bear country–they live in some picturesque places, so it would be a shame to never see any of it. This post is simply a reminder to be respectful of nature, and to be prepared when venturing out in these areas.
Read Next: 4 Short Hikes in Grand Teton National Park
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