Hiking in bear country can seem like a daunting task. For many people, bears are one of their greatest fears in the outdoors.
However, it doesn’t have to be this way. While bears are large animals that command our respect, we can hike safely in bear country and enjoy our adventures. The key is to know how to avoid bear encounters in the first place.
In this article, we’ll introduce you to 5 key tips for hiking safely in bear country. That way, you can head outside and into the mountains with the confidence that you need to handle whatever comes your way.
1. Stay Alert and Aware of Your Surroundings
Bears are much less likely to approach humans if they don’t know we’re coming, so it’s important for hikers to be mindful of their surroundings and keep an eye on what’s around them.
You need to be aware of the types of signs that indicate recent bear activity. These can include things like digging, overturned rocks or other debris piles, and scat (bear droppings).
If you see any evidence that bears might have been around recently, make more noise and take other similar steps to alert the bear that you’re there. If you do this, you’ll avoid startling the bear, which can help avoid any negative encounters.
2. Carry Bear Spray
When hiking in bear country, you should always carry some form of protection against bears. While guns may seem like the best option for self-defense against bears, they’re actually one of the least effective options available to hikers who want to protect themselves during an attack.
Bear spray is more effective than firearms because it’s less likely that someone will get themselves hurt while trying to use their weapon on a bear. Additionally, bear spray requires much less accuracy, so it’s easier to use in a stressful situation. It also is specifically designed not to injure the bear—just to scare the bear off so it doesn’t hurt you.
It’s important to note that carrying bear spray doesn’t mean you won’t ever see any bears; it simply means that if you do see a bear, your chances of being able to protect yourself during an attack are much higher.
Additionally, keep in mind that bear spray is only useful to you if it’s easily accessible while you hike. If it’s buried in the bottom of your pack, your bear spray won’t do you much good in an emergency. Hikers have protected themselves against bear attacks using bear spray. But this technique only works if you always have your bear spray read.
3. Hike in Groups
It’s important to hike in groups when hiking in bear country because groups make more noise and are more likely to scare curious bears away.
Bear attacks on large groups (more than 4 people) are very uncommon. Most bear attacks happen to solo hikers or people hiking in small groups of 3 or fewer.
Furthermore, hiking in groups is a safety measure. If you are hiking with a group of 3 or more people, the chances of encountering an aggressive bear are significantly reduced.
Additionally, hiking as a group means you have more resources at your disposal if someone were to get hurt, whether through a bear attack or otherwise. As such, venturing into the mountains with your buddies is usually a great idea in bear country.
4. Avoid Hiking in Dense Foliage
There are two main reasons why hiking in dense foliage increases your risk for a negative bear encounter while outside.
The first and most obvious reason is visibility. Dense foliage makes it harder to survey your surroundings, increasing your risk of startling a bear. Whenever possible, stay on the trail, where you have better views of your surroundings. If hiking off-trail, be sure to make noise so alert any nearby bears to your presence.
The second reason is that dense foliage can conceal signs of bear activity that you need to be aware of when hiking. In bear country, there’s a chance that you’ll see evidence that bears have been around recently, such as fresh scat.
These signs can be important to look for when hiking in bear country so you can determine if there’s a bear in your immediate vicinity. However, these signs can be hard to spot if you’re hiking through dense foliage. So it’s important to stay on trail whenever you can or to take extra precautions when venturing off-trail.
5. Use Proper Food Storage Techniques
When hiking or camping in bear country, it’s important to store your food properly. If you don’t, you could end up with a hungry bear that may be tempted to enter your campground and look for an easy meal.
If this happens, it’s possible that the bear will become habituated and come back again and again looking for more. This is bad news because habituated bears are much more likely to attack people entering their territory than non-habituated bears are.
In order to avoid these issues altogether, put all of your food into a container like a bear canister or bear hang before hiking out from basecamp each day. You should also store your food in a canister or bear hang each night. This will help to ensure that the bear cannot get your food while you’re hiking or sleeping.
However, be sure to check local regulations about food storage in bear country before you start hiking. Some parks and forests require that you use bear canisters or bear lockers while others allow bear hangs. Follow the rules set out by the land manager to keep both you and the bear safe and happy during your adventures.
If you’re interested in setting up a bear hang, check out this video from Zpacks, which offers 3 top tips for storing food in the backcountry:
Hiking Safely in Bear Country
Hiking in bear country is a lot of fun, but it’s important that you take precautions to avoid any negative bear encounters during your travels. These precautions include hiking in groups, not hiking through thick foliage where you can’t see your surroundings very well, and properly storing your food.
Above all, be vigilant when venturing into bear country. Seeing a bear from a distance while hiking can be an amazing experience. But taking a few simple steps while hiking can prevent that incredible bear sighting from turning into an emergency situation. See you on the trail!