How To

If you’re going to be camping in bear country, it’s important to understand how to avoid bears and how to react if you do encounter them. Bears are very curious and intelligent creatures, but can definitely be dangerous when provoked. If you follow these tips for bear safety in the woods, you may be able to completely avoid dangerous encounters when you’re on the trail or relaxing at your campsite.

Avoid bears at all costs

1. Keep your food out of reach from bears

Improper food storage is one of the biggest factors in backcountry bear encounters. Bears have a keen sense of smell, and if they’re used to getting food from people, they’ll be more likely to wander into a campsite looking for a snack. If you’re camping in bear country, be sure to have bear canisters or hang your food out of reach in a bear bag. Check with the park to determine what canisters are approved for bear safety in the area. If you’re hanging food, it should be hung between two trees, about 12 feet off the ground and four feet from each tree.

2. Keep a clean camp

After each meal, clean up the area and wash all dishes. You can bury the dish water, but don’t bury any trash or leftover food as the bears can find it and dig it up. If you’re cooking fresh fish, clean it near the stream, rather than in the campsite. It’s also important not to leave any snacks in day packs or the tent. Finally, when choosing a campsite focused on bear safety, pick a spot away from the trail or stream that allows you to pitch your tent 100 feet from where you cook and eat your meals. This will decrease your chances of encountering a bear in case he rumbles in despite precautions.

3. Avoid Surprising a bear

Bear’s don’t like surprises. So you can minimize your risk of sneaking up on Smokey by not hiking during dawn, dusk or at nighttime.  You should also learn to recognize bear tracks and other markings so you can tell if any have been near your camp or the trail you’re on.  For safety reasons, it’s common sense to hike in a group, but this will also ensure you make more noise to help scare off nearby bears.  If you’re going solo, wear a bear bell on your hiking boots to make noise while you hike, but carry a pepper spray just in case.

What to do if you encounter a bear on the trail

If, despite everything, you do still see a bear, there is one crucial rule you must remember:

Never run from a bear

If you see him and he does not see you, back away quickly and quietly.  If by some stroke of bad luck he does see you, back up slowly, avoid eye contact, stand up tall, wave your arms and speak in a low loud voice to call for help, but avoid high-pitched sounds.

Bears may bluff charge, changing direction or stopping, sometimes within 10 feet of you, but it is important to never run from a bear. (They can reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour.) Spray the pepper spray at the bear, make loud noises and throw objects in his direction if you feel you are in danger, but stand your ground.

If you’re facing a grizzly that refuses to back down, lie on the ground with your fingers interlocked covering your head and neck. By contrast, you definitely don’t want to play dead with a black bear. These tips can also be used if you encounter a bear in your camp.

Final tips for bear safety when hiking or camping

Staying safe when you’re camping in bear country is as simple as using common camping sense. Most bears won’t attack unless provoked or protecting their cubs, so following these tips for bear safety should help you stay out of their way. Be sure to tell park rangers about any bear activity you experience.

Photo: Mat Hayward/

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