Tips to Stay Safe from Bears While Camping, Hiking or Backpacking
There are many would-be campers and hikers who avoid outdoor recreational activities because of their fear of bears. If you're one of them, we have some good news for you. While any wild animal represents a potential danger, there is plenty that you can do to reduce your risks when out in the wild. We've prepared a guide to educate you about bears and how to stay safe while in their territory.
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The truth about bears
Most of the time, bears prefer to avoid people whenever possible. They usually go the other way if they hear you coming first. The most dangerous encounters with bears occur when you get between a mother bear and their cubs. If you see a bear cub, your best bet is to go the other way fast and resist the urge to stop and stare or try to come into contact with it. It's good to keep in mind that bears are as individual as people are, and there is always the risk of running into a rogue that is feeling particularly mean. A bear that is used to people may become very bold when around people and in search of food.
What attracts bears to your camp
Bears are notorious scavengers. They are always on the lookout for some free and effortless food. This is the main reason why they enter camping spots. Leaving any food items out is an open invitation for a bear to come and dine. When you're finished with your meals, put all leftover food away. Bears can smell food in your garbage as well. It should be sealed in an airtight container so the smell doesn't permeate the woods nearby. Bears are the most attracted by cooking utensils and pots with leftover food on them; cooking oils; garbage; livestock feed and pet food; toiletries and cosmetics, beverages, camps stove/lantern fuel. Keeping these items stored in bear proof containers can help to keep bears from investigating your camp.
Other tips to keep you safe when camping in bear country:
- Keep all pets on a leash: Dogs are notorious for provoking bears and bringing them right back into camp.
- Don't sleep in the clothes that you were cooking in. The smell of the food will linger and it may attract a bear directly towards you when you're sleeping at night. If you're in bear country, place the clothing in a sealed plastic bag, or use a smell proof backpack. If that's not a option for you, store your stuffs in a location that is 100 yards from the place that you sleep.
- Sleep 100 yards from food storage, garbage and cooking spots: This will put you at a safer distance in case a bear is lured into your camp by the smell of food or garbage. It's easier to make a safe retreat when there is a distance in between you and a hungry bear.
- Sleep on the inside of a tent instead of out in the open. Although a bear could probably get through a tent in time, it offers some protection, particularly if you keep your tent tightly zipped at night.
- Do not store any food inside of your tent, and don't cook in there either. It's very important to keep all things that attract bears away from the area that you sleep in at night. There have been some incidences where campers have awoken to discover that a bear had been through their camp while they slept, but did not bother them inside of the tent. Bears are usually loud and clumsy, but some of them are stealthy, and can grab the goodies, or go through the garbage without you even knowing about it until the next morning.
- Keep a flashlight handy at all times during the night, and have bear spray on hand to repel them.
What to do if a bear enters your camp
Stop and think first. If the bear doesn't see you, quietly slip away to a safe place. If he does see you, speak in a calm voice and avoid making eye contact. Use slow movements. If he runs away, go in the other direction. If he just looks at you, back away slowly. Get to a safe place away from the bear. Get inside of a vehicle if possible. Do not run from the bear because he is likely to overtake you and catch you.
If the bear becomes aggressive and you cannot get away, use bear spray. It contains capsaicin, which is derived from extremely hot peppers. This may deter the bear long enough for you to reach your safe place. Use as directed on the label. You should become familiar with how to use the bear spray at the time of purchase. Knowing about bears and their habits, and what to do if you encounter one can help keep you safer when camping, hiking or backpacking in bear country.