We don't stop hiking because we grow old, we grow old because we stop hiking. -- Finis Mitchell

What to do when backpacking in bear country

A few days ago I was talking with a friend of mine and he asked me, "Casey, you do a lot of outdoor stuff, what would you do if you came across a bear? Would you run away?"

At first I didn't know if he was serious, then I realized that while I had grown up learning many outdoor techniques in the Boy Scouts, others hadn't. I explained to him what I would do if I encountered a bear, and better yet how I would try to prevent that encounter in the first place.

I'm no Bear Grylls, but I am an Eagle Scout. Follow these guidelines to help minimize your risks of an encounter with a bear when in bear country.

How to help avoid a bear:
  • Find out local bear activity- If you're going to an area ask the local park rangers what type of bear activity has been reported lately. They'll also be able to tell you what they recommend for that area to prevent bear attacks.
  • Make lots of noise- Making noise will help to alert any nearby bears to your presence and help lessen the chance of a sudden encounter. These sudden encounters are what cause a majority of the reported bear attacks. A startled bear is an angry bear. One way to make noise is to shout, "Yo bear!" every couple seconds. Another is to sing or talk loudly. You can also wear a bear bell, but those aren't super loud and in areas near rivers and streams, probably won't be heard over the rushing water.
  • Avoid hiking in the dark- While it may be fun to take a trip off into the brush in the middle of the night, you never know what might be sleeping on the other side of that berry bush.
  • Hike in groups- If you're going on your own adventure, then that may be hard, but if you are with a group, stick together. The increased number of people as well as the fact that you will most likely be talking will help to warn a bear you are coming.
  • If you come across a cub beware!- Wherever a cub is, a mother bear is sure to be near. Never, I repeat, NEVER get between a mother bear and her cub.
  • Use a bear box- A bear box, or food storage container, is a thick canister for storing your food in. This will not allow the bear to eat your food and allow you too keep your food a good distance from your tent.
  • Cook and camp in different clothes- The clothes you cook in will smell like the food you cooked. This smell will make your tent smell good to a hungry bear. Keep the cook clothes separate and with the food in the bear box.
  • Cook away from the tents- Set up a designated cooking and eating area. Only have food in that area. If a bear does come into camp, chances are they'll stay around the area where the food was and leave the tents alone.
What to do if you do spot a bear:
  • Do NOT run- Bears are fast. Really fast. Even faster than you hyped up on Red Bull and adrenaline. A bear can run at over 40 miles per hour and accelerate from 0-25 mph in around 6 seconds. Trust me, you can't outrun this fellow. A bear also might see you running away as a game or sport. Catch the camper if you will.
  • Slowly move away- If you spot a bear and it is unaware of you, slowly back away the way you came. Detour a large distance around the bear or just make camp somewhere else.
  • Don't move- If a bear does spot you, stop moving and stand still until the bear leaves or moves away. Then slowly back away.
  • Play dead- If the bear does become aggressive and attack you, play dead. Curl up on the ground with your knees to your chest and clasp your hands together on the back of your neck.
And most importantly, when in bear country, ALWAYS carry bear spray or pepper spray. You can buy this at any outdoor store. Oh, and make you know how to use it and practice flipping the safety latch off. You don't want to be reading the directions with an angry bear coming at you.

Hope this helps prevent you from running into any bears. Bear attacks are very rare, but never the less it is better to be safe than sorry. Get outside, have fun, and be safe.

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