Essential Tips For Backpacking And Camping In A Bear Country

Rilor Staff
Update: October 9, 2021
Table of Contents

Encountering bears during your camping or backpacking trip could be a wonderful experience. These creatures are magnificent and beautiful to watch. However, things could change easily if they are near you or start threatening your safety. 

If you are heading to a destination where there are bears, it is essential that you know the fundamental precautions to deal with a potential encounter. 

Tips In Backpacking And Camping In Bear Country

Here are the important things that you need to know, understand, and execute before and during an expedition in a bear country. 

Planning Ahead

Before your trip, it is necessary that you research your destination. Specifically, you need to know if there are bears in the area. If there are, try to look for any related policies and regulations. For instance, some parks will require you to bring bear canisters. 

In particular national parks where grizzly bears are present, such as the Yellowstone National Park and Denali National Park, many rangers and guides will encourage you to bring bear spray all the time. Meanwhile, other parks where there are only black bears will not be compelled to bring any bear spray. In fact, it might be prohibited to do so, especially if you are going to Yosemite. 

Furthermore, you should also determine if there are metal lockers and bear poles on your camping and backpacking site. These amenities can influence the type of equipment that you'll bring. 

Avoiding Bears During The Trip

There are instances where you will encounter a bear even before you reach your campsite. If you find yourself in this predicament, don't panic. Your primary objective here is to be able to hike without catching the attention of the bear. You should move as subtly as possible, especially if there are mother bears and cubs. 

The following tips can help you navigate your way to avoid a bear encounter in grizzly terrain. You can apply these tips if you are going to head to black bear territory. 

  • Don't hike at dawn or dusk - This may seem obvious but hiking after dark is one of the most common mistakes made by hikers who want to see wildlife. It's because animals tend to feed more often around sunset and sunrise. Therefore, when you go out early in the morning, you have less chance of seeing them. Also, keep in mind that wild animals like to sleep during the day. So, if you're planning to camp overnight, make sure you set up your tent well away from their sleeping areas. 
  • Stay in aggregate - When you travel alone, you increase your chances of being attacked by a bear. It has been proven that people who stay in groups (three or more people) have a lesser likelihood of being threatened by bears.
  • Create noises while hiking - You need to do this so that you will be able to notify the existing wildlife of your presence. Bears aren't natural aggressors; they only attack if they feel there's a threat around them. Once these bears are aware that you are there, they will try to distance themselves from you. However, you should never scream or whistle. These sounds are painful to the ears of the bear. Instead, you should just sing or clap your hands. Be wary of your surroundings, too. If there are gushing rivers, they might drown the sound you are making. 
  • Bring a bear spray with you - There are times when you won't be able to use noise to alert the nearby wildlife. That's why you must carry bear spray with you. Make sure that you practice using it first before heading into the wilderness. Remember that you shouldn't aim directly at the eyes of the animal. Rather, you should shoot its nose or mouth. 

These bear sprays have red pepper on them. They can disrupt the respiratory system and eyes of any organism--including you. Hence, if the wind blows against you, the spray might head toward your face. Keep in mind that the effectiveness of these sprays is within the range of 10 to 30 feet. Always put the bear spray somewhere you can quickly access. 

How To Fend Off Bears From Your Campsite

Because of the frequency of human visitation to bear territories, it is not a surprise that there a lot of them have grown a liking to our food and delicacies. Of course, this is an issue since these foods are harmful to these creatures. Aside from that, it can drive the bears to visit and hunt food at various campsites, especially if they smell something sumptuous. 

Bears don't intrude at any campsite without any reason; if they are in your area, this means that there's something attracting them. And there's a good chance that it could be your evening or morning meal. To prevent these bears from entering your campsite, do the following things:

  • Store food properly - Don't leave anything edible near where you cook. Put all your leftovers inside a container which you'll place far enough from your cooking site. The same goes for your garbage cans. Place them at a distance from your camping grounds. 
  • Do bear-related food storage strategies - It is important that you have a bear canister, pole-hung bag, or metallic containers whenever you are in a bear country. This is because these items help keep away wild animals like bears. Also, make sure that you store your food well. For instance, you may want to hang your food up high. Or else, you can even bury it deep under the ground. But remember that you cannot hide everything from bears. So, always ensure that you're storing some kind of bait as well. 
  • Don't put anything odorous near your campsite - Bears are easily attracted to smell. Therefore, if you happen to find yourself in a campground where there are lots of smells coming out, then chances are that you've got a bear close by. Avoid putting your trash bins next to your tent. Likewise, avoid leaving open fires anywhere near your campsite. 

What To Do If You Encounter A Black Bear Or Grizzly Bear?

Most of the time, bears will stay away from the path of humans as long as they are notified of their presence. But at the same time, there's no telling exactly how a bear would behave all the time. Therefore, it is essential that you exercise caution while you are in a bear country. 

The way you respond to these bears may vary depending on the kind of bear that you'll encounter. Black bears and grizzly bears share a semblance in appearance, so it is not that easy to distinguish the two. 

One of the distinct traits of black bears is the absence of shoulder humps. Moreover, they have tall ears and a straight face structure. Meanwhile, grizzly bears are known for their protruding shoulder hump and rounded ears. They also have a concave facial structure. 

If you encounter a black bear, do the following:

  • You need to look bigger than the bear. Hence, you should raise your arms. You should also throw objects at it so that it will retreat. 
  • Get a stick or any available object for self-defense. 
  • If you are at a campsite, you need to put your food in the bear canister as you are moving away. You should never let the bear grab the food you are holding, even if it is a large cooking pot.
  • If the bear is seemingly interested in your food, drop it. After that, you should move away quickly. 
  • Even if the bear is apparently harmless, don't drop your guard. Try to scare it away. 
  • Never play dead if the bear attacks you; fight back. Hit its nose and eyes. 

If you encounter a grizzly bear, do the following:

  • Once a grizzly bear stands and stares at you, there's a chance that it is assessing you. If this happens, you should not act up. Instead, look away and trace your steps back slowly. 
  • Grizzlies tend to make fake attacks. When they do this, their ears stand; they might start huffing their way toward you. Don't panic in this situation. Remain on your location and try to talk to it. But at the same time, prepare your bear spray. Don't ever turn your back. If the bear retreats, you should do the same, too.
  • You'll know if the grizzly bear is making a full attack if it is silent and its head is lying low while it is charging. If this is the case, use your bear spray and jet it in the direction of the bear. When spraying, it should be low enough so that you can hit its head. 
  • If you don't have bear spray, play dead. Line on your stomach and put your pack on your back. At the same time, cover your neck using your hands. Spread of legs and arms so that you wouldn't be rolled over easily. If the bear flips you, then you should do your best to roll again so that you can return to your original position.
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