Bear Safety While Camping

Blood-curdling snarl, saliva flying from flashing 4-inch incisors as an 1,000+ lb animal charges towards you with bloodshot eyes zeroed in for the kill.....

I’m pretty sure we’ve all seen the classic Hollywood bear attack. But for those of us who didn’t grow up in bear territory, the question remains: how much of what we see on the big screen is true? Are bears really that ferocious in real life?

I have good news for you. Black bears are peaceable and shy, and will normally avoid humans at any cost. They weigh anywhere between 100-600 lbs and are omnivorous, feeding on nuts, roots, grasses, carcasses, young creatures, voles, berries, insects and larvae, fish and pretty much anything else they can lay a whisker on. Black bears are most active at dawn and dusk.

Unfortunately, because of rising human populations, some bears are losing their natural fear of humans and beginning to associate them with food. This has resulted in two things: ‘problem bears’, i.e. bears which have become a nuisance to humans and usually end up being killed by officials, and a rise in black bear attacks on people. A fed bear is a dead bear, they say. However, sometimes people get into sticky situations with bears by just plain being unwise. Here are a few tips for making sure brother bruin and you keep a long-distance relationship.

On the Trail

Back off, yo! If you see a bear, give it plenty of room. If it changes its behavior, you are too close.

If you come upon a bear unexpectedly, don’t run. Face the bear and slowly back away. Avoid
eye contact, which can be perceived as a threat.

Always stay with your group! Bear attack statistics prove that a large group greatly reduces the
risk of bear trouble.

In Campsite

NEVER, EVER feed a bear, no matter where you are. Fed bears lose their natural fear of humans, resulting in abnormal and dangerous behaviors. Be smart. Bears have an amazing sense of smell, and are NOT picky eaters! Keep your campsite 100% clean.

Take the time to rig your bear-bag correctly. It needs to be at least 12 feet off the ground, 6 feet from the trees trunk, 6 feet below the supporting limb, and 100+ feet from your campsite.

Store food, all drinks other than plain water, trash, and items with strong smells (ie, chapstick, deodorant, toothpaste, etc.) in bear-bags or bear-proof containers, and away from your sleeping area.

Burn or bear-bag anything with food smells and/or scraps in it: leftovers, trash, etc. Never leave food, spilled drinks, dirty dishes, partially burned scraps, or anything smelly in your campsite.

If a Bear Approaches You

Never run! Bears can run at speeds of 30 mph... much faster than you.

Make yourself look as big and scary as possible. Yell, jump up and down, and wave your arms.

If it charges, stay calm and stay put. Nearly all black bear charges are fake, just the bear’s way of
seeing who the boss is. The bear will normally veer off at the last minute.

If a black bear actually physically attacks you, fight back.

And if you’re really, truly, terrified and petrified of bears... you could always follow the advice of Mel, a Trailblaze trip leader, and opt for a winter outdoors adventure (linked). She says, “Camp in winter. It’s the safest season of the year. No bugs, no snakes... and the bears are all in hibernation.”

How much better could it get than that?