Thinking about camping in bear country? Don’t worry one bit! By being a smart camper, you can avoid bears and bears will avoid you. Follow these bear safety rules while camping to keep you and the bears safe.
Seeing a bear in the great outdoors is nothing short of magnificent. I am very guilty of pulling over a car on the side of the road after seeing a bear in the distance. BUT, I never ever have attempted to get close. Keeping your distance from bears is better for the both of you, no matter how much you want a photo to post to Instagram.
With that being said, a lot of people get scared about bears. I think bears are sharks of the woods. People think they are lingering behind every tree ready to attack! The reality is that you are more likely to get struck by lightning than be hurt by a bear.
Bears are just as averse to people as people are to bears. Most of the time, no matter where you camp, there is nothing to fear regarding bears. As long as you follow a few simple bear safety rules while camping, you’ll be good to go.
How Do You Avoid Bears While Camping?
Properly Store Your Food
The first rule for bear safety, of course, is to always stow your food properly. Bears are only likely to come to your campsite if there is something they want, such as your delicious hot dog dinner. Or yesterday’s trash for that matter. Bears are attracted to all sizes of food and garbage.
Keep food in safe storage containers. Remember, coolers, tents, and pop-up campers are not bear proof. Try to store your food in your car if available or in airtight containers.
Reduce campsite odours as much as possible, such as burning food in the campfire. Always properly dispose of any uneaten food away from the campsite, including dishwater.
Whatever you do, never leave food unattended. Bears are the least of your problems here. Unattended food can invite all sorts of annoying bugs and other critters to your campsite.
Hang Your Food
If you are backpacking or don’t have access to safe storage, storing your food entails putting all your food in a bag and hanging it from a tree limb away from your tent or camper.
Choose a tree with a limb that is higher than a bear can reach from below and don’t worry about a bear climbing a tree to get to your food. While some bears can climb, they are not very good at it. Most won’t even try unless they are starving.
To hang your food, throw a rope over the branch, tie one end around the closed mouth of the bag and then yank the bag skyward using the other end of the rope. Also, be sure to do the same with leftovers and trash that has food on it.
Are Tents Safe from Bears?
The short answer, no. Bears can easily get into tents if they want to. However, they will only go in a tent if there is something in there that they want.
Just like your campsite, keep food and odours away from your tent. This includes any type of garbage or even sweet-smelling cosmetics such as deodorant, sunscreen, or bug spray.
Always cook away from where you sleep and avoid wearing clothes that you cooked in to bed.
So don’t let your imagination get ahead of you. If you hear rustling noises outside your tent, it’s much more likely to be a squirrel or raccoon rather than a ferocious bear. By practicing bear safety while camping, you have nothing to worry about.
Another instance when you should be wary of bears is when you’re out hiking in the woods. Always hike in groups when you’re in bear country. Bears are much more likely to be intimidated by you and avoid any sound of approaching humans at all cost.
To avoid surprising a bear, make lots of noise while hiking. Wear a bear bell, clap your hands, or even sing. My favourite is to yell out “Hey Bear!” every once in a while. Not only am I friendly, but I’m safe.
You should also be on the lookout for bears if you will be on, or near a river or stream during the time salmon are running. This is the time bears are most eager to feed and get annoyed by anyone or anything that gets in their way. In general, it’s best to stay away from salmon runs or dead fish altogether if bears live in the area.
Always listen to signs and pay attention to bear warnings while camping.
What to Do If You See a Bear While Camping
Grizzly vs Black Bears
Not all bears deserve the same treatment. For black bears, intimidation is your best method. Look large and group together if you’re with people. Make lots of noise, banging anything you have together, or grab large sticks to wave around. Try to scare the bear.
For grizzly bears, you want to do the opposite. Don’t look the bear in the eyes and speak very calmly to the bear. Avoid looking like a threat and back away very slowly if the bear is standing still. Never turn and run away from the bear.
If a bear charges at you, your best bet is bear spray. Spray the bear when you are 12-30 feet away. Act quickly as the spray only lasts 7-9 seconds. Be mindful of the wind as the spray can affect you too if it gets in your eyes. Lastly, always keep it in a handy and easy to reach place. The last thing you want to worry about is digging out the bear spray when a bear is charging at you.
If you don’t have spray or it doesn’t work, play dead. This requires you to stay on your stomach at all times. Cover your head with your arms. If the bear rolls you over, keep rolling until you are on your stomach again.
There are occasions when it’s possible to accidentally get between a cub and its mother. This is an extremely dangerous situation, and the smart thing to do is climb a tree as soon and as quickly as possible.
If no trees are available, head in a direction opposite of the cubs. In some cases, there are other places to take shelter. If so, head there immediately.
If you happen to stumble upon a bear in the wild, and it isn’t with cubs, the odds are that the bear will head away; you should do the same.
Overall, it’s very rare for people who are camping to have trouble with bears. People are usually the source of the problem, not the bears. So follow these tips on bear safety while camping and you don’t have to worry. Enjoy yourself and have a good time!