Every camping trip requires basic preparation. A camping trip in bear country requires additional preparation and precaution to ensure that you and your camping companions do not get eaten by bears. Statistically, bears pose a minimal risk to campers, but the threat is always real and is one that you should take seriously. If you are planning a trip into bear country for the first time, then you should seriously consider the following preventative measures to ensure the safety of you and everyone in your party.
Venturing into bear country does not mean that you are headed out to face inevitable death. There is no reason to walk around scared out of your wits. It just means that you need to pay attention and have a plan of action in place, should you happen upon a bear. Physical and mental preparation will be your best defense, as panic and adrenaline usually do not lead to good decision making.
When camping in bear country, the most important thing to consider is food storage. What you do with your food at night will be your best defense against waking up with a bear rummaging through your tent. Since there are a wide range of camping scenarios, there are several different methods of food storage that you should be prepared for.
Most (if not all) official campgrounds in bear country provide bear boxes. These steel boxes are located a good distance from where you pitch your tents and are equipped with a latch that bears cannot open. It is important to remember that a bear's main tool for finding food is its sense of smell. It is vitally important that all of your food goes in the bear box every night. Don’t take a candy bar to bed with you just in case you wake up with a midnight case of the munchies. As long as the food is in the box you should be safe.
You may wake up with quite an adrenaline rush when you hear the bear trying to get into the box in the middle of the night, but you can breathe easy knowing that his attention will stay focused on that box. After a while, he will get frustrated and move on. Remember, bears are scavengers. They don’t want to work too hard for their meals.
Creating a Bear Hang
You may find yourself camping in a remote location where no bear boxes are available. In this instance, you'll need to build a bear hang. Take a good sized length of rope and an extra duffle bag with you. Before you retire for the night, put all of your food into the duffle bag and then suspend it from a tree branch. Make sure that it's at least 12 to 15 feet off the ground, as bears have a surprisingly high reach when they stand on their hind legs. Unless you want a bear wandering through the middle of your camp, it is also recommended that you suspend the bag 100 yards or so away from the camp. Once the bear realizes that there is no way he can get at the food, he will wander away to look for another easy meal.
How To Avoid Bears
These above tips are helpful ways to keep bears from ransacking your camp, but what should you do if you happen upon one while hiking? Run? Play dead? Attack? Your best defense is to avoid surprising the bear. Remember, they don’t typically view humans as a food source so they’re not going to be out looking for you. People get into trouble when they surprise bears and the animals feel threatened, causing them to attack.
Some hikers like to wear a small bell pinned to their shirt when hiking through bear country. That way the bear, who has a very good sense of hearing, can be alerted to your presence before you ever walk around a rock and catch them off guard. Chances are the bear will simply amble off in the other direction if he hears you coming. You might not ever even know that he was there. Some people just stop and whistle a few times before walking around a blind bend. This serves the same purpose. Remember, the best defense against a bear attack is to avoid the confrontation altogether.
Encountering a Bear
If you should find yourself in a sticky situation and you have surprised a bear then all is not lost. Some hikers carry bear spray. It is similar to the pepper spray carried by police officers and, while it does no permanent damage to the bear, it can be debilitating. This should only be used as a last resort, as the bear has to be in fairly close proximity to you anyway. If it doesn’t look like the bear is going to attack, but is instead looking for a way to escape, then slowly back away. Don’t turn your back on him, just slowly walk backwards and give him space. Once you have moved away a bit, he will take off in the other direction. The only time the bear spray should be used is if the bear is engaging you. If you use it prematurely, you may actually provoke an attack.
The chances of getting attacked by a bear while camping are remarkably low. The best thing that you can do is educate yourself about bear behaviors and be prepared. As long as you have a predetermined plan of action, you should be able to walk away from a bear encounter unscathed.
Brian Simkins is a freelance writer living in Chicago. He enjoys using his 14 years of home improvement experience to educate and equip new home owners.