Safety tips for camping & backpacking in the bear country

bear safety tips camping

With the expansion of human footprint in the wilderness, human engagement with wild animals such as bears is a common occurrence. Whether you are on a trail or just camping in the bear territory, there is a reasonable chance of you encountering a bear. Over the years, bears have become more comfortable with human presence in their territory and most often refrain from direct interaction. However, it is a good idea to make adequate preventive and protective preparations while on the outdoors in bear country.

In this short article, we will look at some of the major safety measures you can undertake to ensure safe trekking or camping in the wilderness.

Understanding the bear – Why do bears engage with humans?

The traditional view over the years was that bears are inherently shy and non-engaging animals. Whilst this inherent behavior still holds true, closer encounters with humans in the past few decades have resulted in bears exhibiting temperamental and aggressive behavior. Some of the primary reasons that a bear may choose to raid campsites and attack humans are:

  • The bear is surprised and startled by human presence. Almost 20-30% of bear engagements are because of this reason.
  • The humans unwittingly get close to a protective area for cubs marked by the bear. This is the most common reason of bears getting un provokingly aggressive with about 50-60% of attacks attributed to this reason.
  • The bear is hungry and human settlement and supplies offer it an easier access to food.
  • The bear has gone rogue and the predatory instincts take over.

Black vs. Grizzly bears

No bear in the backcountry is a teddy bear! Jokes apart, it is important to determine which category of bears you have encountered to calibrate your response.

Black bears can be black, dark brown or cinnamon in color. Grizzly bears are generally blond, medium to dark brown, and sometimes even black. While black bears are generally smaller than the grizzlies, size cannot be a major differentiator.

The major differentiators are shoulder hump and ear and claw size. The black bears do not have a shoulder hump, which is fairly pronounced in grizzly bears. In addition, black bears have larger ears and smaller claws.You can get more information on detailed classification on the International Association for Bear Research & Management website.

So why is it important to know the type of bear you are dealing with?

The answer is in the response that would keep you safe. Black bears are generally less interested in engaging, so if you stand your ground, make some noise and give a safe passage, the bear would probably walk away. Grizzlies are more confrontational, so dropping to the ground in the fetal position or playing dead is a good line of defense against such bears. Off course, , if confronted, your bear spray is the best line of defense for both types of bears.

Preventive and Precautionary measures to prevent bear attacks

In order to avoid bear attacks and any harmful engagements, both preventive and precautionary preparation is required. Some of the most important tips to undertake are listed below:

Preventive measures

  • Do ample research before starting your trip. Study the trail maps and locate areas that are explicitly identified as bear habitats. Keep an eye for any recent bear activity that has been reported by park officials, forest guards and other public servants. Nowadays, the mapping applications available for smartphone have interactive and latest information on such things.
  • Once you have understood that you can expect bear encounters during your trip, prepare accordingly. If you are going on a hiking or backpacking trip, consider packing food items in bear resistant sack bags and canisters. Also carry some trash bags so that you do not leave out your wastes in the open during your trip. For emergencies, carry a bear resistant food canister to store some food supplies. Such canisters and kegs are mandatory in some national parks. Store your canister about 100 feet away from your tent. You may choose to mark it for quick identification.
    • Carry some paracord so that you can hang your supplies on branches during night time.
    • If you are going to camp in bear territory for multiple days which include overnight stays, you may need to make elaborate preparations. If you are extremely concerned about bear engagements and RVing or car-camping, you can buy a solar powered electric fence or a motion sensor to place around your settlement.
    • If you have a pet dog, avoid taking it with you if you are going in bear territory. Predatory engagements with dogs can often make a bear more aggressive. If you indeed have to take your pet dog with you, try to keep it on a leash and closely engaged with you.
    • While packing your bags, ensure that you pack it in a way that you have access to bear protective gear on a short notice. You do not want to search for your bear deterrent spray in your sack when confronted with a bear.

Bear preventive gear list

Some of the best preventive gear items available in the market are listed below:
UDAP Bear Resistant CanisterCanister- Virtually indestructible
Canister made with high quality polymer blend.
- The canister is 8 inches in diameter and 10 inches in height and weighs 2.4 pounds .
- The design and specifications make it suitable for all places where such a gear is mandatory.
Counter Assault Bear Keg ContainerCanister- Popular bear canister made in the USA with high quality polymer blend and approved by agencies for use in all national parks.
-Features a bright color, wide lid with a capacity of 716 cu. inches.
- The canister is 9 inches in diameter and 13.75 inches in height and weighs 3.5 pounds.
BearVault Bear CanisterCanister- High quality bear proof keg made with polycarbonate.
- The standard size has a capacity of 700 cubic inches, with a smaller canister also available
- Suitable for all bear and predator infested outdoors.
Backpacker Food Cache Bear CanisterCanister- A popular bear canister with standard cylindrical shape and polymer body.
- The canister has a diameter of 8.25 inches and height of 12 inch, making it suitable for carrying supplies for two people.
Ursack Bear Resistant Sack BagSack- Hugely popular, bear sack bag made with Spectra fabric, which is considered totally bear proof.
- The sack comes with 6 feet of paracord string for hanging the sack.
- The sack comes in multiple sizes, with standard size of around 600 cubic inches.
BaseCamp Odor-Barrier BagTrash bag- A set of 5 odor blocking bags made with reusable and biodegradable plastic.
- Each bag can is 10 inch high and 5 inch in diameter. The surface is 0.2 inch thick making it extremely durable for multi-purpose usage.
UDAP BEF Bear Shock Electric FenceElectric fence- A high quality electric fence to keep bear and other predators away.
- Weighs 3.3 pounds and can cover an area of 25' X 25'

Protective measures

  • Consider carrying the following items when backpacking or hiking in bear country. For some the best options to buy, refer to the list in next section:
    • A bear preventive magnetic bell: This cheap item helps in indicating human presence to the bears. It is not mandatory, but recommended, especially for black bear. If you are traveling with your dog, you can even attach such a bell to its collar.
    • Bear Spray/Mace: This is an absolute must gear to carry. There are some really effective sprays available in the market, which have a range of more than 30 feet. Most of these sprays come with holster for easy carry. As a suggestion, practice using the mace before embarking on the trip.
    • Survival Whistle: While this is another recommended item for survival to alert others of your emergency, you do not want to whistle out the bear. Use it only in emergencies and not as a tactical protection against bears.
    • Weapons & Sidearm: If you are an avid weapon man and comfortable with pistols, you can carry an emergency sidearm, though in our experience we have not seen it doing a lot of good. You can also carry a small tactical knife, but rest assured, you would not be able to use it as a defense against an angry bear.
  • Always cook away from your primary resting place/tent. The general guidance is to cook more than 100 feet away from the tent. Similarly place your trash bins 100 feet away from the tent. This would ensure that the bear does not find you in close proximity if it does come hunting for food.
  • If confronted with a bear, try to avoid making sharp movements. Try to stay still, while reaching out for your mace to spray it on the bear face. If the bear shows signs of aggression and moves towards you, dump everything you have around you on it, even if it means emptying your backpack on it.
  • If you experience a bear encounter or see a bear nearby, notify the forest/park officials immediately. They would be able to take appropriate precautionary measures.

Bear protective gear list

Some of the best protective gear items available in the market are listed below:
Frontiersman Bear Spray with Hip HolsterBear spray- Most popular bear spray with a 30 feet range.
- Comes in different sizes but 8 ounce one is reasonably suitable.
- Comes with a carry holster
Counter Assault Bear Deterrent with HolsterBear spray- High quality bear deterrent spray with 30 feet range.
- Also features a glow in dark safety tie and a carry holster.
UDAP Bear Spray With Camo Hip HolsterBear spray- 2% CRC spray solution with easy and long usage mechanism.
- Comes with a tactical hip holster.
Mace Brand Bear Pepper SprayBear spray- Highly effective fogger from the originator of mace/pepper sprays.
- Has a range of 30 feet and discharge rate of 5.4 sec.
Coghlan's Magnetic Bear BellBear bell- Economical magnetic bell that attaches to clothing or pack with a Velcro strap.
- Magnet in bell acts as a silencer and eliminates noise when not in use
Frontiersman Bear Bell with Magnetic SilencerBear bell- High quality magnetic bell with Velcro strap.
- Magnetic bell ensures minimal noise when not used.
- Comes in 5 different colors.
Nakabayashi bear bell with carabinerBear bell- Traditional bear bell made of brass with a carabiner for attaching to gear.
Storm All Weather Safety WhistleSurvival whistle- Uniquely designed survival whistle for all types of emergencies.
- Can work even in water.
- Contains a key ring for multiple use.
Fox 40 Sonik Blast CMGSurvival whistle- Hugely popular whistle with 120+ decibel sound with a range of 1 mile.
- Has a smart molded design for maximum durability

Additional Resources

Still concerned about bear safety and looking for additional resources? If so, in addition to the online references below, you can check out the following popular books on the subject. These books are not meant to scare you and all, but rather focus on how to be prepared in case of an encounter:

Final Thoughts

In this article, we looked at some the basic safety tips for camping and backpacking in the bear country. We looked at the major reasons why bears get aggressive and measures to avoid and manage confrontation. We also listed some of the best preventive and protective gear to carry during excursions in predator territory. Do let us know how you found this article and if you would want us to consider anything else. Until next time, have a safe trip in the bear country!!


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