You must be prepared when exploring bear country. Bears are omnivores which means that they eat just about anything. Bears are large, powerful, and very fast in spite of their size. Bear attacks are rare but you need to know what to do when exploring their territory. There are type types of bears common in North America:

  • Black bears are 5′ to 6′ long, can weigh up to 600 pounds, and can run at up to 35 mph.
  • Brown bears can grow to over 9′ in length, can weight up to 1200 pounds, and can run at up to 37 mph.

I must confess that I have never encountered a bear while hiking. I carried bear spray but have never deployed it in a bear encounter. With those caveats here is some information that I have collected over the years. Be sure to read my complete article on Bear Spray. While in bear country remember:

  • Be Alert: Watch for bears and for signs of bears such as bear prints and scat.
  • Make Noise: Two of the worst things that you in bear country are coming between momma bear and her cubs and surprising a bear. Make noise while on the trail. Loud conversation, singing, or bear bells attached to your backpack can reduce your chances of surprising a bear.
  • Bear Spray: Carry bear spray and know how to use it. Stop at visitor centers and ask the rangers about trail conditions and how to deal with local bears. They often have inert cans of bear spray so you can practice holding the can, releasing the safety, and aiming. Rangers live there, they know the area well, and it is their job to provide information to tourists. Carry the bear spray so that you can get to it immediately!
  • Don’t Hike Alone: It is best to hike with 3-4 people. If you must hike alone then be extra careful and be prepared.
  • Don’t Run: Never run from a bear. They can run at over 30 mpg. An Olympic sprinter can reach about 28 mph so you cannot outrun a bear.

If You Encounter a Bear

These guidelines came directly from a card from the National Park Service (bullet points taken verbatim from that card):

  • If you have a surprise encounter with a bear — slowly back away.
  • If the bear charges — stand your ground & use bear spray.
  • If the bear attacks — play dead.
  • If the bear stalks you, then attacks — fight back.
  • If a bear attacks you in your tent — fight back.