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The temperatures are rising, the snow has started to melt, and you’re contemplating going on your first hike of the season. Whether you’re a casual hiker spending a few hours on the local trails or plan for longer backpacking expeditions where you’re at least a week off the grid, bear protection needs to be at the top of your list.
No matter how familiar the trails and campsites seem, you risk encountering one any time you head into the outdoors. While bears typically are afraid of humans, you need to be prepared for a potential event with a plan of action and the right supplies, and should develop habits to bear-proof your journey. Here’s how you can get started.
There’s safety in numbers, particularly when you’re walking along the trails. A team of at least three individuals is recommended, as the noises you make, the smell you generate, and the visibility you take up will all likely be noticed more by a bear than if you travel alone. On this note, especially if you live in or are planning a visit to an area with a large bear population, avoid taking trips by yourself, hiking ahead of your group, or having any children wander ahead or behind.
On the subject of noise, the more a bear can hear you, the less likely it is to be startled. As well, if a bear notices your group’s sounds, it has a greater chance of avoiding you. So, as you plan out your trip, periodically shout, sing and clap to make your presence known, and even consider using a pair of trekking poles. For more effective sound creation, add a couple FRONTIERSMAN Bear Bells to your gear to make noise as you walk or for maximum noise, use the FRONTIERSMAN Bear Horn to be heard up to .5 miles away! However, not all noises are created equal, and you’re advised to avoid screaming and whistling.
A hike through bear country is not an opportunity to go bushwhacking. Instead, for your safety, keep to the trail, be it following the posted signs or using a map.
At the same time, this by itself might not be enough. As a group, keep your eyes peeled to your surroundings, especially if you’re hiking through an area with dense vegetation, a water source nearby, or a curved, winding path. These aspects can reduce your visibility to a bear and increase the chance of an encounter.
As you do this, know the signs that a bear is nearby. See if you can spot tracks and droppings on the ground and claw marks on the trees — all indications bears regularly pass through this portion of the trails. If you spot an animal’s carcass, understand that it could become a food source for a bear, and you’re advised to step back and move on rather than linger.
The short answer is, know where you’re going. We don’t strictly mean the trails, though, but look into the bear population. Is the park or region known for having bears, and if so, are you more likely to encounter a black bear or a grizzly?
On this last note, parks have their own specific regulations concerning protecting yourself against bears and other wildlife. Know if you’ll be allowed to carry bear spray, or if it’s prohibited.
Hikers have a higher chance of encountering bears during the early morning right before sunrise, in the late afternoon before the sun sets, and in the evening. Bears are typically foraging or hunting for food during these hours, and they may not be as alert to hikers. Instead, plan your treks for daylight hours only.
Whether you’re going for a day hike or plan to spend a few hours at the campsite, all of the following have potential to attract bears and should be avoided or minimized:
· Avoid leaving open containers of food around. Instead, package all food and your garbage in a tight, secure container, preferably a bear bag or canister, like the FRONTIERSMAN Bear Safe Bear Resistant Food Storage Container.
· Avoid leaving food scraps on the trail.
· Avoid wearing anything scented, including body lotions and perfumes. A bear’s strong, sensitive nose may mistake your scent as food or wildflowers.
· Keep all cookware, your camp stove, personal hygiene products, clothing, and trash in a secure container, as even their residue can attract wildlife.
· If you’re staying overnight, avoid keeping your food and supplie
s near your tent, in the event they attract a bear.
· Strain any dishwater you use, and keep the particles in with your secured trash.
· Follow all Leave No Trace principles for your trash, human waste, and cooking at camp.
· Don’t leave your pack open and unattended. Especially if you’ve previously left food inside, a bear may be tempted to investigate and rifle through it.
Bear spray should always be your last resort, but these canisters filled with pepper spray act as an effective deterrent you can use from a distance as far away as 30 feet.
Because you never know when you’ll need it, you’re recommended to keep the canister attached at all times to a holster, instead of storing it in your pack. Should a bear approach, you only have seconds to deploy the spray, and need to react quickly.