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Growing up doing Girl Guides (Girl Scouts for you Americans) I spent a lot of time camping. Often these group campsites were out in the wilderness without many people around. Sure, we had fun and made crafts and camped. But we also learned a whole lot about how to be bear safe while camping.
How to be Bear Safe While Camping
Up until recently I hadn’t been camping as an adult. My ex wasn’t a fan and it just hadn’t happened yet with the new partner. It came up that he was afraid of bears and unsure what to do in an encounter. Or even the basics on bear prevention.
As a girl who grew up in rural Alberta (home to black and sometimes grizzly bears as well as wolverines) it hadn’t occurred to me there are some people who don’t know much about how to be bear safe while camping.
Different types of bears
Black bears are the smaller of the two. They’re also more docile. The thing about bear colouring though is that they can have some variance so it’s important to know other features. Black bears have longer noses and no hump on their back. They’re found all through Canada and much of the United States.
Grizzly bears are also called brown bears. Bigger and stronger than the black bear, they’re what you want to avoid. Thankfully they only occupy the Northwestern side of the continent so unless you live in Alaska, BC, Alberta, the Canadian territories, or some north west states you’ll probably never see one. In fact, people visit Yellowstone National Park just to get a look at these majestic beasts.
Be bear safe while camping
The best thing you can do to stay bear safe while camping is to keep bears away from the campsite in the first place. This is entirely related to how you handle food.
Since most people are not back woods camping I just want to point out these are tips for regular campsites. I’m by no means an expert on bear safety when it comes to backwoods camping where you might be the only scent for miles.
Store your food properly
Never leave food out at your campsite, but especially overnight. Bears, raccoons, and other animals will be attracted to your campsite. And guess what? Your cooler is not animal proof.
When we camp we store our cooler in the shade during the day so it doesn’t get too warm and in the car at night to keep it away from animals. We also use the trunk of the vehicle as a home base for all our dried goods.
Don’t forget to store dishes, cups, cloths, and anything else with food on it.
No food in the tent
Never bring food inside the tent when you’re camping. In fact, if you are a tent camper, never allow food in your tent at any time. Even when you’re not in bear country. Crumbs are hard to remove and the tent may still smell of food.
This also goes for drinks and strong scents. Nothing but water in there!
Keep the campsite clean
Removing your garbage is an important way to be bear safe while camping. Make sure everything is cleaned up including empty drink bottles. Wipe down surfaces where there was food.
Something you might not think to do, though, is to remove ripe or fallen fruit from your campsite. Take a look around and see if there’s anything that looks like bear food.
Cook away from your tent
This is hard to go in most campsites because they’re not very big. Chances are if this is the case they’re not expecting too many bears to venture into the campground. Still, put your tent as far away from the cooking area as possible.
This also goes for tables and eating areas. If need be, move them away from your tent.
Change your clothes before going to bed
This is one of those ones that makes me seem a little crazy but it’s a great way to be bear safe while camping. When you head to bed, change out of th clothes you wore cooking and eating. Those food scents are still on you!
Put food-smelling clothes safely in your vehicle so they don’t attract bears.
Make yourself known
Personally I like to enjoy the quiet wilderness when I’m out camping. Apparently so do bears. Campgrounds are probably loud enough but if you’re out hiking alone don’t be shy about making some noise.
Chances are if a bear hears you they’ll stay away. It also lowers your chances of you sneaking up on a bear and having them behave defensively.
Invest in bear spray
Let’s be real, you don’t ever want to come face to face with a bear. But if you do it would be better to be prepared than not. You can get a can of bear spray and a holster for under $50. A worthwhile investment for your next camping trip.
What to do if you encounter a bear
- Try and figure out if there’s cubs of food present. Never get between a bear and her cubs! Bears defending food or cubs are going to be more aggressive.
- Identify what type of bear it is. This is important because black and grizzly bears behave differently.
- If the bear is at a distance back away slowly and go as far away as possible.
- If the bear is closer speak in a low tone. You know, like in movies when they’re saying “there girl, it’s ok”. Let the bear know you’re there and you’re not a threat. Back away slowly and don’t run! Usually they’ll flee.
- If the bear acts aggressively towards you try and stay calm. Bears aren’t vicious animals necessarily. If the bear comes at you this is why you carry bear spray. Spray that bear!
- If the bear spray doesn’t work or you don’t have any, and the bear comes at you defensively, there’s two things you can do.
If it’s a black bear make yourself as big, scary, and loud as possible. Yell. Black bears almost never attack. Believe it or not, you can actually fight a black bear. Punch it in the nose, eyes, or other sensitive areas and it should retreat.
If it’s a grizzly you’re not going to want to fight at this point. Instead, this is where play dead comes in. Fall to the ground immediately, roll onto your stomach, and protect your vital organs. Remain still until you’re sure the bear is gone.
- If the bear threatens your life fight it. For example, if it tries to take a bite of you. Even if it’s a grizzly. Go for sensitive areas. Use whatever weapons, sticks, anything you can find. Be loud and aggressive.
Wanting to learn more about bears? This website is great.