Home Camping Tips Bear with Us: Unbeatable Tips for Camping Safely in Bear Country
Bear with Us: Unbeatable Tips for Camping Safely in Bear Country

5 min

September 9, 2023

If not friend, why friend shaped! Ah, the great outdoors – starlit skies, fresh pine air, the distant growl of a…bear?! If that last bit left you more anxious than excited, fret not! 

Adventuring in bear country is like a thrilling game of hide and seek – only, you really don’t want to be found! 

Bear with us (pun very much intended) as we guide you through the essential know-hows of navigating bear country. By the end of this guide, the only growls you’ll be worried about will be from your own stomach at the sight of s’mores!

Know Your Bears: Understanding Bear Behavior

If you’re venturing into the wilderness, it’s essential to know who your furry neighbors might be. 

Common Types of Bears in North America

  1. Grizzly Bears: Also known as Brown Bears, these majestic creatures are notable for their distinctive hump, long claws, and often grizzled fur (hence the name). They’re on the larger side, typically weighing between 400 and 800 lbs.
  1. Black Bears: Despite the name, these bears can be black, brown, cinnamon, and even white. They’re smaller than Grizzlies, weighing between 200 and 600 lbs. You can identify them by their straight facial profile and lack of shoulder hump.
  1. Polar Bears: The snow-white lords of the Arctic, these enormous bears are hard to mistake. They’re the most carnivorous of the bear species and can weigh an astounding 900 to 1,600 lbs.

Bear Habitats in North America

  • Grizzly Bears are commonly found in Alaska, western Canada, and parts of the northwestern US including Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming. 
  • Black Bears roam throughout North America, from Canada to Mexico, and are particularly prevalent in the eastern US. 
  • Polar Bears, being Arctic dwellers, are primarily found in northern Alaska and throughout northern Canada.

Recognizing Bear Signs and Behavior

Don’t wait to see the bear to know you’re in bear territory. Signs of bear presence include tracks (five-toed paw prints for black and grizzly bears), scat (Black bear poop is smaller and contains lots of berries, while grizzly scat may contain small bones and fur), and tree markings (scratch or bite marks on tree bark).

As for bear behavior, they tend to be most active during dawn and dusk. They’re typically driven by food-seeking, so they may venture into human-occupied areas if they smell something enticing. 

Remember, a bear’s behavior can tell you a lot about its intentions, so always observe from a safe distance.

Bear Country Camping: The Do’s and Don’ts

An unforgettable adventure is the dream, but you want your bear encounter to be memorable for the right reasons. Here’s how you make it happen.

Campsite Selection and Setup

When setting up camp, try to choose a site that’s free from signs of bears. This means no tracks, scat, or scratched trees. Keep your sleeping and cooking areas separate; a good rule of thumb is 100 yards apart. Store food and other scented items in airtight bear canisters and hang them at least 10 feet high and 4 feet away from the tree trunk.

Cooking and Food Disposal

As delectable as your campfire chili is, remember that bears have a keen sense of smell that can detect your dinner from miles away. Cook a safe distance from your sleeping area and change your clothes afterwards to avoid smelling like a walking buffet. As for leftovers, pack them out or dispose of them properly in designated bear-resistant trash receptacles.

Bear Encounters: How to Respond

It’s a scenario you hope to avoid but should be prepared for.

Encountering a Bear: The First Steps

Speak calmly, move slowly, and avoid direct eye contact, which could be seen as a threat. Back away slowly and give the bear plenty of room to escape.

Distinguishing Defensive vs. Non-defensive Bears and Responding Accordingly

Defensive bears (often a mother with cubs) may charge if they feel threatened, while non-defensive bears could be curious or predatory. Stand your ground with defensive bears, but fight back if a non-defensive bear makes contact.

Essential Gear for Bear Country

Here are a few crucial items to pack:

  • Bear Spray: A must-have for any camper, proven to deter charging bears.
  • Bear Canisters: Keep your food and scented items safe and out of bear reach.
  • Noise-Making Devices: Bells or horns can alert bears to your presence, helping to avoid surprise encounters.

Summing Up

Bears, they may seem daunting and certainly demand respect, but don’t let the fear of an encounter ruin your chance to embrace the wild beauty that bear country offers. 

Equipped with the knowledge you’ve just absorbed, and the right attitude, you’re ready to venture into bear country confidently and responsibly. After all, we’re not merely tourists but stewards of these incredible wild spaces. 

So, lace up those hiking boots, pack your bear spray, and hit the trail with an eye for adventure and a heart full of respect for our furry friends. Here’s to making memories that are bear-y amazing!

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