10 Mistakes People Make While Hiking and Camping in Bear Country

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Summer is the time for campers, hikers and bears alike to get out and enjoy the weather, the peace of the mountains, and the freedom of the open space. But if you’re camping in bear country, don’t make these mistakes that could cost you your life or at the least, your camping gear and food:

1. Leave home without any containers for hanging food and other odorous things in or rope for hanging the container. Without hanging your food, toothpaste, even deodorant in a container from a tree 100 yards away from your camp, you may wake up to find your campsite ransacked and your food is gone.

2. Leave home without bear spray. This is a precaution that is fairly cheap and could save your life. Even having 2 or more cans of this spray is worthwhile. One should always be on your person and another should be at the campsite, especially in your tent at night.

3. Spray the campsite with bear spray. Bear spray is not a repellant. It will not keep bears away and in fact, might even attract them if sprayed in camp. They are naturally curious animals and attracted to strange smells. It is only to be used in case of a potential bear attack and then sprayed straight in its face.

4. Set up camp right next to a berry patch or spawning stream. These may be frequented feeding grounds for bears and should be avoided.

5. Wear the same clothes to bed that you wore while cooking and eating your dinner by the fire. Bears have an amazing sense of smell and will follow the scent of food into your tent and directly to you.

6. Walk quietly through areas where bears are known to dwell. Suddenly coming across a bear who did not hear you coming could lead to disaster. Just like people, bears don’t like to be startled and may choose to fight rather than run at this point. If you are hiking and making plenty of noise through singing, talking or clapping, a bear will hear you coming and will most likely choose to get as far away from you as possible.

7. Bury garbage in or near your campsite. All garbage should be hauled out of your camping area by way of containers that are well sealed to keep in the odor. Bears will smell garbage buried in the ground and will dig it up.

8. Go off hiking alone without any bear spray or another weapon. Sometimes it is nice to go off by yourself when you’re out in the backcountry to clear your head and be alone with God, but remember to take your bear spray and sing loudly as you go to wherever it is you are going. Being alone is great, but not at the risk of losing your life after startling a bear and her cubs. It might be better to find a place near the camp to claim as your meditation spot, close enough for others to hear if you need assistance.

9. Runaway from a threatening bear. If you think you can make it to a tree to climb, forget it. Bears are faster than you and can climb trees. The best thing to do is hold your ground, talk quietly and back away, always keeping an eye on the bear. Bears will usually make a bluff run at something they feel threatened by. This would be the time to use your bear spray. The fear of seeing a bear running towards you is difficult to imagine unless you’ve experienced it but keeps remembering that it is most likely a bluff charge and when it is within about 30 feet, spray once. If it continues to come toward you, spray again at a closer range. Just keep remembering that you can’t outrun a bear, nor can you fight it and win, so the bear spray is your only hope with a charging bear. Stand your ground and keep spraying.

10. Go hiking without telling anyone where you are going or when you plan on returning. It is always important to tell someone where you are going, even if you are not going alone. A situation could come up where trouble befalls your entire hiking group and if you have not returned by your estimated time, a search party will know where to begin looking for you.

It is better to be prepared and never encounter a threatening bear than to not be prepared and run into a situation you have no way of getting out of. Be safe out there and enjoy the beauty God has given us.