Staying safe outdoors: A guide to bear safety

Being able to spot and identify animal tracks makes you smarter about the outdoors and makes your adventures more exciting. Stikky Tracks gets you started with the tracks and signs of fourteen species common across North America. Among them is the magnificent bear. Black bears are common in more than 40 states, and the grizzly bear population is growing in western US national parks and Alaska. While it may seem unlikely that you’ll come face-to-face with a bear on the trail, it’s important to be prepared. Let's explore some key strategies for staying safe.

Before you go:

  • Educate yourself: find out about the bears in the area you plan to visit. Understanding bear behavior can help you make informed decisions. The National Park Service website is a good source of information.
  • Pack bear spray: (more on this below).

        When in bear country:

        • Avoid hiking at dawn, dusk, and night: Bears are more active during these hours, foraging for food.
        • Make noise: bears would rather avoid humans, so make noise while hiking to alert them to your presence.
        • Stay in groups: there's safety in numbers. Groups are noisier and more intimidating to bears.
        • Lock up food: Use bear-proof containers or hang your food high in a tree. Check park or wilderness area rules and recommendations. Bears have an excellent sense of smell and will be attracted to your snacks.
        • Stay on designated trails: in national parks and wilderness areas, stick to designated trails. Most bear encounters happen when people stray off the beaten path.
        • Be aware of your surroundings: A fresh bear track or scat (bear poop) may mean a bear is nearby. A fresh track will have sharp, well-defined edges.
        • Respect bear habitat: Remember, you're a guest in their home. Respect bear habitats by leaving no trace, avoiding mother bears with cubs, and staying clear of carcasses, which could be food for bears.

            If you encounter a bear:

            • Know your bear: black bears are smaller and darker than grizzly bears, with short claws (about an inch) and longer ears. Grizzlies can be almost white, tan, or dark brown, and have a distinctive hump on their shoulders and longer claws. 
            • Stay calm:  panicking can escalate the situation. Stay calm and assess the bear's behavior.
            • Identify yourself: Speak calmly so the bear recognizes you as human. Don’t scream or make sudden movements.
            • Back away slowly: Never turn your back on a bear. Back away slowly and give it space
            • Don’t run: Running may trigger a chase response. Bears can run faster than humans and can also climb trees.

                In the event a bear becomes aggressive: 

                • Black bear: if a black bear attacks, fight back. Use any object available to defend yourself.
                • Grizzly bear: grizzlies can be more aggressive. if a grizzly bear charges, play dead. Lie on your stomach, cover your neck with your hands, and spread your legs slightly. Remain still until the bear leaves.
                • Know the bear safety rhyme: if it’s black, fight back; if it’s brown, lay down.
                • Use bear spray: bear spray can be a lifesaver in a tight situation. Keep it easily accessible ideally on your waist or chest so you can quickly grab it in the event of an encounter. Know how to use it before you set off by watching a video demonstration. Be ready by releasing the safety clip. If a bear charges, wait until it's close (about 30-40 feet), aim the spray toward the bear's face, and slightly down. Give a sustained blast. If the first blast doesn’t stop the bear, give it a second blast. If the bear continues to charge, empty the can and leave the area immediately. 

                Remember: The chance of a bear attack is extremely low, but being prepared is crucial. Respect their space, understand their behavior, and you'll likely enjoy a safe and exciting adventure in the great outdoors.