Bears are amazing creatures to see in the wild; just make sure you follow these tips for bear safety, learnt when camping in the Canadian Rockies.
Seeing bears was a major highlight of my Western Canada Road Trip; spotting one in the wild for the first time, darting around behind the houses in a small roadside town, is an experience I’ll remember for a lifetime.
They’re amazing animals, and its highly unlikely that you’ll ever have a problem with them – more people are killed by bee stings than bears every year.
However, there are still some measures to take to make sure you stay bear safe while camping in Canada.
Image: mzagerp, Flickr
Make sure your food is safely locked away
Bears are hungry things, and will be attracted to unattended food in your campsite, especially when you go out for the day or head to bed. Leaving food out means bears will become less scared of humans, and bears that are found regularly frequenting may be destroyed. Which we totally don’t want.
So every night when we were camping in Canada’s Rockies, bear-proofing tents was an essential thing to do.
Strictly no food was allowed to be kept in our tents, and for extra safety, we also locked away our toiletries or anything scented. It goes without saying, this also applies to outside tents and around the site, and any rubbish created while camping. Lots of campsites provide bear boxes, otherwise make sure everything that could attract bears is locked safely in a vehicle.
When you’re hiking: Stick together and make plenty of noise
- Stay in a group: When you’re hiking in the Canadian Rockies, staying in a group isn’t just a great safety measure in general, but a way to deter bears.
- Be noisy: Talking and singing will alert a nearby bear to your presence nice and early (which is a good thing, as they don’t want to get too close either!). There’s never been a better time to show off your entire Steps back catalogue knowledge.
- Stick to the trails: Bears are more likely to avoid the well-travelled routes.
- Look out for signs: Keep your ears open for sounds in the surrounding bushes; and keep your eyes open for bear droppings, prints, and damaged bushes.
Don’t get too close
Obvious one. If you’re watching a bear, try to do so from a safe point like inside a vehicle. Whatever you do, don’t approach it. Especially if it has cubs, as it’ll get very defensive very quickly if it perceives you as a threat to its offspring.
What to do if you encounter a black bear…
- Stay calm: Black bears tend to be afraid of humans – and attacks on people by black bears are super rare.
- Don’t run: Bears are often described as like dogs, and what happens if you run from a dog? It chases you!
- Make yourself as big as possible: Black bears are quite easily scared away. Get your group to stand together, stretch out your arms or coat, and you could even get on each others’ shoulders.
- Make noise: Shout, stamp, bang pots and pans.
What to do if you encounter a grizzly bear…
- Speak to the bear calmly: So it realises you’re a human, not its dinner.
- Back away slowly: As mentioned above – don’t run!
It’s super, super unlikely that a bear will even get close enough to attack you, especially if you’ve been following the bear safety tips. It’s 100% something that shouldn’t stop you from exploring the Canadian Rockies. But if a bear attacks, there are a few things you can do that will help increase your chances of surviving/keeping some limbs…
What to do if a black bear attacks you…
- Use bear spray: Using bear spray should really be a last resort, to use if a bear is being aggressive towards you, as it will temporarily affect the bear’s sight, smell and breathing. Which isn’t a nice thing, but seriously improves your survival chances.
- Fight back: Contrary to every little part of you screaming RUN THE HELL AWAY, if a black bear attacks, fight back.
What to do if a grizzly bear attacks you…
- Use bear spray: as above.
- Play dead: drop to the ground, lie on your front to protect vital organs, and put your hands behind your neck and cover your face.
In the end, bears usually just want to keep themselves to themselves, and it’s highly likely that they won’t attack unless provoked. Sometimes they’re curious, and they’re always fascinating to watch. Just keep your distance, be respectful of the bear, and you’ll be ensuring your own safety, as well as the bear’s.