If you are planning a trip into bear country, you are in for a treat. Bears occupy some of the most beautiful spots on earth. However, different locations host different bear species each with their own personalities.The most common bears in North America are the Brown and Black bear. Grizzly bears are technically a type of Brown bear. Nevertheless, both of these species occupy mountains and dense forests across all of America. It's important to understand what type of bear occupies the area you plan to hike in. So follow along with our guide to understand the differences, how to prepare, and what to pack for a safe hike in bear country.
To Spray or Not Spray
That is the question. Bear spray can be the most vital tool in your bag, but it can also not be allowed in certain parks. As a general principle, most locations which host Grizzly bears allow bear spray, while spots with Black bears do not. In fact, hikers going into
Grizzly territory are ENCOURAGED to bring pepper spray. Bear spray is a supercharged pepper spray canister which quickly discharges a huge cloud of pepper spray in front of you. This is very effective in deterring a charging bear. The reason hikers are encouraged to carry spray in Grizzly territory is because they are more likely to charge. If you are hiking into a Grizzly Bear area, make sure to bring bear spray and learn how to use it. For those of you hiking in other areas, check to see what’s encouraged and allowed. Sometimes specific bear populations have cause to carry spray as a precaution.
Better Safe Than Sorry
Bear spray acts as a deterrent to a provoked bear, yet there is a chance the spray does not deter the bear enough. Better yet, bears may surprise you instead. For that reason, personal protection is a must for survival and peace of mind. While firearms may not be allowed on some hikes, knives always are. Carrying a knife and having it on hand gives you a better chance of surviving potentially fatal situations. Of course using a knife should be your last resort. The real goal when hiking in bear country is not to engage with bears at all! While deterrents and protection are necessary for bear country, prevention can help you the most. Below we’ll cover tips and items that help you prevent provoking and alerting bears on trail. If you are in need of a new trail knife, check out our Surviv-All Knife which features a 440 stainless steel full tang drop point blade with a built-in fire starter, paracord, and sharpener in the rear of the sheath.
Bears are Always Hungry
The key to keeping bears away is keeping them away from your food. Bears have a tremendous ability to smell at far distances. At times they can smell up to 20 miles away. Combine their capacity to smell with a huge appetite, and it’s easy to see why managing your scents is important. Bear canisters are often recommended first to secure your food. The canisters work both while hiking and camping at night. However, bear canisters can be bulky which affects your ability to pack for longer trips. Plus, they may be expensive for an infrequent bear country hiker. The other option is a bear bag. Bear bags do not do as well of a job protecting the scent as canisters. Rather, bear bags are used to hang up and protect food / scented items high into trees. Bear bags should contain all your scented items including food, soaps, and lotions. At night, the bag should be tied up 10ft high in a tree at least 100 yards down-wind of your camp. Read and watch more detailed videos on the technique if you do choose this approach.
The last item on our list is one that should always be in your bag, a first aid kit. Sometimes people feel medkits aren’t worth the room in their bag, however their a necessity, especially in bear country. Bear encounters or not having first aid treatment on-hand can be life saving. A few helpful items to look for in a medkit are gauges, alcohol pads, and ice packs. While packing your first aid kit, throw in helpful medications and prescriptions as a precaution. We currently have a sale going for our All-Purpose First Aid Kit and our smaller Deluxe Travel First Aid Kit.
A Few Items, All the Difference
Encountering bears may seem magical, scary, or perhaps both. The peace of mind and preparation you bring to your hike will determine your experience. Knowing you have everything you need allows you to enjoy your hike more confidently. Take the proper precautions, pack smart, and your trip should be more magical than scary. If you are curious to see what else you should pack on your next hike, see our packing list here. We cover more general items like water filters and compasses.