Being Bear Smart in the Outdoors

Hiking, camping, traveling, working or just walking your dog anywhere you could encounter bears requires advance planning. Being bear smart is the best way to have fun, stay safe and avoid creating problems for yourself and the bears.


LWB2-CVR-crpd300pxRGB"Living With Bears Handbook is the best single source of information and inspiration on how to understand bears and reduce human-bear conflicts."

Stephen Herrero, author of Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance

Hiking in Bear Country

big-bear-on-trail800pxHiking takes you into places wild animals call home. You're the guest; they're the residents. It's up to you to learn how to enjoy spending time on their home turf without doing any damage. Statistically speaking, your chances of even seeing a bear are slim; the odds you'll be involved in an unpleasant encounter are slimmer still.

But if you do encounter a bear, not knowing how to respond and behave could turn a dream day in the woods into a nightmare, or even cost you your life.

So arm yourself with the information you need to stay safe, have fun and make bear-smart decisions now – then you won't constantly be worrying about what might lurk around every corner, and the woods will be safer for both people and bears.

Bear-warning-signWEBTen Tips for Hiking in Bear Country

  • Do your bear homework. Find out if black bears and/or grizzly bears are commonly seen where you're going, and whether or not there have been any recent incidents.
  • Choose food wisely and pack food and snacks in zipper-style bags.
  • Carry bear spray, keep it quickly accessible and know how to use it.
  • Hike in groups; you'll make more noise and most animals will avoid you. Keep kids between adults, don't let them roam ahead or lag behind, and practice what to do if you see a bear.
  • Stop, look and listen frequently. Make noise places where bears might not be able to hear or smell you coming. Don't hike at dawn, dusk or at night. Leave electronics at home.
  • Avoid areas that are prone to high levels of bear activity, like dense berry patches, fruit or nut-bearing trees.
  • Bears and dogs don't mix. Leave dogs at home, or keep them on a short leash at all times.
  • Learn the tell-tale signs of recent bear activity, like fresh scat, tracks and overturned logs or rocks.
  • Leave baby bears, even if they seem to be abandoned, alone. Mom is likely hovering close by.
  • Respect bears, view and photograph from a safe distance and learn how to respond if you do encounter a bear.

For more information, please read chapters 16 and 17, and the "Crossing Paths with Bears" section in Living with Bears Handbook.


Completely updated and expanded

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  • Understanding bear behavior
  • Recognizing bear signs and sounds
  • Grizzly bears in brief
  • Dogs and bears
  • Hiking, biking and jogging
  • Camping, backpacking and fishing
  • Viewing and photography
  • Preventing encounters
  • Responding to encounters
  • Black bear attack facts
  • Bear deterrents
  • All about bear spray
  • Driving in bear country
  • Glossary of bear terms
  • Black bear populations by state and province

Helpful Downloads

How to Tell a Black Bear from a Grizzly

How to Set up a Bear-Smart Camp

pdfBear Calorie Counter

From huckleberries and acorns to beehives, birdseed and dog food, a list of calories that bears love to eat.

pdfWhere Black Bears Can Be Found

A map of where nearly 900,000 black bears roam in North America.

Walking Dogs Can Be Dangerous

hiking-with-dogsWEBDogs were involved in more than half of the 150 reported non-fatal black bear attacks on humans between 2010 and the end of 2015. Just under half (46%) of the dogs were injured or killed; their owners did not fare quite as well, with 62% of them suffering injuries. Most of the dogs involved had been off-leash, a situation that can easily result in an aggravated bear chasing a yapping canine back to its owner with unhappy consequences for all involved.

Experts recommend that if you walk your dog in bear country, you keep it on a short leash at all times, carry bear spray and a walking stick, stay alert and turn off your electronics.

SOURCE: Hank Hristienko and Stephen Herrero's paper in International Bear News, 2014, and updated statistics from authors, 2016.