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Surviving Bear Country: My ultimate Tips for Safe Hiking and Camping in Canada

Updated: Apr 29

Canada is known for its grizzly and black bears .

Black bear Canada eats berries

Part of the fascination is of course seeing these animals, but that is not entirely without danger. Especially when hiking or backcountry camping, you should know what to do if you see one of the animals. Here are my ultimate tips for staying safe in bear country.

If the whole blog post sounds very intimidating to you, I can understand that. Before my trip to Canada, I also had great respect for bears and that's a good thing. I was Bear Aware every day on site, but I wasn't actually afraid. Otherwise I would hardly have hiked every day and mostly alone.

Tip 1: Buy bear spray

Hiker Canada bear spray

My first act was to buy a can of bear spray. You can find this in every outdoor store. I bought mine at Canadian Tire as the store also has a very good selection of outdoor items. You may have to leave your address when purchasing. After all, it is a kind of weapon.

You should pay attention to the following 3 things:

  1. Check the expiry date

  2. Does it have a safety clip?

  3. Read the instructions for use

I carried bear spray with me at all times (except in the city) for three months.

You should always carry bear spray on your backpack or body so that you can reach it quickly and easily. This means that if you are right-handed, it is best to wear it on the right side of your body. It won't be of much use to you in your backpack …

You can find out how to use bear spray correctly in a video from Parks Canada on their website.

Tip 2: How do you avoid a bear encounter?

The best and safest thing you can do is to avoid a bear encounter.

Make noise! The bear probably doesn't want to meet you any more than you want to meet him.

Bear Tracks Canada

That's why it's best if you draw attention to yourself. Since I was alone most of the time, as soon as the terrain became unclear, i.e. in curves or when the forest was dense, I loudly (a classic case of megalomania...) sang, talked or made up bear poems.

Hey bear, I'm coming around the corner now, scare" not you”

At the end of every hike I was annoyed by my own voice...

Several Pracs Canada rangers have advised me that bear bells are useless. If anything, they make the animals curious. A bear only recognizes humans by their voice.

Watch out for fresh bear tracks! Footprints, scat (I'm kind of a bear poop specialist now), digging, torn up logs and upturned rocks are all signs that a bear was in the area. Avoid the area if signs are recent - which admittedly is sometimes easier said than done. In the Yukon, for example, we followed a fresh bear track on a very narrow path for an hour. But there was no alternative - so we sang even louder.

Bear scat hiking trail Canada
Tip 3: What do you do if you meet a bear?
  1. If you encounter a bear, remain calm and disarm your bear spray.

  2. If the bear hasn't seen you, retreat quietly and unobtrusively.

  3. If the bear sees you, stay calm. Screaming or hectic movements can trigger the prey instinct. Talk to the bear and show it that you are human and not prey.Walk backwards slowly. Never run away.

Tip 4: How do you behave when a bear comes towards you?

At this point I can only give theoretical advice, as fortunately I have never been in this situation.

  1. Stop and stay calm (easy to say…).

  2. Get ready to use bear spray.

  3. Don't run away. Try to figure out why the bear is coming towards you: Is it trying to defend itself?

The bear is eating, protecting its cubs and/or is surprised by your presence. In this case, he perceives you as a threat. He appears stressed or agitated and may make noises.

Try not to appear threatening by speaking to him calmly. Once the bear is no longer coming toward you, back away slowly.

  • If he continues to approach, stand your ground and yell at him.

  • If the bear gets closer than 5 m to you, use bear spray:

Remove the safety clip and aim at the bear's face (pay attention to the wind direction and that the nozzle is pointing away from you). Deliver quick, one-second sprays until the bear retreats. Leave the area immediately. Wind and rain can reduce the effectiveness of the spray; Be careful not to get caught in the spray jet.

Tip 5: What do you do if a bear attacks you?

Okay, I'll admit, the first time I read this section I gulped. It's good to know that attacks are fortunately very rare.

Parcs Canada Ranger Trail Closure Bear Activity

According to Ranger David, who we meet as he sets up a trail closure at Minnewanka Lake due to high bear activity, there has only been one fatal bear attack in Banff in the last decade.

Most encounters with bears end without an attack.

If a bear actually attacks you, you can increase your chances of survival by following the tips below.

Generally there are 2 types of attacks:

1. Defensive Attack

This is the most common type of attack.

Use your bear spray.

If the bear comes closer anyway: Play dead!

Lie on your stomach with your legs spread and your arms folded behind your neck. In this position you are less at risk of being rolled over and your face, back of the head and neck are protected. Stay still until you are sure the bear is gone.

These defensive attacks typically last less than two minutes. As the attack continues, the bear may move from defense to ...

2. Aggressive attack

Now you'll have to defend yourself with your hands and feet!

The bear follows (hunts) you along a path and then attacks. Or the bear attacks at night. This type of attack is very rare.

Try to escape into a building, a car or up a tree.

If you can't escape, DON'T play dead. Use your bear spray and defend yourself. Fight back! Intimidate the bear, shout at it and hit it with everything you have. Show him that you are not easy prey.

Tip 6: How do you camp safely in bear territory?

The following items should never be left unattended and should under no circumstances be taken into the tent. They must always be stored in either a bear box, a bear-proof canister or in a locked car/RV:

Bear box bear canister campsite Canada outdoor
  1. Food - open or closed

  2. Waste, including leftover food

  3. Dishes and pots - clean or dirty.

  4. Bottles and cans - full or empty.

  5. Grills and camping stoves - clean or dirty.

  6. Toiletries - including toothpaste and sunscreen. It is better not to bring cosmetic products that smell strong.

  7. everything that has to do with the preparation of food.

If available, camp in designated campsites.

Bear Safe Canada Campground Outdoor Hike Food storage

When backcountry camping, pay attention to the following:

  1. Cooking, eating and storage areas should be at least 50 meters away from the tent. Choose an open place where animals cannot approach unseen. Avoid camping, cooking, or eating near running water, thick brush, animal trails, or berry fields.

  2. It is best to leave all food at the cooking area before setting up the tent. Make sure that you never take food or Toiletries into your tent.

  3. If there is no bear box and you do not have a bear canister with you, hang food, dishes, stove and cosmetics between two trees at least 4 m above the ground and 1.3 m from the top and side supports .

  4. Rinse dishes immediately after eating. Separate leftover food from the dishwater and do not pour it on the floor. Use. If available, the gray water collection container. If not available, distribute the water over a large area and at least 50 meters away from the tents.

  5. Take all trash back with you. Don't burn it and especially don't throw it in the toilet.

I saw quite a few bears in my three months in Canada

Click on the first photo to start the photo series:

A black bear on the West Coast Trail, another one at the Takkakaw Campground and lots of black bears during salmon season on the Alaska-Canada border. Here I literally almost ran into one: I sat on a log in the river and hoped to see bears. When after half an hour none came, I just got up without calling because my car was only a few meters away. As I jumped from the tree trunk, at the same moment a black bear came out of the bushes and was about as frightened as I was: we both jumped back 2 m. Afterwards I actually sat on the tree trunk, a little scared, and sang to loudly. This is the only time I had the bear spray safety clip off. When I dared to walk to my car after about 5 minutes, there was no longer any trace of the bear.

Luckily I only saw grizzly bears on a tour and from the saftey of a boat in the Broughton Archipelago off Vancouver Island.

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