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Hiking in Bear Country and Good Practices to Follow: Part 1 of 2

One of the main reasons why many people go hiking is to be one with nature. This means getting to your roots and experience living in an environment away from technology, crowded cities and the stress brought about by life in general. In turn this would also mean immersing oneself in wildlife, interacting with the animals in the wilderness which is one of the highlights when going hiking or camping.

This is the reason why going camping in Bear Country is one of the most exciting things to scratch off anyone’s bucket list. This will allow any hiker to get up close to wildlife as possible and be one with the different animals in the park, most especially the bears. This article will help you with tips and suggestions with everything you need to know before embarking on a very fun adventure and how to make it safer for everyone - for you and your party and the bears.

Setting Foot in Bear Country - The Planning Stage

Like any other camping activity planning is essential during this trip. Listed below are the things that you should remember before going.

  • Regulations. Different camps sites may have different kinds of regulations that would help conserve the camping area and the living things in it. Some areas will allow campers to bring bear canisters or other forms of food storage while some don’t. Other campsites will require campers to bring bear sprays while others such as the area where only Black Bears live – the Yosemite – will not permit anyone to bring bear sprays. Knowing all the rules and regulations in your preferred campsite will allow you to hike without having any sort of problem with the people keeping the place.
  • Food Preparation. Any individual who has gone camping at Bear Country will always tell you one thing about preparing food on site: Don’t cook where you camp. A bear will have a sense of smell a thousand times better than a human being and even better than a bloodhound – the canine with the best sense of smell and considered as the greatest hunt and search companions by hunters and the police. That considered, a good advice is to cook your meal at least 30 minutes before settling down.

Avoiding Bear Encounters

While it may sound contradicting to your intended purpose of hiking in Bear Country, the term ‘avoidance’ equates to keeping a safe distance between yourself and the majestic bears. As astounding as seeing these creatures truly is in person, a very close encounter with them can spell harm. Keeping a good amount of distance is highly encouraged!

To add to that, here’s a few tips you can use to avoid close bear encounters during your hike:

  • Avoid hiking on times when bears are most active. This means to avoid hiking at dawn or dusk.
  • Hike in groups. A group of four or more people are less likely to be attacked by bears than say, going alone or with only one companion.
  • Make some noise. Talking loudly, clacking your trekking poles together, singing or even rowdily calling out bears every so often will prevent surprising a bear and thus keeping you at a safe distance from these creatures. Some hikers, however, would discourage screaming or the use of whistles as it can mimic the sound of an animal in pain – and that can highly attract a hungry bear. But as a rule of thumb, being loud is very important as your surrounding may become a factor in bears not noticing you until it’s too late.
  • Bear Sprays. As mentioned above, make sure that your campsite will allow you to carry one. If they do, then it’s one very effective way of repelling these scary animals away in case they get too close. You should also practice using it beforehand, as it can only be effective when used with great timing. In addition, make sure that you store it in an area of your body that’s easily accessible in case you need it immediately, like a holster. Using the bear spray prematurely by spraying it on your tent or backpack is also not advisable as it may actually attract them rather than turn them away.

Discouraging Bears

To keep yourself and your company safe from bear attacks, it is imperative that you do your part in making sure bears do not get a taste of human food as it may result in craving and getting an urge to get close to humans to get a bite of your treats. This increases the risk of possible bear attacks.

Here are a few tips we can follow to reduce the risk of getting mauled by a bear:

  • Unlike humans, wildlife only rests when it’s full. Make sure that you don’t leave any food unattended.
  • Always make sure to follow proper techniques for food storage. Even empty food containers need to be stored and sealed away after every meal to make sure bears don’t get a smell of what you had. Bear canisters, bear bags, metal food lockers are just a few of the effective food storage techniques available for you during your hiking trip. As mentioned above, make sure that bringing these kinds of food containers are allowed in the campsite or if they provide one for you during your trip.
  • Even soap for washing hands or dishes can attract bears. It’s good practice to use unscented soaps so bears don’t come sniffing around most especially during your sleep time.
  • During washing, also make sure that you strain food particles and properly keep them in trash bags. You can do this by bringing a small metal screen to act as a strainer when washing your food containers.

To simply put it, following the “Leave No Trace” principle will allow you to camp safely in Bear Country.

Food Protection

We’ve briefly discussed a couple of food protection and storage above, this time we’ll dive a little deeper in case you need to be more familiar with each one of them and what works well for you. Again, certain parks and camping sites will have their own rules and regulations about how campers can store their food and other items while camping in their grounds.

With that said, here are a few of the various food protection items that can be available for you during your camping trip in the Bear Country:

  • Bear Canisters. These are basically your food and waste containers which are very effective in making sure bears don’t smell the food that you bring. Though a few cons about using bear canisters is that they can be bulky to carry at times, and sometimes they don’t offer much food storage depending on the size of canister that you bring. When storing bear canisters, make sure you store them at least 100 feet from your camping site. Some would even recommend storing it upside down so bears don’t claw on the twist cap. Fun fact: There has been a reported case of a bear that learned how to open a canister.
  • Ursacks. An alternative to bear canisters, Ursacks are basically made of Spectra fabric which is known to have incredible strength it’s basically bulletproof. Unlike bear canisters, Ursacks are much easier to store. You can simply stow one underneath a pile of rocks for safety. Make sure to store them within a significant distance from your camping site, as you do with your bear canisters.
  • LOKSAKS. These are essentially resealable bags that can be used for storing food and other items safely as well. These bags have odorless and waterproof properties allowing you to store other valuables (i.e. cellphones) in them. That way you can prevent certain items from getting wet in case of rain during camping.
  • Food Hanging. This is one of the most primitive yet effective forms of food protection and cost-effective at that. You will need ropes, sturdy bags and a tree limb that’s sturdy and high enough to be out of a bear’s reach. The cons? It can be time consuming and some bears have learned to get at the ropes and pull them to get your bag. Some bears can even climb high enough to reach the bags. Just putting it out there that there’s always that rare, but evidently possible, variable.
  • Metal Food Lockers. These can be available at selected camping sites for campers to use and can be very effective in keeping your food away from bears. Although a disadvantage is that usage of these lockers can be communal. Instead of bears, other campers can have access to your food.

These are just a few of the basic things that you need to know before hiking in Bear Country. More of our useful tips and suggestions will be discussed in another article that picks up from this tangent. Cheers!

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