Camping with wildlife is awesome … unless your experience becomes too personal, especially if you encounter a bear. Imagine taking a leisurely walk a short distance from your campsite and looking up to see a bear! That happened to our friends on a recent camp trip … yikes! Everything turned out fine so I decided I had to share this life-saving info with you! Here are safety tips while camping in bear country, tips to bear-proof your campsite and rules for what to do if you see a bear so you survive a wildlife bear encounter. Psst we’re compensated…see our disclosures.
Safety Tips While Camping In Bear Country
Signs You Are Camping In Bear Country
- Know The Local Area. Where you are camping? What type of wildlife can you expect to encounter? Research the local area to prepare for wildlife encounters. If you are camping in National Parks, State Parks or Local Parks, check out their websites to learn specifics about the area. Comprehensive guide books are also great tools for trip planning and research regarding local animal habitats, seasonality and behaviors of bears and other wildlife you may encounter on your camping trip.
- Bears Leave Clues. Shredded logs, tracks on the ground and bear poop (officially known as scat but I just can’t seem to bring myself to use that word 😉 LOL) are all signs that you are in bear country. Heed the warnings when bears let you know you are on their turf.
Understanding Bear Behaviors
- Bears Know You Are There Before You Know About Them. Bears will usually smell or hear you and leave the area long before you see them. Understanding the natural behavior of bears will help you avoid unsafe encounters with them.
- Bears Are Smart About Food. After a bear learns people have food, you can be sure they are happy to indulge in a meal if you give them the opportunity. Unfortunately, many bears that live near human-centered locations, like campgrounds, are smart about the food available there too.
- Bears Prepare For Winter. Bears like to eat so they have to prepare for the “slow season” of winter. They need to forage up to 20 hours/day in late summer and fall!!! What that means for campers: Avoid setting up camp or hiking on trails that go through berry patches and other natural food sources during those seasons.
- Bears Usually Don’t Attack. Bears are highly intelligent and respond to each situation individually. They usually don’t attack unless they feel threatened or cornered.
- Bears Will Check You Out. Do you know what it means when a bear stands up on its hind legs? It is checking you out! It is trying to get a better look and smell of the surroundings to identify you.
- Mama Bears Protect Their Babies. If you see cubs, their mother is usually nearby … leave the area immediately. Mothers will not hesitate to protect their babies and you don’t want any part of that “Mama Bear” thing! 😉
Tips To Bear-Proof Your Campsite And Camp Activities
- Don’t Stay In An Area With Evidence Of Bear Activity. Always look for bear activity BEFORE setting up your campsite. If there are signs a bear has visited the area recently … leave immediately.
- Dispose Your Trash Properly. Many campgrounds in bear country provide bear-proof trash containers. If those containers are full or don’t exist, double-bag your trash and lock it inside your trunk or RV. Don’t leave trash in a tent, soft-sided camper, in the open bed of a truck or outside.
- Store Non-Trash Items Safely. Bears are attracted to anything that has a scent. In addition to food and beverages, common items that attract bears include scented soaps, gum, toothpaste, sunscreen, candles, insect repellent and odor-soaked clothing worn while cooking food. Store these items in bear boxes/food lockers if they are available at your campsite; if they are not available, use airtight containers and lock these items in your trunk or RV.
- Keep a Clean Camp. Bears will investigate anything that might contain food so make sure you wash surfaces and remove food scraps and grease from your campsite area.
- Lock Your Vehicles. Anytime you leave your campsite and before you go to sleep for the night, close the windows and lock the doors of your vehicle and RV.
- Leash The Dogs And Guard The Kids. When dogs are allowed to roam backcountry hiking trails or around campsites, they can unintentionally surprise a bear … and … bears DON’T like to be surprised! Protect everyone by keeping your dog on a leash. Likewise, don’t let kids run ahead or fall behind; and, teach them what to do if they see a bear.
- Don’t Approach Bears. If you are fortunate enough to see a bear, observe it from a safe distance … don’t approach it or offer it food.
- Be Alert, Look And Listen. Windy conditions, rushing water and other campers can obscure the noise from bears so intentionally listen for bears that might be in your general vicinity. Also, keep a lookout for bear activity especially when visibility is limited because of weather or reduced daylight.
How To Survive A Bear Encounter
NEVER PLAY DEAD!
The Number 1 Rule when encountering a bear while camping is to NEVER PLAY DEAD! What to do next depends on whether the bear is approaching you or not.
What To Do If You Encounter Campground Bears.
- If a bear comes into your camp, try to chase it away by letting it know you are there. Your goal is to warn a bear that humans are in the area. Make sure the bear has an escape route and make some noise by yelling or blowing a car horn, air horn, or whistle.
- Never run, climb a tree or play dead.
What To Do If You Encounter Bears In The Backcountry.
- Let the bear identify you and leave. To do this, stay calm and talk in a normal tone of voice. Be sure the bear has an escape route and slowly wave your arms overhead.
- If the bear huffs or stomps a paw, it is telling you to give it space. Maintain visual contact and continue looking at the bear while slowly backing away until the bear is out of sight.
- Never run, climb a tree or play dead.
What To Do If A Bear Actually Approaches You.
- Stand your ground against an approaching bear. Some bears are actually aggressive but more commonly they are looking for a food handout. Try to deter the bear by yelling or throwing small rocks in the direction of the bear. NEVER feed a bear.
- If the bear continues to approach, get out your bear spray and be ready to use it when the bear is about 30 feet away.
- Never run, climb a tree or play dead.
What To Do If A Bear Attacks You.
- FIGHT BACK and use whatever is available to defend yourself from an attacking bear, DON’T PLAY DEAD! People have survived bear attacks with items as simple as pen knives, hiking poles, and even using only their bare hands.
Regulations And Fines In Bear Country
For the safety of bears and humans, camping in bear country comes with regulatory restrictions and fines if rules are broken. It is important to research individual campsite locations for specific rules. You will find some locations don’t allow the use of bear spray, others have specific rules regarding food storage … for example, at Yosemite National Park you will find the following on their website: “Please note that these food storage regulations have the force and effect of federal law: Failure to store your food properly may result in impoundment of your food or car and/or a fine of up to $5,000 and/or revocation of your camping permit.”
So you see, they take this bear stuff very seriously. Do your homework so you don’t go hungry and have to pay the government to take away your food and your vehicle! 😉
For more camping tips on safety and security, check out these posts:
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- Camping Food Safety Tips Including How To Pack A Cooler For Camping
- 10 Fun Activities And Campfire Games For Families With Kids
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