5 Ways to Protect Yourself from Bear Attacks

Since 1784, there have been less than 100 fatal bear attacks. Still, you should always be prepared for an encounter when hiking. Here’s how to protect yourself.

May 29, 2024By Alex Guse
ways to protect yourself from bear attacks

As time passes, more and more people are exploring bear country unprepared, with little knowledge of how to deal with these animals. The good news is that most people escape bear encounters with nothing more than a thrilling story. However, it’s always a good idea to prepare for such an encounter. You can learn about preventing and surviving bear attacks here.

1. Make Noise and Do Not Travel Alone

people walking in the woods
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

To some, it may seem obvious not to explore the wilderness by yourself, but time and time again, people go out alone, never to come back. When hiking or camping in an area with a known bear population, it is vital to have a partner––even if that means hiking with a dog.

Traveling as a team has many benefits but getting help in case something goes awry is the biggest. You may have heard heroic stories of people getting mauled by bears and their hiking companions jumping in to save them. This is not recommended. Risking your life to save another can easily add two casualties to a bear attack.

Another tactic that many wilderness experts agree on is the need for constant noise, whether singing a song, having a conversation, or simply tying a bell to your backpack. Making noise lets the bear know you are around and won't surprise them. A surprised bear (especially a grizzly bear) is a deadly force of nature.

2. Always Carry Protection and Deterrents

person wearing backpack
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

If you are adventuring into an area with high bear populations, like where animals dwell in Alaska, it is essential to have ways to defend yourself from a bear encounter. Firearms are decisively the most efficient form of protection, but one must realize they are traveling into the bear's territory and not the other way around. This causes an ethical need for a non-lethal bear deterrent: bear spray.

Bear spray is a standard tool used by casual and hardcore wilderness travelers alike. The chemical is a combination of oleoresin capsicum, oil, and an aerosol propellant.

Capsicum is the ingredient derived from chilis that give peppers their spice. The spicy cocktail, paired with the propellent, provides the hiker with a more potent version of pepper spray that law enforcement officers use.

Be familiar with and practice using your bear deterrent in a controlled setting. It is crucial to get to know and be prepared to use your specific type of bear spray. That’s because these products vary in locking mechanisms and distance for which they are most effective.

3. Store Your Food Properly When Camping

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Bears are always on the prowl for their next meal, and your camping rations are no exception. These animals have a keen sense of smell and can notice you cooking burgers from miles away.

If you are in an area that provides bear-proof boxes for storage, use them; they are there for a reason. Storing food in your car will deter the bear, but they have been known to break windows and open doors.

When accessing a more remote part of the wilderness, hanging your food in a tree is the only way to store it. Dangling your food as high as possible significantly reduces the risk of a bear entering your camp for a taste. It is a common practice to keep your cooking camp and sleeping camp in separate locations to hinder bear encounters.

Whether you are in a campground or deep in the thickets of wilderness, under no circumstances should you ever eat or leave food in your tent or the area where you will be sleeping. This is important to keep in mind when outdoors—especially during seasons when bears hibernate.

4. What to Do if You Encounter a Bear

grizzly bear
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The first thing you should do when noticing a bear in your vicinity is not to overreact. This overreaction may cause the bear to get frightened and charge. The last thing you want to do is scare a bear into charging.

Supposing the bear notices you and doesn't flee, it is time to act. Use sticks and loud noises to show the bear you are as scary as they are, even if you aren't. Make yourself appear large and menacing.

Try to move away from the animal, but it is important not to run. Bears will see you as fleeing prey and attack; they are much faster than humans and outrunning them is not a viable option. Stay vigilant and move slowly away while continuing to act large and in charge.

Assuming you have used these techniques and the bear does attack, use all protection at your disposal. Start with your bear spray, and if you must use your firearm in self-defense, be prepared to do so.

5. Become Knowledgeable and Be Prepared for Anything

bear near a river
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Stated throughout this guide is the number one rule to help prevent bear attacks: be prepared. Understanding different bear species, from polar bears to panda bears, can literally save your life.

Many attacks stem from ignorance. You need to know how to identify bears, and which ones are localized to the area. Dealing with black bears is a different ball game than dealing with grizzlies.

Ask the local experts about recent bear sightings. They will be happy to share their information and expertise with you. They would much rather help you with information than have to find you attacked by a predator.

Nature is beautiful but extremely dangerous. Make sure you take the time to research, prepare yourself and your gear for an encounter, and be ready if/when it happens. Arm yourself with knowledge, and do not become an easy snack.

Alex Guse
By Alex Guse

Alex is the proud owner of Chester the puggle (beagle pug mix); his first dog was Zion, an Australian shepherd, which translated into a love for animals at an early age. He has since owned many pets, from dogs to reptiles and everything in between. His true passion for animals comes from being an outdoorsman. He finds that nature is where knowledge and respect for wildlife are paramount!