How Do You Protect Yourself From Bears When Hiking?

Black bears are the most common type of bear you’ll encounter in North America. They’re also the least likely to cause harm to humans, which is why it’s important that you take precautions when hiking or camping so that you don’t get too close to them. 

The first step in protecting yourself from bears is understanding how these animals behave and what kind of signs they leave behind, so that if you encounter one on your trip, you’ll know what to do next!

What to do in a Bear Encounter (And How to Avoid One) || REI
Learn important safety measures for hiking in bear country
Understand how to use bear spray effectively
Make noise to alert bears of your presence during hikes
Store food properly to prevent attracting bears
Know how to react if you encounter a bear on a hike

Follow The Right Safety Guidelines

Use Bear Spray

Bear spray is an effective way to deter bears and can be used in areas where there are no people. It is safe to use if you’re hiking in a remote area, but it must be used as a last resort.

Bear spray should only be used when you feel threatened by the bear and have already tried to scare it away with loud noises or by throwing rocks or sticks at it. 

It is effective up to 30 feet (9 meters) away from the animal, so there is no need for close contact with a bear when using this method of protection.

While bear spray has been proven effective at stopping attacks from bears, there are still some instances where people may encounter aggressive animals that attack despite being sprayed with pepper spray. 

In these cases, it’s best not to fight back against such aggressive animals because they could easily overpower humans who put themselves within reach of their claws and teeth

When hiking, carrying trekking poles can greatly enhance your stability and endurance. Our comprehensive guide on how to carry trekking poles provides valuable insights and techniques to optimize your hiking experience.

Let The Wind Guide You

If you’re in bear country, one of the best ways to protect yourself is by using the wind. The wind can be a helpful guide when you’re setting up camp or hanging your food.

The fact is that when it comes to bears, smell is their most powerful sense. So if you can eliminate or minimize your own scent, you’ll be reducing your chances of attracting unwanted attention from bears. 

The first way we recommend doing this is by sleeping downwind from where you plan on hanging your food for the night (or even for just a few hours). 

This means that if there’s a prevailing wind direction where you are camping and hiking, sleeping with your back facing away from where all of these items are hung up will help keep them out of sight and therefore out of mind for curious bears passing through the area at night time.

Another thing we recommend doing is making sure to hang any excess clothing (like hats) as well as anything else that might have an odor attached to it somewhere above where you’ll be sleeping so as not to attract attention from nearby animals who may come sniffing around looking for some free meals!

WindsurfingRiding on a board with a sail powered by the wind
KiteboardingUsing a large controllable kite to glide on the water
SailingNavigating a boat using the wind to propel it
ParaglidingGliding through the air using wind currents
WindmillsUtilizing wind energy to generate electricity

Make Noise To Warn Bears Of Your Presence

The No. 1 way to keep bears away? Make noise.

When hiking in bear country, it’s important to make noise by singing, talking and clapping your hands to let them know you’re there. 

The idea is that you want to be louder than the bear—and that if they hear you before they see you, they’ll likely run away rather than attack. 

Try singing songs like “We Didn’t Start the Fire” or “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” (There are lots of YouTube videos showing people how this works.) 

Or just talk loudly and randomly while walking through dense woods: “Oh man! I love how quiet it is out here,” “I wonder what kind of berries are growing around here?” Or even just a simple clap or two will do the trick!

Bear bells can also help; these give off a jingling sound as hikers move along trails so that any nearby bears will recognize them coming long before being surprised by human presence.

Properly lacing your hiking trail runners is essential for a comfortable and secure fit. Learn the best techniques and tips in our article on how to lace hiking trail runners to ensure optimal performance during your hiking adventures.

Make Your Presence Known By Singing, Talking, And Clapping

Singing. This one is a favorite of many hikers, but it might not be the best way to keep bears aware of your presence. 

While singing can sometimes alert bears of your presence, it can also scare them away if they perceive you as a threat or predator. 

If you’re going to sing while hiking in bear country, choose songs that are loud and clear—not those with lyrics like “I’m gonna eat you up!”

Talking. Just like singing, talking loudly and clearly can inform bears of your presence on their territory. Of course, if you’re walking alone through the woods without any other people around for miles (or even just yards), it might seem unnecessary for everyone else in earshot to know exactly where every single person is at all times! 

So be sure not to talk too loudly when there aren’t any other humans around who need directions from their hiking partners or warnings about possible encounters with dangerous mammals lurking nearby…

SingingUsing your voice to produce musical sounds
TalkingCommunicating verbally with spoken words
ClappingStriking your hands together to create a sound
WhistlingProducing a high-pitched sound by blowing through pursed lips
ShoutingSpeaking loudly and forcefully to attract attention

Carry A Bell On Your Belt Or Backpack

One of the best ways to let bears know you’re coming their way is with a bell. Bears are territorial and will want to make sure you aren’t encroaching on their space. 

When hiking in bear habitat, it’s important to keep your dog on a leash and not allow him or her off-leash; dogs can get into trouble easily, which could lead to an attack by a bear.

Keep in mind that bears have sensitive hearing and strong senses of smell—so any loud noises could startle them into attacking. 

They’re also intelligent creatures who learn quickly from past experiences (like getting chased away by humans every time they approach human campsites) so if you’ve encountered them before without incident, chances are good that next time won’t go as smoothly for everyone involved!

Stay In Groups As Much As Possible

As you’re hiking, make sure to stay in groups! Bears are less likely to attack a group of people than they are an individual. 

If you’re alone, however, make noise and stay alert so that bears know where you are at all times. If a bear does appear while hiking, don’t freak out—just calmly walk away from it. 

You should never run from bears because this could trigger their instinctive attack response. If the bear is close and moving toward you directly (for example, if it’s between two trees), then try making yourself look larger by waving your arms or throwing rocks at it until the bear leaves or goes away from where you were standing.

If there is a cub near its mother when she attacks someone: DO NOT STAY AND FIGHT THE BEAR OFF OF THEM! Just leave them and get as far away as possible because mama bears will attack anything that threatens their cubs!

Keep Children Close At All Times

The most obvious way to keep bear encounters from turning into a disaster is by keeping your children close at all times. 

Children, especially young ones, are among the most vulnerable groups in regards to bear attacks. 

They move quickly and have no concept of danger—a recipe for disaster if you’re hiking with them out in the wild. 

The best thing you can do is teach them what to do when they see or hear a bear: stay calm and don’t run away! 

If you’re with them, use your voice to transmit authority over both yourself and them (think of how parents talk down a toddler during tantrums), but don’t make yourself an easy target by shouting wildly at every hint of noise around you.

Don’t worry too much about teaching your children how to behave around bears—they’ll learn more quickly than you think!

Encountering a snake while hiking can be alarming. It’s crucial to know what steps to take. In case of a snake bite, refer to our comprehensive guide on what to do if you are bitten by a snake while hiking for essential first aid measures and immediate actions to minimize the risk.

Wear A Whistle Around Your Neck So That You Can Easily

Wear a whistle around your neck. You should be able to hear it as you hike, so if a bear is nearby, you should be able to blow on it to get the creature’s attention. 

Make sure that this whistle will be loud enough for other hikers to hear from far away too—that way, they can come help you out if needed.

Cook Away From Where You Sleep

The easiest way to avoid a bear encounter: cook your food away from where you sleep. The smell of cooking attracts bears, especially if they’re hungry. 

If you must cook while camping in bear country, do it at least 100 yards from where you sleep or set up a separate tent for cooking and eating. 

If there is no other option than to have your cooking area close to where you sleep, make sure the fire is small and easily controlled (use a stove instead) and keep all food inside the tent or bag.

Cook Away from Sleeping AreaPrepare meals at a distance from the location where you sleep
Use a Stove or GrillUtilize a camping stove or grill for cooking instead of open fires
Properly Store FoodStore food securely to prevent attracting wildlife
Dispose of Waste ProperlyFollow proper waste disposal methods to minimize odors
Clean Cooking UtensilsMaintain cleanliness of cooking utensils to prevent contamination

Set Up Food Caches Far Away From Where You Are Sleeping.

You should set up food caches far away from where you are sleeping. If you are in a tent, store your food in the vestibule. 

If you are at a cabin or lodge, store your food in a safe place. It’s important to make sure that there is no way for the bear to get into your cache. 

If you have a cabin and find yourself staying at one of these places for an extended period of time (more than 2 days), make sure that all of your windows are closed so that bears cannot get inside the cabin through an open window or door.

To keep yourself dry and comfortable during wet hiking conditions, it’s important to waterproof your hiking pants. Our easy-to-follow tips in the article on how to waterproof hiking pants will help you protect against moisture and enjoy your hiking adventures to the fullest.

Keep Food In Airtight Containers That Are Stored Away From Where You Sleep

The best way to protect yourself from bears is to not attract them in the first place. When hiking, keep food in airtight containers and store it away from where you sleep. 

Don’t leave food out in the open or unattended, even for a few seconds—bears are great at sniffing out delicious snacks!

Being prepared with the right essentials is crucial for a successful 7-mile hike. Our detailed guide on what to bring on a 7-mile hike provides a comprehensive checklist, ensuring you have all the necessary gear and supplies for a safe and enjoyable trek.


Bears are fascinating creatures, and we have a unique opportunity to interact with them as they roam freely in nature. 

But it’s important that we do this responsibly—and that means understanding how to protect yourself from bears when hiking.

Further Reading

Here are some additional resources for further reading on hiking safely in bear country:

  • Hiking in Bear Country – National Park Service: This comprehensive article from the National Park Service provides valuable information and guidelines for hiking in bear habitats, including tips for bear encounters and minimizing risks.
  • 12 Tips for Hiking Safely in Bear Country – The Outbound: Check out this insightful article on The Outbound, which offers 12 practical tips and advice for hiking safely in bear country, ensuring a safe and enjoyable outdoor experience.
  • Backpacking in Bear Country – REI Co-op: REI Co-op provides expert advice and recommendations for backpacking in bear country. This resource covers essential safety measures, bear behavior, and strategies for minimizing human-bear conflicts while backpacking.


How should I react if I encounter a bear during a hike?

If you encounter a bear during a hike, it’s important to remain calm. Avoid sudden movements, speak calmly, and back away slowly. Do not run or turn your back on the bear. Give the bear space and allow it to leave the area on its own.

Should I carry bear spray while hiking in bear country?

Yes, carrying bear spray is highly recommended when hiking in bear country. Bear spray is an effective deterrent that can help you defend yourself in the event of a bear encounter. Make sure you know how to use it properly and have it readily accessible.

What precautions can I take to minimize the chances of a bear encounter?

To minimize the chances of a bear encounter while hiking, make noise to alert bears of your presence. Stick to well-traveled trails, hike in groups, and avoid hiking during dawn and dusk when bears are most active. Keep a clean campsite, properly store food, and dispose of waste properly.

How should I store my food to prevent attracting bears?

When hiking in bear country, it’s important to store your food properly to prevent attracting bears. Use bear-resistant containers, bear bags, or hang food from a bear pole. Store food and scented items away from your sleeping area and maintain a clean campsite.

What should I do if a bear charges at me?

If a bear charges at you, it is likely a bluff charge. Stand your ground, raise your arms to appear larger, and shout loudly to intimidate the bear. Back away slowly, but do not turn and run. If the bear makes contact, use bear spray and continue to defend yourself.