From heights to lightning, there are a lot of things to fear in the backcountry. But which of those are really dangerous, and which shouldn’t you worry about.
Bears are not one of those things you need to worry about. Let's talk about the irrational fear of bears and how you can master your fear and keep yourself safe.
Strange noises outside your tent keeping you up at night?
Learn to cope with your fear of bears.
A rustling in the woods. A large, round footprint in the middle of the trail. Remembering at midnight that you left a Clif Bar wrapper in your pocket. It doesn’t take much to set your amygdala, the fear center of your brain, on high alert when you’re in bear country. The idea of coming face-to-face with 3-inch claws, sharp teeth, and 650 pounds of muscular, hungry animal is enough to strike fear into the stoutest of hearts, and for good reason. After all, it’s not elk that rangers are chasing away from parking lots at Yellowstone with shotguns in hand or bighorn sheep they’re warning hikers to avoid during peak berry season. With their massive heft, impressive canines, and clawed paws, they can do damage if not treated with the respect they deserve. Fortunately, run-ins with these massive omnivores are actually quite rare: On average, only 11 attacks per year occur in North America. Rarer still are encounters that lead to death. A total of four people were killed by bears in North America in 2020, all in Alaska and Canada. And while any number would be tragic, bear-related deaths pale in comparison to the number of people killed by dogs: 41 in the same year. In fact, you’re far more likely to fall to your death, drown, or even pass away from heat illness than you are to be killed by a bear in the wild. So why are we still so afraid?.
“Fear comes partly from a lack of knowledge and understanding,” says Dr. Stephen Herrero, Canadian biologist, one of the world’s foremost bear experts, and author of the book Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance. We fear what we don’t understand, and most outdoorists don’t take the time to understand bears, their habitats, or their mannerisms. But according to Herrero, that’s exactly what we should do. “Knowledge regarding how to stay safe in bear country is the best armament you can have to protect yourself from fear or from bears. A little basic knowledge goes a long way.” Start by learning about these inquisitive and intelligent creatures, their diets, and body language. Then when you head to the woods, be mindful about where you are, where bears might be, and what species live in the area. Then, learn how to store and dispose of food properly to keep from enticing bears into your campsite. Depending on what’s available and what the local best practices are, you can use a bear bag or bear safe to store not just food, but anything with a scent (like lip balm and sunscreen), then hang the bear bag or tie the bear canister to a tree well away from camp (at least 100 meters in grizzly country). And whatever you do, don’t burn trash or leftovers in your evening campfire. It doesn’t burn as well or as completely as you may think and can still attract bears.
Remember that bears don’t like surprises, so talk or sing as you hike to alert them to your presence, but ditch the bear bells: Most experts don’t think they’re all that effective. Always carry bear spray when hiking in bear country (black bears can be found in much of North America while grizzlies call Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and parts of Canada home). More importantly, know how to use it. Resist the temptation to ditch bear spray in favor of a firearm: According to Herrero’s research, people who defended themselves with a gun were on average twice as likely to suffer an injury than those who used bear spray. In the rare event you are attacked and your deterrent doesn’t stop the animal, your response should depend on what type of bear you’re encountering. If it’s a black bear, fight back tooth and nail. Throw rocks if you have to. If it’s a grizzly defending her cubs or her space, play dead. She’ll likely leave you alone when she believes the threat has been neutralized.
Finally, know that bears aren’t out to get you: Most attacks are the result of the animals feeling threatened and becoming defensive after people have gotten too close or inadvertently surprised them. Offensive attacks are extremely rare. Though we’ve been socialized to think of bears and their cubs as cute, hikers need to treat them with care and take all necessary precautions to prevent an encounter from going bad. Learn a bit about bears, how to stay safe in bear country, and how to protect yourself, and you might just feel your fear disappearing—mostly, anyway. “A healthy respect with a little sliver of fear is maybe not a bad combination,” Herrero says.
Written by Alisha McDarris for Backpacker Magazine on April 25, 2021
(Sunday, September 5, 2021)
The Georgian Bay Kayak Adventure was an awesome experience. We had a great group, great instructors and great guides that made for a great adventure. On the first day at Harmony Outdoor Inn, we checked into our Glamping tents and had a social night where everyone could get to know each other over a pizza and wings. Afterwards, the group headed down to the beach for a fire, a few drinks, and finally off to bed for an early morning in the water. On Day 2, we spent the day with Dympna and Heather of the Ontario Sea Kayak Centre . They provided us with a Basic Sea Kayak Course and certification. The group did great, quickly learning all they needed to know for our 2 day adventure to Franklin Island. On Day 3 and 4 we paddled from Snug Harbour out to the West Coast of Franklin Island with our guides James and Heather. After finding a great spot, setting up all 12 camps and having a quick lunch, we headed back out into the water to brave the waves of the Georgian Bay and explore the West Coast of Franklin Island and the many channels and inlets formed by Franklin Island and all the small surrounding islands. A huge thank you to Dympna, James and Heather of Harmony Outdoor Inn and the Ontario Sea Kayak Centre for making our trip so very enjoyable. They made sure we were fully ready to take on such an adventure and kept it all very fun and relaxing. If kayaking is on your adventure list, then I highly recommend the Ontario Sea Kayak Centre for your insrtuctional courses! Kayaking can be very dangerous without the proper knowledge and techniques. The highly skilled instructors at Ontario Sea Kayak Centre will ensure you are completely prepared for almost any situation. I would also like to thank all those that attended. Everyone of you did an amazing job. There were some pretty difficult challenges, as for many of you this was all brand new. From rolling upside down in a kayak in murky waters to learning how to survive a night on a secluded island, you all did fabulous. I hope you will use all your new found skills to take on many more adventures in the future.
That's all the news for this week. As always, stay safe, and happy hiking! Lenny Burch Niagara Adventure Club