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Bear Spray 101: What To Do When You Meet a Bear on a Trek

Bears are typically seen between May to October in Western Canada. Springtime is a great time to spot the bears since they have just come out of hibernation and are hungry. It’s cool to see a black bear on the Trans-Canada Highway, but it’s way less appealing when you come face to face with a grizzly bear during your hike. It’s time to start carrying some bear spray if you don’t already.

What should you do when you meet a bear on a trek?

Lisa Marie Gaudreault
    • If you haven’t been noticed, turn back without attracting attention.
    • Stay calm and talk to her in a firm but not aggressive tone.
    • Make yourself tall and make some noise so that he leaves. 
    • Give him space to go away.
    • Evaluate the bear’s behaviour, and if necessary, spray it with bear spray, making sure not to spray yourself.
    • If a grizzly bear attacks you, play dead. If it’s a black bear, act big and throw things at it.
Bear Repellant
Bear Repellant / Altitude Sports

Get ready for trekking with this Bear Repellent from Altitude Sports (it’s often out of stock, so buy it now if they have some left!)

When do you spray?

If you run into an aggressive bear, bear spray should be your last resort. As a traveller, it is your duty to learn how to use it safely. Your mission (other than getting away from the bear) is to avoid contact with this pepper spray. It can spray up to a distance of 10 metres at a speed of over 100 km/hour. You want to get away from it as quickly as possible. 

How do you use bear spray?

It is important to keep the bear spray accessible, ready for use. The bear won’t wait for you to dig it out of the bottom of your bag. I recommend that you hang it on your bag with a carabiner. We were caught off guard on a hike in Banff when we heard a roar, and the bear spray was stuck in a friend’s backpack. (Don’t do this!)

To use it, remove the safety clip and point the spray directly at the bear’s eyes. (Make sure you don’t point it at yourself!) Then press the spray bottle a few times for 1 second until the bear pulls away.

Can you travel with bear spray?

If you are driving into bear country, it is okay to buy the spray before you go. On the other hand, be aware that it is forbidden to have bear spray on a plane. You will have to buy it at your destination. Souvenir shops and outdoor stores sell it. If you’re a jet setter and travelling by helicopter or small plane, be sure to let the pilot know that you’re carrying bear spray.

If you have to take the plane to return home, it is important to dispose of the bear spray at a landfill. Add this little detour to your itinerary: the golden rule as a traveller is to respect the planet. Alternatively, you may be able to drop off the canister at the local fire station, if permitted.

What are some things to know before going on a hike?

    • Go around in a group and make lots of noise, preventing you from having an unexpected encounter.
    • Make sure you always have your bear spray with you. Some parks make it mandatory. Best to have it on you to avoid a hefty fine.
    • Before going on a hike, check the expiration date on the bear spray. You cannot use expired bear spray.
    • Read the manual, so you know how to use it and watch videos on YouTube. Don’t trust this article alone!
    • Learn more about bears and what attracts them. Where you’re going, are you more likely to encounter a black bear or a grizzly? Be aware, for example, that the smell of toothpaste and cayenne pepper (on your body or your clothes) can attract them.
    • Look for fresh traces: tracks, droppings (hint: pay attention to the size and any visible berries), jagged roots, and holes in the ground.
    • We cannot repeat this enough: bear spray should be used as a last resort!

Here are some other handy products to have with you in bear country:

Bear bell ($5.99)

Bear Bell / Altitude Sports

To ward off threatening bears, there’s also such a thing as a bear bell. Have you ever heard of it? It’s kind of old tech in the defence against bears. We wonder if the new bear generation has become accustomed to the sound of the bell, mistaking it for another nature sound. We wouldn’t depend on a bear bell alone. 

Bear barrel ($119.99)

Bear Keg / Altitude Sports

This bear barrel helps protect your food from bears. It is mandatory in many national parks and is certified by the Grizzly Bear Committee and the Sierra Black Bear Group for all national parks. Get the Bear Keg here!

Bear-proof cooler ($299.99)

Glacière Elite 30QT
Pelican Glacier Elite 30QT / Altitude Sports

A bear-proof cooler allows you to keep your food cold and protect it from bears. Pelican Elite Coolers are top quality and bear-proof certified. Spoil yourself with this bear-proof cooler here!

Have you ever seen a bear or other wildlife on a hike? Do you know any other proven tips (other than carrying bear spray) to stay safe in nature?

This article was originally published in French and adapted in English by Britney Claveau.

Lisa Marie Gaudreault
Je suis agente de bord, nutritionniste, professeure de yoga, rédactrice, mais surtout nomade. J’ai habité au Nicaragua et dans l’Ouest canadien. Voyager vient combler chez moi mon besoin de me renouveler sans cesse et ma curiosité insatiable. L'un de mes buts est d'éduquer les voyageurs afin qu'ils voyagent de façon plus responsable en accord avec la nature.


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