9 Bear Safety Tips From a Bear Biologist

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5. Don’t hike alone.

We don’t have a single incident in all of North America in which a bear has attacked a group of people. Yes, there was an incident in Alaska last summer when a bear charged and attacked a group [it was a NOLS crew, spread out], but to the bear it was 10 groups of one—it was one kid at a time. When you tease these things apart, you find that bears are risk-averse: They will avoid you if you group up.

6. Keep your distance.

In Kenai Fjords, we worked with black bears, and we were able to figure out at what distance—75 yards—people disrupted or displaced them. With black bears, you don’t expect an explosive response—but there were a few bears that reacted like, “Bring it on, little man.” Good stuff to know.

7. Be aware of the signals you telegraph.

Don’t act like you’ve been violated when you get attacked after washing your hair with a fragrance that makes you smell like a 200-pound strawberry. If you smelled a bacon-and-egg shampoo with a vanilla conditioner, wouldn’t you come running? Why would you come into the world of an animal driven by olfactory capabilities and dope yourself to smell like a giant piece of food?

In the Alaskan tundra, don’t bring a banana-colored tent. I’ll release a paper this year mapping bear response to human-generated stimuli. In four years of field research, we’ve tested 728 scents, 487 sounds, and 88 visuals. When we tested a variety of fabrics, it should come as zero surprise that camouflaged fabrics were simply not noticed. But solid-colored fabrics of unusual colors (like bright yellow) solicited bears’ attention. Boldly colored tents and clothing make you an obvious feature on the landscape. Would I not have a yellow tent? All of my tents are bright yellow! But I don’t perch them out on a promontory where the whole world can see. Be aware that when you telegraph your presence by introducing novelty into a bear’s environment, you shouldn’t be too surprised when it comes to check you out.

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