• Black bear in Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region)

Summer is the perfect time for hikers to set out on trails and explore the natural beauty Canada has to offer. But people aren't the only ones who enjoy roaming through the wilderness. Canada's provinces and territories are home to bears foraging for food.

While most bears who hear or smell a human nearby will avoid the unwanted company, hikers should always be prepared for renegade bears that could pose a serious threat.

Here are some safety tips for keeping safe while hiking through bear country.

  • Stay alert and keep an eye out for trouble. Although it’s tempting to put on headphones and lose yourself in the beat of your favourite song, it’s better to keep your eyes and ears tuned to your surroundings.
  • While many people use bear bells, they aren’t as effective as shouting out, singing or making noise regularly. The last thing a bear wants it to be surprised and suddenly see a human close by.
  • Head out on hikes with friends during daylight hours. Larger groups create more noise and this lets bears know of your presence.
  • If you are planning on camping, be careful how you store food. Throw out any garbage in bear-proof bins. Keep food at least 100 metres away from your campsite. It’s best to keep food in the trunk of your vehicle, away from your camping area. Bears have a good sense of smell and are attracted to food.
  • Give bears their space. If you spot a bear or see signs of one, such as tracks, droppings or torn-up logs, it’s better to avoid the bear rather than risk an attack.
  • Carry bear spray and be sure you know how to use it before setting out.

If you encounter a bear, don't panic! Bear attacks and maulings are rare, and there are things you can do to minimize the risks of getting injured.

  • Don’t make any sudden movements. Stop and assess the situation. Speak to the bear in a calm, non-threatening way and don’t look the bear directly in the eyes as you back away slowly.
  • If a bear approaches you, stand your ground and stay calm. The bear may see you as a threat to its young or may simply be surprised by your presence. If the bear appears stressed or agitated, remain calm and appear non-threatening, but when the bear stops advancing, start to move away. If the bear follows you, stand your ground, keep talking to it and prepare to use your bear spray.
  • A bear may be curious about you and want to assess you. But in rare cases, it may see you as prey. If the bear comes closer, you can try to intimidate it by shouting and acting aggressively. If you have bear spray, find it and get ready to use it if the bear comes within four metres of you, aiming for the bear’s eyes and nose.
  • Don’t run — bears can outrun you and may decide to chase you if you run.
  • Don’t assume climbing a tree is your escape route. Black bears are excellent climbers.

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