Backpacking for Couples

Fear: Bears and Injury

I wonder if there is a serious backpacker who hasn’t been asked, “What will you do if you encounter a bear?”

Carol and I have hiked in black bear country a few times and we have yet to encounter a bear. We know they are there, and we take proper precautions. We don’t let things like bears or fear of injury keep us from exploring the wilderness. If something bad happens, we believe we possess the proper survival skills to get back to civilization safely. We carry a first-aid kit, signal mirror, emergency fire starter,whistle, cell-phone, and knife. So far we’ve been fortunate and have never had to use any of these items.

It’s easy for non-hikers to use the fear of what might happen keep them from ever venturing into the wild. It’s possible for anyone to get injured by a freak accident while hiking, but it’s more likely to get hurt just driving back and forth on your daily commute.

While hiking on Isle Royale a few years a go, I was nearly trampled by a moose. Fortunately, this giant bull heard me just before I rounded a corner and he harmlessly bolted through the woods. From that point on, I made plenty of noise as we tramped through the sections of trail that seemed most likely to harbor an ornery Bullwinkle. The same goes for hiking in bear country – make plenty of noise. Sing, whistle, tell loud stories to your hiking partner, and click your trekking poles together.

Take precautions and have faith. Chances are you will never experience an encounter with an angry animal or sustain a serious hiking injury.

Here are some suggestions about backcountry safety:

  1. Carry a whistle, signal mirror, knife, fire starter, and first-aid kit.
  2. When in black bear country, use an approved bear canister. Put everything that has odor in the canister – food, lotions, mosquito repellent, and garbage. During the night, wedge the canister between some rocks or logs about 30 to 50 yards away from your campsite. If you hear a bear trying to invade your canister, yell loudly and most likely the bear will run off.
  3. Do not put anything with odor (food or lotion) in your tent! Our tent was once ripped open by a squirrel intent on getting into saline solution that was left in a backpack.
  4. In grizzly country, carry approved bear spray.
  5. Trekking poles are a lifesaver when descending on scree and loose trail surfaces.
  6. Turn your cell phone off when hiking. You might need the battery if something bad happens (if you are fortunate to have reception!).
  7. Carry and know how to use your maps, compass, and GPS.
  8. Always let a non-hiker friend at home know your itinerary (Watch the film 127 Hours to see how bad things can get if you don’t tell your mom where you’re going!).