How To Survive A Bear Attack

How to survive a bear attack

While bear attacks are uncommon – in fact, you’re more likely to encounter snakes or scorpions – they are still a common worry for hikers and campers who travel in areas inhabited by bears. 

No matter where you’re going, it’s always good for any survivalist to understand how to survive a bear attack.

Avoid Being Attacked By A Bear

The best way to survive a bear attack is to avoid the attack in the first place!

Bears don’t generally want to attack people. We are not their natural prey, and we are actually a major threat to them. 

As individuals, we look like other predators in their space, and often make lots of frightening noise that wildlife doesn’t like. And as a species, we are destroying their habitat and contributing to environmental dangers that make it less safe to be a bear than a person!

You won’t even need to know how to survive a bear attack if a bear never attacks you, and it’s relatively easy to prevent that from happening. 

There are safe ways to see bears in their natural habitats. If you are really hoping to see a bear, check out the bear viewing guidelines from the National Park Service. Some areas even have guided tours or boat trips that can help you see bears without risking an attack. 

Stay Informed And Bear Aware

Grizzly Bear

Before you go camping and hiking anywhere, learn about what types of bears might be in the area. Stop by a visitor center or ranger lodge to get up to date information about bear sightings and what bear behavior has been like during that season.

Always read and follow all available signs and brochures about safety. Do not ignore warnings. If bear-proof garbage cans and food storage are available, use them correctly. 

Store Food And Supplies In A Bear Safe Manner

Don’t do anything to attract a bear to your campsite or hiking trail. Bears have an incredibly strong sense of smell, and they might decide you’re worth pushing around if they can get some twinkies or a granola bar out of the deal.

To keep bears from being attracted to your area, make sure your food is packed safely and in a “bear aware” manner. You can get bear safe cans, bags, and other gear that prevents the bears from Don’t litter or leave any type of garbage or trash along the trail or around your campsite. 

Don’t Catch A Bear Unaware

A bear that feels startled, cornered, or thinks that you are invading its space is a bear that is more likely to attack you. When hiking, talk loudly and make other types of noise. This lets bears know that there are people nearby, and gives them a chance to leave you alone instead of engaging with you.

Never go intentionally looking for bears! While it can be an amazing experience to witness these massive creatures, it’s not smart to try and get into their territory or make them too aware of your presence.

Keep an eye out for signs of bear activity. If you have reason to believe a bear is in an area, based on odor, scat, footprints, or warnings from other hikers, leave the bear alone and find somewhere else to hike or camp.

Carry The Right Bear Gear

How to survive a bear attack: Angry Bear

When it comes to knowing how to survive a bear attack, one of the key elements is having the right gear and knowing how to use it. 

Bear Spray

Bear spray is the best defensive weapon against a bear attack. Bear spray is a very concentrated capsaicin spray that is powerful enough to deter a massive animal like a bear by irritating its eyes, nose, and face.

If you carry bear spray, make sure you know how to use it. You don’t want to be trying to figure out how to survive a bear attack using bear spray while the bear is already attacking you!

Read all the instructions and watch some how-to videos about the brand of bear spray that you have purchased. Purchase some practice bear spray without the irritant ingredients and make sure you know how to use and deploy it effectively. You can also take bear survival training classes that give you a chance to try out your ursine survival skills. 

While you are carrying bear spray, always keep it stored safely and out of reach of children. Bear spray is a powerful irritant and will ruin your vacation if it is accidentally or improperly released.

Sturdy Backpacks

While you may have been told to throw your backpack away from you to draw a bear towards it rather than you, most guides on how to survive a bear attack actually recommend that you keep your backpack on. 

This helps protect your back and gives the bear something else to paw at while you protect your body. 

Bear Canisters

As mentioned above, one of the best ways to ensure that you never need to know how to survive a bear attack is to avoid attracting bears in the first place.

When hiking, camping, or backpacking, carry any food in bags or canisters that seal in such a way that bears can’t smell it and decide to come take it from you.

Guns

Many people believe that carrying a gun makes for good protection against a bear attack. Unfortunately, shooting a bear is more likely to make it feel enraged and threatened and more like to attack you. 

Guns are not a good way to survive a bear attack. Never rely on firearms as protection against bears. Instead, carry bear spray. 

Know What Kind Of Bear You’ve Encountered

To understand how to survive a bear attack, it’s important to understand what kind of bear you may need to protect yourself from. Before traveling to an area where bears live, look up what species of bears live there and make sure you know how to tell the difference.

Black Bears

Black bears are smaller and faster than the giant grizzly bears you may be picturing when you wonder how to survive a bear attack, but they can still be dangerous. Black bears kill around one person per year in North America and occasionally injure others.

Smaller and more timid than grizzly bears, black bears want to get far away from humans and will often run away or climb a tree. However, their size and climbing skills mean that they can be more difficult to escape if they do try to attack you.

Grizzly Bears

Grizzly bears are more aggressive and more likely to attack than black bears, but they are not the vicious dangers you may have seen in movies. In fact, they only injure approximately one human per year, and only kill around one human every twenty years!

Grizzlies are a subspecies of brown bears that live in North America and Canada, especially in the Northwestern Area surrounding Yellowstone National Park.

Grizzly bears can weigh up to 800 pounds and are omnivores, meaning their diet includes everything from nuts and berries to smaller prey animals. 

Because grizzly bears will eat just about anything and everything, they’re especially interested in human food and can be easily drawn to an area by poorly stored snacks!

Polar Bears

A person hiking or camping in most parts of the world is not likely to encounter a polar bear. But if you’re in an area where polar bears do roam – such as parts of Alaska, Canada, and Russia that are within the arctic circle – you may want to know how to survive a bear attack at the paws of one of these white giants.

The largest of all bear species on earth, polar bears have a much more limited diet than other types of bears. That means that they are less likely to try and attack humans to get at their food and snacks. However, they are the species most likely to see humans as prey and try to attack them for that reason.

Tips to Help You Survive A Bear Attack

Grizzly Bear in the Mountains

Don’t Run From A Bear

Bears are a lot faster than they look, and they will easily overtake you if you try to run from them. Remember that they are very strong, and they are very accustomed to running through forest trails and underbrush. 

Also, when you run from a bear, you turn your back on it. This prevents you from seeing what the bear is doing and keeping an eye on the threatening animal. It also makes you look and behave more like a prey animal, which can provoke the hunting and attacking instincts in a bear.

Stand Your Ground

Instead of running, make yourself look as “big” as possible.

Stand up on a nearby rock or log to give yourself some height advantage. However, don’t try to climb a tree to get away from a bear – they are excellent climbers and can easily come after you in a tree!

Pick up a stick and wave it around, and shout to sound threatening. If you have a backpack or jacket, hold it up to make your silhouette look larger to the bear.

If you have small children or dogs with you, pick them up and hold them in your arms. This keeps them from looking like small and easy targets, and adds to your visual bulk from the bear’s perspective. 

Don’t Throw Things

Some tips on how to survive a bear attack will tell you to take your backpack or food and throw them far away from you to distract the bear. 

However, doing this can backfire by startling the bear and making it more likely to charge. It also means that you lose the protection and size advantage offered by whatever bags you are carrying. 

This tactic is also not good for the bear, since it teaches them to menace humans for their food and encourages this kind of attacking behavior. 

Use Bear Spray

Bear spray is the best type of deterrent to avoid a bear attack. Point the spray directly at the bear, making sure to take the wind direction into account. Always aim for just below the bear’s face to prevent the spray from being blown over the animal’s head. 

Spray in short, two second bursts, and do not use the entire canister at once – you may need a few more sprays to fully deter the bear. If the bear tries to get closer to you, aim directly for its eyes and nose.

If your bear spray works to deter the bear, it will go away or stop advancing and try to clean the substance from its face. Take the opportunity to get away from the bear as quickly as possible without turning and running. 

Play Dead And Protect Yourself

If the bear begins to attack you with its teeth and claws, you are now in the situation of needing to know how to survive a bear attack rather than prevent it from happening.

As a bear is beginning to attack you, the best thing to do is to curl up in the fetal position so that your knees and legs protect your torso. While it’s still not great to have a bear take a chunk out of your legs, you can do much better with an injured leg than if the bear manages to damage your internal organs or cause you to start bleeding from your abdomen!

You’ll also want to tuck your chin down and lace your hands over the back of your neck, protecting your face and a critical area of your spine. Try to keep still and “play dead.” The bear may satisfy its curiosity or understand that you are not a threat, and decide to go away.

Fight Back

Fighting back should be a last resort, but you may find yourself needing to do so in order to survive a bear attack. 

Aim for its eyes and nose, which are sensitive areas, and make lots of noise and movement to challenge the bear.

Hopefully, the animal will decide that you are not worth fighting with, and will leave you alone. While you may be shaken and scratched up, you will have survived a bear attack. Immediately get away from the area, apply first aid to wounds, and call for help.