How to Not Get Attacked By a Bear

Grizzly Bear 399 leading her cubs across a small hilltop. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Whether you’re hiking among black bears, grizzly bears, or both, the general rules for not getting into trouble are pretty consistent. Following them can ensure that you have a safe and exciting time in the outdoors.

Bear Spray

Yes, it’s for real, and yes, it really works. When used against a charging grizzly, bear spray is effective 98% of the time, while a gun is only effective 84% of the time, the latter of which also requires you to be a remarkable accurate shot.

Studies aside, bear spray will also give you peace of mind if nothing else. Carrying it readily accessible and knowing how to use it will allow you to hike comfortably knowing that your best defense against a surprise encounter is ready to be grabbed at any moment. If you plan on hiking around bears, grizzlies especially, shell out the $40-50 for a can.

That being said, the more you know about bears and how to hike in their wilderness, the less likely you are to ever even use bear spray. Read on to find out more.

A black bear perched on a log examining its surroundings in lower Paintbrush Canyon of the Teton Mountains. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Bear Bells

Bear bells don’t work. Period.

“Well then why do they sell them?” Because people buy them.

Bear bells don’t keep you safe from a bear and they don’t deter a bear. Their most useful effect is letting other hikers know that you wasted your money.

Hiking Alone

Parks in bear country will consistently recommend that you avoid hiking alone. Of course in some cases you might not have a choice. You may be traveling alone or the other member(s) of your party simply may not be interested in sharing that particular hike for whatever reason.

If you must hike alone, it’s important to remember a few simple things to keep you safe from an unwanted bear encounter. The first is to make noise, especially when the ground brush or forest gets thicker. This doesn’t mean blaring music or shouting. This can simply be a few claps of your hands every now and then, or just a casual, “Hey bear!” call. If you do have another person with you, casual conversation is also plenty audible to let a bear know that you’re in the vicinity.

Likewise, simply being mindful of your surroundings will help you be able to tell if a bear is nearby, not just from sight, but also from sound. If a bear is awake and active nearby, you’ll likely hear branches breaking or rustling in leaves. It’s not a cue to panic, it’s just an indicator that something’s nearby and digging around.

A black bear searching for hawthorne berries behind bushes. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

If You’ve Done Everything Right

If you’ve been alert while hiking, made adequate noise along the way, and have others with you, your odds of surprising a bear are minimal.

It may sound surprising, but if a grizzly bear knows you’re approaching, it will scatter before you ever knew it was there. Grizzlies are shy and skittish and will avoid confrontations at all costs.

You typically hear about the exceptions: a sow protecting her cub; or a lone grizzly protecting a carcass. These types of encounters are rare and most frequently happen when people are sneaking around off-trail.

If a black bear knows you’re in the area it may not always leave. Black bears frequently feed along the sides of trails. This isn’t an invitation to stop next to them and take photos and selfies. This will cause the bear to get irate and that’s also when unfortunate encounters happen. If you’ve done all the right things and a bear is still doing its thing along the trail, simply continue past until you’ve reached a safe distance, avoiding eye contact and doing anything distracting. Doing anything else might tell the bear you want to challenge him/her for its food or territory.

Grizzly Walking on Bare Hillside
The grizzly bear nicknamed, Felicia, walking on a hillside beginning to grow grass after the snow has melted in the Absaroka Mountains. Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming

What Not To Do

In terms of what not to do, there are some things you’ll also want to avoid doing.

Do not hike with your head down the whole time. This should go without saying but I’ve seen people take entire hikes with their heads down. I’ve also seen people literally walk right next to a bear and have absolutely no idea that they just did. Bears aside, the hikes in bear country are simply stunning, so why not pay attention to them?

Don’t blare music. This not only mutes nature’s soundtrack but it also negatively affects wildlife in the area, from birds to larger mammals. Plus it pisses everybody else off since they came for the peacefulness.

Don’t wear headphones. This will not only make you exponentially less aware of your surroundings but you’ll also miss out on the effect that hiking in a noise-free environment has on stress. Do yourself a favor and listen to nature.

Don’t hike off-trail. Bears, grizzlies especially, know that humans frequent certain trails. They deliberately hide away from humans and commotion to enjoy the quiet. The farther you explore from an established trail the higher the likelihood that you find yourself surprising a grizzly.

Don’t confront a grizzly. If you’ve somehow managed to encroach on a grizzly that’s not moving, it will accept your challenge and you’ll lose. Bears just want to be left alone and have their personal space undisturbed. If you can’t tell if it’s a grizzly or black bear, play it safe and just slowly back away while avoiding eye contact. Doing so will tell the bear you’re not a threat and you’re backing off.


The more you hike in bear country the more you realize that they’re just another animal that simply wants to be left alone. If nothing else, give bears their space and the respect they deserve and you’ll avoid nearly every reason a bear would have to attack you. Hiking in bear country doesn’t have to be scary. It’s quite the opposite, in fact, and the more you practice these rules the safer and happier you’ll be.

Any questions on anything I missed? Feel free to ask in the comments!

2 thoughts on “How to Not Get Attacked By a Bear”

  1. I recently got back from the Tetons myself, and I believe you told me in person about how to handle bears in the wilderness. Although I was frightened by a bear encounter throughout my entire trip, your words spoken to me during our car ride allowed me to calm down a little bit towards the end and really appreciate the nature without constant fear. Your suggestion for Table Mountain instead of the Middle Teton was well received. Thanks again, and I am looking forward to seeing a bear from a safe distance some time!

    1. Glad to know it helped! I spent my first few years here petrified of bears, but the more I observed them and the more I camped and hiked in their home, the more I realized that they’re just like any other animal and just want to be left alone. It was at that point I started to take comfort in the nature here instead of being afraid of it. When you do that there’s a lot more to get from your time here. Very glad to hear I could help you with that and glad you got to Table Mountain! It was great meeting you and hope y’all can get back this way soon!

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