Hiking Among Grizzlies, Prepping for Safety

When we hiked the PCT in 2017 and bear safety was discussed I would always comment that black bears (which are the most prevalent species on the PCT) don’t scare me that much and that they can be avoided with a bit of common sense. However, I would follow that up with the statement that grizzly bears, on the other hand, scare me very much.

With the majority of my hiking experience prior to the PCT being in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, my hiking style was very much influenced by the basic tenets of bear safety. During a rainstorm in Southern California I ate supper in my tent for the first time in my life, enjoying the warmth of my sleeping quilt, and feeling like quite the rebellious outdoorswoman. Shortly after, in a full-on revolt against everything I had ever learned, I even started sleeping with my food bag under feet at night. Of course we used bear canisters throughout the required sections and we were more cautious in those areas, but bear safety was much more relaxed than what I was used to.

Cue this year’s planned hike of the Great Divide Trail, 1,130 kilometers of Canadian Rocky wilderness straight through grizzly territory. Remember how I said grizzly bears scared me? I’m about to spend a month and a half in their backyard; this changes things.

Don’t Eat at Camp

Unless you’re camping at a maintained backcountry site with a designated food preparation area, consider stopping to eat supper prior to reaching camp. Cooking smells linger, and it’s best if your campsite doesn’t smell like instant potatoes and tuna.

Food Storage

We’ll be largely staying outside of maintained sites with food storage lockers or hangers, so we’ve invested in a couple of Ursack AlMiteys. Made out of woven Kevlar fabric, the Ursack is lighter and comfier to carry then a traditional hard-sided bear canister. We’ll combine this with Opsacks to help keep food odors down and store it well away from our tent at night. Keep in mind that not all parks accept Ursacks and may require a bear canister, so check before you go.


Be Loud

This classic piece of advice is particularly useful around water, where dense shrubbery and the roar of rivers can disguise your entrance to the area, making it easy to accidentally startle a bear. We have a solid repertoire of duets we save for just these occasions, singing loudly as we hike.

Hike in Groups

Given the choice, I prefer to hike solo. I love the company of others (my husband included) during breaks and in the evening, but as for the actual hiking I like to set my own pace and get in some quality time with my favorite podcasts. However, this summer we’ll be attempting to stick a little closer together on trail. A couple of people together naturally make a little more noise and look a bit more intimidating to any bears wandering by.

Bear Spray

File this one under: I’ve always carried it but never used it and really hope it stays that way. This is your last ditch effort if a bear is approaching, you’ve tried backing away slowly and it’s now charging at you. Essentially pepper spray, bear spray is intended to cause temporary discomfort to the bear’s eyes and nasal passages, giving you an opportunity to exit the situation. Prepare by attempting to position yourself upwind of the bear, remove the safety from the trigger and, once the bear is within 20-30 feet of you, spray in bursts.

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