As some of you may know, in 8 days I’m embarking on a backpacking trip across North Carolina’s Smoky Mountain Wilderness, participating in the #Adventure4Life initiative by OutdoorMindedMag.com, to raise $25,000 to support cancer survivors and fighters (donate here). I’m packing super light, sleeping in a hammock, and will be hiking into bear territory on my way through NC. So naturally, I’ve packed my bear mace, and am studying up on what to expect if I happen to be mauled in my hammock one night while eating a candy bar.
1. You Are More Likely to be Crushed by a Tree than Mauled by a Black Bear. Over the last 109 years, black bears have killed only 63 people in the US and Canada (with the majority of attacks occurring in Canada). 92% of these attacks were from a male bear, and 88% were from a bear being predatory, likely hunting for food. And even though there are 900,000 black bears in North America (15 times as many black bears as grizzlies), grizzlies kill almost twice as many people. Black bears aren’t adept predators because they evolved in dense forests and became excellent climbers to escape predators, unlike polar bears and grizzlies. If the majority of the population lived in the North Pole, polar bears would have eaten the entire human population years ago.
2. Never Run from a Bear. If a black bear is encountered, never run. Raise your arms, slowly back away, and be prepared to use your bear mace in case of a predatory bear. If the bear becomes aggressive, shout, stomp the ground, throw rocks, and use your bear mace. No one involved in a fatal attack was carrying bear mace. Coincidence? I think not.
3. You are Most Likely to Die from a Bear Attack in August. At the end of summer, black bears are packing in high-energy food for the winter. Most fatal bear attacks occurred during this month, where humans transform into giant Cliff Bars in the bear’s eyes.
4. Bears Will Eat Your Food. If you’re in the back country, the last thing you want is to leave your pack of snickers bars and freeze dried ice cream unprotected on the ground. Particularly not next to a paper thin hammock you plan on sleeping in. In 38% of fatal black bear attacks, garbage or food was present. Use sealed containers for food and garbage, and keep it away from the campsite. You can hang it in a tree, but refer to point number one, about black bears being excellent climbers.
5. Hiking Alone Could Lead to Your Death. If you’re traipsing through the woods alone, keep in mind, you are more likely to be devoured by a bear and die alone. So bring a friend, and all will be well.
Research will not remove from my mind the image of an angry rampaging bear (no matter how wildly unlikely it is) because let’s face it— it’s just cooler that way. But stick to these 5 basic black bearisms, and you’ll survive your next backpacking adventure in the backwoods.