Solo hiking

10:42 p.m. on July 21, 2010 (EDT)
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I am new to hiking and I do everything solo because there is no one to go with. I want to go out and hike and stay a night but where I live there are lots of bears and not that many people around. Is there a way I can keep them away for sure or avoid encounters with them while I am sleeping or wandering down a trail?

12:22 a.m. on July 22, 2010 (EDT)
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Others may say differently, but IMO the chances of encountering bears aren't a factor of whether you're alone or not. I've read at least as many stories of group encounters with bears as solo encounters. Bear encounters seem to be typically more of an issue with food storage and keeping anything "fragrant" safely stowed away and completely away from anything that goes near your tent.

Although I have no experience with them personally, from what I've read here and elsewhere, the one exception would be grizzlies, since apparently they view humans as potential food.

In what area will you be backpacking?

12:41 a.m. on July 22, 2010 (EDT)
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I think it might help us if you posted where you're hiking. From what I've read and experienced, bears behave differently based on your location. Plus there are the differences between species, Black bears and Brown/grizzly bears. Very different animals which you have to react differently to.

For example, the bears I've experienced in SW Pennsylvania seem more skittish than the bears in Shenandoah National Park. I'd think that bears in any National Park or protected area would be bolder. That doesn't mean they're dangerous, just that you may have to take different precautions. I haven't felt "scared" yet, just cautious and on-edge. But it's a big, powerful omnivore and I'm part of the "omni" ;-)

On the other hand, on the section of the Appalachian Trail between Springer Mtn and Fontana Dam, I saw no bears at all, despite warnings for aggressive bears being issued for Blood Mountain. Great name, eh? ;-)

If you took the recommended precautions for your food, I wouldn't let bears stop you. I solo hike all the time too. I'm from Chicago and Wisconsin, where there are no bears, but have been hiking in some of the Eastern states this summer. So naturally I was a bit leery about the bear situation. But the more I hike and the more I actually run into the animals, the more secure I feel.

I do take the recommended precautions to hang my food (I'm only dealing with Black bears), and I think that would be your biggest problem in Black Bear country. Attacks and predation on humans is rare. Also I would take care to ask about *local* regulations because the local rangers are going to know whether the bears in the area have learned to defeat the strategy you might be using.



12:45 a.m. on July 22, 2010 (EDT)
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Others may say differently, but IMO the chances of encountering bears aren't a factor of whether you're alone or not. I've read at least as many stories of group encounters with bears as solo encounters. Bear encounters seem to be typically more of an issue with food storage and keeping anything "fragrant" safely stowed away and completely away from anything that goes near your tent.

Although I have no experience with them personally, from what I've read here and elsewhere, the one exception would be grizzlies, since apparently they view humans as potential food.

In what area will you be backpacking?

The only thing I'd add to this is that according to the Stephen Herrero's book, Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance (IIRC) there has never been an attack on three or more people. So there *is* some advantage to traveling in a group, which is what me and the OP are worried about.

(I'm not an expert, I've only encountered five bears in my life. One of these was a cub, three were confirmed sightings (i.e. I saw the actual bear), and one was just an unknown large mammal crashing through the brush, but in the same area where I saw a bear the next day and with the same flight pattern. So I'm sure the other more experienced members will have more insight into your question.)


6:34 a.m. on July 22, 2010 (EDT)
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I think many more people have bear encounters, but are unaware of it. Popular venues (e.g. national parks, etc proximal to large human populations, such as the Sierras) have bears that know humans can be good for a freebie now and then. They know where we camp by memory if not scent, and have developed a habit of night foraging through camp sites. But most people are unaware of these close encounters, because the bear found nothing worth rummaging through, or the campers slept through what noise the bear did make. I am a light sleeper, and sleep under the stars most of the time. About half of my trips involve at least one bear in the camp episode, yet most of my fellow campers are unaware, because they are in a deep torpor, drowning out nearby sounds with their chain saw snoring. Frequently I fail to find paw prints the next day, despite knowing exactly where the bear puttered through camp. It is not unusual on multi day trips to have several midnight encounters with a bear. This doesn’t mean that the woods are crowded with bears; I think we see the same bear repeatedly, as he has a route too– like a beer delivery truck – and as long as we are in his district there is a good chance he’ll check our camp for morsels during his nightly rounds.

10:10 a.m. on July 22, 2010 (EDT)
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Can't tell you much about hiking with bears, most of the ones I see in the west are wild and are long gone before I see them. The bears that live close to towns are the problem bears. Course its not their fault they have grown up close to people who leave nice garbage cans out or leave the picnic table in their National Park campsite covered with easy food. When we are in the wild we are in their backyard and the way we handle food storage, teaches them whether its easy or hard to get to it.

In Wyoming where I spend much of my usual summers there are bear boxes (metal containers for storing food away from all critters) they are usually as far as 2-3 days hike from the roads cause some bears will go many a mile looking for easy pickings of man's food. In the wilderness areas tho in the southwest there like the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Arches and Canyonlands, don't have any or many bears.

The Tetons in Wyoming do and very year some unlucky tourist gets to close to them as they are hiking down a trail. Usually by accident are bears and human in each others way, you are minding your own business, come around the corner on a trail, an there is a bear feeding along the way. Especially mother bears with cubs can be the worse as they will see a person getting to close to their babies or in between them and their cubs as a threat.

I have been a solo hiker 75% of my hiking time over the last 35 years. Like you I never could find many that could handle being away from work and paying bills long enough to go anywhere. I would only work from May to September then be off September to May. When others I met hiking out of the wilderness on a sunday had to go back to work on Monday, I was going back into the wilderness on Monday. When all I needed was money for food for 9 months ,saving about 1000 dollars in three months of summer was all I needed for my next backpacking or bicycling tour adventures.

3:45 p.m. on July 22, 2010 (EDT)
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I live in western new york. In the past 2 months there has been almost 20 bear citing. I will be doing some of my hiking in the Adirondacks also. But there have been no attacks of any kind.

7:16 p.m. on July 22, 2010 (EDT)
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I would not worry about it much.

10:21 p.m. on July 22, 2010 (EDT)
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Stephen Herrero's book, Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance

Read this... period.

8:36 a.m. on July 23, 2010 (EDT)
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I have only encountered bears on the trail when I was solo. And they caused no problem at my campsite because I followed the same food hanging regimen I always follow.

10:09 p.m. on July 24, 2010 (EDT)
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Is it ok to camp out without a fire and just sleep in a tent?

10:15 a.m. on July 25, 2010 (EDT)
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I'm basically a solo hiker. Not totally by choice, just the way it works out.

In my climate I use a tent. During the warm time of year insects can be a problem. As a younger braver / clueless knucklehead, I was stung by a scorpion while sleeping uncovered on a pad under the stars.

I personally love fires, but don't build them while backpacking. Love the night sky and having some semblance of night vision.

I'm acquiring gear now for trips into bear country and have no apprehension about it. Actually looking forward to it.

Life is too short to get wound up over things that might happen. Use sound and clean camping practices and go have some fun.

10:12 a.m. on July 26, 2010 (EDT)
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Welcome to Trailspace, Peter.

I hike in the southern Appalachians, in areas where we have quite a high Black Bear population, and have seen them in "the wild" on a number of occasions. But every time I have encountered them I was not backpacking, but driving or in a car-camping area. I personally would very much like to see bears while I am out in the backcountry, and am not worried for my safety either.

But that does not mean I do not take the fact that they are large, powerful omnivores seriously. I have studied their behavior and the effective, proper response to take in the instance of an encounter. I observe proven practices to lessen the chance of bringing bears into camp, etc.

Browse and search here on the forums, find some experienced people to learn from, read up on backpacking and the outdoors, and don't jump in over your head too quick and you will find what you need to know.

11:01 a.m. on July 27, 2010 (EDT)
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I'd figure that since I'm only one person carrying and cooking for only one there's that much less of a chance of a bear getting whiff of me Vs a larger group. I hike mostly solo, hang my food and also spearatley hang my trash. I oftern wonder if temporarily burruying my trash (it's in a zip lock bag) for retrieval the next morning would be better since that would be the source of any aroma for the bears nose. I use freeze dried foods, boiling water doesn't really give off a scent to attract any hungry bear. I also only use a bivy sack and don't bother with a tent, nicer to see what's going on around the camp at night without making too much noise.

20 bear citings or 20 bear encounters? You're in the woods, seeing a bear is probably a good thing (would be for me), encountering one, not so good.

I hike mostly N GA where the bears can eat pretty much year-round, they've all ran as soon as I saw them.

6:29 a.m. on July 28, 2010 (EDT)
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..I oftern wonder if temporarily burruying my trash (it's in a zip lock bag) for retrieval the next morning would be better since that would be the source of any aroma for the bears nose...

No, not a good idea. The critters will still smell the bag, they will associate it with humans, and perpetuate the very problem of equating humans = food.

7:32 p.m. on July 28, 2010 (EDT)
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I hike in and near the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and to date I have currently had two bear encounters. Both of them went as follows:

Bear scares me when it appears. I bang rocks and make loud noises...I scare bear. Bear moves along in the other direction.

Maybe I have been lucky, but a citing of a bear is much different then attacks from bears. Just find read around here on what to do if you encounter one on the trail and you should get good advice.

I was always told to be "big and loud", so I wave my trekking poles and bang rocks together. Seems to work so far and I hope it continues (so long as I keep meeting bears on the trail).

12:36 a.m. on July 29, 2010 (EDT)
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I live in the northern central portion of New Jersey where black bears are frequently sited. I've had four bear encounters, two on the trail and two in my wooded backyard. I spooked a bear resting under bushes. It's adrenalin was exceptional. I heard and saw the swift rustle of the bush but nothing more. I looked around and while moving cautiously up the trail and looking about, I saw a bear up a tree. I spoke softly and friendly to the bear as I do to deer. The bear lowered itself on the tree as I moved on. I have seen many bears over the years. Recently, a local hiker and his dog were malled by a female, a mother of three cubs. The bear was hunted and put down. I would recommend hiking with bear spray when hiking in bear country, kept at the ready. Cabela's carries it as do other outfitters. I have a basic premise about most types of wild animals through experience, be cautious and avoidant, particularly with mature animals. Cubs may be cute, but mother may be around the corner. Peter_o has it right about the three common North American bears - know their behavior as response to each is different. I've read and seen documentary film on bear behavior. Bear behavior knowledge, bear spray, a high powered rifle or handgun are practical deterrents. Your response time and response to a bear charge are limiting factors in the outcome.

7:57 p.m. on August 4, 2010 (EDT)
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I'm a soloist myself and have had many bear encounters while backpacking but only a handful during the night.

If your in the backcountry you have nothing to fear with black bears as they are very passive if not skittish.They behave simular to deer...they run.

Habitual bears that have lost there natural fear of humans due to hand-outs can be problematic.

My advice...hike way back and sleep with the really wild ones,seriously.

11:03 p.m. on August 4, 2010 (EDT)
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I tend to agree with Dreamer. I guess this doesn't follow LNT principles, but I much prefer camping in a previously-unused spot ... in large part because it seems like it reduces the risk that bears would be used to food being available there... whenever i camp in an established campsite ...even (especially?) if it's at a roadside campground, I find myself wondering what the previous campers spilled ... right where I'm pitching my tent...

11:46 p.m. on August 4, 2010 (EDT)
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Stop worrying about bears and simply keep a clean camp and keep a freon boat horn handy for alerting any possible bears you might encounter in brushed-in areas of your trails/campsites. Predation on humans happens, not as a previous poster states, but, actually MORE by Black Bears than by Grizzlies; however, this is VERY rare and not something to worry about.

Do NOT surprise a bear, do not approach one, do not wave your arms and shout at one and NEVER run from or stare into the eyes of one. Clean camps, hung foods and cosmetics and making LOTS of metallic noises will keep bears from you and most of them are more afraid of humans, with good reason, than you should be of them.

Soloing is wonderful and I regularly solo hike, camp, fish and hunt in some of the most densely populated bear country, both Blacks and Grizzlies, on the planet and have done so since 1964...and I ain't bin et yet!

5:17 a.m. on August 5, 2010 (EDT)
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Stop worrying about bears and simply keep a clean camp and keep a freon boat horn handy for alerting any possible bears you might encounter in brushed-in areas of your trails/campsites...

Hey Dewey, I think some folks must have been amung the bears you scared off with a horn blast, because your words seem to fall on deaf ears!

It seems no matter how often this topic is broached, invaiably solutions fixate on sprays, guns, and dogs, regardless crusty old woodsman of your ilk have repeatedly advised all to keep it simple, clean, hung, noisy, and carry a horn.

6:18 a.m. on August 5, 2010 (EDT)
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Is it ok to camp out without a fire and just sleep in a tent?

Sure is - it's even OK to camp without a tent! I've seen bears in the high peaks regions of the 'daks - while camping in the flowed lands area (at night, a couple came through checking for food scraps, there were none) and once while going up Marcy (just spotted the bear trundling along below me). Solo or in a group really doesn't matter - keeping your camp site clean and keeping your food out of reach does.

10:11 a.m. on August 5, 2010 (EDT)
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If, you are in country where there are lots of bears, especially Grizzlies, having a dog with you is a bad idea. When I qualified for and was accepted into the BC Forest Service in April/65, we were NOT allowed to bring our dogs into the field or carry guns at all. Spray did not exist and Grizzlies were quite numerous while attacks and injuries to staff were extremely rare.

If, you are a seasoned dog person and have the RIGHT breed of well-trained dog, THEN a dog CAN be useful, but, with 50+ years of dog ownership and now always having at least two champion level pb. Rottweilers, I am not keen on taking them into areas where I know Grizzlies are commonplace.

Dogs attract bears, will agitate and sometimes enrage them, run back to you for succour and then you are "in it", deep and smelly! I do not take some of my Rottweilers into the bush at all because they are stone fearless and WILL attack a bear and fight to the death (theirs) and I, obviously, would hate for this to happen. My current large boy is turning 3, is super well behaved, confident,brave and VERY mindful and I am going to pack him as he is less likely to want to go a few rounds with a bruin....but, I will still be ultra-cautious..

Guns, I do not believe that most hikers should carry a gun, at all, period and for dammed good reasons. I won't contravene the site regs. on this to go further, but, would remind those here that it is illegal for an American to carry a gun in Canada without being "guided" on a specific hunt and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police enforce this law very firmly and do not accept "ignorance of the law" as an excuse. There is no need for tourists to carry here and doing so can get you in major grief....just a warning that might help some.

Posters keep mentioning Herrero's book and I would suggest one that is far better, having known Herrero and read both of these tomes.

"Bear Encounter Survival Guide" James Gary Shelton

This is the ONLY book form advice on bears that I trust, I know some of the people mentioned and Shelton, while a curmudgeon, gives sound advice and this is a book well worth reading and several times.

11:42 a.m. on August 5, 2010 (EDT)
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I won't contravene the site regs. on this to go further... you contravened the rules by saying anything on the topic...

Alicia said on November 29, 2009:

I'm declaring an indefinite moratorium on any forum posts or threads concerning carrying a gun or other weapon.

12:19 p.m. on August 5, 2010 (EDT)
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The fact that Dewey mentions site regs implies he knows the site regs. Yet he went ahead and ignored them for a full paragraph. That also implies he feels the rules are only for others and not himself. I'm not impressed.

1:14 p.m. on August 5, 2010 (EDT)
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My comments did not ignore the site regs. anymore than those of previous posters who also mentioned "the unmentionable" as they were a response to these earlier statements.

What, I have tried to do, here, is to put some very realistic and practical advice into a relatively small number of words in order to help anyone who is interested in this subject.

MY concern is because I used to teach "bear safety" in the BC Forest Service to many Americans who fled north during the "Vietnam Era" and wanted to "go back to the land, man, far out, man". I also did this in the Alberta Forest Service and have assisted with SAR and the evacuation of sufficient corpses to have some real idea of what to do and not do.

But, I forget, some here are not really concerned with the topic.

1:44 p.m. on August 5, 2010 (EDT)
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Hmmm. My daughter usually has some type of consequence for rationalizing wrong into right.

Yours will be permanent removal from my Christmas card list. No amounting of pleading will dissuade me. :-)

Have a good day sir.

2:09 p.m. on August 5, 2010 (EDT)
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So, you think that "Someone else acted innapropriately, so it's ok if I do as well."


4:34 p.m. on August 5, 2010 (EDT)
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Hey, me bad, Dewey wouldn't have mentioned the "G" word if not for my post. I knew of the rules, but interpreted them to construe a ban on advocacy of said item, rather than a ban to even use the word at all.

6:33 p.m. on August 5, 2010 (EDT)
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Just dropping in to salute you all for self-policing on the issue of the Dread Utterance.

Dewey stated his reasons for invoking an exception, and it's within the bounds of civilized discourse to take an exception to that. No need for anybody to walk away mad.

8:22 p.m. on September 19, 2010 (EDT)
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The best way to keep them away is to not attract them. Use food that has no or little smell such as dehydrated. Keep the food away from your tent in case a bear trys to get to it. Normally a bear will run away from you (lucky for me that has happend when encountering bears). I carry pepper spray (Counter Assault) always just in case.

Grizzly bears do not see humans as food. They are bigger and more aggressive than black bears so can cause more damage when provoked. I have seen 2 in the backcountry and both were running away from me. But suprise them up close or get too close to their cubs and it will be another story. The same goes for blacks. Again carry that bear repellant.

I am tonight packing for a solo overnighter in northern Wisconsin in the heart of black bear country. Doesn't bother me a bit.

Happy trails.

2:06 a.m. on September 20, 2010 (EDT)
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Grizzlies DO prey on humans and eat them, however, this is not as frequent a causative factor in violent bear-human encounters as are certain others. I could go into exhaustive detail concerning this and cite a number of authorities with both post-graduate academic credentials and extensive field experience, however, I would prefer to see people read the book I suggested a couple of months ago, written by Gary Shelton.

Grizzlies are not always more aggressive than Black Bears and will usually avoid contact with humans, but, a surprise encounter between a Grizzly and a human is FAR more dangerous and will tend to be lethal for the human.

I have chased Blacks away from my wilderness cabins while working solo in remote BC locales by yelling and chucking a couple of rocks at them, as I do not like to kill them. I would NEVER even consider doing this with a Grizzly and I treat them with great caution and will even abort a given hike if I can, when I encounter one in a narrow valley such as is commonplace in BC.

Bears, are the most fascinating creatures, to me, of the very extensive array of wild fauna we have here in BC and with every encounter, my deep love of them and huge respect for them increases.

8:10 a.m. on September 20, 2010 (EDT)
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Dewey makes some good points. Grizzlies may less often think of you as dinner, but they are still at the top of the food chain... everything smaller, including black bears and humans, is potentially on the menu.

The problem with generalizations is that the one bear you meet may not fit the statistical curve. These are wild animals, but each is unique; a bear with a toothache can be as irrational as a human with a toothache. Guidelines are good, but it's no fun to find out too late that the black bear you could have avoided didn't realize he should run from you. Bears are notoriously poor readers and don't follow Herrero's studies as assiduously as they should.

What is most annoying is the human hubris that occurs after someone is stalked and killed by a wild creature, whether black bear - as happened in the Quebec wilderness a few years ago, or puma - which is happening more frequently, or even coyote - as occurred in NS last year. A wild carnivore, right at the top of the food chain, chooses Homo sapien sapien as a snack and scores of people rush to defend the creature saying "Oh, these (bears, coyotes, puma) never act like this; someone must have done something wrong." The best defense of the animal is to acknowledge that it likes meat, humans are meat, and all the rest is natural for both parties.

4:55 p.m. on November 7, 2010 (EST)
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I am in the same boat. both out of necessity and preference.

I did lots of hiking in groups and enjoyed it very much, but I like being on my own and prefer that even with the increased risk.

I will have to check out this meetup site, as I am planning a backpacking trip from Santa Fe to Taos, in which soloing will be kind of tricky.

2:40 a.m. on December 1, 2010 (EST)
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I agree, Herrero's book is an excellent resource.

To sum up the way I hike the Sierra, which is similar in some ways to the area you are in as far as bear activity:

You can use a bear canister (I use a Garcia...a little too heavy, I couldn't afford the expensive carbon fiber vault).

You could also use a bear bag method. 

Either way, if you are super worried, use two Aloksak odor proof bags filled with your food, one inside the other, then place them inside your canister/bear bag. has a killer cuben fiber bear bag system that's super lightweight and tough as nails.

Cook at least three miles from your expected camp destination for the night. Cook, eat, clean up, then continue hiking. Less chance of bears tracing all those yummy odors to your camp. 

Do not leave snacks or snack wrappers in your pack, or your tent/tarp/bivy. Ever.

Leave the deoderant and cologne and toothpaste at home. Use baking soda to brush your teeth with. No one to impress on the trail, and if you do find someone, you'll have a better chance of keeping her when she sees how rough and cool you are with your savvy hiking methods. Hahahaha...ok, maybe not, but still, you won't be facing don a bear who wants your food from under your pillow at 3am.

Good luck!


12:58 p.m. on December 2, 2010 (EST)
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I grew up in Northern Wisconsin, hiked Glacier, Bob Marshall Wilderness, spent alot of time in Washington state and Colorado.  Got to watch quite a few blacks and grizzlies.  Like most of the rest of you, I end up hiking solo.  Never had a bad encounter.  I keep a very clean camp.  

The attacks you hear about are very rare when you compare them to the number of hikers out there.  LNT and enjoy your time out there.  Most of the time, my most difficult decision is: coming home.

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