Knowing how to avoid an attack could save your life, because if a bear decides to pick a fight, you’re in a tight corner.
Being safe in bear country depends on the bears’ experience with people. My long association with brown bears has convinced me that if they don’t have access to food and don’t have to put up with abuse, they are safe to be around.


That’s a big “if” though, because, sadly, in most of their habitats, they are either hunted or conditioned to be afraid of people. This makes a few of them defensive and dangerous when surprised, especially females with cubs.

How to avoid a bear attack

  • If you do meet a bear on a trail, immediately say something calmly so it can tell you’re not a threat.
  • If the bear doesn’t run off, work out which way you should go so that it can get by.
  • Keep talking and pass the bear at a distance at least equal to that which separated you when you first met it.
  • When the bear has gone, keep going. Fattening up for hibernation is a matter of life and death for bears, and the less you disturb them, the better.
  • Hike in groups and make some noise, so you don’t surprise them.
European Brown Bear, Bavaria, Germany (Photo by Getty Images)

What to do if a bear approaches you

  • Brown bears will very occasionally attack if they feel threatened, whereas when a black bear attacks, its intention is usually to kill. Pepper spray is the best defence – it’s delivered from an aerosol canister and is easy to use.
  • If you don’t have spray and a brown bear is coming at you like an express train, don’t run. Instead, play dead by laying face down with your hands over the back of your neck. This reduces the threat the bear is feeling and it might leave you alone.
  • If a single young brown bear (or any black bear) is coming towards you or circling you, use whatever you have – a walking stick, bicycle, anything – and keep it between you and the bear.
  • If there are two or more of you, it’s important that everybody stays together.
  • If all of the above fails, gang up and fight as hard as you can, kicking and screaming. Use knives or tree branches as clubs if you can. Don’t try to climb a tree, because the act of looking for a suitable one will split the group up.
A black bear crossing the main road leading to the Waterton Lakes National Park (Photo by Getty Images)