Trail safety

On the trails
There’s no substitute for appropriate conduct in bear country.
Carry bear spray but it should only be relied on as a last resort. Most human-bear encounters are typically resolved without the use of bear spray.

Know your bear signs:

• Scat is usually black in colour and will contain the remains of what was last eaten. Bear scat changes colour to black after being exposed to the air. Green scat is very fresh and means a bear is nearby.

• Claw marks on trees or rotted stumps and logs

• Torn up rotted logs and stumps (done by a bear looking for insects, grubs, termites)

• Overturned rocks (looking for insects)

• Bear tracks (bears have five toes and five claws)

• Heavily used grass with large patches stomped down (bears refresh themselves by rolling in tall grass).

•  Never approach a bear. Taking photos of bears can be a fun and rewarding exercise if done safely. Use a telephoto lens as approaching a bear is dangerous. Remember—bears defend

personal space.

•  Stay in your vehicle. If you see a bear beside the road don’t get out of your vehicle. Park well off the road to avoid being hit by another vehicle.

•  Never feed a bear. You are helping to kill a bear that way. Bears that get into human garbage or that learn to associate people with food become conditioned and habituated to humans. This

means a bear will bypass natural food sources for high calorie food found in our garbage. A conditioned bear may become aggressive trying to defend its food source. A habituated and food

conditioned bear has very little chance for survival.

If you encounter a bear

• Remain calm, do not panic.

• Do not run. Bears are predators (hunters) and running may cause a predatory response.

• Assess the situation—has the bear seen you, what species is it? Is it a Black or Grizzly bear?

• Do not yell at the bear.

If the bear hasn’t seen you:

• Don’t attract the bear’s attention by making noise or yelling at it.

• Assess your situation. Look for a safe and quiet way of retreating while remaining aware of what the bear is


• Leave the area quietly and leave the bear alone.

If the bear has seen you:

• Remain calm.

• Stand your ground.

• Make yourself as large as possible.

• Speak to the bear, letting it know you are human.

• Back away slowly, watching your footing and leave the area.

How does pepper spray deter bears?

Capsaicin elicits an intense burning sensation when it comes in contact with skin. It causes pain receptors to send the same

impulses to the brain as those generated by burning heat.

What makes bear pepper spray an effective defence weapon is the effect it has on mucous membranes—primarily those of the

eyes, nose and lungs. Capsaicin immediately causes these tissues to swell causing nearly total, yet temporary loss of sight

and severe restriction of breathing.

That’s why bear spray has to hit the eyes and nose of a bear to be optimally effective. It’s important that bear spray be highly

aerosolized, otherwise there won’t be sufficient force to push the spray into the lungs.

Bears sprays approved for use in Canada

Not all bear pepper sprays work the same and not all sprays on the market are approved for use as labelled. Always check for an expiry date. If there’s isn’t a visible expiry date,  DO NOT purchase the product.

All approved bear pepper sprays have a shelf life of 3 years.

Once the product has expired, do not carry it in the wilderness as a bear deterrent. Use the spray for practice to become familiar with the colour, sound, pressure and reaching distance of the spray.

Purchase at least two cans of pepper spray at first and use one for practice. Never venture into bear country with a spray you haven’t tried first.

These guidelines are based on the best known current research but do not guarantee the safe outcome of an encounter with a bear.


Bear Aware website

To find out more about bear safety and how to prevent and handle encounters with black and grizzly bears may we suggest that you view the short educational movie “Staying Safe in Bear Country.”

A must see for people who live, visit, work and play in bear country.The movie is available for viewing free of charge at the Fernie and Elkford Visitor Information Centers and at the Fernie library.