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Bear Bells – Pack ’em or Pitch ’em?

Bear bells – should you pack them or pitch them?

Hikers seem to be quite divided on the issue. I have never liked them and fine the mind numbing sound gets on my nerves. But is that reason enough to leave them behind?

It may not be but then a few remarks from our tour guide on board the boat to the Crypt Lake trailhead in Waterton National Park – which is notorious for its’ high concentration of grizzly and black bears – got me thinking and researching.

"Black bear on Vancouver Island"

Black bear on Vancouver Island

Renown bear biologist Tom Smith did some testing on bears up in Alaska. He jingled bear bells at various volume levels from behind a blind. Fifteen sets of bears totally ignored the bells. But they snapped to attention with the cracking of a twig.

And lately the thinking seems to suggest that if anything bears might be curious about the bells because the sound is unnatural.

What’s the best thing to do then when it comes to bears?

It seems that you’re better off talking loudly, singing songs or snapping sticks. I’m all in favour of that.

Read: Tips for Staying Safe in bBear Country

This comment is printed with permission of the author via email: Spencer Raymond Madden of Madden Hiking

I find the most effective bear deterrent is a large cowbell attached to my pack by a carabineer. Then I bang on it regularly when entering meadows etc. with the back of my bowie knife. 
Another interesting technique is yelling rhythmic phrases- I learned a bunch when I was a kid at those major campground evening theater productions.
YO BEAR, ARE YOU THERE? SITTING IN YOUR UNDERWEAR?
Still, when you hike backcountry objectives, bears happen. I am up to 17 on the trail encounters in the last few years.
Leigh McAdam

Join the discussion 42 Comments

  • Michael says:

    Bears are one big worry less for us easy hikers over here in Europe. At least where we choose to hike. So, no bear bells for us any time soon.

    • @Michael You are lucky in Europe. At this time of year when I hike or bike I definitely have bears in the back of my mind. So far I’ve seen only one yearling while out on my bike. But I do take the suggestions on what to do if you see a bear very seriously.

  • Michael says:

    Bears are one big worry less for us easy hikers over here in Europe. At least where we choose to hike. So, no bear bells for us any time soon.

    • @Michael You are lucky in Europe. At this time of year when I hike or bike I definitely have bears in the back of my mind. So far I’ve seen only one yearling while out on my bike. But I do take the suggestions on what to do if you see a bear very seriously.

  • Danyelle Franciosa says:

    I like your post about “How to Survive a Bear Attack”.
    Will continue reading that later.
    Me, I have never tried bear encounter in my entire life.
    I’m badly terrified by this creature since I was young.

  • Danyelle Franciosa says:

    I like your post about “How to Survive a Bear Attack”.
    Will continue reading that later.
    Me, I have never tried bear encounter in my entire life.
    I’m badly terrified by this creature since I was young.

  • I’ve never been at risk of a bear encounter, but I sing and break twigs anyway.

  • I’ve never been at risk of a bear encounter, but I sing and break twigs anyway.

  • John says:

    Makes me think of the sage advice to discriminate between black bear and grizzly bear poop. Black bear poop has lots of berries,stems and little twigs whereas grizzly poop often has deformed bells and is redolent of pepper.

  • John says:

    Makes me think of the sage advice to discriminate between black bear and grizzly bear poop. Black bear poop has lots of berries,stems and little twigs whereas grizzly poop often has deformed bells and is redolent of pepper.

  • EDGYMIX-Travel for Fashion says:

    wow! I have never heard of bear bell!!! This is great information!! I love animal and I would do anything to get to see a bear…OH, maybe I should not:P.. NO talking loudly, singing songs or snapping sticks!! But I will not stay away hiking from bear country! I have never seen one before:(..I really want to see one:)))

  • EDGYMIX-Travel for Fashion says:

    wow! I have never heard of bear bell!!! This is great information!! I love animal and I would do anything to get to see a bear…OH, maybe I should not:P.. NO talking loudly, singing songs or snapping sticks!! But I will not stay away hiking from bear country! I have never seen one before:(..I really want to see one:)))

  • I’d never even heard of Bear bells. Nor have I had the opportunity to decide whether to hike in bear country. I think I’d give it a try because bears seem to live in the most incredible hiking country in the world. And I think breaking twigs seems to be the way forward!

  • I’d never even heard of Bear bells. Nor have I had the opportunity to decide whether to hike in bear country. I think I’d give it a try because bears seem to live in the most incredible hiking country in the world. And I think breaking twigs seems to be the way forward!

  • Nancie says:

    I hiked in the Rockies back in the 70’s, and we never carried bear bells. I do remember talking about what to do if we thought there were bears around…singing, talking loudly. My only bear encounter was right at my front door. I lived in a townhouse in Banff was was coming home one night and noticed people looking out their doors. Finally, a friend called me over and said I had better wait in his condo until the bear left. Looking out, I saw a black bear raiding the garbage dumpster. I almost fainted :)

    • @Nancie I had a close call in Boulder one night with a black bear. I drove in around 10pm one night after a class and in the driveway directly in front of the car is a bear. He runs right past our front door and down to the neighbour’s yard so I know the feeling.

  • Nancie says:

    I hiked in the Rockies back in the 70’s, and we never carried bear bells. I do remember talking about what to do if we thought there were bears around…singing, talking loudly. My only bear encounter was right at my front door. I lived in a townhouse in Banff was was coming home one night and noticed people looking out their doors. Finally, a friend called me over and said I had better wait in his condo until the bear left. Looking out, I saw a black bear raiding the garbage dumpster. I almost fainted :)

    • @Nancie I had a close call in Boulder one night with a black bear. I drove in around 10pm one night after a class and in the driveway directly in front of the car is a bear. He runs right past our front door and down to the neighbour’s yard so I know the feeling.

  • CreditDonkey says:

    The only ever time I’ve seen a bear is from a distance at a park in Bern.

    I think if I ever come across a bear my brain would be playing dead and I wouldn’t know if it is a black or a grizzly to be able to act accordingly.

    But thanks, I’ll keep your tips in mind on how to survive a bear attack and hope I’ll retain the information.

    I might even bring a bear bell with me.:)

  • CreditDonkey says:

    The only ever time I’ve seen a bear is from a distance at a park in Bern.

    I think if I ever come across a bear my brain would be playing dead and I wouldn’t know if it is a black or a grizzly to be able to act accordingly.

    But thanks, I’ll keep your tips in mind on how to survive a bear attack and hope I’ll retain the information.

    I might even bring a bear bell with me.:)

  • Ayelet - All Colores says:

    I have bear encounters on my bucket list, yet I don’t want them getting TOO close. Never heard of bear bells or of bear rhythmic phrases. I did hear of singing as a recommended protection practice – and I like it too!

  • Ayelet: It’s the perfect time of year in parts of Canada to go on grizzly bear watching tours as they are after the spawning salmon.

  • Not a fan of bear bells and have never used or recommended them. Avoid people who do. The sound is annoying. Range is very limited. I use my voice. It is important to notify bears of my location so they will move away until I am gone.

  • Not a fan of bear bells and have never used or recommended them. Avoid people who do. The sound is annoying. Range is very limited. I use my voice. It is important to notify bears of my location so they will move away until I am gone.

  • Jenny says:

    I tried tying my car keys to my shoes once when I was hiking in Waterton NP. Didn’t see any bears, but had a close encounter with a cougar and a mountain goat.

    • @Jenny I could probably deal with the mountain goat but a close encounter with a cougar – especially if you’re alone – is in a different category altogether. I’m a terrible singer but I’d be making a lot of noise. Our only animal encounters were tame. We saw mountain goats way up high on the Carthew Alderson Trail – and a black bear on the road to the Prince of Wales Hotel, but that was it.

  • @Jenny I could probably deal with the mountain goat but a close encounter with a cougar – especially if you’re alone – is in a different category altogether. I’m a terrible singer but I’d be making a lot of noise. Our only animal encounters were tame. We saw mountain goats way up high on the Carthew Alderson Trail – and a black bear on the road to the Prince of Wales Hotel, but that was it.

  • Prasad Np says:

    I think the Bear have got used to all kind of human disturbances and are not scared now of human sounds. Here in India we have less of Bear issue but there is a lot of Man- Elephant conflict with corridors of Elephant migration continuously under threat due to human interference.

    • @Prasad Fortunately MOST but not all bears are still scared of the human voice but bear bells have been shown to be ineffectual over and over again. There is so much encroachment on the elephant’s territory that I can understand why there is human – elephant conflict.

  • @Prasad Fortunately MOST but not all bears are still scared of the human voice but bear bells have been shown to be ineffectual over and over again. There is so much encroachment on the elephant’s territory that I can understand why there is human – elephant conflict.

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