How to Protect Yourself From Wild Animals While Hiking?

Two wild animals (bears) photographed on a forest hike.

Many hikers will tell you that the so-called dangerous wildlife encounters rarely (if ever) occur on the trail. They’re more likely to view the phenomena as something you’d call an urban myth, a spooky tale overprotective parents tell their children. Even though they’re not completely wrong, it’s still a bit naive to think there isn’t a chance you’ll encounter wild animals while on a hike.

The thing is: the aforementioned chances differ from one trail to another. Not all of them serve as an ideal backdrop for wildlife encounters. However, the best option is to be prepared for anything that might come your way, even though chances of you encountering anything except fantastic immovable nature are closer to zero than any other number. In the text below, we’ll show you how to protect yourself from wild animals while on a hiking adventure.

Animals don’t like surprises, make them know you’re nearby by making some noise. Hike in a group and avoid wearing headphones if alone. If you encounter a snake, don’t try to provoke the animal and it’ll pass. If you encounter a bear or a mountain lion – don’t run away. However, it’s totally fine to run away from a moose. 

That’s just a very brief preview of what we’re about to show you! Stick around for more info on how to protect yourself from wild animals while hiking!

Do your research and other tips

Let’s say you’re planning an outdoor adventure anytime soon. The first thing you’ll want to do is conduct some informal research. You’re after a special kind of info: what type of wildlife is usually found in the desired location. In other words: you’ll want to know if there are any wild animals you might encounter on the trail. Also, even though certain animals differently react to your presence, here are the general tips on avoiding wildlife encounters:

  • Make some noise! You don’t want to surprise the animal with your presence. The thing is: most of them don’t like sudden encounters. Once they hear you’re near, they’ll most likely want to avoid you.
  • Hike in a group! Folks are naturally inclined to interact while on the trail. Also, a group will certainly make more noise than an individual hiker. Lastly, you’ll have more eyes and ears at your party’s disposal.
  • Avoid wearing headphones! You’ll need to be on alert for unusual sounds, and you can’t quite do that while listening to your favorite band or podcast or whatever. Also, the surroundings will provide you with their own soothing ambient playlist.
  • Pay attention to suspicious smells! Needless to mention, our sense of smell played a great role in our evolution as a species. Don’t underestimate its power.
  • You might want to avoid hiking at dawn or dusk! That’s the time of the day wild animals are the most active (for instance: bears and mountain lions).
  • Never steer away from the designated path! There’s a good reason why certain routes are better for hikers.

Okay, so now that we’ve covered the general tips on avoiding wildlife encounters, it’s time for a more specific (non-general) approach. More precisely, we’ll show you how to protect yourself and your loved ones from the infamous wildlife trio everyone’s talking about! It’s the good ol’ snakes, bears, and other critters orchestra!

A snake seen on a hiking trail.

How to protect yourself from wild animals while hiking?

Let’s start this section with the most obvious of choices!

#1 Snakes

A little while ago, we’ve talked about how to avoid & what you should do if you encounter a rattlesnake. Let’s see if there’s anything different in the manner of dealing with other types of snakes.

Before you begin the hike, feel free to talk to your park ranger. You want to find out what kinds of snakes can you expect on the trail and what you’re supposed to do if an encounter happens to take place. Also, you might want to equip yourself with a snake reference guidebook or something similar. Just so you know if the snake that bit you a moment ago is venomous. Just kidding! (Although it’s best you have a guidebook somewhere in your backpack.)

How to avoid snakes while hiking?

Anyway, here’s how you’ll act in order not to encounter our zero-legged fellow earthlings:

  • Avoid walking through tall grass. If there’s no way to avoid it, make sure you’re wearing closed, sturdy shoes and long pants.
  • Try not to pick anything suspicious from the ground. Also, avoid putting your hand inside hollow logs, leaf piles, etc.
  • Always inspect the surface you’re planning to use as your seat.
  • Use trekking poles to move stuff out of the way. Also, use them to shake the shrubs or any other potential snake-hiding territories.
  • Keep in mind snakes can be found in the water, too! Even in the shallowest of ditches.

Even if you stick to these principles, there’s a chance that the encounter is inevitable. Here’s what you do then:

  • Don’t tease or provoke the snake.
  • If possible, keep your distance and let the animal pass.
  • Stay calm. Try not to scream or panic.
  • If bitten, don’t try to get the venom (if there’s venom at all) out in a DIY manner or something. Call an emergency immediately.

All in all: keep in mind snakes are also not that interested in contacting you. If they’re not threatened (never should you try to attack them) or taken by surprise, they’ll act cool. Here’s a fun fact: about 70% of snakebite victims are young, male, and most usually – intoxicated. That tells a story, doesn’t it?

#2 Bears

Now there’s an encounter most folks would likely avoid. Even though many people find bears cute and fluffy and what-not, they’re not a species you’d like to mess around with. Just watch the 2005 Werner Herzog documentary called Grizzly Man. Knowing how to avoid contact with bears is one of the best (and certainty – most useful) wildlife & hiking tricks.

To avoid bear encounters, you’ll need to follow the general rules we’ve mentioned earlier in the text and additional rules you’ll see below:

  • If you’re hiking with kids, always keep them within your sight.
  • If you’re hiking with dogs (here’s an article you’ll want to check about the subject), make sure they’re always kept on a leash.

Basically, these rules are downright mandatory whenever you’re hiking in the wild (whether bears are nearby or not). Also, you can think about carrying a can of bear spray in your quick draw holster (not the backpack), just in case. You don’t have to spray its eyes directly or something, if a bear is charging at you just surround make sure there’s a cloud of spray between you and the charging animal. However, no bear repellent is 100% successful.

A pro tip: practice using the bear spray in advance before hitting the trail. Even though it may sound a bit weird, it will give you the confidence boost you deserve in order to feel safe in the wild. Also try not to wear perfume while hiking, as it can easily attract the bear. For a more in-depth look into the subject, make sure you read this article.

How to react in case you see a bear when hiking?

The first rule is: don’t turn your back and start running. That might inspire a chase-and-catch type of response from the bear, and you certainly don’t want that to happen. Next, you’ll want to use a soft, slow voice to calm down the bear and ensure the animal you’re not prey or an aggressor. Stand on a rock or stump to make yourself as tall as possible, just so the bear realizes you’re not a deer. Once you’ve done that, try removing yourself from the bear’s sight slowly in a sideways direction if, of course, the animal’s not moving.

Now even if the bear starts to act aggressive (woofs, growls, looks downright ready to charge), make sure you stay calm. Avoid making any sudden loud noises. In other words: try not to scream or shout. As your last resort, use the bear spray we’ve mentioned above, spray it in the direction of the bear (aim for the head). This will give you enough time to flee the scene. (Don’t forget to practice using the spray.)

#3 Other critters

Last but not least in this piece on how to protect yourself from wild animals while hiking, we’ll mention a couple of other wild animals one might encounter while hiking.

For instance, you might’ve heard about folks encountering mountain lions on the trail. If something like that was to happen to you, ensure you make yourself look as tall as possible, make loud, aggressive sounds & throw stones. The main point is: never run away! 

Also, there are some animals that mightn’t look all that scary to hikers. Take moose for example. Despite the animal in question being a herbivore, moose attacks aren’t all that uncommon. We’re talking about a large mammal here; the moose can easily score an injurious blow once it feels threatened in this or that way or when guarding its young. Even though running won’t do you any good once you encounter bears or mountain lions, it’s absolutely alright to run away from a moose (try hiding behind an obstacle such as a thick tree).

Final words

That’s about it when it comes to protecting oneself from wild animals while hiking. We hope you never encounter any of the animals we’ve mentioned above. Unless it’s from a safe distance, of course. Still, we’re sure you’ll react in the best manner even if something was to go awry!

For more hiking-related tips, don’t hesitate to follow this link.

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