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What to do if you encounter a bear, and other camping tips

A Scouts Canada survey highlighted the gaps Canadians face in their connection with nature and important outdoor skills
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A Scouts Canada survey of 1,000 Canadians asked respondents questions such as how to respond to a black bear encounter, how confident they are about their outdoor skills, and how well they can set up a tent.

“We’re having a little fun with this survey, but the real point is that we wanted to understand the gaps that Canadians are facing in their connection with nature and important outdoor skills,” said Siobhan Ward, youth program specialist and Rover Scout with Scouts Canada. “When families and youth in Canada are empowered with skills to enjoy fun outdoor adventures with confidence and safety, they are also set up for success in the world as resilient, capable, and well-rounded individuals.”

I don’t have to outrun the bear — I just have to outrun you

When respondents were asked what they would do if they encountered a Black Bear while out in the woods, 232 answered unwisely: 86 said they would run, 56 decided to play Metallica and livestream the encounter, 55 said they would scare the bear by staring into its eyes, and 32 bravely admitted they would attack first.

Lastly, 149 respondents said they didn’t know what they would do.

The answer? First off, a human being cannot outrun, outclimb, or outfight a black bear. They may be cute and fluffy, but they can run an easy 40 kilometres per hour and climb a 30-metre (100-foot) tree in less than 30 seconds, and their teeth and claws are bigger than ours.

If you encounter a black bear in the wild, stay calm, speak softly, and back away slowly. Don’t turn your back on them or stare directly at them. If the bear approaches, make yourself big and group close with anyone you’re travelling with. The vast majority of the time, bears have no interest in people and just want to get away safely — like you.

Foraging for wild food

Asked to identify wild plants that would be safe to eat, 467 respondents said they had no idea, while 264 incorrectly identified plants such as Winterberry and Buckthorn as safe to eat.

There are many excellent foraging books available. If foraging is of interest to you, and if it is a legal activity where you live, buy a current book written by an expert specifically for the region you will forage in. Save yourself a bellyache or even a trip to the hospital!

'Other Canadians are good at camping, but not me'

Another survey question asked respondents to rate the camping competence of ‘most Canadians’ (e.g. not themselves.), with 120 respondents saying that most Canadians have a high wilderness competence. A majority (617) said that most Canadians were at least OK at camping.

However, when asked to rate themselves, only 363 said they were OK at camping; 390 said their skills were either poor or actively dangerous.

Ward called on seasoned Canadian campers and nature lovers to volunteer with Scouts Canada and help teach youth wilderness survival and safe enjoyment skills.

“We’re also calling on individuals who are passionate about youth leadership and empowerment to volunteer and develop outdoor skills along their Scouting journey through training and peer support,” she added.

Wet clothing and collapsed shelters — what to do?

Almost half of the survey’s respondents (469) said they didn’t know how to properly dry wet clothing and gear, while 360 answered correctly that they would wring out and drape items to dry.

Meanwhile, 72 chose to place items dangerously close to a fire, 45 would flap the gear or clothing until it dried out, 32 would blow on the items until they were dry, and 22 said they would wrap the wet gear or clothing in a jacket to absorb moisture.

Tents tend to be a source of frustration for many, it seems. Of those asked, 357 survey respondents said they had no idea how long it would take to set up a tent, 152 said it would take them 30 minutes, and 100 estimated it would take them at least 45.

Lastly, 114 respondents said they could do it in five minutes or less, and 277 said 10 to 25 minutes, which is about average depending on the shelter.

The average Canadian is lucky, it seems, that camping is a voluntary leisure activity.

If the outdoors is on your vacation list this summer and you feel rusty (or clueless), practicing in the backyard, taking an experienced friend with you, or taking a wilderness survival course are all good ways to make sure you’re prepared!