What is in you pack?

Actually for starters, do you own a backpack?

Ok.  So you are taking part in a fundraiser where you will be on your own the backcountry for 3 days.  Are you prepared?  The thing about random camping is that your gear may be completely different from another’s.  I have said that I will not be checking your gear or even having a checklist due to this but some suggestions would probably help some of you out.  The following should not be considered a complete list and you don’t need to bring it all.   These are the things I bring.  I will be considering summer camping in Elbow-Sheep specifically due to the nature of this fundraiser but in reality I bring a different set of gear each time depending on the current conditions.

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Backpacks

First off, you need a backpack.  I  suggest bringing a 65L.  A 55L to a 85L is fine.  It really depends on your gear.  Ultralight campers will have a smaller pack and newbies will probably have bigger and heavier gear that would require a larger pack.  Don’t bring the kitchen sink!

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I would suggest borrowing or buying a backpack if you do not have one.  Renting one can be hard to find.  Plus they are slightly personal.  You sweat a ton into the back padding.  When choosing a backpack, I like to have a detachable lid, not one that is connected.  This allows you to put your warm layers and rain gear right under it in an easy to access spot.  You don’t want to be digging for your poncho when the rain comes!  Most packs come with a rain cover.  These are really important and can cost up to $50 if your purchase them separately.  A large poncho or a garbage bag can do in a pinch but are not the best when out for more than 2 days.  MEC is the place to go for packs.  There own brand is amazing!  Plus anything purchased there will have a lifetime warranty!  MEC is awesome for returns!  Another option is Atmosphere.  They have great sales on in the spring.  If you want the best pack with the best warranty, go for an Osprey.  They are expensive but your back and shoulders will thank you.  I have a REVIEW of a Gregory pack that I just picked up for about $150.  It is perfect for me.

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Dry Sacks

Before you go and start loading your bag, think about water.  If it is raining, you really do not want your sleeping bag or clothes to get wet.  If your pack gets wet, it gets heavy.  The rain cover will prevent that.  Water will seep into the pack though.  I fell into a creek on my last trip and I was very thankful for the following product.  Dry sac’s are the best investment I have made for overnight trips.  They can be costly though and you really do not want to purchase a cheap one!  A garbage bag will do just fine for this fundraiser, but I would be double layering it.  Basically, I have a 35L, a 13L, and a 5L.  My favorite brand is the Sea to Summit Lightweight.  The Ultralightweight one is not durable enough for my needs and the heavy duty ones are way too heavy.  In the 35L I put my sleeping bag and the body of my tent (or hammock).  This goes into the bottom of my pack first.  If any liquids get into my pack, my sleeping system WILL BE DRY.  This is super important when heading out for more than one night.  In the 13L I have my clothes.  I will get to what clothes you should be bringing later.  The small sac is used for my little things.  Batteries, medications, or electronics.  A zip lock will do fine in place.  Refer to my Backpack Review to see how I pack these into my pack.

My hammocks

How are you going to sleep?

Sleeping bags

Down or synthetic sleeping bags are the choices.  I personally use a 0C synthetic, a -13C synthetic, or a -20C down.  Army and Navy is the best place to go for discount sleeping bags and they have a sale on now.  They can get really expensive.  The more money typically means the lighter and smaller they pack up.  I almost always use my Routman -13C bag.  The link will take you to the -5C bag.  My dad, brother, and 2 of my friends have this bag.  It is the perfect rating for Kananaskis in the summer.  My 0C bag is hardly ever used in a tent.  Ultralight down summer bags are amazing but THEY CAN NOT GET WET.  In a hammock, this is great.  In a tent, not so much.  My dog hikes with me and if it is raining out, typically my tent get soaked on the inside.  Down looses all of it’s insulation power when wet.  You can get DWR treated down but that is costly, heavier, and still not as good as synthetic when wet.  My -20C bag is DWR but the thing is 5lbs and large.  Super worth it when I am out in -30C (winterized hammock adds about 10C of warmth).  But if I don’t have to bring it, I won’t.  Use a layer, your clothe’s dry sac, or an inflatable for a pillow.

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Tent or Hammock?

Tents are great!  They offer good shelter.  Yet, they are heavy and they do take up quite a bit of room unless you purchase an expensive model.  You also have to find flat ground to set them up and that can be a serious challenge.  Poles typically have to go on the outside of your pack.  If you plan on tenting during this trip, expect to spend extra time trying to find a suitable site.  If you are on a 2 person team, tents are great as you can split the load.  Also, with tents, a tarp is not the most necessary item.  Cooking must be done far away from your tent site, but trees can offer descent shelter.  I do not recommend purchasing a tent for this event if you do not have one.  MEC has an offer for 10% off when you buy a MEC brand Tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad together.  I have several friends that use these products and they are great and at the right price.  They ask you to please call 1.888.847.0770 to arrange shipping and receive the discount.  Some MEC stores rent tents, and so does the U of C Outdoor Centre.  I love renting from the U of C.  Until I got all my gear set up, I rented there every time.  Very reasonable prices.  Now if I don’t have extras, I take my friends there to get the gear they need to have a good time.

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My go-to shelter now is a hammock.  I use the Hennessy Hammock.  They are way cheaper than a tent, smaller, lighter, quicker to setup, and way easier to find a place to set up.  If you can’t find trees, you can set it up as a bivy on the ground with your poles.  I recently did this on the SCT.  Hennessy has a distribution centre in Vancouver and I got mine in just a few days after ordering.  There are many options when it comes to hammocks.  They are very customizable.  I have 2 and they are setup in very different ways for different types of trips.  If you are a solo hiker, I do believe that this is the way to go.  If you want to get into hammock camping, please send me an email at AHikeForMentalHealth@gmail.com with any questions you may have.  Getting into this here would be a whole new blog.

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Sleeping Pads

To cap off your sleep system, you may want to use a sleeping pad.  In a tent, sleeping pads are almost a must.  Believe it or not but in my first year out, I did not use one.  I don’t think I slept once either.  I was also very cold.  FYI in Kananaskis, it can still hit -5C at night.  A sleeping pad IS NOT ABOUT COMFORT,  it is about warmth.  A pad will keep you off the ground.  Your sleeping bag will be compressed under your back and will have zero loft and zero warmth.  The pad or underquilt of your hammock will make up for this.  I started out with a foam RidgeRest Therm-a-rest.  I purchased the smallest size.  Most people purchase the medium and then cut it so that it reaches from shoulders to knees.  It is closed cell foam, so doing that is fine.  This type of pad is very warm but not comfortable.  It is very affordable but it does need to go on the outside of your pack.  Straps at the bottom of your pack are helpful for this.  I now save the foam for the dog.  I use a ProLite Plus pad now.  It is the best bang for your buck when it comes to a 4-season pad.  It has a R value of 3.4.  The higher the number the more it reflects heat.  They cost just a little over $110.  They are just enough for sub zero temperatures but I will put my foam one under it in the winter in a tent.  It is not comfortable.  The comfortable pads that pack small and have a high R value can be up to $500.  It also have a pretty terrible valve.  You MEC branded option is the  Reactor 3.8.  It also has an R value of 3.4 but it is only $85.  I have several friends with them.  The downside is they are heavier and larger than the Therm-a-Rest by about double.  There are definitely cheaper options that are more comfortable but we live in Canada.  I personally would not ever invest in a pad with less than a R value of 3, even just for summer camping.

Hiking Clothes & Sleeping Clothes

Time to start packing clothes.  I use to pack extra everything.  If I did get wet, I would change.  I ended up carrying around wet clothes around (heavy) and then just getting wet again anyway.  Even on 7 day trips I only bring one set of sleeping clothes.  A couple extra pairs of socks, but that is it.  You WILL NOT BRING ANYTHING COTTON!!!!!!!  Cotton actually wicks heat straight off your body when wet.  It is heavy as a brick when wet.  Plus, it does not dry easily.  Wear a good pair of lightweight pants.  I do not hike in shorts anymore, but fell free to wear shorts instead of pants.  I like to wear gaiters, but they can easily cost up to $100 and are not that necessary for this sort of trip.  Wear a synthetic shirt, I prefer long-sleeves even in the heat.  A buff/faceshield around the neck is good for sun, dust, and filtering water.  Also, I wear a brimmed hat.  In your clothes sac/bag, pack an extra pair of socks, a pair of wool sleeping socks, long-johns or yoga pants (when I wore shorts, I would wear long-johns and shorts at night around camp), a synthetic sleeping shirt, and a wool sleeping beanie (or use your Buff).  That is it!  Hike in your ‘hiking’ clothes.  If the get wet, then they will either just get wet again the next day, or they will dry off with you hiking in the sun.  At night, change into your ‘sleeping’ clothes, and keep them dry!  On the last day, you can hike out in some of your sleeping clothes.  I was just gone for 7 rainy days and that is all I brought.  Merino wool socks are super expensive but so worth it.  Keeps you warm when it is cold and cool when it is warm.  I have a few pairs at a few different thicknesses.  Please realize that the more you bring, the heavier your pack will be.  Ask yourself, will I actually use this, or is it a comfort thing?  Something you may not consider is camp shoes.  I like flip flops in the summer and down booties in the winter.  I clip them to the outside of my bag with a large biner. If you need to cross a creek, your sandals are handy to ensure your boots stay dry.

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Stoves

Now it is time to talk food  and how to cook it.  You have to eat and you really need your calories.  Electrolytes must be replenished as well.  JetBoil is the stove I use.  It is convenient in the sense that I typically only eat vegetarian freeze-dried meals.  It will boil water in a flash, you do not cook in it.  That is super nice because you do not need to store it with your food.  The downside it the system is heavy and expensive, $100-200.  I really like it  because it works well in the cold and semi-ok at high elevations.  I also have the coffee press attachment for it.  Worth the weight right there!  The pot attachment is great too.  It allows me to use camp pots on it as well as the water boiling container it comes with.  Everything stores inside it all nice and neat.  I use the MSR fuel canisters with it.  They are cheaper than the JetBoil brand ones and I find they work better in the cold.

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The best all round canister stove is the MSR Pocket Rocket series.  There is now at least 3 models out now and the original model has been heavily discounted if you can still find it.  The version 2 is about $50.  You do need your own pot for it and I recommend heading to Bass Pro.  I got a aluminum pot set for $35.  Pot sets can be very costly (>$150).  The Pocket Rocket has a Chinese knock-off version.  It actually is super good but not that much cheaper.

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The only other option that I will suggest is an alcohol stove.  The capillary version is what I use.  You make it from a drink can.  HEET gas line antifreeze is the cheapest methyl alcohol fuel for it but you can burn anything.  These stoves make zero noise and are the lightest.  They downside is you need to practice how much fuel it takes to boil a cup of water, and then bring that amount of alcohol with you.  These can be tricky.  Best for making that cup of tea while watching the peaceful sunrise.

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Do not rely on fire for cooking.  If you do get a fire, use it to cook to save your fuel, just DO NOT RELY ON FIRE to cook.  If you want to get creative and cook some fancy food in the backcountry, DO IT!  I have seen pizza on rocks, chicken on a fire, kabobs, steaks, and baked potatoes in the fire.  Just remember you a random camping during this fundraiser.  You are not at a campsite.  You are in cougar and bear territory!  Solo random camping and cooking a steak at night…  probably not the best idea.

If you do cook real food, YOU MUST KEEP COOKING CLOTHES, and you must STORE THEM WITH YOUR FOOD!  This is a very very important point!

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The next thing to mention is storing your food.  While random camping you have 3 options.

  1.  Use the biner your camp shoes are on and a length of paracord to hang your food in a tree with one of your dry sacs, your packs rain cover, or both as a food pouch.  Find a tree or trees that will ensure that your bag is at least 3m high and 1.5m from any part of the tree(s).  Hang the food.  There is no ‘right’ way as animals are smart but there are wrong ways.  If you can’t find a suitable tree, such as a half fallen over pine, you can try several styles.  The PCT style works well with some trees.  The counter balance method can work well with others, especially if you are not solo.  Do research and practice if you are not familiar with this.
  2. Another option is a bear canister.  The Bear Vault is the preferred one on the market these days but it is not water tight.  These can cost from $85 to $100.  They are tricky to pack.  The Bear Vault is made in a way that it is descent to strap to the outside of your pack.  Remember your weight distribution!  You want the bulk of your weight to be between the shoulder blades.  This could throw you off, yet, you just have to tie it to a trunk or a rock, or place it in a way that it will not be rolled away by an animal.  This is super convenient where deciduous trees are scarce, such as Elbow-Sheep.
  3. My choice is the Ursack 29.3.  There are 2 sizes available now.  There used to be a version 29 but the 29.3 is supposed to be stronger and more rodent proof.  The Ursack is a bear resistant cloth bag that acts in the same way as a bear canister.  Put your smelly things in there.  Your food, toothpaste, ect., and then tie to to a tree at a height you can easily reach.  I had 4 black bears in 3 nights try to get my food on the SCT last month.  They all gave up after 1 minute and then came and sniffed me.  The first 2 just left after.  The mother and her cub proceeded to fish right beside me for 3 hours.  I just had it tied to the picnic table that was a good distance away from me.  The further the better.  I love this product.  Weighs an ounce or 2 and costs the same as a canister.  The biggest plus is it fits into my pack easily.

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Drinking Water

The last major thing on the list is water purification.  Filters are good when you know there is not virus’ in the water, ie high up in the mountains where no one is defecating above you. I started out with the MSR Mini Works.  It has a cleanable ceramic filter that lasts forever.  Attaches directly to a Nalgene (great for hot water bottles at night).  Great for groups but it is heavy though.  I recently switched to the Sawyer Squeeze Mini.  Super great for one person.  Super cheap and attaches to a pop bottle lid.  When in Elbow-Sheep I always add the second step to remove virus’.  That is to boil if cooking or to use tablets if drinking.

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That is it!  Now you just need the typical hiking supplies….  well, at least my standard -always in my pack- stuff.  This would usually include, but is not limited to:

  1.  100′ of 550 paracord.
  2.  A fixed blade knife.
  3.  A folding knife.
  4.  A multi-tool.
  5.  A saw.
  6.  A hatchet.
  7.  A fire starting kit.
  8.  A first aid kit – add burn cream, super glue, sewing kit, tick tweezers, and tape.
  9.  A compass.
  10.  A waterproof map – I purchase paper maps and laminate it with clear packing tape.
  11. A smartphone with the FREE ViewRanger GPS App (or similar) or a GPS unit
  12. A satellite messenger or phone – Rent or Buy –  I use the SPOT.  It is 50% off every spring and plans start at $14/month.  It tracks me, I can send 2 custom messages to family, and I can call a rescue helicopter.  Even if you only go out a few times a year, it is money very well spent.
  13. Bear spray – Keep it handy!  Ones with a carrying case are best.  After market cases are expensive.  newpoorleatherco makes custom leather ones to order that are super cool and better than the ones the rangers here wear.
  14. Bear bangers – I use these constantly!!!!!!!  They are for >20m away where the spray works as a last resort.
  15. A trowel and toilet paper – Deposit 50m from the trail, 50m from your camp, 50m from water, dig 15cm deep, and mix with dirt with a stick!  Trowel should  only touch dirt.  You will end up using it for more things than you would think.
  16. Garbage bags – Please pick up as much trash that you see on the trail and always pack out what you packed in!
  17.  A headlamp with extra batteries.
  18.  An emergency blanket – Buy a good one!  The basic ones range from $1.70 to $7.00.  You want the $7.00 one, trust me.
  19.  Repair kits and patches – Not expensive and I find if I have them, I use them, a lot!

I do not use sunscreen or bug spay.  I cover up and have a bug net for my head.  I do not use any soap (on dishes or me), toothpaste, deodorant, or scents.  Not a good idea.  I will get into cooking and cleaning more in another blog.

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If you think I have forgotten something really important, well that is what makes every camper unique.  I have no problems adding to this list if you have a suggestion about something you always hike with.  Just give me a shout on the contact page or at AHikeForMentalHealth@gmail.com.  Remember that half of the fun out there is winging it.  I end up having more fun on the trips where I forgot something and had to come up with solutions to live without it.  You don’t need to bring everything on this list but please remember that the waiver you will sign before getting your passport includes you saying that you have the means of a self rescue, ie a satellite phone.  NEVER RELY ON A RESCUE!  You are your own greatest chance of survival.  A rescue will never arrive in time to save you from any imminent danger, it will only extract you once you save yourself.

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Bear Aware (plus other animals)

I am not claiming to be an expert by any means.  Please follow up with the links provided to become more bear aware this season.  Do not rely on my tips.  This is just what has worked for me.

I am a nature lover and have been my whole life.  I grew up outside, in the country, and I camped regularly.  Being animal aware was instilled at me at a very young age.  Cougars, coyotes, moose, and deer were often around my house.  All I did was play in the woods.

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I have been hiking as an adult ever since I move to Calgary when I was 18.  I have come across more than 25 bears on the trail.  Most of these have been solo but with a dog or two.  Every bear has just sniffed us and left the area.  You can hike your whole life and never see a wild animal.

Bears are starting to wake up.  March is typically when mother’s will start heading out to regain some nutrients.  Males can sleep until June, I have heard.  Right now bears are hungry and soon mothers will be out with the cubs.  Defensive attacks are common this time a year if there is a bad encounter.  Bears will feed on grasses, old berries, and old flowers.  It is wise to learn what bear scat looks like throughout the season as their diet changes.  It is good to note that I consider a mother moose with her calf to be more dangerous than a lone bear.

Never expect a rescue to save you.  They will not make it in time.  You must look after yourself.  First Aid courses are a smart idea.

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My simple guidelines when in the backcountry are:

1. Carry Bear Spray – I have never had to use it but I do know how to use it.  They are about $40CAD.  Learn how far your canister sprays.  Keep in mind the wind.  Don’t spray yourself.  And most importantly, if a bear is charging you and you spray it, get out of the way!  The bear’s nose is so sensitive, he will be effectively blind for a short time.

2. Carry a Bear Banger Kit – These kits start at around $30. You get a pen launcher, flares, and some explosive charges.  Once you purchase, fire a banger off.  Drill it in you to shoot one.  My father’s first attempt took him over 5min to launch.  He is glad he practiced.  I have used these many times, on bears and just in bad situations.  During my Fryatt Traverse, I fired 4 bangers at bears.  One in the middle of the night when he was trying to get my food.  They are very effective when the bear is 20m away or more but definitely not closer.  They do not replace bear spray and they are fired in the air above you and the bear to scare it off.  When I enter a big berry field at dusk, I will shoot one off to clear the area.

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3. Make yourself known – Do not expect that animals will know that you are there.  Be loud, and shout around all blind corners.  Animals want nothing to do with you.  Bear bells are too much of a soft rhythmic jingling to be effective.  They cannot be heard very far off the trail and tests show that most male voices traveled further.  The noise of trekking poles on rocks is supposed to be a better deterrent.

4. Travel during midday – Most of activity you will see from animals will be at dawn or dusk.  Take a drive down HWY 40 often, before sunrise, and you will see a bear soon enough.  If you go get water or head to the bathroom at night, take a friend with you and do not travel fast.  Water is a great place to see wildlife and it also can be noisy, drowning out your approach.  3m max between hikers is the typically suggestion.

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5.  Be scent conscious – Food is never to be near your sleeping area.  Hang your food in a tree, use a locker, or use a bear canister.  If you cook real food, or if you spill on yourself, your clothes must be kept with the food.  Carry cooking clothes and keep them separate.  Also, do not wear any scented products.

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6. Do not run – I am not going to tell you what to do when encountering an animal.  You can check the Parks Canada Website for some tips.  I do know that you do not want to give any predator chase.  Attacks over the years in Alberta support this.  I just stop and talk calmly.  Staying relaxed it key for me.  Freak out later.

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7.  Keep your dogs on a leash – Not only is it a $115 fine in Kananaskis right now, you could be fined a large sum and get a ban if your pet harasses wildlife by chasing it.  I have encountered several porcupine, especially at Three Ilse Lake, and you don’t want Scruffy to get a face full of quills 10km from your car.  Your dog may be well behaved but you may not know how it will react to a startled bear.

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Cougars:

I have encountered many cougars in 2017 already.  They have pushed my hammock around with me inside.  One even tore my hammock tarp a bit when pushing on it.  Cougars are a tricky thing and I suggest you look online at how to deal with them.  Native Americans wore masks on the back of their heads with big eyes to prevent being taken from behind.  Cougars do not like being seen.

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It is not hard to stay safe in the backcountry.  Being prepared and knowledgeable is key.

Please do research before picking a hiking spot and be prepared.  Bear closures are always posted online.

Stay Safe, Be Prepared,

Happy Alfano

Knowledge & Preparation is Backcountry Safety

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OutsideOnline.com recently posted a story about the likely ways you can die in an American National Park.  Keep in mind the type of people and activities that are usually done there.  I highly suggest reading the article in the link above and following up with any safety measures that you are not fully comfortable with.  The paragraphs that follow do not provide the life saving info but instead focus on dealing with the common fears.   Please follow up with supplemental backcountry safety tips.  Knowledge is power, the power to stay safe.
Below is a copy of the chart provided in the article.  It is American National Park Fatalities from 2007 to 2013.
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You can see that the most likely way to get a serious, fatal, injury in a park is drowning.  This number is generated mostly by young children, then intoxicated young adults, and then seniors.  For the most part, our Canadian lakes are glacier feed and are a chilly 4C.  Most visitors to our parks do not come for the water, so I will ignore the statistic as the average hiker will not be subject to water risks.  The second most likely way to die is listed a vehicle accident.  Alberta/BC roads can suck and it should be common sense that a mountain road can have unfavorable driving conditions at any time of year.

I would like to point out 2 things to show that you are in control of your own safety:

1. If you make it to the park safe, and you are not playing in/around water, you are most likely to die from tripping and hitting your head, than by falling while scrambling or climbing.  Stairs play a big role here.  Keep in mind senior visitors.  It seems safe to say that the higher the risk in an activity, the more cautious and able the person.  Last year a tourist fell off Machu Picchu because he was taking a selfie on part of the trail with no real barricade.  Falls that lead to death are often due to carelessness not extreme conditions.
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2.  Wildlife and bears.  Bears are the most asked about risk, to me personally anyways.  However, I have seen Lynx, Bobcat, and Cougar in 2017.  A Bobcat stole my boots and chewed them in Revelstoke.  A cougar pushed my hammock around around Elbow-Sheep, more than once, and put a hole in my hammock’s tarp while doing so.  Am I afraid of them?  I am not sure.  They tend to follow me out of their hunting grounds and show themselves to me occasionally.
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I follow simple behaviors to make myself less of a target.  Bears are waking up soon and you need to know what is going on in a bear’s head in the spring (baby time),  summer (berry season), and fall (fattening time).  Bears will behave differently during each season.  It is your responsibility to make sure you don’t come off as a threat.  4 deaths from bears and 2 from other on this chart.  You seem to be more likely to be killed by a moose with a calf in the spring, or a rutting elk in the fall, than a cat.  That being said, a few years ago a lady left her friend on the trail to go to the bathroom in the Jewel Pass area.  She was attacked by a cougar and killed unfortunately.  Attacks like this can happen, but they are often preventable or there are ways to reduce your risk.
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Here is a quote from the article about bears:
“Bears don’t attack without provocation. And, as you an see from the extreme rarity of bear-related fatalities, they don’t represent much of an actual threat. Practicing basic safety with your food and smells when traveling through bear country, making noise as you travel to avoid surprising one, and arming yourself with bear spray (more effective than a gun) all combine to make not getting eaten by a bear about as foolproof as it gets. So long as you’re not a complete idiot, you don’t really need to worry about bears outdoors. Especially if you have a good dog.”
-and bears attack more often(and kill) than any other wild animal.
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I hope this opens your eyes.  It is not about taking risks, it is about being prepared.  If you take one thing from this article it should be:

YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY IN THE BACKCOUNTRY.

Full article below: