Let me put this out there – I am no expert at camping and hiking. I’ve never climbed Everest, I’ve never done a through-hike on the Appalachian Trail, nor have I ever done an ultra-marathon 50 -mile trail run. I certainly don’t claim to be the next Bear Grylls…
However, I have an extreme passion and love for the outdoors that has continued to grow with every adventure. I also have an extreme will to accomplish goals. So, when I set out to do a week-long excursion in the woods – even if I don’t know anything about it – you better believe that I’m going, and I’ll figure it out along the way.
This “trial-and-error” approach stems a lot from my military service I believe. I spent some time in the US Army, and one of our favorite sayings was “F**k it – let’s do it live” – referring to running through a training scenario in full speed, and often with live ammunition, without fully being prepared. It’s not an intentional disregard for safety, but rather a confidence in yourself that you will figure it out along the way.
Through those adventures I’ve been able to learn a few things – what to do, what not to do – and most of my lessons have been through some pretty epic fails. I’d like to share a few of these, and the lessons I learned – so hopefully you will not make the same mistakes that I have made.
“Babe Wake Up, There’s a F***ing Bear Outside Our Tent!”
Ah, young love. It was our 1st year anniversary of being together, and Megan (now my awesome wife) and myself decided we should go camping to celebrate! This sounded like the best plan ever – we could drive out into the woods, set up a tent, and spend the night under the stars. There’s nothing more romantic. So we packed up my old Toyota Tacoma, stopped by the Wendy’s drive-through, and off we went.
We lived in North Georgia at the time, so after a short 20-minute ride we arrived at our campsite. It was already getting late, so we decided to set up our tent and sleeping bags first, then we’d eat, and then spend the rest of the night staying up telling ghost stories (or whatever 21 year old kids do when they are alone on a camping trip….wink wink). So off to bed we went, bellies full of Wendy’s chicken nuggets, and tired from telling ghost stories. In fact, we had so many chicken nuggets, that we couldn’t eat them all that night – so we decided we’d leave them out and eat the rest in the morning.
Do you see where this is going…
So at about 3:30am I’m woken up by what sounds like a twig breaking, and some scratching on the ground. I figured that it’s just a raccoon or something – so I try to drift back off to sleep. But the sound of scratching seemed to be getting louder, like something was pawing the ground repeatedly, over and over. So finally, I decide I need to take a look – figuring that I can scare these pesky raccoons away.
So very quietly and gently, I unzip the tent just enough where I can poke my head out. It’s pitch black outside – so I click on my flashlight in the direction of the noise….
That’s right – you guessed it. I see a huge mama Black Bear and 2 cubs eating our Wendy’s chicken nuggets – literally not even 20 feet from our tent. They are chowing down, eating the bag – and I kid you not, even have the honey mustard packets open. I shut off the flashlight as quick as I can and zip the tent back up quietly.
Now, this is one of my first experience camping, and maybe I just don’t realize the danger at the time, but I think that this is the coolest shit ever. I am so pumped that we have such wildlife so close to our camping site. So I know that I have to wake up Megan and tell her the good news.
“Hey babe – wake up. There’s a bear outside”
“There’s a f**king bear outside our tent.”
Naturally, Megan does not believe me at all. So, I unzip the tent for round 2, flip on the flashlight – and bam! They are still there, only closer now.
Megan has always had a little more common-sense that me, so she immediately recognizes the danger that we are in. She doesn’t think it is as “freaking awesome” as I do that we have real bears less than 15 feet away. Not to mention this bear is a mama with her cubs, which can be extremely more aggressive.
So, about the time I realize that we are actually in immediate danger – mama bear decides she wants to investigate us a little further. She moves to right outside our tent and is literally pressing her nose up against the side of our tent. I can actually see our tent caving in from where she is leaning on the tent.
By now I come to the realization that this is actually not as cool as I thought it was. Oh, and by the way – I don’t have any type of weapon to protect us. Not bear spray, not a knife, and definitely not a firearm. So, running through my head is my contingency plan if things get out of hand here. I can’t quite remember what the plan was going to be, but it was something along the lines of “I’ll punch it in the face, you run to the car, I’ll die.” That probably would have been the reality of the situation if the bear had chosen to attack us.
Since I am writing this article, it’s obvious that I am still alive – and we in fact did not die the night of our 1st anniversary. Thankfully mama bear got full on Wendy’s chicken nuggets as well, and decide to move on down the road.
So what did I learn that night?
The importance of food storage at the campsite - Always pack your food away while you are on the trail. Some best practices are to:
- Seal up food in a scent proof container (like a bear bag, or Ziploc bag)
- Hang up your food before you go to sleep – and make sure it is at least 100 feet away from your campsite
The importance of protection on the trail - you don’t have to be packing a .40mm to be protected on the trail. I mean, that will work also, but some other options you can use are:
- More effective than a firearm for bears, and most spray up to like 30 feet
- As a last resort you can use a knife of hatchet as a means of protection from animals such as bears
- Aim for the face and eyes
- Best Practices if You Encounter a Bear
I certainly learned my lesson from this experience. Unfortunately, it was the hard way, but I now know exactly what I should do to mitigate encounters with bears on the trail – at least the things I can do that are within my control.
I hope you learned a couple things from this post – and that you’ll be able to use them on your next adventure.
If you’d like more information on stuff you will definitely be needing on your camping trip – download my FREE Ultimate Gear Guide to Your Next Camping Trip. It’s packed full of great resources and tips to make sure you have everything you need to make your next camping trip a successful, non-bear attack, fun time. Just click the button below to get your free copy.
But, if you’re like me – and you’re not much for doing research – just say “F**k it, and do it live.”
- Drew Camp
ManlyCamp - Founder, Co-Owner