For centuries, bears and humans have coexisted. But for the last century or two in particular, man has encountered bears much more often.
This could be due to deforestation or humans moving into the territory of the bears’ natural habitat.
Whatever the case, if a human encounters a bear – this could be potentially fatal. Although there are some techniques that survival experts suggest you employ, could you not simply just run for your life?
This guide will examine if a human can outrun a bear, along with the potential risks and other factors you may need to know out there.
The Bear Basics
Before we begin, it’s critical to understand that, much like humans, not all bears are the same. There are a wide variety of bear species, but the most common in the United States are the grizzly bear and the black bear.
Polar bears are also incredibly dangerous, but they’re much less frequent and live in a different habitat – as their name proposes!
But you might find yourself up against one, so it’s important that we establish all of these bears’ profiles.
The Grizzly Bear
The top running speed of a grizzly bear is around 34 miles per hour. Compare this with an average human running speed of 8 miles per hour for males and 6 miles per hour for females – the chances are, the bear will outrun you!
Of course, there are some factors to remember here such as the human’s overall fitness, the terrain etc. but also the bear’s fitness, their mood, their hunger levels, if their young are around and whether the bear is carrying an injury.
Speaking of their terrain, grizzly bears are usually found in wooded areas and are predominantly found in more Northern areas of the United States and Canada.
Typically, grizzly bears would prefer to avoid humans, however they have become increasingly less apprehensive over the years due to humans being more prevalent in their habitat.
Because bears would prefer to avoid humans, you probably won’t end up in a conflict in which you’d need to run away from the bear – but sometimes you might.
Bears will typically only attack if they are threatened, they feel their young are threatened or if they are starving.
A good fact to know about bears is how they have evolved with humans over the last few hundred years.
If a bear was incredibly hungry, they have learned to follow the sounds of gunshots, as they have associated the shots with hunters who normally have a kill for the bear to steal. Who is going to argue with a bear?
The Black Bear
The black bear is arguably the most dangerous bear. This isn’t due to their size, but rather how often they integrate with humans and their numbers.
In Alaska, black bears are a very serious threat and cannot be taken lightly. A black bear’s average running speed is 35 miles per hour so once again – humans aren’t in the best of chances with outrunning them!
Black bears have very sharp claws and are expert climbers, so it’s no use climbing a tree to get away from them either.
However, much like grizzlies, black bears don’t normally want to hurt or eat humans – so if you leave them alone, they should leave you alone.
Of course though, if they or their young are threatened, or they are starving or angry, you might need to deal with the bear. We will look at what you can do in this scenario, later in the guide.
The Polar Bear
Polar bears typically live in the Arctic or other arctic conditions such as some parts of Canada, but primarily the chances of encountering a polar bear are much less than the other bears on this list.
Polar bears are marine mammals and have plenty of ways to transport themselves, including swimming, jumping and of course… running.
Their average running speed is about 24/25 miles per hour, so they’re much faster than us, but a little slower than the other bears.
This is likely due to their conditions and the fact they do not need to be as quick with their natural prey such as fish.
There may come a time when you encounter a polar bear though, and they have been known to be extremely vicious due to their lack of food in the modern climate.
The next part of our guide looks at what you should do in the event of a bear attack, because you’re not going to outrun them!
Encountering A Bear: What To Do
We’ll start with the grizzly bear and what the experts have to say about encounter tips:
The Grizzly Bear
Encountering a large grizzly bear can be terrifying, so here’s what you should do (or not do!)
- DO NOT RUN!
- Avoid looking the bear in the eyes
- Stand up to the bear if they charge at you
- Speak softly, do not scream or shout
- Wave your arms to confirm to the bear that you are a human and not a threat
- Be prepared to use bear or pepper spray if you have any
- Curl into a ball or lie on your front
- Ensure the bear has left before moving again
- Seek help
The Black Bear
Black bears are very similar to their larger grizzly cousins, so most of the tips on the previous list will be fine.
Remember though, black bears do differ in that they absolutely hate loud noises. A grizzly will not be put off by loud noises, in fact it will likely anger them.
When a black bear is nearby, create as much loud noise as you can.
The Polar Bear
The bad news is, polar bears are incredibly dangerous and are almost impossible to shake off. The best bet is to avoid polar bears as best you can.
If you’re unlucky enough to see a polar bear though, you should use bear spray if you have any – and remember not to panic.
Noises and waving will not work – so just try to avoid going into bear country as much as possible.
The Bottom Line
Humans cannot outrun a bear – so when you encounter a bear, try to follow some of the tips we’ve provided here, but it’s best just avoiding them altogether!