Let's talk about bears. In the Atlantic provinces; not too much to worry about, as long as we take the basic precautions. The West? Well, scary stuff.
Wildlife encounters have to be an acceptable risk when travelling into the wild after all; its their territory, not ours. Its what we do to mitigate as much risk possible that makes all the difference between great sightseeing, or feeling slightly lower on the food chain.
Poaching is now so prevalent in parts of Alaska, YT, NWT and Northern B.C that taking a firearm as a last resort is becoming a questionable method of predator defense. Bears hear a gunshot and in cases, bear bangers', and come running expecting to find a carcass - Scare away one, attract 5 more. Some bears are even following humans waiting for a poached carcass to be left behind - not good.
So, what tools do we have to keep ourselves safe?
Firstly, and most importantly: Our heads. Educating ourselves and becoming smart back country travelers using common sense, should keep us safe: Good personal hygiene. Avoiding high traffic areas. Avoiding times of the year when wildlife are more active than usual. Making noise such as talking while hiking. Packing only odorless food-types and lastly, keeping anything that may smell yummy to a bear well outside of our campsites are the best and most important defenses we have. What do bears love to eat? Fruits and berries (among other things). What do most shampoos, deodorants and soaps smell like? Fruits and berries.... Something to think about.
Bears are known to have the best sense of smell of any animal on earth. For example: The average dog’s sense of smell is roughly 100 times better than a humans - Good enough to be able to tell you if your blood sugar levels are low. A blood hounds' is 300 times better. A bear’s sense of smell is 7 times better than a blood hound’s or 2,100 times better than a human - A Human that has not showered recently, and is perhaps wearing the same clothes it cooked in is noticeable to a bear up to 20 miles away.
Secondly, we can buy things to help us in the event that a bear does wander into camp. Shopping seems to be what we love to do. Ironically and arguably, a trip to the city is part of any outdoor getaway. In this case we have bear-proof canisters, bear-bangers, flares, bells and lastly, bear spray - All non-lethal, which is preferable by far.
Personally, I find that nothing fits into the bear proof canisters, and the canister won't fit into my pack well although, it does make a good campsite seat! Bear-bangers are a good idea in theory, but need to be put together to fire them. When you need them, chances are you will not have time to do this. So you could keep them ready to fire, but this is dangerous and they are fairly easy to break. Bells drive me insane, and flares are a great way to start a fire - perhaps a winter only tool.
Bear spray is all I take, unless venturing into Polar Bear territory, which is an entirely different ball-game. By applying good back country common sense, there really is no real need for additional equipment. Now, this is mother nature we are talking about: Living, breathing creatures with personalities and agendas, making decisions just like us. No matter how much we prepare, there will always remain a slight chance that things could go wrong. Although the chances of being killed by a domestic dog, bees or lightning are much higher that being killed by a bear, having a sound emergency plan, and a solid first aid kit with appropriate equipment are always a must.
To learn more about bear safety and take an in-depth look at bear behavior, biology, and learn how to manage an encounter - Ukaliq Wilderness offers a great Online Bear Saftey Course. Worth taking a look at for any adventurer.