How Fast Can a Bear Run in the Wild?

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how fast can a bear run

Faster than you. Let’s hope you’re faster than your hiking companion! The truth is bears of nearly all species run faster than people. When faced with the prospect of racing a bear, think again. Bruins, another name for bears, have multiple advantages over you when it comes to running speed and endurance. They also have no significant disadvantages other than being huge. The bear runs rapidly and wins the race every time.

Just the bear facts

Okay, so the bruin wins. But by how much? How fast can bears run, exactly? Well, here are the facts:

  • Black bears run at maximum speeds of 37 miles per hour.
  • Grizzly bears, while a little slower, can still reach speeds of up to 30 miles an hour.
  • Polar bears are sprinters with top speeds of 40 miles per hour over short distances.

There are, of course, other species of an ursine nature. However, no one feels threatened by the Giant Panda or the Sloth Bear.

giant panda relaxing on wooden board
Giant panda relaxing on wooden board | 995645

One interesting fact about bears is their similarity to dogs. Bruins are classed in the Suborder Caniformia, which includes dogs, foxes, wolves, and many other pretty fast beasties.

To return to the question, a speedy ursine attacker will catch you easily. The fastest humans run at speeds up to 25-27 miles per hour. To outrun a bear, you would need a long, long head start.

Fast bears, slow bears, nice bears, mean bears

Not all bears or bruin encounters are alike. There are many myths about what to do when faced with an angry grizzly or brown bear. Here are a few truths to help you:

  • Some people say bears cannot run downhill. This is simply untrue. Their body design and incredible musculature, along with their non-retractable claws, will help them navigate any terrain much faster than you.
  • Bruins can be viewed as dangerous and unpredictable. This is not true. They communicate their intentions clearly most of the time. Dangerous encounters are very rare.
  • Climbing trees is not a great idea. Not only can bears climb very well, they also use this to their advantage. Bears fight each other in trees. The upper bear in a tree, or you if you climbed one, has all the disadvantages.
  • Guns are less effective than bear spray. According to research carried out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Dr. Stephen Herrero, a bear expert, pepper spray works better against bears. When bullets are fired, people are severely injured by bears twice as often.

Mostly, bears want to be left alone and do not view humans as food. Polar bears may be an exception to this rule. Food is scarce in the Far North and so polar bears may hunt humans.

How to survive a bear attack

Are you planning a hike, excursion, or relocation to bear territory? If so, then you may want to read this next section carefully. Surviving bear attacks is certainly possible. An even better tactic is to avoid being attacked in the first place. We’re going to show you how to do both things.

The best defense is avoidance

Chances are, any bruin you meet is going to be bigger, stronger, faster, and hungrier than you. The best way to avoid becoming its next meal is to avoid it altogether. Here are three things to think about when moving around bear country:

  • Make a lot of noise so the bears know you are near. Most bears do not consider humans to be food and will avoid you. Shouting wildly isn’t the best option. Talk to yourself or your hiking partner. If you’re alone, then say, “Hey bear,” on a regular basis. Many bruins will move away before you even see them.
  • If you do see a bear, then distance is the next thing to think about. Try to keep away. This makes you appear less threatening.
  • Finally, try to think about wind. Bears have very good noses and can smell you from a great distance. Move upwind so the bear can get your scent. It’s probably not interested in you for lunch.

If you can remember noise, distance, and smell, then you will avoid most ursine encounters before they ever happen.

Treat them like the Queen of England 

One of the rules of court etiquette is to never show your back to the Queen of England. With bears, the rules are much the same. If you turn and run away, you may trigger their predator instincts. Instead, try a different way of leaving the area.

Back away slowly. Talk calmly.

Bruins are generally only going to attack you as a defensive measure. They might be defending a kill site, protecting their young, or startled by your incursion into their territory. In each of these cases, backing away slowly and calmly is your safest way out.

brown bear walking on mountain
Brown bear walking on mountain | Free-Photos

One of the tactics of ursine combat is the bluff charge. One grizzly charges another but does not intend to make contact and attack. The whole movement is designed to frighten the other bear. It’s okay to fear a charging bruin! Just back away calmly.

Stand your ground

Occasionally, bears view humans as food and will hunt people. Bears are, after all, predators. Stalking bears will circle their targets and attempt to approach from behind. There will usually not be any loud confrontation before the attack.

If you are attacked by a predatory bear, fight back. Hit, kick, poke, stab, and claw as much as you can. Aim for the eyes and nose. Use rocks, sticks, and knives as weapons.

The best weapon is pepper spray. Sprays work on a bear’s nose and eyes and cause most bruins to turn away. Even when the attack continues, sprays limit the duration and ferocity of attacks.

You can play dead. This works very well against grizzly bears defending their young. It is not a good strategy against a predatory black bear. Lie on the ground, pull your knees to your chest, tuck your head between your knees, cross your arms over your legs, and hold on tight.

black bear stare
Black bear stare | Eric Kilby | CC BY-SA 2.0

Living with bears 

For some people, bears are a feature, not a problem. Cultural ties to bears exist for many First Nations as well as Canadians who value the presence of bears. Tourists are thrilled to see bruins in the wild. Tour guides show visitors grizzlies and black bears as part of their trips.

As an apex predator, bears contribute to the health of the environment as well. Their diet consists of fruit, nuts, and berries. The by-product is widely scattered seeds left with a large deposit of natural fertilizer. Weaker herd animals, such as deer and moose, are killed by predators. This encourages natural selection and healthy populations.

In this final section, we’re going to give you some tips for coexisting with bears.

Camping guide for bear territory 

To live safely for a while in bear country, you should follow a few simple rules:

  1. Bears have an excellent sense of smell. Keep attractants away from your camp. For example, tie your food supplies in a bag or a backpack and then hang them more than twelve feet off the ground. Do this somewhere more than 30 yards from your campsite. Here are some more detailed instructions.
  2. As much as possible, camp in more open ground with good visibility. Bruins will generally avoid you, so give them a chance to see you and they will leave you alone.
  3. Keep animals with you and on leashes. Your dog is no match for a bear. More importantly, you do not want Fido to go pick a fight with a bear and bring the bruin back to your campsite.

You can camp safely and enjoyably in bruin territory if you follow these rules.

grizzly bear on wood
Grizzly bear on wood | Gúnna | CC BY-ND 2.0

Hiking guide for bear zones 

We’ve already mentioned a few things about dealing with bear encounters. For your safety, we want to quickly recap a few things worth remembering:

  1. Avoidance is the best strategy. Make noise, be alert, and stay away.
  2. Back away from bears. Don’t be a threat or a fool. Just move away.
  3. Carry bear spray. This is the best weapon you hope you never have to use.
  4. If you must fight, then fight hard. Aim for the eyes and nose.

These tried and proven guides will keep you alive during your excursion. Stay smart and stay alive.

Finally, how fast can a bear run?

How fast a bear can run depends on the bear. In another sense, the answer is always going to be the same: faster than you. You can’t outrun any bear you’re likely to meet outside a zoo. Don’t even try. Just follow our tips to stay safe and bring home some great stories to tell your friends.

Featured image src: How fast can a bear run | everydaywanderer