Can You Escape a Bear By Climbing a Tree?

Video how fast can a black bear climb a tree

When it comes to the animal encounters we want to avoid, bears are at the top of our list. While we don’t mind seeing them, we prefer to maintain a long-distance relationship. If you’re unfortunate enough to have an up-close experience, you may wonder if brown, black, polar, or even grizzly bears can climb trees.

So can you escape a grizzly by climbing a tree? What should you do during these intense situations? Should you play dead?

Today, we’re answering some of these crucial questions. So lace up your hiking boots, grab the bear spray, and let’s get started!

If You Encounter a Bear, You May Be Tempted to Climb a Tree

There are only a handful of states in the United States without bears. You can find them as far west as Alaska and as east as Maine. As a result, you must plan how to respond if you cross paths with these massive mammals during your adventures.

Bears can stand over five feet tall and weigh several hundred pounds. You won’t stand a chance when you combine their gargantuan size with their beefy muscles. If that’s not enough to do you in, their teeth and claws can be over four inches long and razor-sharp. You must consider all your options since you’ll be the underdog in this fight.

It may be tempting to climb a tree to make your escape. If this is your plan, we have some terrible news for you. This may not be the best idea or provide any benefit. However, if you’re left without any other options, it may be a good last-ditch effort. Keep reading to see what we mean.

Can All Bears Climb Trees?

You can find three of eight types of bears living in North America. This trio includes black, brown/grizzly, and polar bears. However, the black bear is the most widespread throughout the continent, and fortunately, you’ll only find polar bears in the most northern areas.

Unfortunately, all North American bears, including grizzly bears, can climb trees. However, some are better than others. Due to their smaller size, black bears are generally the best at climbing. However, brown and polar bears will do whatever it takes to neutralize a perceived threat. Their massive claws, tremendous strength, and quickness make them climbing machines.

Climbing tree to escape bear
Climbing a tree to escape a bear is likely to not be as successful as you would expect, as they can climb trees, too.

How Fast Can Bears Climb Trees?

Bears are biologically advantaged when it comes to climbing. They can climb a 100-foot tree in less than 30 seconds. If that doesn’t impress you, try timing yourself climbing a tree and see who is faster. We’re confident you’ll likely measure your time in minutes instead of seconds.

Grizzly, black, and polar bears have massive claws and tremendous strength, allowing them to climb trees quickly. They’ll shimmy up the tree exponentially faster than you could imagine. We watched a black bear in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park scale a tree in about 20 seconds and it surprised us both.

Black bear climbing tree
It only takes seconds for a bear to scale a tree.

How High Can a Bear Jump?

While bears may have some surprising abilities, jumping isn’t one of them. They can jump forward, but not vertically. Their weight makes it challenging. According to the North American Bear Center, most bears will have trouble reaching suspended objects over 7 and a half feet tall.

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This is the logic behind forest agencies encouraging visitors to hang food and other objects at least 10 feet above the ground. They’ll be safe from even the tallest bears.

How Fast Can a Bear Chase You?

If you think you can run from a bear, good luck. Even the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt, wouldn’t stand a chance. His impressive 27 mph sprint is nothing compared to the 35 mph top speed that a bear can run. Even with a head start, they will have you in their grip in seconds.

One of the worst things you can do is challenge them to a foot race. Trust us; you’ll lose. It could also trigger their hunting instincts. Running from them could cause them to hunt you down even if they’re not hungry.

Are All Bears Aggressive?

Not all bears are aggressive. However, they defend themselves when they feel threatened, cornered, or provoked. They typically try to avoid human contact but will attack if they perceive people as a threat or competition. They become more aggressive and dangerous the more accustomed to humans they get, or if they learn humans can supply them with a food source. For example, if they are used to getting human trash as a food source, they can get aggressive about their methods of obtaining that food. This is primarily why you’ll hear of bears breaking into cabins and cars to raid the food supply.

We, as a society, have learned the hard way that bears shouldn’t be allowed to feast on our leftovers, for safety, and for bear health. When the national parks first opened, bears were spectacles. People wanted them to come close, so openly fed them. It all came to a head when Glacier National Park had 2 fatal grizzly bear attacks on the same night, which prompted the park service to finally clamp down on trash access and recreational feeding. The loss of trash as the primary food source killed off many bears who did not know how to survive without it, and subsequently made them “threatened” on the Endangered Species List.

In general, black bears don’t have a reputation for aggression. They’re often more curious than anything. On the other hand, grizzly bears tend to be less patient with humans and are more prone to attack. Hopefully, you never encounter a polar bear, as they are so big and remotely located that they will likely see you as food.

Unfortunately, because bears are wild animals, you should treat them as such. Aside from Winnie the Pooh, Smokey Bear, and Yogi Bear, there are only a few friendly bears. If you see bears in the wild, keep your distance, avoid finding out how aggressive it is, and don’t climb trees to escape unless as a last resort.

Man climbing tree from bear
There are several steps you should take first before climbing a tree when encountering a bear.

How to Escape a Bear Encounter Alive

If you encounter a bear, you must do all you can to escape. While deadly bear encounters are rare, they do occur. Let’s look at some things you should do to maximize your safety.

Don’t Climb a Tree

You should only climb a tree as a last resort. They are skilled climbers, and you climbing a tree may just intrigue them more. While there are some instances where this has been effective, it’s typically not a great idea.

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Carry Bear Spray

If you’re heading into bear country, you must carry bear spray. This is by far the most effective protectant against a bear encounter. However, do not let carrying bear spray give you a false sense of security. It is not a repellant or magical shield. It’s a defense mechanism you can use if a bear is aggressive toward you.

Not only should you carry bear spray, but you should know how to use it. You want to figure it out before you’re in a tense confrontation with a bear. Ensure it’s easily accessible so you can defend yourself against an unexpected interaction.

Pro Tip: Use our guide on Bear Spray 101: How to Stay Safe in Bear Country to make sure you know how to defend yourself.

Know How to Act

When you’re face-to-face with a bear, you need to know how to act. First, remain calm and avoid sudden movements. You don’t want to provoke the bear or cause it to feel threatened.

Look for a clear path to make your slow and steady exit. Back away slowly, but ensure you’re not moving toward cubs or a food source. Speak calmly and firmly to the bear and tell them you’re a human and not a bear.

If a bear starts to charge at you, it will often do a bluff charge or two before attacking. However, stand your ground and try to appear larger by raising your arms. Make loud noises to deter the bear. If you’re in a group, spread out to confuse the bear and hopefully send them on their way.

However, if a bear makes contact with you, protect yourself. If available, use bear spray as soon as the bear is within distance and begins to charge. If you do not have bear spray, you should play dead if it’s a brown bear. However, if it’s a black bear, your best bet is typically to fight back. Cover the back of your neck if knocked down, and wait for the bear to lose interest. Remember, even grizzly bears can climb trees.

Know How Not to Act

There are also some things that you should not do if you’re face-to-face with a bear. The last thing you want to do is to run from the bear. This will only worsen the situation and likely cause them to chase you.

Additionally, you want to avoid getting in their way or approaching cubs. If you do, this could agitate or cause adult bears to become aggressive and feel the need to defend their cubs. Keep your distance at all times.

How you respond will depend on the type of bear. Grizzlies typically will not back down from humans. Yelling or trying to intimidate them won’t get you very far. However, black bears tend to be more skittish and will run away from human interactions. Unfortunately, an angry black bear can get aggressive too if they feel you’re threatening them or their young.

Reduce Chances of Encounters in the First Place

No matter how prepared or familiar you are with bears, your best bet is to avoid them. You must know where they live or frequent in an area. This can help you to watch for signs of their presence so you can be aware.

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Additionally, traveling in groups and making plenty of noise is a good idea. You’ll likely make ample noise in a group by having conversations. A bear would probably hear your conversation and do whatever it can to create distance. Some hikers wear bells on their backpacks to help keep bears away.

If you want to avoid bears, then don’t attract them to you. Store your food properly and avoid wearing or carrying items with scents. Things like toothpaste, deodorant, and candy are all items that can attract bears. Use bear canisters and hang any food or trash from a 10-foot+ tree branch away from your camp overnight.

Pro Tip: The new Ursack Bear Bags are also popular for food storage in bear country.

Bear climbing tree
Always be prepared when hiking in bear country to stay safe while in the wild.

What To Do If a Bear Climbs Your Tree Stand?

We wanted to address this situation in particular, as many hunters perch in tree stands to give them the best view while hunting. However, this can put them at a significant disadvantage if a bear decides to scale the same tree. Unfortunately, it happened a time or two.

You must stay calm, assess the situation, and let the bear know of your presence. Speak calmly to the bear to avoid trying to surprise it. If it begins to act aggressively, create as much separation as possible between you and the beast.

If you have an air horn, bear spray, or other deterrents, now is the time to use them. You want to do all you can to keep the bear away.

If you’re hunting, you’re likely to have a weapon. If your safety is in danger, you may feel tempted to use it on the animal. Keep in mind that using guns in bear attacks has proven to increase the likelihood of your injury from the bear, as it enrages the bear and you have to be a really good shot in a time of high stress. Bear spray is much more effective at stopping the bear as it will instantly make it hard for them to breathe and see, both of which it needs to continue its attack.

Pro Tip: Use these tips on How to Use an Ursack Bear Bag the Right Way to keep you and your food safe from bears.

To Climb or Not to Climb, When Running From a Bear?

Overall, climbing a tree is not a great idea if you’re experiencing a bear encounter. However, if it’s your only option, it may be worth trying. We strongly suggest you prepare yourself and anyone traveling with you before heading for an adventure in bear country. Don’t get caught unprepared for the conditions; do all you can to minimize the chances of encountering a bear so you don’t even have to think about escape.

Do you have a plan in case of an encounter? Tell us in the comments!

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>