Picture the scene: You’re hiking in the woods, enjoying the fresh air, sunshine, and sounds of nature when you see a bear.
You stop dead in your tracks, but the bear has seen you. It’s edging toward you, and now you’re panicking and trying to remember what you’re supposed to do in the event of a bear attack.
Are you supposed to play dead? Wasn’t there something about punching it on the nose, or was that sharks? This is not the time for experimentation, and so you decide to run.
Best course of action, right?
Wrong. That bear is not only bigger and stronger than you are, but it’s also a hell of a lot faster.
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How Fast Can Bears Run?
The North American brown bear, AKA grizzly bear, can reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour.
The same is true for the black bear.
Polar bears are not quite as fleetfooted and can run at around 25 miles per hour. But unless you’re taking a hike in the Arctic, that information probably won’t help you.
And even if you are, the additional 10 miles per hour isn’t going to make much difference as you’re not as quick as you might think you are.
Can Humans Outrun A Grizzly Bear?
We know that grizzly bears and black bears can reach speeds of 35 MPH and polar bears are a little more sluggish at 25 MPH, but how does this compare to humans?
According to a 2010 study, the maximum speed that humans could reach is 40 MPH.
The study essentially looked at human physiology and estimated a maximum running speed.
In reality, the highest speed that a human has ever reached was 27.78 MPH.
Now, before you get excited and think that you have a chance of beating a grizzly bear in a foot race, there are a couple of caveats.
Firstly, that human was Usain Bolt, the fastest man alive, a man who can run 100 meters in less time than most of us can get up from the sofa.
Secondly, he reached those speeds between the 60- and 80-meter mark of a 100-meter race (surprisingly, it wasn’t the race in which he set the world record).
Bolt’s average speed during that race was 23 MPH, and that’s just over 100 meters.
Humans can reach high speeds, but we struggle to sustain them and are built more for endurance. In fact, we have more endurance than most four-legged animals, but we can’t get anywhere near their level of speed so that endurance is pointless unless we have a substantial head start.
If we measure Usain Bolt over a mile, his average speed would be a lot less. In fact, when we do this for the average human, we arrive at a much more modest average speed of between 6 MPH and 8 MPH.
If Bolt encountered a lethargic sloth bear, a bear species that can reach 20 MPH at its best, it would be a walk in the park for him.
Can Usain Bolt Outrun a Bear?
Let’s suppose that Usain Bolt encountered a brown bear during the peak of his powers back in 2009, could he outrun it?
Probably not, but it depends.
If he didn’t have far to run and could rely on his explosive acceleration, he might be able to reach safety before the bear reached him.
Furthermore, bears, just like humans, can vary with regard to fitness levels, power, and speed.
If he happened upon a fat, lazy, and older bear, one that had only just finished hibernating and was low on body weight, strength, and energy, he could probably get away.
Why Is the Grizzly Bear So Fast?
Bears are pretty hefty creatures. They don’t seem to be built for speed, so why do they move so quickly?
Grizzlies have massive muscular legs that help to propel them forward, as well as large claws that give them grip and thrust. They also have longer and stronger back legs than front legs.
They might look like furry mounds of flab, but there is a lot of muscle and power under all of that fur.
What Should You Do If Grizzly Bears Attack?
Let’s return to the predicament at the start of this article.
You’re in bear country, you encounter a brown bear, and it starts running. Now what?
It might sound counterintuitive, but the best thing to do is play dead.
Lie on your stomach, spread your legs wide, and place your hands behind your neck.
Don’t try to fight back. Don’t try to run away if you’re not right next to a place of safety. As we have established already, you cannot outrun a bear and you shouldn’t try to.
What Should You Do If Polar Bears Attack?
Let’s imagine for a moment that you did indeed take a hike in the Arctic (or maybe you just sleepwalked into a zoo) and are now face-to-face with an angry polar bear.
If they attack, it means they see you as prey, in which case playing dead isn’t going to be much help. You’ll just be making their life easier.
The trick is not to act like prey, but also don’t act like you’re a threat.
Use bear spray if you have it and grab a weapon if you don’t. If none of these tactics work and the bear is attacking, there isn’t much you can do.
At that point, the polar bear has decided that it’s going to kill you. You can’t run. You can’t play dead. And while you can fight, you’ll be up against one of the biggest and most ferocious animals on the planet, so you won’t have much of a chance.
Still, that doesn’t mean you should give up.
Throw punches and kicks at its nose and eyes. Poke those eyes out, if you can, and use a stick to help you if there is one nearby. If you are unfortunate enough to make it this far, you’re in a fight to the death.
It’s you or the polar bear, so give it everything you’ve got!
What Should You Do If Black Bears Attack?
As with the polar bear, playing dead isn’t going to help you if you encounter a black bear.
These bears are a little slower than grizzlies, but they will still outrun you.
Try to escape to shelter if you can. If not, fight back and focus your efforts on the bear’s nose and eyes.