While hiking, individuals may encounter other hikers who are wearing bells. However, these individuals might not be aware of the reason why the other hikers are wearing a bell. So, why do hikers wear bells?
Hikers use bells or cowbells in an attempt to warn wildlife that they are approaching. As they are walking, the bell sounds which then allows wildlife on hiking trails to flee the area before they are startled by the hiker. Because animals flee from the noise, the bell acts as a repellent.
It can be challenging to sort through all the information about why hikers wear bells. After conducting research looking into this hiking trend, the following information had been compiled below.
Why Do Hikers Wear Bells?
One of the most important things to keep in mind while hiking is staying safe when it comes to the wildlife animals. For some hikers, this is achieved by attaching a bell to a hiking pack. The bell makes a noise as the hiker is making their way through the trail which alerts nearby wildlife that someone is approaching.
This allows the hiker to avoid causing the nearby animals to panic which allows the hiker to feel safer on the trails. Bringing a bell can allow hikers to hike and enjoy the vegetation of the wildlife while not having to worry about encountering animals that could be harmful to them.
The most common animal that causes hikers to carry these bells are bears. Many hikers fear crossing paths with a trail, so carrying the bell allows the hikers to warn any bears nearby of their presence. (Source)
Having these bells as part of your hiking gear can also act as a courtesy to other hikers. While on the trail, hikers while hearing other hikers approaching when they hear the ringing of the bells.
Is Wearing Bells an Effective Way to Ward off Wildlife?
These bells are effective in some ways, while not being effective in other aspects. These bells are extremely effective in alerting other hikers of one’s presence.
When encountering certain animals, bringing bells on a camping trip can be beneficial in scaring them off. The sound of bells can be effective for smaller animals such as deer and elk.
The biggest downfall to relying on bells as a repellant for animals is that an animal has to be in hearing range in order to be startled by the noise. This causes the bells to only be effective when an animal is close to a hiker or group of hikers on a trail. If this noise is not audible, the bells are useless and not effective. (Source)
Many experienced hikers feel as though there are more effective ways to scare off predators than attaching a bell to your hiking pack.
How Did this Hiking Trend Begin?
This hiking trend began in 1982 after research was published that carrying bells was an effective way to scare off predators while spending time in the different parks. There are specific bells that can be purchased at camping stores that ring at a frequency that startles bears and larger predators. (Source)
During this time period, there weren’t any products similar to bear repellant. Hikers decided that they would put their trust in the research that was previously done.
There are still some individuals who feel more secure while carrying bells while they are hiking. These bells can allow hikers to feel a sense of security. Many hikers decide not to bring bells with them while exploring the trails, but for individuals who are hiking alone bells can be beneficial to warn animals of your presence.
Alternative to Carrying a Bell While Hiking
An easy alternative to bringing a bell on a hiking trip is using bear repellant which is also known as bear spray. This is a product that can be purchased in the camping section of most stores or at a camping store. Using this spray allows you to run away while the bear you encountered is disoriented. Unfortunately, bear spray does not work like bug spray.
There are some things to consider when using bear spray. The biggest one is the wind. If it is windy, using the spray can cause individuals in the hiking group to have injuries. Bear spray should be used with caution and not done carelessly. (Source)
Another alternative to carrying a bell on a camping trip is talking, singing, and just overall making noise. This can be effective by alerting animals in the surrounding area that a hiker or group of hikers is approaching.
This method for alerting animals on a hiking trail can be extremely useful when an individual does not have access to any other methods. Any amount of individuals can create the noise that is needed in order to scare off animals.
Another benefit to the method of just making noise is the fact that this comes at absolutely no cost. Any individual is capable of clapping their hands and yelling periodically to avoid encountering any startled predators. The more people that are present in a group of hikers, the easier it is to create noise.
When is Carrying a Bell Unnecessary?
There are times when including a bell in hiking equipment is not necessary. The biggest thing that makes it unnecessary is when hikers are on a trail that does not have any bears or larger predators present. If there are no larger predators, there is no need to have a bell that repels something that is not there.
A hiker can learn if an area has a population of bears by doing research online or talking to any of the park rangers that are located throughout these parks.
When hiking in a group, carrying bells is not something that is needed for hikers to have a sense of security. Groups of individuals tend to be loud which is typically enough for scaring off animals that are scared off by these bells. With a group of hikers, these bells can become redundant and unnecessary.