Why Do Hikers Wear Cowbells?

Before we go on to answer why Hikers wear Cowbells, we should probably explain what we mean by a Cowbell, as I’m sure many Hikers wouldn’t have come across them before. I know I didn’t until I was Paragliding in Austria many years ago, and it seemed like every cow in the country was wearing one that produced a slightly different tone.

What are Cowbells?

Why Do Hikers Wear Cowbells - A Cowbell on a Cow

cowbell (or cow bell) is a brass or other metallic material bell worn by being tied around the neck of free-roaming livestock so that herders can keep track of an animal via the sound of the bell when the animal is grazing out of view.

Cowbells on cattle are especially useful in hilly landscapes or vast plains in countries such as in Austria, Switzerland and Germany where the cattle can easily be out of sight but the quiet surroundings let the sound of the cowbells carry for great distances. 

Although they are typically referred to as “cow bells” due to their extensive use with cattle, the bells are used on a wide variety of animals.

Why do Hikers wear Cowbells?

Why Do Hikers Wear Cowbells - A Cowbell on a Hiker

The general consensus appears to be that hikers wear cowbells in order to scare away Bears and other Wild Animals.

The theory being that the bell will be heard by the animal in question, and as most wild animals generally, but not always, prefer to avoid conflict, any animals in the vicinity will stay away from the person making the noise with the cowbell as it rings as they hike.

Why don’t all Hikers wear Cowbells in Bear Country?

The reason why some hikers don’t wear cowbells in bear (or other wild animal) country, is that some hikers, myself included are sceptical of the success that the noise of a cowbell would scare off a bear. This guy below included:

What else can be used to scare away Wild Animals other than Cowbells when Hiking?

There are specialist devices that omit a high pitched scream that is inaudible to humans, but that really deter wild animals (or not so wild, think Cows and Stray Dogs) that have more acute hearing than us.

Ultrasonic Animal Deterrent Devices give off a high pitched scream or a pulse to deter animals, from stray dogs to cows and bears from approaching us, see below:

Why Do Hikers Wear Cowbells - Sonic Repellent

Are Bear Bells Useless?

Well, it’s open to debate, but I for one would not want to rely on a cowbell attached to my backpack to scare away an angry bear that was approaching me.

There seems to be very little anecdotal evidence online as to the success of cowbells, or bear bells as they are sometimes known, actually scaring off bears.

Why Do Hikers Wear Cowbells - Bear Bell

Can the Bears even hear the Cowbells?

Bears will almost certainly be able to hear the cowbells, as they have far better senses, including their hearing than humans. However, how they interpret the ringing of a cowbell is open for debate.

What if the sound of a bell ringing in the distance got the interest of a bear and it came over to see what was making the noise? That could certainly cause panic in the hiking group and make matters worse.

Can I use an Airhorn or Attack Alarm Instead of Cowbells?

Why not? In my opinion, I would much rather have an airhorn or attack alarm if a bear was approaching me than a cowbell.

Why Do Hikers Wear Cowbells - Air Horn of Bear Bell
Choose your Weapon

Have you ever stood next to an airhorn when it has been set off and you weren’t expecting it? OMG, it is terrifying and it would certainly give a shock to an unsuspecting and inquisitive bear. However, guessing whether the bear will choose Fight or Flight when it is startled would be a pretty scary situation to be in.

Luckily for me, I’ve never hiked in a country where they have bears, not to my knowledge anyway.

What is Bear Spray?

Bear Spray is specifically designed to scare off bears. Normal pepper spray will be pretty ineffective against bears, but apparently this stuff will work.

Why Do Hikers Wear Cowbells - Bear Spray

I have to be honest, before I researched this post I had not even heard of bear spray. However, here it are the specifications and some testimonials from the site that sells it.

Bear Spray Specifications

  • Most Effective and Powerful Bear Spray available today!
  • Spray range of 20 feet!
  • Works on all species of bears, Even works on Wet Bears!
  • You get 2- 9oz supersize cans, plus a holster for ease of carry.
  • Endorced by the Alaska Science & Technology Foundation!

Bear Spray Reviews

Looking on the Guard Alaska Bear Spray site, they had a page tab titled “Reviews”, but unfortunately it was empty. So I had to dig deeper online and managed to find the site below who had done all the heavy lifting for me.

While researching further online I managed to find an article written about “the best bear sprays” on the website takeoutdoors.com, you can see the reviews here.

Does Bear Spray Work better than Cowbells?

After reading the article mentioned above, I can safely say that bear sprays almost certainly work better than cowbells. Getting some form off pepper spray into the eyes and sensitive nose of an approaching bear will almost always be more effective than playing it a tune on a cowbell attached to your backpack as you run away. IMHO at least

Why Do Hikers Wear Cowbells - Remember the Bear Spray