Differences between a Black Bear and Grizzly Bear

Survival Skills

Learn the differences between a grizzly bear and black bear.

Black bears and grizzly bears are often difficult to tell apart. Bear size and color is generally not helpful, because, despite their names, not all black bears are black, and not all grizzly bears are “grizzled” in appearance. Below are several helpful considerations, which if followed, will have you identifying bears in no time, whether for personal safety (including bear survival skills) or personal knowledge.  

Size and Color - Not good indicators. Black bears can be black, dark brown, brown, cinnamon and even white. Similarly, grizzly bears range in color from black to blond. Although grizzly bears are, on average, much larger than black bears, size is not a reliable indicator on its own.

Shoulder Hump - Very good indicator. Grizzly bears have a well-developed front shoulder hump consisting of muscles used for digging and foraging. Black bears have no such hump which means this is a very reliable indicator.

Facial Profile - Good indicator. Grizzly bears have a concave/dish-shaped profile extending from the eyes to the tip of its nose. A black bear typically has a long, straight profile.  

Ear Shape - Good indicator. Grizzly bear ears are smaller and more rounded than the ears of a Black bear, which are larger, longer and pointed.


Claw Profile - Good indicator. Grizzly bears have long, gently curving claws that reach 2-4 inches.  Black bears have shorter and more sharply curved claws.

Track Profile - Okay indicator.  This can sometimes be difficult to determine, however a good rule is black bear toes are closer together and more curved. Whereas grizzly bear toes are further apart and straighter.


How to survive a bear attack 

How to use bear spray