Prepping for 2024 Polar Bear Season

IWWF World Waterski Championships
A mother bear plays with her cub among the ice fog.

Welcome to Bear Witness Photo Tours

Embark on an unforgettable journey with Bear Witness Photo Tours in Churchill, Manitoba, where the majestic polar bears roam. As we gear up for our 2024 tours, I want to share some essential tips and insights to ensure you have the best experience possible. I am writing this post as I thought it would be the most efficient way to ensure that everyone receives the same information about our upcoming trip to the polar bear capital of the world.



Welcome to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, The Polar Bear Capital of the World.  Whether you’re a seasoned photographer or a wildlife enthusiast, Bear Witness Photo Tours offers the perfect blend of comfort, safety, and exceptional wildlife viewing opportunities to create memories that will last a lifetime.

Once your flight to Churchill lands you will be greeted by a Bear Witness guide and taken into town where our Bed and Breakfast is.  After a short house orientation and opportunity to get sorted and properly dressed we will head out to bear country.

Johnny Polar bear

What to Wear for Polar Bear Tours

Churchill’s weather can be extreme, with temperatures plummeting to minus 20 degrees Celsius with the addition of high winds which adds to the chill. Dressing appropriately is crucial for your comfort and safety. Here are my top recommendations:

  • Warm Accessories: Don’t forget a thermal hat, gloves, and a face cover. Insulated boots with thick socks will keep your feet warm.
  • Protective Eyewear: Sunglasses or goggles can shield your eyes from the glare of the snow and ice and blowing sand from the beach.
  • Hand and Foot Warmers: These can be a lifesaver in extremely cold conditions but for me this is a last resort due to their environmental impact.

Packing for Your Calm Air Flight

I’ve received a few emails about packing and carry-on items for your Calm Air flight. I wanted to share my standard kit for any wildlife trip and what I do for all of my camera equipment. Some of you may have more equipment than others, while some of you may have less. Nonetheless, this will give you an idea of what the airline allows on all my trips up north. Although Calm Air has stringent restrictions, they are accommodating when it comes to cameras, from my experience.

My preferred option is the image below featuring the NANUK backpack, which accommodates all of my equipment but distributes the weight for easier travel, in my opinion. The backpack can easily fit under my seat.   

For any NANUK products you can go to https://nanukcases.ca/products/n-pvd-30l and put in promo code, johnnyhayward15 for 15% off anything on their site.

For carrying your camera I love the Cotton Carrier products you can check them out at COTTON CARRIER: referral link: https://www.cottoncarrier.com/?ref=aLUQKxYwDrUCUOCoupon code: BEARWITNESSPHOTO

As for my monopod and tripod, I pack them in my luggage along with any extra cameras or chargers. For luggage, I prefer to use a large North Face waterproof duffle bag. Here, I can pack all my winter jackets, boots, and cozy clothes. Don’t forget extra camera cards and hard drives since you won’t be able to purchase such items in Churchill.

Churchill Polar Bears Nov ZH copy

Standard equipment for this trip:

600mm or 800mm (your longest lens will be your most utilized)

1.4x converter (great to have if you have one)

100-400mm or simular

12-24mm  13-35mm or the like for northern lights.

Drone (NOT allowed around the bears)

Pro Tips for a Smooth Experience

 Extra Lens Cloths: Bring extra lens cloths as the winds can be very high at times, throwing snow or dust around. I’ll have some CCD cleaners with me in case you get a dirty CCD. However, as proficient as I am with most camera brands, I prefer each of you to clean your own CCD if needed. I’ll be here to help.

Churchill Polar Bears Nov ZH copy

The Bear Witness Experience

At Bear Witness Photo Tours, we pride ourselves on offering a unique and intimate experience. Here’s what sets us apart:

  • Comfort and Accessibility: We are the only tour group that opt to use new full-sized pickup trucks, accommodating a maximum of three guests per vehicle. This ensures everyone has their own window and door, allowing for quick and easy access to capture that perfect shot.  
  • Spacious Setup: Our vehicles provide plenty of space for your photography gear and bulky winter jackets. The back of the truck is perfect for storing tripods and can act as a step-up if you need a better vantage point over rocks or grass.
  • All-Day Comfort: I provide lunches and coffee, so we can stay out in the field comfortably until the daylight fades.
  • Fully Equipped Vehicles: Each vehicle is equipped with oversized tires for the rugged terrain, a lift for better clearance, towing equipment, shovels, two-way radios, a first aid kit, and a booster battery.
Johnny Hayward FOX
A arctic fox is seen in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada

Relax and Unwind

For those of you who enjoy a beer or a glass of wine after a great day of bear viewing, I’ll be providing beer and wine once we’re back for the night. There is a main grocery and general store called the Northern in case anyone needs anything special. I can drive you there if necessary after our day of bear viewing. The same goes for anyone who wishes to buy souvenirs. We can arrange a trip once it’s dark out and we’re done with bear viewing for the day. Our main goal is to spend as much time as possible with the bears and capture the setting sun if the weather permits

Bottled Water

Our Call to Action: Leave No Trace

Again in 2024, my call to action is to leave zero waste behind in Churchill from our tour. I encourage everyone to pack their reusable coffee cup and water bottles. All other single-use bottles, cans, and packages used during the trip will be collected and taken to proper recycling depots back south. Churchill lacks a recycling program, and we aim to leave no trace of our trip in this precious and fragile environment.  In 2023 we trucked over 250 pounds of recyclables out of Churchill.  


MOST IMPORTANTLY, Bear Safety: Once you step off the plane in Churchill, you are in bear country, and bears can literally be anywhere at any time. We are here to keep both you and the bears safe. Unlike black bears or grizzlies, these are apex predators, so please don’t go anywhere outside unaccompanied.

Nanuk, or I like to call him, the “King of the North”.
J Hayward

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