Please note I am talking about the American black bear and definitely not the even more dangerous grizzly or brown bear. Thankfully, I have no experience with those species.
The black bear can be an assortment of different colors, from black to dark brown, cinnamon, grayish brown, blond, and even black with a blueish tint, which can make it difficult to identify based on color. Fortunately, in most locales other than portions of the West, the American black bear is the most prevalent bear species. They will typically avoid humans, and when given the opportunity, they will retreat into the forest. When there have been confrontations, it has mainly been when the bear is hungry and/or has been habituated on the diet of human food from handouts, which unfortunately is common in several national parks.
If your research says you’re in black bear country, you can carry bear spray, but be sure you know how to use it. The last thing you want to do is spray yourself in the face with it, or spray too soon. Only spray if you’re being charged, which takes some cool nerves indeed.
If you spot a black bear and it doesn’t see you, quietly and slowly retreat, and avoid sudden movements. Talk in low, calm tones. If you are close enough that it spots you, talk calmly at first with a gradually louder voice to help avoid startling the bear, and don’t run. Avoid eye contact with the bear as it sees this as a challenge. You can try waving and clicking your hiking poles in the air to look bigger. If there are more than one of you in your group, it is quite unlikely the bear will attack.
If a Bear Charges …
If a black bear charges, stand your ground. Bears can run 35 mph, so you cannot outrun them. Do not climb a tree either; bears are excellent climbers. Many times, the bear is doing a bluff charge, where he will charge and then stop short, or will turn at the last second and run past you. There have been different studies on what to do if charged by a black bear, and the consensus I have found is that you should fight back rather than play dead. If a black bear charges, use your bear spray when the bear is close enough and aim for the face. If he is still charging, hit it with whatever you have, your hiking poles for example. Black bear sightings are uncommon, especially if there is more than one of you, and attacks are even rarer.
DO NOT APPROACH, FEED OR PLAY GAMES, you want him to leave, now!
See more on Protecting a Campsite from Black Bears.