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Items I Wish REI Would NOT Sell!

Let's NOT make these nominations about personal preferences, hearsay, or GUESSES! If you want to send a message (to you know who) about a bad product, be ready to backup your nomination with FACTS. My first nomination is...



This is a product I've seen on REI shelves (Santa Monica, CA) a few years ago, and has recently reappeared (possibly due to the recent looting of the store and current restocking efforts). I understand trying to make a sale, but DO SOME RESEARCH before you sell something!

I've seen (and eaten) my share of rattlesnakes while backpacking here in California, and elsewhere, and I hear about snake bites every year. I imagine it's the same everywhere. I've also seen pictures of the resulting damage and heard of the pain, in no small part due to ineffectual "treatments" causing more tissue damage and amputations. So this is no small issue!

Unfortunately, much of the advice and approaches to addressing snake bites over the past 500 years is based on myth, not medicine!! Sadly, much of it percists to this day. The Sawyer Venom Extractor (The Extractor, pictured) is one such problem!

The kit comes with a syringe and several cups that attach to the end to fit the bite site. It works, which is to say The Extractor has a VERY powerful suction.

I get it, the visceral satisfaction of "sucking out" the venom must feel like a primal way of reversing the incident, to "take it back", but that's NOT what happens and it's not that simple.

First, snake fangs are curved, so the place you would be sucktioning is NOT necessarily where the venom went/is.

Second, snake venom is not just one toxin, it's essentially a cocktail of toxins with molecules of different sizes, diffusing into various tissue compartments including the intravascular and extracellular spaces and spread AWAY from the bite site.

Also, one of the main studies Sawyer cites as reason to buy their product shows the serosanguinous fluid sucktioned out of was only 1/10,000th the concentration of the rattlesnake venom, which is basically NOTHING!

In fact, not only did The Extractor NOT do its job, but studies show more venom leaked out of the bite on its own, AND, The Extractor collapsed the tissues around the wound at the surface, forcing the venom even deeper.

@REI: Outdoor enthusiasts, particularly beginners, look to a variety of sources for help and advice. Those sources include REI in general and REI salespeople in particular. Barring that, they will simply trust that what is on the shelf is worth buying. Considering the above, I would strenuously recommend the product be pulled from your shelves and purged from your stock so it does NOT reappear!

[questions welcome]


37 Replies

As I understand it, bear bells are simply one element in what is ideally a multi-faceted strategy of bear avoidance.  Basically you want mr.  bear to hear you coming - that goes double for mrs. bear.  Keeping a clean camp and hanging food and other odiferous items is also a major aspect of bear avoidance.

I remember vividly, when hiking in denli NP, my partner and I becme separated precisely at the point where recent griz activity had been recently reported.  Although I believe my hiking staff had a bear bell, I made sure I made plenty of noise as I struggled through dense underbrush to hook up with my buddy. No bears appeared.

Unfortunately this is the dreaded anecdote, but remember that the plural of anecdote is frequently data, beloved and cherished by all....

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

@@hikermor @Philreedshikes @Wanderer @BortEdwards @REI-JohnJ 

Alright, look, the reason I won't nominate bear bells for removal is FIRST, they don't pose an obvious and immediate threat to the user (unlike The Extractor). Second, we don't don't have any definitive data (proof) one or the other.


In '89, there was a study (experiment) that claimed bells do work. The pointed to the fact that a number of people who were charged were not wearing bells (sounds like faulty critical thinking, but I'll see if I can find it).

Then, in 2000, a guy in Alaska rigged a bell with fishing line and rang it on 15 occasions when one to several bears came near. NOT ONE bear reacted AT ALL! Not even when he rang it vigorously like an alarm!! (I'll look for that one, too). They apparently treated the sound as merely ambiant noise.

Now, if the bell's perceived (or imagined) value is in "warning" the bear you're coming, theoretically so they're not surprised and will move on, then the latter study casts some serious doubts!


I have a personal theory why the bells didn't work: there was once a study where people were asked to watch a video of a basketball game and told to count how many times the ball changed hands. At one point, a MAN in a monkey suit appeared on one side, walked THROUGH the players, and proceeded out the other side.

When asked, many of the people had NO memory of the man in the monkey suit. Even when the video was replayed, they found it hard to believe.


Point being, when you're looking, or listening, for a particular thing, you may unconsciously ignore the obvious. You probably experience this ready; narrowly missing a motorcycle because you "didn't see him", etc.

 I suspect bears are listening for snapping twigs, breaking branches, rustling leaves, and VOCALIZATIONS (voices, grunts, growls, etc.)

Therefore, while warning bears off in advance is prudent, bells may be merely a way to make the PERSON feel better.


OH, and BTW, the guy who rang the bells was Tom Smith, a bear expert.

Interestingly, although NO bears reacted to the bells, when he broke a pencil to simulate a snapping twig, the bears IMMEDIATELY reacted by looking in his direction!

Just saying.


Sounds like an anecdote....Bears are highly individualistic and situations differ.

"For whom the bell tolls...."

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.


Wrong. An "anecdote" is like a recounting/story of a [typically] singular event, often incidental and never documented in a scientific sense, but may LEAD to a more serious investigation/experimentation.

Smith intended to test the hypothesis that bear bells are effective at the outset and documented it accordingly. After 15 separate encounters, with one to several bears (I can't remember how large the groups were) in each encounter, NO bear/s reacted to the bells as I described.

That's a STRIKING result, even for a single (albeit relatively small) study!! If a number of the bears DID react to the bells, the results might be written off. But NO reaction whatsoever is TELLING and begs a closer look!

Add to this the fact that the bears reacted to the sound of a pencil/twig breaking (at least indicating bears in that area did not have a genetic hearing defect) and you have to consider the possibility the bears may NOT be listening for bells, but sounds that typically warn of an encounter of some kind (beit other bears or people) AND that bells may not only be ineffective, but that the possibility of surprising, and being attacked by, a bear still exists.

In fact, I seem to recall reading the sound of a bell, if the bear notices it, MAY make it curious enough to investigate it, making the situation WORSE and earning it my nomination for removal.

However, this is why we need more and better data. Say, a comprehensive sampling in Alaska and maybe the top 10 locations in the US for bear encounters (black and brown bears).


I've been casually looking for more scientific studies regarding the efficacy of "bear bells" as a bear deterrent and a haven't come across any yet.

However, the top two bear experts (Smith and Herrero) are NOT giving bear bells a thumbs up! The consensus, so far, seems to be that bells - don't - work!

Apparently, bears seem to regard bells as ambient noise, like the wind or birds. Instead, there is nothing more alarming and Un-forest like than a human voice. So, the best advice is to to make a lot of noise (walking on gravel, stepping on twigs, etc.), but above all, TALK, SING, YELL, any sound with your voice is great.

What about, "Yo, bear!"? Maybe if you're alone, but if you're with others, it's been suggested that you reserve the word "bear" for when there actually Is a bear sighting. That way, others will know if they hear the word "bear" there is a BEAR!!

And bear bells? It's an easy buck or two for REI, and the rest, out of the pocket from the uninformed and inexperienced. They SHOULD be told the protection bells offer is all in their head, but somehow, I doubt it will be mentioned as part of REI sales training.

As I said before, if I find any substantial indication that bells ATTRACT bears, I will revisit this subject!!!


*Considers Pavlovian-ly conditioning bears...*


@@BortEdwards LOL. Right! Right?