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What is the best item to carry for bear protection?

Hello,

I don’t want to start any drama or bring on bad karma for people. I know this will probably be a sore subject for people.

So, first, I want to say that I downloaded the Guthooks app and opened the free demo for the AT. I tapped on every campsite icon and read their comments. A couple people had to tango with some bears. That got me curious if anyone carries a gun or other type of weapon with them to ward off these animals.

I know that if you don’t give them a reason to come, like some careless person that forgets to hang their food in a tree, that they will generally leave you alone.

Aside from that, I love wildlife and think it would be a pretty good pic to add to your photo album, if you happen to see one.

What are your thoughts on carrying weapons? Do most parks and forestry services allow it?

I know most parks will allow you to have it, either conceal carry or if carried in a case, ammo and gun has to be separate.

Sorry if this came across the wrong way to some people.

25 Replies

Without declaring a position on the topic of firearms, there are two issues that immediately come to my mind, particularly when talking about a long distance hike that crosses state lines:

  • Different states have different laws and you could be well within your legal rights in one state and then find yourself in legal jeopardy when you cross into the next state. So you need to be hyper-vigilant about laws. In fact, this goes for carrying knives as well - even those nice little 3" folders.
  • The size and the caliber required to adequately protect yourself from a bear - particularly a grizzly - usually falls well outside the size that can be properly concealed and/or the weight that most people are willing to carry.

For me? Bear spray. I don't worry about scaring other hikers, accidental discharge, fewer legal worries about carrying it, can be carried openly where it's easily accessible within 2-3 seconds...

I'd also recommend bear bells Not because they're effective but if the grizzly isn't chased away with the spray, at least it will have some nice dinner music while it eats me  LOLOLOL

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“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
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Thanks for the reply. I personally don’t own a firearm, however, own pocket knives. My everyday carry is a kershaw blur. I didn’t know about the knife laws.

Bear Spray is a great idea. Will look into some of that too.

@Cdawley4 

Thanks for reaching out! This is a really good question, thanks for bringing it to the community. @Dad_Aint_Hip definitely gave you some great advice, I'm going to add a little bit from my own experience.

Having lived in Alaska, I can speak with experience to the ever-present danger of (very large) bears. I have traveled in the backcountry with and without firearms (I do not own one either, however, many of my adventure partners did) and had the good fortune of never having a bear encounter where I feared for my safety. I attribute this mainly to a very healthy fear of bears that drives me to take all steps necessary to prevent a negative encounter (for my own life but also for that of the bears).

When traveling in bear country I always make sure to bring three things:

1) Knowledge. This is usually gleaned from the friendly rangers in whatever jurisdiction I'm in. I'll ask if there have been any bear sightings or encounters, what are the requirements/suggestions for food storage (it could be that a bear barrel is required), and if there are any restrictions for carrying a weapon or bear spray.

2) Bear spray and a holster. From the years I spent in Alaska I had this on me at all times when I stepped onto a trail in the backcountry. The holster allowed me to place the bear spray on my shoulder straps when using a backpack, or my waist belt when cycling (I always wore a fanny pack). Additionally, I ordered some inert bear spray canisters from Counter Assault to practice with. While not a complicated system, I found it reassuring to know what it felt like to fire off a canister and exactly how far the spray shoots. It also is important to remember that the idea is to create a cloud of bear spray that the bear charges through and inhales deeply. That helps create the kind of reaction that has the bear heading in a different direction. It is really important to know your surroundings and, most importantly, how the wind is behaving before deploying bear spray.

3) Bear bells. These are fiercely debated as to whether they are effective or not in alerting bears to your presence. What I believe is that if I'm afraid of bears enough to use a bear bell, I'm going to be afraid enough of bears to take all the appropriate precautions to keep both of us safe in the backcountry. The bear bell also serves as a nice reminder that I need to holler 'hey bear' one more time or come up with another song to sing on the trail.

For me, bear spray is a much easier and less expensive way to prepare for a bear encounter than a firearm. Not to mention that the threshold for a very bad outcome is much lower if something goes wrong or a mistake is made. I will mention that there are restrictions on bear spray in some places (some states consider it a firearm) so you'll want to make sure you are checking regulations for every place you go.

Lastly, I encourage you to check out these Expert Advice articles on safety in the wilderness, they contain a lot of good information on many related topics as well.

Hopefully this helps, thanks!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

This is the answer. I too grew up and have lived much of my life in bear country. Meticulously following the rules in areas where issues are possible has led to zero encounters over the past 5 decades. 

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I have spent extensive time in bear country and fortunately have never had an issue. Having said this, when going into higher bear density area, I carry spray as a lucky charm

I believe in California we only have "black" bears which are generally non-threatening to humans.  But I carry Frontiersman Bear Attack Deterrent just in case of a bear attack (or human attack I suppose). I'm not sure what brands are better or worse but I have gotten some of that particular spray on me once and it burned for hours!  I've also heard about taking mini airhorns (around 1.5 oz canisters) to scare away bears or mountain lions if one approaches but I have no idea if that theory has ever been tested.  So far I've only seen three bears in a decade of hiking and each time was from the car just after dark while driving back home from a hike. If I were hiking in Alaska or somewhere with grizzlies, I might opt for something in addition to bearspray. 

I also got some bear spray on me and also inhaled a small amount defending myself not from bears but dogs. That stuff is no joke that's for sure

@Cdawley4 - I've been doing a lot of research on this topic as I prepare for a solo circumnavigation of Lake Superior by kayak.  My concern is campsite encounters, not surprising bears on the trail.  As a biologist, I love taking deep dives into animal behavior as this knowledge can keep you out of harm's way.  I will say one thing in advance: bears don't read books.  Every bear is an individual and their behavior is shaped by their own experiences.  

Here are few things that might help:

1)  Carrying a firearm is one thing.  Being able to use it under duress is something else entirely.  Bears close distance more rapidly than you can imagine and getting off a kill shot requires expertise, not just the right firearm.  

2) Warning shots to chase bears off are discouraged.  Loud, unexpected noises will startle bears, but continued exposure habituates them and becomes less affective.

3) Even when you ask for Black bear information specifically, almost all conversations turn toward Grizzly/Brown bears.  Very little in-depth information is out there for Black bears.  The species do not behave the same.  Play dead in a Black bear attack and you will be.

4)  The idea that Black bears are benign is not accurate. There is an increasing number of encounters with what seem to be predatory Black bears -  for instance stalking for long periods of time or running off after being bear sprayed and then quickly returning.  These are rare, but seem to indicate a departure from the usually easy to startle behavior that is taught. Local wildlife offices should be able to tell you about any recent situations.

5)  Black bears are curious and body posture will reveal that curiosity.  Agitation has a different set of postures.  The bear can go from one to the other quickly, depending upon your actions.  Learn the differences and the appropriate responses.  Because of the belief in #4, people often approach Black bears and precipitate an encounter.  

I gleaned a lot of information by reading "Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance" by Stephen Herrero, a Canadian ecologist.  As I said above, the book is heavily skewed toward Brown bears but there is section with good Black bear information.  

I think it was Herrero who mentioned sleeping in the middle of your tent as opposed to up against a side.  Bears will often explore a tent by poking or nibbling.  Not sure where that leaves us hammock campers!   

Hands down my favorite comment was from a Backpacker article (it's mostly about Grizzlies (sigh) but still has good info): "Don’t act like you’ve been violated when you get attacked after washing your hair with a fragrance that makes you smell like a 200 pound strawberry."  Full article here: https://www.backpacker.com/survival/the-truth-about-bears-the-skills/

NOLS also has some information available.

Cheers,

Kayaker Bee

 

 

 

@H2OAlchemyst - "Don’t act like you’ve been violated when you get attacked after washing your hair with a fragrance that makes you smell like a 200 pound strawberry."

That may just be the best thing I'll read all day! LOL

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------
“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

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