Bear Necessities: What You Need To Know About Bear Spray

By Kevin Tatsugawa, Brooks-Range Ambassador 

Brown bears (aka grizzly bears) are at the top of the food chain in North America. They are ferocious predators that are more than a match for any person. Yet they are also cute, cuddly, curious animals that often, amusingly, display human-like behavior and emotions. Encountering a bear in the wild is awe-inspiring and terrifying at the same time because many people do not know what to do or how to react if they come into close contact with one.

brown bear male

Brown bears have developed a relatively undeserved reputation as ruthless killers that must be met with all force necessary (preferably firearms) to survive a close encounter. The fallacies behind these fears, of course, are nuanced and it is often easier to follow a simple maxim such as “kill or be killed” than it is to understand how to coexist with these magnificent animals. This blog will look at the effectiveness of bear spray (costs $40-$70) in deterring brown bear attacks.

One recent study (Smith et al. 2008) examined the effectiveness of recorded bear spray usage in Alaska over a 20-year span, from 1985-2006. In 46 out of 50 (92%) close-range encounters with brown bears, bear spray stopped the bears’ undesirable behavior. In the close-range encounters where bear-inflicted injuries (3) occurred, all of the injuries were minor (no hospitalization was required).

Bear Spray

Bear spray was effective against brown bears displaying aggressive behavior (such as charging people or persistently following people) in 12 of 14 incidences (85%). The one incident where an aggressive brown bear contacted the person using bear spray, a minor injury requiring stitches was inflicted by the bear.

Many people are concerned about bear spray’s effectiveness in windy conditions. In 5 out of the 71 (7%) recorded incidences of bear spray usage with all types of bears (not just brown bears), wind reportedly effected spray accuracy. However, the bear spray reached the bears in all cases. In 10 out of the 71 cases (14%), users reported negative side effects from the bear spray ranging from minor irritation (11%, 8 of 71) to near incapacitation (3%, 2 of 71). Additionally, in all 71 cases the spray canisters never malfunctioned.

Two girls with backpacks sitting on top of hill, looking at a lake Thousand islands lakes, Eastern Sierra, California

“Two decades of bear spray use in Alaska confirm that it is an effective bear deterrent.” If the initial discharge of bear spray did not discourage the bear from their threatening behavior (which occurred in 18% of the cases), then repeated sprays eventually deterred the bears such that the user could leave. The authors found that bear spray helps temporarily diffuse dangerous situations thereby allowing the person to escape the situation and “the bear time to reassess the situation and move on.”

Importantly, latent bear spray residue has been found to be an attractant to brown bears. Therefore, bear spray should only be used at the time of contact with the bear, not prophylactically.

Due to the fact that, occasionally, multiple discharges of bear spray are required to deter bears, the authors suggest discarding bear spray canisters when the contents fall below 90%. Also, bear sprays have a shelf life of 3-4 years and should be discarded after their expiration date, which can be found on the canister.

Play safe out there!

Dr. Kevin

For more information about deterring bears please refer to the following links:

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Best Camp Brews: A Shout Out to the Hot Drink

Summer is fast upon us. Many hikers will be heading for the hills in search for solace, scenery and some sort of adventure. Whether it’s an afternoon outing or a three-week river trip, one common denominator rings true for countless mountaineers, wanderers, and explorers: the hot drink.

fun backpacker woman

Long before tents and tarps, the only creature comfort of the backcountry was a fire and water. Then, some intrepid genius decided to combine the two and we got hot water. In 2737 BC, tea was made in China during the Shang Dynasty for medicinal purposes. And Coffee has been around since the 10th century where it was first concocted for religious practices in Ethiopia. Since then the hot drink has taken on several forms for myriad appetites and applications: cider, cocoa, mate, the hot toddy, grog—the list goes on ad infinitum.

Brewing is a ritual in backcountry travel. It’s as old as camping itself. And it doesn’t matter where you pitch your tent. From Alaskan glaciers to the Arizona desert, brewing is a time for sharing, for bonding, and a good excuse to stop and embrace a moment. At its heart is survival; at its best, a hot drink causes us to pause, allowing us to sit—either alone or together—and reflect on why we make the effort in the first place. There’s a sublime value in that. Whether it’s to rally on cold mornings, nestle in for bed or simply enjoy on a long day, the hot drink continues to exist as a backcountry staple for campers of every stripe.

man holding a metal mug with tea, mint and lemon

There are countless opinions regarding what makes a suitable if not delicious backcountry hot drink—way beyond the scope of this post. But there is a couple worth mentioning: Alcohol is a welcoming addition to just about any hot drink, and most adults of average intelligence recognize coffee as the human race’s single greatest achievement, an élan vital that fuels the dreams of thousands of champions every day.

Brooks-Range knows the hot drink doesn’t just warm the body on chilly mornings; it’s the calming reassurance of Morgan Freeman telling you everything’s going to be all right. However you spend time in the woods, wherever you decide to roam, the hot drink is always a contributing member of your camping party, sharing in the history of communion in the vast outdoors.

Want to liven up your hot drink routine? Try these recipes next time you head into the woods:

Spiced Mexican Hot Cocoa
1 serving hot cocoa mix (with water)
2 pinches ground chipotle chili pepper
2 pinches ground cinnamon
3 toasted marshmallows to top it off

Hot Toddies with a Twist
4 cups fresh apple cider
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole star anise, plus some for garnish
1 lemon (juiced)
1 cup whiskey

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Brooks-Range Tarpology: The Wonderful World of Primitive Shelter

Tarps are a simple pleasure. Light, efficient and easy to assemble, they’re a versatile tent alternative for versed backcountry campers. But don’t sweat it, first timers. It’s an easy learning curve. With a trekking pole, some tie-down cord and a tree or two, you can create a protective bastion from an ornery Mother Nature. Brooks-Range produces several sizes of simple backcountry tarps for a variety of needs and desires. Some of the most versatile are the Ultralite™ Guide (8 x 10 feet; 2-3 people), and Ultralite™ Guide + (10 x 10 feet; 3-4 people). Savvy fast packers, swarthy trail walkers or minimalist mountaineers can all relate to the virtues of these lightweight tools. With no tents poles, BR tarps weigh in under a pound. Armed with a half dozen adjustable tie down cords, tarps can be used as an awning for a tent, gear stash, or impromptu shelter. Tarp protocols not only help you escape from the rain and wind, they also include blocking the hot sun on blistering days. Additionally, they work as a simple ground cloth on starry nights, or for providing additional protection from the cold ground surface in snow caves. The list is long.

The Ultralite Guide + Tarp as a sleeping bag cover.

The Ultralite™ Guide + Tarp as a sleeping bag cover.

As a compliment to a formal tent shelter, a tarp can also make for an on-the-fly canopy for cooking. And because no one likes to setup a tent in the rain, a quick-standing tarp can offer a preliminary shield so you can take your time assembling your tent and camp scene. Brooks-Range tarps feature a seam that runs the middle of the 10-foot length. At its center there is a weather resistant reinforced anchored patch for a potential post—picture an adjustable trekking pole, plus 18 lightweight grosgrain ribbon nylon loops sewn to the corners and every two feet along the edges to facilitate a variety of set ups with tie downs, poles, trees or additions to other tents. The abundance of loops allows for myriad adjustments to contend with every changing weather considerations. Furthermore, three sides of the tarp have Velcro closures for additional protection against the elements.

The Ultralite™ Guide + with tent pole set up.

The Ultralite™ Guide + with tent pole set up.

Brooks-Range uses a specially designed fabric for the Ultralite™ products that gives it superior water and wind resistance, making it waterproof to a pressure of 1 pound per square inch—much more than the pressure generated by a hard rainstorm. Because of this custom finish, the waterproofness and ability to shear wind will not wash or peel off. Think longevity. Self-sufficiency is an art form in the backcountry, hence our versatile line-up of instant shelters and tarps. However you embrace mercurial weather in the backcountry, Ultralite™ tarps will keep your spirits up even as the showers come down.

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