Archive for the ‘Gear’ Category

Backpacking, hiking and photography gear. And kayaking gear, and showshoeing, skiing, mountain biking, and all things gear related. Maybe even computer gear.

Bear Spray Effectiveness

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

Grizzly bear cub photo, Katmai National Park, Alaska.

Hey Folks,

A lot of people ask about bears and bear spray and guns and what we do for safety. We don’t carry guns on our trips, and nor would I be comfortable with someone on the trip carrying a firearms, unless there were some very extenuating circumstances. I do carry bear spray, and we usually take 2 or 3 cans per trip, depending on the size of the group.

A recent Canadian study showed bear spray to be quite a bit more effective than firearms might be. The study looked at data from the last 20 years, and concluded bear spray is generally a safer option than firearms. “Despite persistent doubts among hikers and campers venturing into bear country, you’re better off with an eight-ounce can of bear spray than a gun, according to an analysis of 20 years of data.

Canadian and U.S. researchers announced Wednesday that they found the spray stopped aggressive bear behaviour in 92 per cent of the cases, whether that behaviour was an attack or merely rummaging for food. Guns were effective about 67 per cent of the time.”

The news report in the Canadian Paper is here. From the actual report itself, ” Of all persons carrying sprays, 98% were uninjured by bears in close-range encounters. “ The study looked at incidents involving brown or grizzly bears, black bears and even 2 polar bear incidents. What’s also important is that in each incident where the person/s using bear spray suffered some injury, those injuries were relatively minor (i.e., no hospitalization).

Here’s an abstract from the actual report:

“We present a comprehensive look at a sample of bear spray incidents that occurred in Alaska, USA, from 1985 to 2006. We analyzed 83 bear spray incidents involving brown bears (Ursus arctos; 61 cases, 74%), black bears (Ursus americanus; 20 cases, 24%), and polar bears (Ursus maritimus; 2 cases, 2%). Of the 72 cases where persons sprayed bears to defend themselves, 50 (69%) involved brown bears, 20 (28%) black bears, and 2 (3%) polar bears. Red pepper spray stopped bears’ undesirable behavior 92% of the time when used on brown bears, 90% for black bears, and 100% for polar bears. Of all persons carrying sprays, 98% were uninjured by bears in close-range encounters. All bear-inflicted injuries (n = 3) associated with defensive spraying involved brown bears and were relatively minor (i.e., no hospitalization required). In 7% (5 of 71) of bear spray incidents, wind was reported to have interfered with spray accuracy, although it reached the bear in all cases. In 14% (10 of 71) of bear spray incidents, users reported the spray having had negative side effects upon themselves, ranging from minor irritation (11%, 8 of 71) to near incapacitation (3%, 2 of 71). Bear spray represents an effective alternative to lethal force and should be considered as an option for personal safety for those recreating and working in bear country.”

You report can be purchased if you subscribe to the Journal of Wildlife Management, published by the Wildlife Society.

It’s illegal to fly in the US, in most places, with bear spray, so if you are coming to Alaska, realize you won’t be allowed to bring bear spray with you, nor will you be allowed to return to the Lower 48 with it after your stay here. That’s the primary reason why we provide the spray for each trip. If you intend to do some other hikes after or before your trip with us, I definitely recommend you grab a can of bear spray in Anchorage, from either AMH or REI. Some flights in Alaska the airline will let you transport bear spray, as long as you hand it over at the counter at checkin . They seal it in a Ziplock bag, and stow it safely in the rear of the plane – You’ll be responsible for getting it back at the end of your flight though, so don’t forget about it and wander off to get your luggage – usually you pick it up as you get off the plane. Smaller planes, like bush planes and float planes, tend to either duct tape it onto the wing or stow it in the floats of the plane – the danger, of course, being if the can of bear spray does explode whilst you’re flying, you don’t want that stuff going all through the plane, particularly the cockpit. 🙂 Nor will your pilot. So make sure you remember before getting on or off a bush plane to hand over your bear spray, and let the pilot put it outside the plane.

Bear spray is extremely powerful stuff, so treat it with caution. Make sure you understand how it works, how the can works, and follow basic safety procedures that you might for any dangerous weapon. Read the label warnings and directions before you venture out hiking, and then keep your bear spray handy, but safe, whilst you’re hiking. Leaving the can in the bottom of your backpack is NOT going to be of much use to you if a bear pops out of the woods and gets a little feisty. I carry mine in my pants pocket, or in a water bottle pocket on the outside of my backpack, where I’ll usually tie it on, so I don’t lose it if (when) it falls out).

Thanks folks – if you have any questions, shoot me an email or leave a comment here.

Travel safely.



Winter Outdoor Gear?

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

The Kennecott Glacier and moraine covered in snow one early winter morning and Chugach Mountains in Winter, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

hey Folks,

Well, as winter just wound to a close, I thought I’d post a short note about winter outdoor gear. All in all, what’s the best outdoor hiking and backpacking gear I bought this winter? What piece of gear really rocked my world? A $40.00 pair of Sierra Designs Down Booties! These things rock! Kept my feet warm and happy during the coldest of days – not quite 50 below zero! I was really impressed with them. Sierra Designs make some good gear, but these are the best buy of the season. Comfortable, light, durable, cheaply priced and stylish! Other candidates for good buys or just good winter gear were:

* My Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap. I don’t even know if this is still made – I’ve had mine for over 10 years, and it’s still good as new. It now officially counts as my oldest piece of 1st-tier gear. My North Face Firefox sleeping bag, which is no longer made, is just as old, but I don’t use it most of the time, after buying the Western Mountaineering Ultralite 18 months ago. Regarding the cap, I have the Triple Point Fabric version and they also have a Gore-Tex version. This hat is awesome, fleece-lined, and toasty! And it looks cool as well!

* A surprise contender, for me, is the REI fleece gloves I have .. they’re fingerless, but with a little extra fold-over mitten .. these are great, I can fold the mitten cover back, exposing my fingers for operating a camera, and quickly cover them back up as it gets cold. Unless it got REALLY cold, these gloves we re just fine this winter. Well-priced, and warmer than I thought they might be.

* Atlas 1030 Snowshoes. Excellent shoes for getting around in the powdery snow in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park, good traction cleats, lightweight rugged construction, and easy to fix buckles. Great snowshoes, though not cheap either.

If you’re looking for something to spend your tax refund on, you won’t go wrong with any of the above gear, and it’s probably all marked down for end of season sales.



Rain Gear, and keeping dry.

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

Hiking in front of the mountain, Mt. McKinley, Denali National Park, Alaska.

Hey Folks

Another question I get asked a lot has to do with rain gear. What’s appropriate, what’s necessary, what’s not OK, what works, what doesn’t, etc? I think rain gear is another of those things where many people can make do with less. I wouldn’t, of course, advise anyone to venture out under-prepared. But, I would say that spending more money on higher end gear isn’t necessarily something you need to do. I’ve used a number of different shells, from lighter weight jackets like the Marmot Precip to heavier (and way pricier) Gore-Tex XCR shells by Arc’Teryx. Whilst I will admit the Arc’Teryx stuff is awesome, I think it’s more than most people need. (more…)

Kennicott Glacier, Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

Friday, November 30th, 2007

Kennicott Glacier, Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

Hey Folks,

Here’s a photo I took of the Kennicott Glacier, not far from the small town of McCarthy, in Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Alaska. I was exploring the west side of the glacier, which is much less frequently hiked and travelled than the east side. But, with a little luck and some perseverance, I found a few places I managed to scrape out some decent photos. Hiking around glaciers require care, particularly if you’re hiking solo. I guess hikign anywhere, anytime, requires care, but particularly solo trips. That said, I do love being out exploring the backcountry on my own – it’s a particular way of connecting with the land that is immeasurably different to trips with other people. (more…)

Down Versus Synthetic Bags

Monday, November 26th, 2007

Star Trails over McCarthy, Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

Hey Folks

I get asked all the time which kind insulation fill is best for a sleeping bag for someone coming to Alaska. Like almost all these kinds of questions, the answer is pretty subjective, and I really don’t think it matters too much. What matters is that you make the decision that best fits your particular set of circumstances. That said, here are a few notes that may help you in your decision-making. I own both down and synthetic bags, and I honestly don’t find the type of fill to be the deciding factor in how I like a bag. (more…)

Sleeping bags and Sleeping Pads:

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

Fall Colors, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

Hey Folks,

I think a 20deg bag is essential for a summer trip in Alaska. 32deg bags, and warmer, often aren’t warm enough for alpine trips here. In fact, a 15 deg bag is even a good idea. it varies a lot with the individual, and also with the temperatures for any given trip, obviously. Temperatures can easily dip into the 32deg range, even in mid-summer, and while this isn’t too often, it’s not uncommon. If you’re planning a trip with for the shoulder season, such as late Aug/early Sept, even a 10deg bag isn’t overkill. (more…)


Friday, November 23rd, 2007

Mt Churchill and Mt Bona, Russell Glacier, Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

Hey Folks

Backpacks are, of course, an integral piece of gear for a backpacking trip. What kind of backpack works best for you is not for me to say, but I can give you some information that might help you.

I like internal frame backpacks. I think they carry better than external frames, particularly for off-trail hiking. A well-fitted internal frame pack will ride on your back closer, with less movement, and also allow you to walk in a more upright position, as the packweight, being closer to your back, doesn’t need to be offset by you leaning forward. On the other hand, one of my best friends hikes with an external frame backpack, and he loves them. Chocolate and strawberry, I suppose. (more…)

Mountain Hardwear Skyledge 2 backpacking tent.

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

Mountain Hardwear Skyledge 2 backpacking tent.

Hey Folks,

Welcome to the beginning of a lot of chatter about backpacking gear. The first thread is about tents. Specifically, MY tent, the Mountain Hardwear Skyledge 2. I can’t recommend this tent highly enough.

1 – it’s reasonably light. Any 2 person tent that comes to close to 4lbs is light, IMO.
2 – it’s super-easy to set up and take down. Ridiculously easy. (more…)


Owner and guide Carl Donohue.


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