Q: While researching a trip to Michigan's Porcupine Mountains, I saw a picture showing a tent encircled by portable electric fence. They claimed that the fence would be quite a deterrent, but that campers should still exercise caution. Can an electric fence really keep you at bay? —Mike, via email
A: Zap! It's true: Though you'd think my furry hide could repel anything, some high-powered, portable electric fences can help keep me from invading your camp.
Brands like UDAP and CounterAssault market relatively lightweight (around 3.5 lbs.) models for around $250 and up. Though typically marketed towards hunters and fishermen, who often experience increased risk because of smells from their catch, it is conceivable to create a 27-by-27-foot perimeter around your tent area to protect it from bears. If properly set up, the fence can deliver 6,000 volts of electricity—enough to keep me from getting close. (Sometimes, I'll even notice the charge without touching it and stay away). Batteries are said to last up to five weeks, but this bear's overlords at BACKPACKER haven't tested any current models.
But there are some caveats, besides the weight and price. Bear fences are not approved as a replacement for proper food storage in the Lower 48, meaning you'd end up carrying a canister as well in some wild places. (Be sure to check regulations with local National Park Service or Forest Service officials.) Heavy rain or snow can sabotage the fence, and high grass or vegetation can cause problems, requiring campers to alter the landscape in a very non-Leave-No-Trace way. And it is possible for a very determined bear to break through, especially if there's high incentive beyond the fence like a food source.
My advice for backpackers on a non-hunting, non-fishing trip? Stick to proper food storage techniques by using a canister and keeping a very clean camp, and you won't even need to lug an electric fence around. You can travel lighter and with peace of mind, and I won't get zapped on the nose.