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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Ask A Bear: Electric Fence As Deterrent?

Our resident bruin expert answers all your questions in our weekly feature, 'Ask A Bear.'

by: BEAR


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.

—BEAR

Got a question for the bear? Send it to askabear@backpacker.com.

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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Handy
Apr 14, 2013

Unless you're in polar bear territory or an area saturated with highly habituated bears, the electric fence seems like overkill. Plus, they are very unstable on uneven surfaces, so unless you can find a perfectly flat 27' x 27' campsite, any bear could knock it down without so much as a static shock. I'd go with the most proven method - hanging food or keeping it in a canister far downwind of my campsite!

Tom Crawofrd
Apr 27, 2012

Interesting. I live in mountains of southwest Oregon . I have a horse pasture with a 9000 volt fence around it. Bear have gone through that fence at least twice.

gene
Apr 26, 2012

Sounds like a goofy ideal to me.I tried a high output livestock electric fence as an attempt to keep my German Sherard from wallowing out a comfy place for himself in my new garden. i think it worked once for about a minute. Then he got pissed and grbbed the bare wire and proceeded to tear down the entire quarter acre electric fence. I know he wasn't afraid of bears; maybe he was tuffer too?

Pragmatic Eastie
Apr 26, 2012

Proper food prep/storage for normal beares and a revolver for the truly dangerous bears that the fence won't stop anyway.

Steve C
Sep 16, 2011

Goats...Is that what you call your hiking buddies? Sounds like the scene from 'The Eiger Sanction' after Clint Eastwood and George Kennedy's characters climb a spire in Monument Valley (or maybe Zion):
Ben Bowman(George Kennedy): Want a drink?
Jonathan Hemlock(Clint Eastwood): You gonna call room service?
Ben Bowman: We got beer.
Jonathan Hemlock: If you hauled beer up this rock you're insane!
Ben Bowman: I may be insane, but I'm not stupid. I didn't carry it, you did! It's in your pack.
Jonathan Hemlock: I ought'a throw you off this pillar! Besides, it's warm.
Ben Bowman: Oh I'm sorry, I thought you'd draw the line on haulin' ice.

Steve C
Sep 16, 2011

Sacrificial goats?

Bill
Sep 15, 2011

What's with the goats... Isn't this BACKPACKER Mag..

Bruce
Jun 08, 2011

Pack the fence in your bear canister, and let your pack goats lug it for you. When you get to camp, use the canister for food, the fence for you and the goats. Set up in an area with noxious weeds so the goats can rid the area of noxious weeds that were brought in unknowingly by others. A goats digestive system kills the seeds it eats, yet fertilizes the soil. It is a win win.

Ikan Mas
Jun 05, 2011

Thanks Backpacker, I can now look forward to encountering dazed easties attempting to lug electric fences up and down the PCT and JMT. How many will be dropped off after dark at backcountry Ranger cabins? Seriously, you'd be better off not mentioning this sort of stuff to certain segments of our audience.

James McBride
Jun 03, 2011

There is a research facility someplace in Alaska or Canada that has used electric fences for years and have never had a griz go through it. I built a portable one but have not used it yet, except on myself.

James McBride
Jun 03, 2011

There is a research facility someplace in Alaska or Canada that has used electric fences for years and have never had a griz go through it. I built a portable one but have not used it yet, except on myself.

Al Limberg, Concord, CA
May 14, 2011

This has to be operated on battery power and my continuous caveat to backpackers is "Never bet the ranch on a battery." Good Grief! Charlie Brown . . . you're in the backcountry already.

Use cannisters or hang your food and other smellables downwind and away from your campsite. Even be careful with the clothing worn while cooking.

Brian Lang
May 12, 2011

Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada uses an electric fence to keep grizzly bears out of campgrounds near Lake Louise. Read more here: http://www.pc.gc.ca/docs/v-g/oursgest-bearmanag/sec4/og-bm4.aspx

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