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Backpacker Magazine – September 2000
It's basically pepper in an aerosol can, and it's supposed to stop a charging grizzly. But will it? Here's everything you need to know.
A Contrarian's View
"Pepper Belongs In The Kitchen"
By Jonathan Dorn, Equipment Editor
I'm a pacifist, a vegetarian, and a gun-hater...and for all these reasons, I don't carry bear spray.
Statistically speaking, driving to work poses an infinitely greater threat to my health than hiking unarmed in Montana or Alaska.
Combine the very remote risk of a violent bear encounter with the many precautions I take in camp and on the trail-hanging food, making noise, going slow in thick brush--and I have better things to worry about, like giardia and Lyme-carrying ticks.
Even if the numbers didn't favor me so strongly, I still wouldn't pack heat. Bear spray is a weapon, and firing it is an act of violence. Legal, sure, maybe even a wise last resort. But lifting my hand in anger against another living creature, even in self-defense, violates one of the first and most fundamental lessons my parents taught me. Sure, I'll swat a few mosquitoes, and I once nailed a mouse that invaded my food bag, but to me minimum impact means living adventurously without doing harm to the wild things and places I've devoted my life to protecting.
What's more, bear spray degrades my wilderness experience. Just thinking about that canister on my hip--I carried one twice--makes me feel uneasy, paranoid, threatened, threatening, and disconnected. I prefer the sharp, pure edge of fear. Perhaps my greatest backcountry experience ever came during a solo hike in Alaska, when I turned a blind corner to face a recently used bear den. In that slow and electrifying moment, I felt more alive than I'd dreamed possible.
Would I rather remember that encounter as a nervous, fumbling scramble to flip the safety on a canister? Or for the musky scent in the air, for the single green shoot growing from the black pile of excavated dirt, for the thunderbolt of adrenaline that jump-started my physical and spiritual being?
Call me foolhardy, but when I hike in grizzly country this summer--I'll be deep in the Alaskan bush by the time you read this--I'll hit the trail with only open arms.