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Q: Are you attracted to certain colors humans may bring to the outdoors such as yellow stuff sacks or red jackets? —Hugh Golden, via email
A: As much as I ‘m not ashamed of my own brown, cinnamon, blonde, or black-as-night coat, I’m actually quite fond of lavender or periwinkle—it goes nicely with my eyes.
Fashion aside, there is some evidence that I’m attracted to bright colors in the backcountry. Way back in 2000, we reported on bear behavior scientists in Alaska who determined that bears were more attracted to their yellow-and-blue tents as compared to their camouflage ones. They also figured out in zoo tests that grizzlies can differentiate between colors.
I’m also inherently curious, and this curiosity leads me to check out anomalies within my environment—anomalies that could include brightly-colored tents sitting high up on a ridge. Black bears in one Colorado survey were more attracted to the blue pipe used to attach camera traps than the rotten fish used to lure them in.
Since most outdoor apparel and tents comes in neon-bright colors, does this mean you should ditch everything and re-outfit with Rambo camo across the board? Probably not: I seem to be most attracted to bright colors in wide open tundra, not in forested environments where visual cues are less important. Like our Gear Pro says, if you’re following proper bear procedures (making noises, stowing anything that smells in a canister away from camp), my desire to skedaddle will likely overwhelm any interest caused by your neon yellow Gore-Tex.
(She also notes that using fluorescent or brightly colored clothing can have an added survival benefit: Should you get lost or stranded in the backcountry, bright colors can greatly assist in helping SAR personnel find you. And if you’re truly in need of rescue, you’ve got more to worry about than me, anyway.)
But as far as I’m concerned, you might want to consider buying a natural color when it’s time to replace your outdoor gear—mostly because fluorescent colors are soooo 1989, darling.
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