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Am I being responsible?
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Jeff Gerke

Locale: Utah
Am I being responsible? on 06/25/2013 11:02:47 MDT Print View

I am planning a trip in the Bob Marshall Wilderness with my 16 year old son. Is it irresponsible for me to take my son somewhere that has a healthy population of grizzlies? I tried to find one or two other people to join us since it would be safer than just two. However I have had no luck finding anyone else to go. Thing is I would have no worries if it was just me and one of my friends but I feel different taking my son. We have only backpacked in grizzly territory one other time and that was in Glacier NP. I have made it a point to develop good camping habits and I think we would be safer than most people out there. Anyway, what do you guys think? Am I over reacting? Been thinking about switching our trip to the Winds.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Am I being responsible? on 06/25/2013 11:40:03 MDT Print View

Yes, you are.

Not only is the risk due to grizzlies much lower than the risk of traffic accidents getting to the trailhead, but quality time spent with a teenager has so much benefit in avoiding even more common bad outcomes - teen suicide, drug use, and other anti-social behavior.

I take my 14-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter into grizzly country all the time. If I didn't, we couldn't go hiking.

Don't surprise them and don't feed them.

It sounds like you've already practiced good habits around camping and food. A few thoughts consistently given by the most experienced and those who've researched the topic include:

Don't sleep where you cook.
Don't store food where you sleep.
Harder is: don't sleep where OTHER people typically cook and store food.

In the don't surprise them category:

Make noise. This is the biggest factor in being safe while hiking. When you're at elevation in the Bob, you'll have great sight lines. But in the brush and especially along rivers (where water noise masks your own sounds), really yak it up. My wife is very good at this and based on the few that we've seen leaving well before we got there (6 or 7 over the years), there have probably been dozens who heard us and therefore we never saw them slip away. All the ones I've surprised on the trail were when I was solo and quiet. I try not to do that anymore.

If you two are like my son and I, and carrying on wide-ranging discussions almost continually, you're all set. If he's a sullen teenager with earbuds in all the time, that makes it MUCH harder to keep up constant noise talking to yourself or calling out, "Hey Bear, We don't want to surprise you bear!"

Read Dr. Stephen Herrero's research if you want (I have), but here's a one-page overview of spray versus guns:

Short answer: the far more UL and effective option is pepper spray, not guns.

In our family we do the even more UL thing: noise only (but we talk a lot anyway).

Edited by DavidinKenai on 06/25/2013 11:41:57 MDT.

Greg F
(GregF) - F

Locale: Canadian Rockies
Re: Am I being responsible? on 06/25/2013 11:46:42 MDT Print View

I would say yes. Although I may not be the best person to judge as I routinely take 2 yearolds and 4 year olds into the back country in Grizzly bear territory.

Since your son is 16 I think it would be fair for him to make the choice if he is comfortable with the risks. Educate him and allow him to make an informed decision.

I would definately carry bear spray, also even if canisters are not required they may be a prudent choice if you are not confident in your ability to bear hang successfully. Make noise, stay in tight group, be aware of footprints and poop. Be cautious at river crossings or anywhere where enviromental noise masks your presence.

And remember that driving to the trail is likely more dangerous than the Grizzly bears you are worried about. So when you are driving home after your trip try to ensure you are well rested and not trying to do an 8 hour drive after a 12 hour hike. I would say driving while tired is your biggest risk on this trip.

Edited by GregF on 06/25/2013 11:48:51 MDT.

Pete Staehling
(staehpj1) - F
Am I over reacting? on 06/25/2013 12:11:16 MDT Print View

Yes you are over reacting. The odds are that he is at more risk at home than he will be in the back country as long as you are prepared and use good practices.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Am I being responsible? on 06/25/2013 12:53:18 MDT Print View

One thing I'll add to the above posts from others: don't just bring bear spray (and each of you should have your own can), ensure you and your son know how to use it. You don't want to be figuring out how to engage the thing, and trying to read directions, when a bear is charging/etc. Know before hand.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Am I being responsible? on 06/25/2013 13:15:43 MDT Print View

"You don't want to be figuring out how to engage the thing, and trying to read directions, when a bear is charging/etc."

Situational Awareness!

When I am walking along in grizzly country, periodically I feel where the bear spray is located and that I can put my fingers to the trigger. Also, periodically I pick up some pine needles to toss into the air to determine which way the wind is blowing. You don't want to have to figure that out in the last second.


David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Re: Am I being responsible? on 06/25/2013 13:18:39 MDT Print View

I agree with Doug that you want to learn to use the pepper spray in advance. That can range from RTFB to watching videos to getting practice canisters without active ingredients and actually spraying them. Like cops do in their firearms training, a little role-playing (Dad plays the bear while son uses practice spray) and having your decision points known in advance helps greatly in a crisis.

I'll disagree, however, about two versus one canisters. The "8 ounce" to "10.2 ounce" canisters weigh a total of 11 to 15 ounces, you can't eat, you can't wear it, and it doesn't even make a good tent peg. (I suppose you use it to roll out tortillas or pizza crust). I'd bring only one and have your son carry it. It let's him feel responsible and important. Besides, the big worry is the "Momma Bear" back home if you don't bring him back in one piece, right? If you get eaten, you don't have to deal with any marital issues ever again.

Seriously, one of the rules about meeting a bear is for you two to stand together. I'd only bring one.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: Re: Am I being responsible? on 06/25/2013 13:24:36 MDT Print View

"I'll disagree, however, about two versus one canisters."

Oh yeah! Well David is a ..... well, a lot more experienced in traveling in bear country than I am, so I'd tend to listen to him. I generally do.

The reason I said you should each have one is for those instances when he's off on a constitutional and you're back in camp, that kind of thing. Probably over-preparing/worrying, I have a tendency to do that.

peter vacco

Locale: no. california
Re: Re: Re: Re: Am I being responsible? on 06/25/2013 13:59:34 MDT Print View

everything Davis says is true. and if you had inherited and co-raised a heroin addict, you'd KNOW that time spent with young ones is better odds than any cowardly stupid-safe dogma.

then there is the single non-parent side of me that asks .. do we let them ride a bicycle, a motorcycle (MUCH more fun), go hiking alone, have sex without us watching, have Good Sex (MUCH more fun) without us watching .. etc
the actual sad fact is, "some of them aren't going to make it", and that is the way life works.

in the realm of Making Noise .. perhaps don't take that rule too universally.
with bears, quite like the gov't and your wife, there are times when it's best to not inform them of what they don't need to know.
in some 2 deacades of wandering i've only had to spritz one bear (and i missed too. a under 4 feet )
the fiasco was the end result of "making noise".

bears like to eat. they get quite involved in it. they seem to devote their entire attention to eating. so : if the bear is in an feeding-cycle .. do NOT interrupt. you are free to sneak out of town.
once they get bothered while feeding, they quite naturally will come over to see if yu might be good to eat too. yup, they sure do. and then you have to spray them.

Christopher Chupka

Locale: NTX
Good Thing on 06/25/2013 14:09:47 MDT Print View

Teach them there are certain things that are unpredictable, but that you can be prepared for and so mitigate. A little paranoia is a good thing. Sleeping in Grizzly country is a lot better life experience than visiting petting zoo.

Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: Re: Re: Am I being responsible? on 06/25/2013 14:20:03 MDT Print View

My real world use of OC has been limited to two legged creatures but one thing to be aware of is that you will quickly run empty.

I also live in black bear country not grizzly so take that FWIW. I've been sprayed as a condition of employment and have had to spray other people to protect myself and others.

Some universal issues with OC/Bear Spray

+1 on investing in training spray. This will give you an idea of how fast you will run through the spray. The bear spray canisters are deceptive due to their size; it's easy to deceived that you will be able to spray for days. The spray is coming out at a higher volume and velocity than the smaller canisters which are designed for use on humans so you'll run through it quicker. You can keep the empty canisters to train and develop muscle memory for the canister's safety mechanism just make sure it is the same as what you are carrying.

+1 on situational awareness but be prepared to feel the effects of the spray regardless of wind conditions. People react differently. The last person who tried to attack me wasn't affected by OC spray at all but my eyes were burning; there was no wind. When I was sprayed in the academy, my eyes slammed shut after ~15 seconds and I had to pry my eyelids open on my dominant eye to finish the training exercise.

+1 on carrying a spare. If you use it on day one, are you going to feel comfortable carrying on with your trip with a partial or empty canister? (EDIT to add: The smell of pepper reportedly can attract bears. If you use the canister you will want to properly dispose of it.)

I understand that this is BPL and that our fears make our packs heavier but I personally work under modified rules when I'm with my kids.


EDIT and yes I think you are being a responsible parent. Your concerns are natural ime.

Edited by IDBLOOM on 06/25/2013 16:40:05 MDT.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Am I being responsible? on 06/25/2013 14:35:00 MDT Print View

Although bear spray is relatively effective, there is one alternative, a bear flare.

In some places like Yellowstone, they are very fearful of forest fires, so this is not a good option there. In other places like in David's back yard, it is so damp that forest fires are not a big risk.

A bear flare is a handheld marine flare, and it ignites with a pull ring in the handle. It burns with a super bright flame for one minute. Bears can't stand it. The good news is that they are cheaper to buy and lighter to carry than an entire can of bear spray, and they would work better in close quarters combat with a bear. The bad news is that they last for only one minute, so you have to make that minute count. Waving it in the face of a bear should get it moving away pretty quickly. The other thing is that bear spray has been known to spontaneously explode within the non-pressurized cabin of an Alaskan bush plane, but a flare isn't going to be bothered by air pressure. Some bush planes have an external metal box on the landing gear strut, and they carry flammable stuff like flares there.

I once went to a bear camp in Alaska where the guides carried bear flares, no bear spray.


David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: Bob bears on 06/25/2013 14:42:13 MDT Print View

Jeff, I think you'll be fine in the Bob. Bears there tend to have a healthy fear of humans. Moreso than in Glacier, as many horsepackers won't hesitate to swat one with birdshot if they get the chance.

I'd consul you to avoid the obvious outfitter camps, used primarily for hunting in the fall. You'll know them on sight. I do worry about those areas, given that meat gets hung and food storage might generally be a bit lax.

Gary Dunckel
(Zia-Grill-Guy) - MLife

Locale: Boulder
Bear spray on 06/25/2013 16:16:01 MDT Print View

I vote for each of you to carry your own can of pepper spray. As Doug mentioned, there will likely be times when the two of you are separated, if only for a short time (latrine chores, gathering firewood, somebody getting water from the stream, etc.)

There are some bear researchers that routinely carry two large canisters when they hike in to study bears. In the event that they need to employ one on the way in, they will have a fresh one for the hike back out.

Keep in mind that you can't take a can of bear spray on a commercial flight. You will need to buy it once you get to MT, which leaves you little time to figure out the safety mechanism, etc. If you are driving, no problem.

The small (10 oz.) canister lasts only about 7 seconds, which goes by pretty fast when you're hyper and scared. It's probably best to fire a 2-second first blast, then follow that up with 1-2 second bursts if needed. Conserve when you can, since it might be that you'll need some the next day. However, I'll bet that neither of you will have an occasion to use it at all. If that's the case, it would make a nice gift to some forest service employee, or someone at the store where you bought it.

Be sure that the canister is carried in a place where you can grab it, release the safety, and be ready to fire it within maybe 2 seconds. So a water bottle pocket isn't a good place. I gave up on the Counter Assault holster, as it took me too long to get the canister into firing position. For several years I had it on my sternum strap for quick access. Then in 2011, I finally met a mama griz on a trail in Glacier, and it seemed to take 3-5 seconds to grab the bear spray. So now, I have it attached to the left shoulder strap with quick release Velcro (I'm right handed). It's pretty fast access, and out of the way. Here's a photo...

Bear spray on pack strap

Edited by Zia-Grill-Guy on 06/25/2013 16:17:38 MDT.

Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Edit my last on 06/25/2013 16:38:14 MDT Print View

Earlier I said:

"If you use it on day one, are you going to feel comfortable carrying on with your trip with a partial or empty canister?"

The smell of pepper reportedly can attract bears. If you use the canister you will want to properly dispose of it.

Gary Dunckel
(Zia-Grill-Guy) - MLife

Locale: Boulder
RE: Edit my last on 06/25/2013 17:11:58 MDT Print View

So, Ian, how would you properly dispose of that partially used canister when you're 2 days into the Bob? I agree that some say that the pepper smell on the can can attract bears (and mice). I think it would be good to wash the nozzle with soap and water, and maybe even a bit of alcohol. I'd still probably take it into my tent for the night.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Bear spray on 06/25/2013 17:26:03 MDT Print View

Wow, Gary. Who is the old guy that you managed to get to pose for you in that photo?

As for a bear spray canister, lots of folks carry one in some sort of holster and they intend to pull it out of the holster, pull off the safety, then aim and fire.

Another approach is to have a strap holding the canister around your waist somewhere, and you don't pull it out. Instead, you just grab it, twist it around toward the target, pull off the safety, and fire. It stays within the holding strap.

Another way that I do it is this. I dayhike with a lumbar pack that has two water bottle holsters/pockets. I put my bear spray into the one closest to my right hand.


Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Re: RE: Edit my last on 06/25/2013 17:53:21 MDT Print View

"So, Ian, how would you properly dispose of that partially used canister when you're 2 days into the Bob?"


Three items for full disclosure. 1) I carry spray when in bear country (most of Washington) but I've never sprayed a bear. 2) Until today I assumed that a bear would be repelled by the smell of bear spray; I now know that was an incorrect assumption. 3) I have two kids I like to go backpacking with in black bear and mountain lion country and someday we'll return to GNP/Yellowstone. I can relate to OP's concerns.

Seeing that a bear's sense of smell is greater than a bloodhound's, I think washing the canister is a good idea but there will be enough residue for the bear to smell. Normal OC spray is very oily and is difficult to wash off and I assume bear spray is the same.

If I were the OP in the Bob with my kid, both my son and I would have bear spray so the partial would be stored like food at night and carried during the day until I could get rid of it. If I was solo and/or that was my only bear spray... too many variables for me to give a one size fits all answer.

Jeff Gerke

Locale: Utah
Thanks on 06/25/2013 18:19:19 MDT Print View

Thanks for the input everyone, good comments. We have two cans of bear spray we bought last year for Glacier. We have practiced taking the safety off but have never actually fired one. I was planning on each of us carrying one. I've also practiced doing good bear hangs and have found I like the Sawchuk method the best. Now that I think about it we have backpacked in grizzly territory other than Glacier. We have done a few trips in the Winds and they do have a few grizzlies just not near as many as the Bob. I have Dr. Stephen Herrero's book on order and will be reading it soon. I think we are prepared but I feel an extra bit of responsibility with my son. When we backpacked in Glacier I actually had the whole family along, wife and three kids. Did the Dawson Pass loop and had a great time but I was nervous with the responsibility of keeping my kids safe.

Kimberly Wersal
(kwersal) - MLife

Locale: Western Colorado
Re: Thanks on 06/25/2013 21:06:18 MDT Print View

If you REALLY want to be responsible, bring a life vest, because he is far more likely to drown than be attacked by a grizzly! (or fall off a cliff, or be hit by lightening)