Our Brooks Range trips start next week, so both clients and guides are in the final stages of their preparations. One question that hit my inbox this morning was:
What is your recommended method of carrying bear spray?
This is a great question to ask before a trip, because your options may be limited or sub-optimal if they’re not considered until at the trailhead.
Methods to properly carry bear spray should (in order of priority):
- Reduce or eliminate the risk of the spray being dropped and lost;
- Keep the spray easily accessible;
- Not interfere with basic mechanics, like walking, buckling your hipbelt, and moving your head.
I don’t think there is a single best way to carry bear spray, as it depends on factors like:
- The design, size, and features of your backpack (e.g. daypack versus multi-day pack, traditional shoulder pack versus waist pack);
- The chances of you needing it, which is a factor of where you are (i.e. bear density, visibility) and whether you are solo or in a group.
So select a method that works for you.
Recommended methods of carrying bear spray
I recommend carrying your bear spray using one of these methods:
- On a shoulder strap,
- On a hipbelt, or
- In a side pocket.
Method 1: Shoulder strap
On a shoulder strap, the spray is easy to keep track of and easy to access. It’s more “in the way” here, but it’s not intolerable.
To carry bear spray on a shoulder strap, your backpack will need either:
- Good: Fixed elasticized loops with cinch locks;
- Better: Aftermarket pocket;
- Best: Permanently attached pocket.
Method 2: Hipbelt
Some brands of bear spray (including but not limited to UDAP) come with a holster that can be threaded through the hipbelt. Like with the shoulder strap, in this location the spray is easy to keep track of and easy to access. But it can mildly interfere with your stride, and the holster can slide off the hipbelt when you’re putting on or taking off the pack.
Method 3: Side pocket
The side pocket can be a poor choice for carrying bear spray:
- Many backpackers lack the dexterity to easily access these pockets, and
- Many side pockets are poorly designed and inherently difficult to access.
Moreover, it’s difficult to keep track of the bear spray when it’s in a side pocket — if it were “stolen” by brush or if it slipped out while scrambling or crawling, you might not notice that it’s gone until it’s too late. So, if you use this method, I highly recommend installing a tether using accessory cord. Attach this tether to the spray using a bowline or figure-8, and to your shoulder strap using a girth hitch.
The chief benefit of storing bear spray in a side pocket is that it’s completely out of the way. If you’re not in prime grizzly habitat, if you have expansive views, or if you’re in a large group, it’s reasonable to let your guard down some.