Protection during back country travels

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Protection during back country travels

Postby TJ @ Tenkara USA » Thu Aug 26, 2010 10:36 am

One of the things my wife and I are a bit timid of is packing and staying nights out in the back country. We are avid campers but that is only at official campgrounds. We have never backpacked but one day plan on doing so.

With all the crazies in the world, do you all ever feel a bit timid packing out into the back country? Do you carry any form of protection from either man or animal?

Just curious what all your methods of protection are when camping out in mother nature far from other people that can offer help. Do you only pack in with multiple people or go on loaner trips also? Curious is all.

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Re: Protection during back country travels

Postby grampa » Thu Aug 26, 2010 11:28 pm

Hi tj

I've been backpacking since the late 60s - and of course, fishing when I backpack - and my observation is that you are far more likely to see "whackos" when you are car camping than when you are backpacking.

Something about actually hoofing it for X miles into the wilderness just seems to inhibit your garden variety of hoodlum. Apart from some sections of Montana, the worst you will encounter in the back country is a black bear who really wants to munch on your freeze-dried mac'n'cheese. These are easily thwarted!

Protection? A bear canister, if in a heavily traveled area. Otherwise, a PCT hang of your food. (google it!)

The real dangers? Ticks (Lyme disease), rodents (chewing through a pack pocket to reach the GORP), mosquitoes (itchiness), poison oak or ivy (more itchiness), and sore muscles!

Be brave! Go backpacking! And go fishing while backpacking! You will NEVER regret it!

p.s. I truly understand your fears. My wife was a city girl, and our first backpacking trip was a cacophony of imagined fears for her. Once she realized what the backcountry was like, she never looked back. Your fears are truly groundless. If you want to hike in the general SoCal area, I would be happy to be your native guide!
Last edited by grampa on Fri Aug 27, 2010 4:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Protection during back country travels

Postby jburge » Fri Aug 27, 2010 7:17 am


I'll echo what grampa said. I've been backpacking and flyfishing solo for years. I have yet to run into a single person of questionable character. I think you'll find the types that are up to no good are not willing to go 8, 9, 10 miles into the backcountry to hassle you.

That said, I do carry a lightweight folding knife, but my purpose for having it is not protection. It's there just for backup in case I need to cut rope, clean fish, etc. Most of your hassles are going to come from critters :-)

And one last note... we had a CA DFG warden speak to our fly fishing club about marijuana cultivation. You should be aware that national forests are used as cover for these guys and they don't mess around. If indeed, you should ever come across any type of irrigation (plastic pipe, tubing, etc.), all you have to do is turn around and leave. However, they don't set up shop on commonly used trails. You'd have to be WAY off the grid to find them.

Get out there and have a blast! You can start small with a couple of overnighters, then stretch it two or three. You won't regret it.

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Re: Protection during back country travels

Postby BrianF » Sat Aug 28, 2010 9:54 am

In my experience backpacking in griz and black bear territory, food hygiene is by far the most important factor in avoiding a bear encounter. One reason I like camping in the backcountry, away from group campgrounds, is that it reduces the probability that I'll be a victim of someone else's bad food hygiene attracting a bear to my vicinity.

A recent attack in Yellowstone demonstrates that a group campground is not necessarily protection against a bear attack (although it does help with immediate aid): ... 002e0.html

A couple weeks ago I did an overnight near that area (Lamar River, great cutthroat fishing) and hikers coming back on the trail were telling stories of a griz repeatedly coming back to a campsite with a designated bear hang, despite the apparent lack of food at the site. Even bad food hygiene in the recent past can bring hungry bears around.

I use this system to hang my food: ... ystem.html

It includes an O.P. Sack, which completely blocks all food odors. It works. One morning while packing up camp in Wyoming, I had a young black bear show up and walk right by my filled O.P. Sack on the ground, unaware of the food a couple feet away from him. Rodents ignore the bag as well, even if it's left on the ground all night. Highly recommended. I like to pack one day's worth of food each in small O.P. Sacks, and put them all in a big O.P. Sack.

I also carry bear spray, on my belt when hiking out in the open, and in my hand when I can't see at least 100' in all directions. I sleep with my can of bear spray always in the same location near my right hand. I practice drawing it every morning. I'm a decent shot with my .44 revolver, but I rarely take it with me anymore, as I've become convinced through research that bear spray has a much better success rate. You can't miss with bear spray, and it almost always ends the attack. In contrast, you'll likely miss a charging bear with a handgun, and even if you get a direct hit, the animal is still likely to continue the attack (a bear can keep attacking even after its heart has stopped).

But I'd guess that food hygiene is 90% of bear defense. It's all about the food.
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Re: Protection during back country travels

Postby statikpunk » Sun Jan 02, 2011 1:47 pm

I always carry my Smith and Wesson 317 revolver in .22 when Im out and about. (its not gonna stop a charging bear but it just might get the point across.) i dont think the world is full of crazies that need to be shot at, most people out in the woods are the nicest you could ever meet, and most animals are more afraid of you than vise versa, but I always like to say; "I have never had a fire at my home but I still have a fire extinguisher" :)
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Re: Protection during back country travels

Postby Stan Wright » Sun Jan 02, 2011 2:23 pm

One fishing trip to Alaska, our guide carried a 22. We pointed out that a 22 wasn't much use in stopping a bear. He replied that the 22 was a survival gun in case we got stranded and couldn't get back to camp... it was good for hunting small game. He said: "For protection from bears I have this pepper spray. If a bear starts chasing us, a 22 won't slow it down... but it will slow one of you guys down. I only have to run faster than one of you guys!" :o :lol: :lol: :lol:
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Re: Protection during back country travels

Postby papa d » Sun Jan 02, 2011 3:06 pm

Ha ha,my brother has lived in Alaska since the early 70's. Thats a standard Alaskan joke,always travel in pairs ,make sure your partner is slower.
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Re: Protection during back country travels

Postby CM_Stewart » Sun Jan 02, 2011 3:19 pm

The other standard bear joke being that when in bear country you should always wear bells and carry pepper spray. But since black bears are very unlikely to give you any trouble, you should learn to tell the difference if you come across any bear sign. For example, black bear droppings will contain ground squirrel fur and smell like berries. Grizzly droppings will contain bells and smell like pepper spray.
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Re: Protection during back country travels

Postby Softouch333 » Sun Jan 02, 2011 6:56 pm

grampa wrote: you are far more likely to see "whackos" when you are car camping than when you are backpacking.Protection? A bear canister, if in a heavily traveled area. Otherwise, a PCT hang of your food.
The real dangers? Ticks (Lyme disease), rodents (chewing through a pack pocket to reach the GORP), mosquitoes (itchiness), poison oak or ivy (more itchiness), and sore muscles!

Grampa got it right. The real dangers are people at the trailheads and occasionally campgrounds. If in bear country, hang your food and cook a hundred feet from your crib. If you clean fish, leave the entrails in the stream where they are quickly recycled. Bear spray is the best deterrent, but I honestly don't bother since TSA essentially doesn't allow bear sprays in checked or carry-on luggage (Has to be less than 4 oz. and 2% or less... which no effective spray is.), and I'm generally in hurry to get on the trail.

Less than 2% of ticks carry disease by the way and it is a generally accepted rule they must be attached 24 hours to infect. Tuck in and DEET your pants cuffs, and check yourself each night. Even deer ticks can be felt if you do a once over--check tight clothing spots (waist, armpit, groin, behind knees) and check scalp especially around ears. Rodents are will chew almost anything. I can't seem to keep them off of my camp/pack towel. As for poison ivy, the Boy Scouts I believe coined, "leaves of three...let it be." Good advice.

Like all new pursuits there is a learning curve, but its a very safe one. Try it out with someone experienced if you can or take a course (NOLS is outstanding). Backpacking will change your world.
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Re: Protection during back country travels

Postby caihlen » Tue Jan 11, 2011 11:06 am


I have a fair bit of experience in the backcountry. My take is that bear spray is for bears. I did use it once to haze off a cow moose and calf...very dangerous. I feel strongly that it would not work for Lions. I'm not sure for Wolves. Bear spray will have a temporary effect on Human beings. If you can make rapid egress from the scene of the assault it will buy you time. If you are being attacked in the backcountry by a human you are unlikely to survive if you don't fight back as fiercely as you can. If you feel like there is a real threat in the backcountry from the human element, you should learn how to use, and then carry a deadly weapon. However, I feel like the threat from humans in the backcountry is actually quite low and you are far more likely to have problems with dangerous humans in campgrounds. The humans that want to hurt you don't like to walk too much...
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