You know that carrying bear spray is becoming more accepted when you see how fashionable – and practical – the holsters have become! This is ‘The Griz’ model from Scat. You can find them at www.scatbelt.com. I noticed that Mountain Equipment Co-op is now carrying the product and Trail Sports in Canmore, AB. They come in several colours and varieties, enough to fill a display rack. There was a time not too long ago (like last year) when the only choices available were the crappy neoprene holsters that always tore or the bulky webbing and Velcro holsters that looked like one of batman’s utility belt items.
Recently, I had the opportunity to try this belt for a week. I brought it trail running, hiking and even for a walk around town. My first impression is that it looks like gear that you would buy from a running store. It comes in trendy colours and it’s nicely designed. I think that many people have shied away from the traditional police-like holsters and opted not to carry bear spray for a few glaring reasons:
They simply don’t wear a belt to which they can attach the holster, or
Because the swat-team-like holster appears too aggressive, or
They look hideous. I mean bear-geek awful. Lets admit it!
To drive home the fashion point, no one noticed or commented on the Scat Belt when I wore it downtown except for my 14-year-old daughter who was working a shift at a busy ice-cream outlet. Between scoops, she asked me what I was wearing, so I spun around and she said “Oh, it’s a bear spray belt. Cool.” Believe me, if I had stood in line, in her ice cream shop while she was working with a regular holster she would have pretended not to know me. Okay, enough said on that point.
I’m an avid ultra-distance trail runner and I’ve experimented with several different methods of carrying bear spray over the years. So far, my favorite way is with a well-placed pocket on a running vest. I only wear my vest on long runs though. Anything under a few hours and I just wear a belt with a water bottle holder minus the water bottle, so that I can carry the bear spray somewhere. It still flaps around and doesn’t ride well. Oftentimes I leave the belt at home and just carry the spray in a hand.
The Scat Belt carries the bulky bottle in a horizontal tube that is held close to the body near the small of the back, so that when I ran, I didn’t notice it at all. I didn’t have to cinch the belt to tightly like my other homemade rigs nor did I have to keep adjusting the belt from spinning around my waste while in motion. It was perfect! Finally a belt I can use for running. The Griz adds a cell phone pocket and a mesh pocket that nicely fits a single gel – as you can see in the photo.
The only downside to this belt is that it’s not reversible (or flippable, if that makes sense). If it were a holster in the wild west, I’d lose my first shoot-out because I’m not a south paw! The belt seems to be designed to be worn either way, so that you could choose where to put the opening for the holster but if you did that, the pockets would be upside down. So, for the time being, you will have to practice drawing the spray with your left hand, repeatedly, to get the hang of it.
The materials used in the belt are light, sufficiently padded and dry quickly. There are some extra loops where you could conceivably attach another pocket or something but I think it’s fine just the way it is. It’s a minimalist’s dream. I didn’t try it but I could have worn this belt with my hydration belt. I suppose you could also spin the belt around so that the holster rides on one side or the other or up front even.
I encourage everyone who lives, works or plays in bear country to carry bear spray for their protection and the bear’s. This innovative product from Scat will make doing so much easier – and fashionable! Runners: you now have a something that will work without the addition of duct tape and zip ties!
I never carry a second shot in my pocket but I did that day thankfully. With no bear spray or other means of defense, my last chance came down to reloading my bear banger and firing a second shot. This was no bluff charge. I was nearly 500 metres away when the bear spotted me. In the time that I drew my bear banger from my right pants pocket, the animal had already sprinted down through a cliff band and through a shallow creek, water bursting into the air.
The first shot was flawless: it exploded above the ground with a loud blast between me and the grizzly. The bear should have run away. Instead, it crouched with its belly on the ground, ears back and eyes intently fixed on me. Within a heartbeat, the animal – now clearly a predator – resumed its sprint toward me.
There is so much to tell about those precious few seconds before contact that I cannot adequately express here. The most pressing task was to reload and fire again. Sounds simple. I’ve used bear bangers for 25 years. Now consider that I had forded the icy Akai River countless times that morning. It was raining. I had just taken off my soaking gloves to take some pictures of the vast meadow. In short, I was really cold and could barely use my frozen hands. However, this wasn’t my only challenge.
When the grizzly bear jumped up and started running for me again, my brain must have unleashed a tsunami of adrenalin. My perspective changed. Suddenly, it was someone else who desperately needed to reload their banger. The rain stopped. Time became unimportant. I noticed that this other person removed the spent shot but couldn’t thread the next one. Again and again, they fumbled with the device. I became aware of my daughter’s face and recognized that she was pleading with me to come home. I noticed, as though from a great height how beautiful the alpine meadow was with the clouds starting to break up, and how amazing this place truly was! A feeling of acceptance flooded in.
Heat emerged from the centre of my chest and sprung out through my hands and in a flash there was only one perspective again and I realized that I hadn’t pulled the firing pin back. In one smooth movement I pulled it back, threaded the second shot, and discharged the banger right over the bear’s head. The bear was a few breaths away when the shot detonated behind and startled it.
As the bear turned and ran, I realized that I had just saved my life for the time being but that this aggressive bear would likely return in a moment. I sprinted toward higher ground and retrieved my last two shots out of the top of my pack at the first opportunity. Fortunately, the grizzly bear didn’t return but I knew that I had to alter my trip plans with only two bear banger shots remaining and 15 days to go. Instead of continuing northwest to resupply at an outfitter’s camp, I decided to packraft down the Prophet River to reach the Alaska Highway within 5 days – the quickest way home (to see my daughter).
Jay Honeyman, Biologist and Executive Director of Bearconflict.org, tells me that each encounter can be as individual as the bear itself. You never know; it could be a well behaved bear but that even they have their bad days! The banger wasn’t a poor idea but they can have unpredictable results including fire hazard. They aren’t the best option for close distance encounters either. If I had bear spray ready to use in this instance, I could have given the bear a good blast before any contact. With its momentum, the bear may have run into me but would have quickly broken contact with burning pepper in its senses. Since I was able to use a bear banger twice, I’m sure I would have been able to effectively use bear spray in this encounter.
This was a good lesson for me. I no longer travel in bear country without at least carrying pepper spray. I work and recreate alone in bear country. Traveling in a group isn’t always an option but I do make more of an effort now to join others. Since this incident, I have encountered another grizzly bear while on a solo trail run. This time, as soon as the bear huffed at me, the spray was ready in my hand. I spoke firmly to the bear and backed off but I think it was more interested in the square kilometre of ripe buffaloberry that surrounded it.