Essential Gear: Bear Spray in Grizzly Country

Trail sweat, bug dope, fish slime, campfire crud—these are the components of the wretched stench that typically attends the backpacking angler. I’m among the worst offenders. I’m a baby when it comes to cold water, so I’d rather stink than swim, and I have a farm hog’s tolerance for personal funk. Still, after a few days of fish camping in the backcountry, even I can’t stand myself.

That’s a deadly attitude to cop in the griz woods. To even out the odds, I stick to bear spray in the backcountry like a cocklebur in a setter’s coat. Seriously. It’s with me everywhere. When I fish, it’s attached to a fanny pack belt or wading belt or slung like a man purse around my back and hanging six-gun style behind my right elbow. When I’m on the trail, it rides on a pack strap. When I sleep, I stand a can of capsicum death ray upright in a boot, aimed towards the tent door. (Like a bear’s gonna come to the front porch, I know, but it makes me feel better.) And when I poop, the canister is on the ground, beside my right knee, ready for business but out of the way of the business at hand.

I’m not going down with my pants around my ankles.

I’m not over-reacting. I know that wild backcountry fish and ravenous, human-flesh-addicted ursine carnivores only very rarely go hand-in-hand. But I’ve had enough close calls, which is why I keep my hand no more than a half-foot from bear spray, 24/7.