The dangers of bear spray

We always recommend that you carry bear spray when you’re hiking. Just today I was asked by someone on the trail if I had spotted “Bear 64”, Banff’s local bear this season. He was spotted a few weeks ago close to town on the Fenlands trail. The trail has opened up again and the bear is probably on another mountain by now, but you never know when you might be lucky enough to spot one. But if you’re on the trail, spotting a bear might not be very lucky, so Parks Canada recommends travelling in groups and carrying bear spray.

For the uninitiated, bear spray isn’t a preventative spray like mosquito repellent, as many people have asked me. And yes, it’s a real thing. It’s a pepper spray to use against bears, and it’s powerful stuff. So powerful that it’s illegal to use for personal protection – spraying another person constitutes assault. It’s strong. It can take down a bear. Which is why it’s almost just as important to properly store it as it is to have it on a trail.

Last year we had an incident in which bear spray went off in one of our rooms. This was not fun for anyone involved. The dorm had to be evacuated late at night, and everyone’s clothing had a pungent pepper smell for a few days. Today, someone let off a blast of pepper spray in the Beaver bar. A well meaning backpacker may have been trying to flavour their chicken parma, but they, and the rest of the bar, got an unfortunate surprise to their senses when it went off. Luckily everyone was already drinking on the patio and we were able to air out the bar quickly. Now you can see why we hold on to bear spray at the front desk when people check in.