Jesse Carnes has spent a lot of miles on the trails, both on foot and bike. He is currently training for his first 100 mile footrace, IMTUF. You can read more about Jesse’s exploits here.
It was one of those endless August evenings. You know the kind, where the sunlight tricks you into thinking it’s 4 o’clock when in reality it is closer to 7, and you’re out on the trail and there is really no reason to go home and eat dinner at a reasonable hour. That can wait. There is singletrack to attend to. And there we were, out on a run in our local recreation area, fully appreciating the long, winding descent we had earned after a tough uphill effort.
Here’s the thing about those winding descents: you can’t see all that far in front of you. You turn a corner and before you know it, you’re face to face with an angry mama bear. Well it just so happens that on this particular evening, that is exactly what was waiting for us around one of those corners, several feet off the trail, with two cubs close by.
I have never made a habit of carrying bear spray when I am going on short runs or rides close to town for a couple reasons. For one, there is usually a fairly steady stream of people, so generally the bears will be somewhat desensitized to human presence. In addition, the bears you might run into close to town are almost exclusively black bears, which are very rarely aggressive.
Mostly, though, I just don’t really like carrying bear spray, so in my mind I will justify not taking it however I can. I’d rather not carry anything in my hand when I’m running, and I’ll certainly avoid putting on a vest if I can get away with it. So what is to be done? That’s the problem the Scat Belt set out to solve.
Basically, this a belt that holds your bear spray so you don’t have to carry it. Simple enough. Of course, they do have two versions of the belt. The Griz (pictured above) includes a phone holster and a small accessory pocket. The Cub is the bare bones version that is designed to only carry bear spray.
In terms of overall comfort, this belt is not bad. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I stopped noticing that I was wearing it, but it doesn’t bounce and the straps are effectively contoured and cushioned to avoid any discomfort. The ease of access is awesome. I like the idea of having my bear spray attached to my waist without having to worry about it jostling around. Pulling the canister out quickly, which I was a little worried about when I first saw the velcro strap design, turned out to be very easy.
I’m not sure about the phone holster design. It uses an elastic velcro strap, and if you have a phone that is particularly tall, you have to pull the strap very tight to secure it. Under that pressure, I am skeptical about the durability of both the elastic and the velcro. With smaller phones (under 5 inches), this will not be an issue. Still, I would be interested to see a system that places the phone horizontally, opposite the bear spray, instead of vertically next to it.
At first, I was interested in the prospect of using this belt while backpacking. In the past, I have always let my bear spray dangle from my hip belt. If I could have my phone handy for photos and my bear spray secured but easily accessible, that would be great. The Scat Belt is advertised as “fitting comfortably under any backpack,” but unfortunately, there is no way I could get it to work with mine, as my hip belt very much gets in the way. Alas, it looks like I will have to stick with my current system (although maybe this is just the excuse I need to upgrade my embarrassingly old, heavy backpack).
Where I see myself using the Scat Belt a lot is for longer backcountry run/hike days, in combination with a vest or hydration pack. Since it can carry my bear spray and phone, it frees up two vest pockets for more nutrition and hydration, and it is by far the most comfortable way I have found to carry bear spray while still keeping it accessible. In my preparations for the IMTUF 100 in September, I see myself doing a lot of those types of days this summer.
Fortunately, we didn’t end up needing the bear spray that we weren’t carrying on that beautiful August evening. By the time the mama bear crashed out onto the trail to give us a good talkin’ to, we had already passed her by. She stood up for a moment, but then glared disapprovingly at us and ambled back into the bushes. Perhaps, though, I will try to make a habit of bringing my bear spray along more often, at least when I am running alone.