I’ll never forget my first camping trip in the Alaskan backcountry. With 15 other newly minted college students, I haphazardly set up my tent only a few feet from where we had cooked dinner. The smell of cooked sausage and its oily drippings emanated from my clothes as I drifted off to sleep under the late summer midnight sun. Our food was carelessly strewn about our campsite, an egregious invitation to the scavengers of the area. Sure enough, that night as I slept, I heard an overwhelming rustling just inches from my tent. I was sure that I was about to be roused by a grizzly bear.
I lay still and held my breath until whatever creature was out there ambled away. When I summoned the courage to peek out of the tent door, I was astounded to see hundreds of wolf tracks as close as six inches from me. We had been lucky that it wasn’t a bear. Wolf attacks on humans are exceedingly rare.
Today, I’m a much more mindful camper and hiker. I take extra precautions to store my food far away from where I sleep. Whenever possible, I hang my food high in trees, well out of reach of bears. Often times however, in Alaska’s vast treeless tundra, I must leave my food on the ground, either in a bear canister or a specially designed bear-proof sack. There is always the nagging fear that a bear will still come to investigate and pillage my food.
Enter the BASU eAlarm. This sleek, 20-gram device is popular on college campuses across the country for student safety. When the two pieces are pulled apart, the eAlarm emits a 120-decibel noise that is as loud as an ambulance siren. In bear country, this could be a highly valuable tool, both to deter bears while hiking and alert you to their proximity to your camp. On a recent overnight trip in Alaska’s Chugach Mountains, I camped above tree line. I stored my food under a rock several hundred meters away from my tent. I connected the BASU eAlarm to the food bag and tied it to the rock (with the main body part of the alarm connected to the bag). That way, if a bear were to disturb my food, I would immediately hear the alarm and at the very least be alerted to the bear’s presence. If the bear were to make off with my food bag, I figured I had a good chance of finding it, should the bear drop it as he loped away.
Another way I used this device while hiking was to keep it easily accessible on my backpack. If I were to see a bear from far away, I figured setting off the eAlarm would alert the bear to my presence. When I am in bear country, I am constantly making noise. I believe the human voice is the single greatest deterrent to bears, so that’s why I’m always singing (annoyingly loud and way out of tune, mind you) and clapping my hands. The BASU eAlarm is way louder than my poor singing however, and it will definitely be a staple on future hikes when “bear-anoia” sets in. I also considered setting a tripwire around the perimeter of my camp. Should a bear approach and pull the line, the eAlarm would sound.
Bears in Alaska’s backcountry are unpredictable. Alaska had two bear-related fatalities this past summer. One of them was a dear friend who was no stranger to bear encounters. That bear was undeterred from pepper spray and returned again and again. On their website, BASU claims that “[m]ost bears (81 percent) were repelled.” While I see the eAlarm as a very useful tool, I would never count on it as my sole deterrent. This would be my first option to alert and hopefully scare off a distant bear. If I’m traveling through thick brush or a bear is dangerously close, you’d better believe that I’ll be reaching for my bear spray or, if there’s no other alternative, my .44 magnum.
The eAlarm is applicable for other uses in the outdoors besides bears. I can see bringing this to the ice or rock crags and using it to alert other climbers in the event of an emergency.
The BASU eAlarm is weather-resistant, durable and very affordable. It has a five-year usable life, or 30 minutes of total alarm time, whichever comes first. The batteries are not replaceable, which alarmed me at first (no pun intended…OK, well maybe a little), but then I pondered its use on college campuses. I realized that you wouldn’t want any would-be attackers to be able to disarm the siren quickly by removing the batteries. At $15.99, it would be almost as cheap to buy another one as to replace the two CR1632 watch batteries.
The BASU eAlarm will have a place in my pack for all of my future hiking trips, whether that is to protect my food, deter bears or keep my partner from snoozing any longer when it’s time to hit the trail.
Clint Helander made the first ascent of Mt. Huntington’s South Ridge (aka “Gauntlet Ridge,” Alaska Grade 6, M6 A0 95? snow, ca. 8,500′) with Jess Roskelley this spring. Their ascent is featured on the cover of Alpinist 59, which is currently available on newsstands and at the Alpinist online store here. Helander has been clapping obnoxiously loud and singing out of tune in Alaska’s wilderness for 14 years. He is a regular contributor to Alpinist. You can find more of his writing and photography at higherdreams.blogspot.com as well as Alpinist.com.
Small (2.79 x 1.22 x 0.51 inches)
Very loud (120dB)
Free replacement if used in an emergency
24/7 customer support
New versions appear to not have a built-in loop on main body (this could make it harder to rig to devices such as food bags, triplines or backpacks)