The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Nature

Will a Taser Work on a Cougar?

In short, yes. And, maybe, no. Tasers can be an effective method of non-lethal defense against cougars, ignoring other vital factors. But we’ll get to that. Before you head into the backcountry packing high voltage, you’ll want to know a few things about America’s misunderstood lion. 

Cougars once roamed vast swaths of North and South America before they were hunted nearly to extinction. Then, around the 1960s, conservation efforts and burgeoning populations of key prey, such as deer, rebounded their numbers, to a point. Aside from the occasional far-wandering individual, in North America the elusive Felis concolor—known also as the mountain lion, panther, puma, or catamountranges strictly in British Columbia, Alberta, the twelve western states, and Florida.

Cougars are survivors and opportunistic hunters. They’re also shy, and humans aren’t on the menu. If you’re a regular hiker in cougar country, especially around dawn or dusk, you’ve likely been watched or followed. Chances of escalating beyond that, however, are slim.

But attacks happen, if rarely. A 1991 study by Paul Beier, a wildlife ecology professor at Northern Arizona University, recorded only 53 attacks and ten human deaths since 1890. A handful more have occurred since. In a grisly encounter last September on Vancouver Islandwhere roughly 40 percent of attacks transpireda man killed a cougar with a boar spear after it crushed his wife’s skull. The culprits are generally rabid or starving juveniles. And they’re certainly dangerous. 

So will a Taser stop a cougar? Yes, if you can get close enough and, more importantly, if your aim is true. Tasers fire two probes on 15- to 35-foot lines, and to be effective, both probes must hit. When they do, 5,000 volts jam the nervous system, causing temporary paralysis and a jolt of pain. As a last resort, the drive stun on the gun itself can inflict pain without incapacitating. Cougars, which can reach 200 pounds, are susceptible to both. 

Many cougar experts, though, find the question laughable. Beier points out that these cats are ambush hunters. “The first clue is claws or teeth on your body,” he says.

Zara McDonald, executive director of the Felidae Conservation Fund, a wild cat conservation guild, thinks cougars are likely to be a tough target even if you do see them coming. "Their sensory perception, power, and reflexes blow away those of humans," she explains. In other words, you'll be hard-pressed to get that shot off.

Think of it as a last resort. According to Dan Thompson, the supervisor at Wyoming Fish and Game’s large carnivore section, standard protocol for a cougar encounter is simple: maintain eye contact, raise your arms or backpack over your head to look big, and back away slowly. If the cougar approaches, throw rocks or sticks. Should it attack, always fight back and never run. In nearly all cases, the cat will retreat.

Bottom line: pack a Taser if you’re concerned and know how to use it. Better yet, pay attention to your surroundings to avoid confrontation. “We’re animals, too,” Thompson says. “We need to trust our instincts.”

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Your Everyday Astronaut Suit

While private companies are still working on ways to get customers beyond Earth’s atmosphere, the fashion-side of space tourism is already off the ground. 

BetaBrand recently unveiled its new Space Jacket that will ship in late May—if the project gets funded, which it likely will. As of Friday afternoon, the company had raised 95 percent of the money needed to make the astronaut suit a reality.

According to the website, the Space Jacket is made from a durable, breathable DuPont Tyvek shell and silvered nylon taffeta lining inspired by the foil used on spacecraft. It has an athletic fit with realistic Velcro patches. 

Steven B. Wheeler, who formerly designed men’s technical outerwear for The North Face, initially created the Space Jacket in his free time as a one-off prototype for himself. But his contacts in private space science labs were so excited about it, BetaBrand decided to make the apparel public.    

“I've been in love with space exploration for as long as I can remember, and I loved the challenge of working with new materials in interesting ways,” says Wheeler. “I pulled together some high-tech components and drew upon my experience to design and sew the prototype myself. I chose Tyvek, Primaloft, and 15d nylon taffeta for their lightweight and performance qualities, and because of how strikingly similar they looked to various components used in the space program.”

Maybe a professional astronaut, or an intrepid tourist, will one day take it into space.

$236 (20 percent off),

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Save a Soaked Phone

We’ve all done it—dumped a cup of coffee onto our laptop or dropped a phone into a lake. You may even have tried stuffing the wet device into a box of Uncle Ben’s rice or poured the grains onto your keyboard vainly hoping to save it from annihilation. Hint: it never works.

What does work is the moisture-absorbing Bheestie. A zip-top bag that comes with two pouches of industrial strength, hydrophilic beads, Bheestie is the best solution I’ve found to those emergency dunkings. 

Leave your drenched phone, camera, laptop or any other electronic device in the Bheestie for up to 72 hours, and it will come back to life. You can also use the bag for eight- to 24-hour stints when the gadget just needs some routine maintenance—even a humid day or a sweaty run can corrode electronic circuitry. The beads are encased in a moisture-permeable pouch so they won’t gunk up the item you’re trying to dry. 

How do I know the Bheestie works? In the last year, I’ve dropped my phone into the toilet three times. I lost one phone to the first dunking, but a Bheestie saved the mobile after the second and third plunges.

The Bheestie, which comes in two sizes, has never released moisture back onto my dry stuff. Plus, the indicator beads inside the pouch go from blue to gray telling me when I need a new bag. At less than $30, this is a pretty great insurance policy.


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A Handmade Hunting Knife

The Norwegian Helle knives are functional works of art—and the curly birch-handled Tor is no exception.

One of Helle’s hunting knives, the Tor has a smooth wooden 4.3-inch handle with leather inserts for contrast. The handle is deep but narrow, with a generous contoured grip that feels natural when you hold it in your palm.

The knife’s 4.2-inch stainless steel blade is strong and I found it held an edge whether I was whittling, whipping up a backcountry feast, or cleaning the day’s catch. The leather sheath has a bear paw cutout at the mouth, and hangs from an adjustable leather belt loop.

The Tor is the tool you’ll take with you on countless adventures and that you’ll someday give to your child—or grandchild.


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Keep Dry in a Downpour

There is nothing glamorous about getting caught in a torrential downpour on your bike. It’s cold, wet, and can be scary slick. But if you’re serious about training, there are times when you just have to ride in the rain.  

Thanks to Rapha’s new lightweight, trim-fit rain jacket, those miserable sessions are slightly more bearable. I found the company’s old rain jacket protected me during drizzles in the Italian Alps, cloudbursts in Vermont, and windy rides in Idaho. The newest iteration is even better, with waterproof and breathable fabrics seam taped to keep you dry even during serious storms.    

Rapha added 3-ply fabric on the sleeves to make the jacket feel less clammy on your skin. The new version is lightweight and packable—it fits easily into a jersey pocket, and I found I still had room for a tool and a bar.

The reflective left armband is a Rapha signature. The trim and logo are also reflective, and the zipped front side pocket will accommodate a wallet or other valuables. My favorite feature? The offset zip that won’t chafe your chin on cold, blustery days.


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