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Ineffective & outdated: Six reasons to not hang a bear bag

Bear bags are a stubborn fixture of the backpacking world. Hanging is recommended, taught, and practiced by influential organizations and individuals even though it is less effective, less foolproof, less reliable, less efficient, and less safe than other food protection techniques, notably hard-sided canisters and (to a lesser degree) soft-sided bear-resistant food sacks.

I have not hung a bear bag in at least a decade, and I find it to be so irrelevant that I no longer include a bear hanging module in the curriculum for my guided trips. It’s an outdated and ineffective method of food storage, and backpackers (and bears) would benefit from a reprogramming on this topic.

What is a bear hang?

A bear hang is an improvised system of cord, sacks or bags, and sometimes carabiners and pulleys used to suspend food in a tree, primarily to protect it from black bears, as well as from rodents (especially in high-use campsites) and grizzly bears (in select areas only).

There are a few popular hang configurations, such as the simple tie-off, PCT method, and counter-balance. In a perfect world, the end result is this:

NOLS Cookery (National Outdoor Leadership School) (NOLS Library) Kindle Edition by Claudia Pearson (Author, Editor), Mike Clelland (Illustrator), Stackpole Books; 5 Revised edition (January 1, 2004)

Recommended alternatives

Last month I gave in-depth explanations of my preferred food storage methods. But briefly:

  • If permanent infrastructure is available (e.g. lockers, cable systems), use it.
  • If hard-sided canisters like the Bearvault BV450 are required, carry one.
  • If bears regularly (or even occasionally) obtain human food where you are camping, carry a hard-sided canister even if it’s not required.
  • If you are camping in bear habitat but but there no reports of bears stealing food and no hard-sided canister requirement, use an Ursack Major or Ursack AllMitey (which is also rodent-resistant). And,
  • When using high-use campsites in bear-free habitats, rodent hang your food.

Depending on the local risks and your risk tolerance, you may also consider sleeping with your food. This is widely practiced, but few are willing to talk about it.

The effectiveness of most methods can be enhanced by a Loksak Opsack (my long-term review), which is a heavy-duty odor-resistant plastic bag with an airtight seal. On its own, it is an inadequate method of food storage.

Two recommended food storage options: hard-sided canisters like the BV500 (left) and soft-sided bear-resistant sacks like the Ursack Major (right).

Bear hangs versus rodent hangs

The concept of a so-called rodent hang is the same as a bear hang: suspend your food in the air, out of reach. But it’s simpler and less robust: it can be kept in camp, placed only a few feet off the ground, and needs to protect only against mice, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, and maybe an occasional fox.

Unlike bear hangs, I advocate rodent hangs. They’re perfect for bear-free areas, like most of the desert Southwest.

Reasons not to hang a bear bag

I no longer hang bear bags, and never recommend it. The technique is plagued with problems:

1. You probably suck at it.

Like other outdoor skills, learning to properly hang a bear bag takes time and repetition. And because most backpackers don’t backpack often enough to get the requisite practice, most bear bags are hung really poorly. Like, they’re laughable and woefully inadequate.

But unlike other outdoor skills, the consequences of a poor hang are immediate and widespread. If you fumble with map and compass or struggle to find 5-star campsites, it impacts only you, and you can do it better next time. But a failed hang becomes a problem for the bear, for the land agency that may need to relocate or kill the bear, and for the next backpacker(s) who stay in or near your campsite.

If you plan to hang your food in bear habitat, you need to have mastered this skill already by practicing dozens of times in bear-free areas like your backyard or a neighborhood park. If you’re not willing to do that, you shouldn’t even consider hanging your food.

A sub-par bear bag belonging to a commercial group in Rocky Mountain National Park. The park now requires hard-sided canisters.


2. It’s often impossible.

The effectiveness of a hang depends largely on the tree(s) in which the bear bag is suspended. It’s recommended that the bag is positioned about twelve feet off the ground, five feet away from the trunk, and about five feet below the closest limb.

Unfortunately, it’s often impossible to find a tree in which these thresholds can be met or exceeded. Above treeline and in arid areas, no trees are available. Near treeline, the trees are too stunted. In some regions the dominant tree species are ill suited, like the spindly lodgepole pines, Engelmann spruce, and sub-alpine firs found throughout the Mountain West. And other forests have been ravaged by wildfire, mountain pine beetles, spruce bark beetles, and ash borer.

Near treeline on the Aspen Four Pass Loop, it’s just about impossible to hang food properly in the spindly and stunted spruce and fir. As a result, sub-par hangs abound.


3. It’s time-consuming

In a best case scenario (i.e. skilled hanger, light food load, favorable trees nearby, and no mistakes), hanging a bear bag takes about 15 minutes. But it rarely works out that way:

  • Most backpackers have limited hanging skills and experience, and are therefore inefficient.
  • Heavy food bags require more hangs and/or more complicated systems.
  • Perfect trees can be hard to find, resulting in a long walks from camp. And,
  • Mistakes are commonplace, e.g. the throw-rock slips out of the knot, the throw misses its target limb, the rope gets stuck, the limb breaks, etc.

For soloists, I’d recommend budgeting 30 minutes; for groups, an hour. A bear hang kit weighs less than a hard-sided canister or Ursack, but the savings is entirely negated by its inefficiency.


4. It can cause injury or death.

The throw-rock is a hazard. It can bounce out or off of the tree in odd ways, and can snap back if you accidentally step on the cord while throwing it. It sounds like an elementary mistake, but it’s easy to do (I’ve done it) and it’s a common role-playing scenario in many wilderness first aid/responder courses.

Deaths are very rare, but needless and much more tragic. Several years ago, the news of this fatality in the northern Rockies spread through the outfitter-guide community.


5. It’s rarely effective against a determined bear.

To put this point in context, let’s watch some videos. Black bears are extraordinary climbers!

Grizzly bears have less Spiderman-esque talent, but they shouldn’t be discounted:

Unless your hang is textbook perfect, a determined black or grizzly bear will probably get your food. No hang method is immune — bears can:

  • Chew through your cord.
  • Lunge from the trunk, and either grab or cut open your bag while they’re falling.
  • Break the limb, or push down the entire tree. And,
  • Send their cubs out on the limb to chew the cord.

I have met only one person who could truly bear-proof his hangs. Kevin Sawchuk learned his craft in the 1970’s, when hangs were still permitted in the High Sierra. Unfortunately, not everyone read Kevin’s tutorial or could replicate him, and land managers decided that hard-sided canisters were the most effective strategy against their wily black bears.


6. More user-friendly options exist for less audacious bears.

Thankfully, the High Sierra is the exception, not the norm. In most other areas, the black bear population isn’t as healthy and the bears don’t nonchalantly walk into occupied camps.

In these types of areas, bear bags are a widely accepted food storage technique, and are believed to be “effective.” But very few hangs are probably ever tested. It’s like wearing a garlic rope around your neck to keep away vampires — it must be effective if the vampires don’t get you, right?

Better options in these types of areas are the Ursack Major and Ursack AllMitey. These bear-resistant bags are lighter than a hard-sided canister (25 to 50 percent of the weight, for the same volume), pack more easily in a backpack, have been certified by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC), and can be quickly and easily anchored to a tree.

I don’t trust Ursacks as much as a hard-sided canister, but I think itthey’re acceptable in low-risk areas where they’re unlikely to be rigorously tested. In the unlikely chance that I wake up to a bear chewing on my Ursack, I can probably scare it off by making lots of noise or throwing, um, pine cones at it or around it. I don’t think that I would have been any better off with a hang — if the bear was willing to approach my camp for an Ursack, it would have been willing to go after my bear bag, too.

What’s been your experience with bear bags? Do you agree or disagree with me? Leave a comment!


Disclosure. This website is supported by affiliate marketing, whereby for referral traffic I receive a small commission from select vendors, at no cost to the reader. This post contains affiliate links. I have no other financial interests in any brands or products.

118 Responses to Ineffective & outdated: Six reasons to not hang a bear bag

  1. Pat January 10, 2019 at 1:21 pm #

    Yes, bear bag hangs can be very time consuming. I use an Ursack and tie it to a tree. A BearVault when required.

    More important is cooking and eating away from where you sleep and using an odor-proof sack.

  2. JD Schaefer January 10, 2019 at 1:22 pm #

    The only time I have bear-hung was when the group dynamic was the path of least resistance. After being out on the trail, my feet smell stronger than my well-sealed food. The food goes in the bottom of my quilt.

    • Bearproof January 10, 2019 at 4:22 pm #

      You put your food in your quilt? That seems like a TERRIBLE idea.

      • Adam January 10, 2019 at 8:41 pm #

        I like to put my food bag under my knees in my hammock….

      • Brent January 20, 2019 at 4:05 pm #

        Second this

      • Two hawks January 23, 2019 at 4:15 am #

        I put it in my quilt also

  3. sharkbytes January 10, 2019 at 1:26 pm #

    Hi Andy- We had a bear get our hang once in the Adirondacks, before canisters were required, and it was totally my fault for hanging it poorly. I agree with everything you say about how difficult it is to hang stuff properly. Takes forever, or at least it seems that way when you are really tired, probably dark is approaching, etc. I do still hang my food, but you tempt me not to! I agree that rodents are more of a problem than bears in most cases. And the biggest problem of all is to find a tree that will actually work. And I hate to say it, but as I’ve gotten older it gets harder to throw the rope high enough. Joan Young (NCT E2E)

  4. Sally Barnhart January 10, 2019 at 1:33 pm #

    May I add an additional reason? As a bear hunter, a” bear hang” is considered one of the most effective methods of alerting and drawing bears over a wide- spread territory, to a bait site. Highly scented, favorite foods, such as tuna and bacon, are tightly wrapped in a cloth sack and hung using the same height and distances to avoid bears physically reaching the attractant. The result is extremely effective at alerting and drawing bears across multiple down-wind drainages within 24-48 hours or less.
    So in conjunction to your advice listed points(especially the fact that most bear hangs are improperly done and accessible to bears ,)you have also dramatically increased the likely hood of local Ursine investigating your location , particularlly if you’re in that location for more than a night. ( I’m an ursack user where allowed) Thought this might be an interesting point, one i’ve discussed with the guys I hunt with, but never heard addressed in a hiking article.

  5. B.J. Clark January 10, 2019 at 1:33 pm #

    I’m with you on this issue. I haven’t seen a bear bag hang in years that would deter a bear. I have had one incident with an ursack. A little slobbery and small crushing but intact. My yelling and noise making caused the bear to leave. I’ve even seen bags bounced off the cables on the AT. I think the new push for boxes is probably a good thing on that trail.

  6. James Higgins-Thomas January 10, 2019 at 1:56 pm #

    I can definitely attest to the regular occurrence of some pretty laughable hangs along the AT. I opted to just carry a canister on my trip *because* I want confident in my ability to hang effectively everywhere I might need to. Yes, it added weight. It also added convenience. I’ve no regrets on doing so.

    I imagine sleeping with your food is not a completely crazy option if you’re good at smell reduction. But, on my 100 day excursion I am aware of one hooker who had their tent completely trashed – not from sleeping with food, but apparently from the inadvertent use of sunscreen the bear found compelling. So, I’m not sure I’ll be taking that chance just because “it’s worked for me before” (it has) anytime soon!

  7. Brad R January 10, 2019 at 2:29 pm #

    Andrew, I do agree that most people probably suck at it, which is why in high-use areas of the Olympics, bear canisters are required. I have been hanging my food for many years without issue, but use a different hanging system than is commonly used. I use a small diameter throw line (Petzl Air Line 1.8mm) with a Harken 16mm pulley (0.33 oz) tied in the middle. Though that pulley is strung a second line. Each end of the throw line is tossed over branches on two separate trees and each end is pulled tight while wrapping around the tree trunk and tied off. The pulley should end up in the middle of the two trees, preferably at least 15′ in the air. My DCF bear bag (with an OPSAK inside), is then be hoisted up with the second line that runs through the pulley and tied to a different tree. My entire system (bags, lines, rock sack, small carabiner and pulley) weighs 6.2 oz. I can also use the system on stunted trees in alpine areas because I’m not reliant on a large branch for the system to work. It can work with the line in the top couple of feet of a 15′ tall tree. Once the system is in place, I can lower and raise my bear bag as often as I want, only having to untie the end of the pulley line. Also, because the throw line is unweighted when pulling it tight and while removing it, I can used a very small diameter without having to worry about it cutting into the tree. It should never take me more than 10 minutes to get the system in place.

    • Larry January 10, 2019 at 8:15 pm #

      I use the same method. It seems impossible to find one good tree, to Andrew’s point, but I can always find two trees with some kind of limb. Full disclosure… I don’t camp where there are no trees.

      • Stacy G. Tibbetts January 15, 2019 at 7:13 pm #

        We also regularly hang a bear bag between two trees, which gets the bag well away from either. No pulley, just a good knot in the center of the throw rope, to which we attach the bag and pull it up. This has worked well on a dozen + Canadian canoe trips. No lost food.

        • Andrew Skurka January 15, 2019 at 7:41 pm #

          I applaud you going above and beyond the normal setup. But curious how you conclude that the system “worked.” Have you actually observed a bear fail at disassembling your system?

          The reason I ask is because I think many people assume their bear bag “worked” because their food was still their in the morning. But, in fact, their hang was never tested. They probably would have had the same result if they’d used their food sack as a pillow.

          • Brad R January 15, 2019 at 10:20 pm #

            To be clear, I said “I have been hanging my food for many years without issue”, not that it “worked”. I fully understand that in the right circumstance, an educated bear will go to great lengths to get to hanging food. I haven’t actually witnessed a bear actively trying to get my bear bag, but almost all the backpacking I do is in areas frequented by bears and I have seen them in the area of my camp several times. Most of my backpacking is done in less popular areas, so the bears haven’t been exposed to as many “gifts” from other humans. By keeping a clean camp and using an OpSack inside of my dry bag, I don’t think the bears hone in on my bear hang. I do own a bear canister and use it where required, such as high-use areas of Olympic National Park (my backyard). However, I’m sure bears have gotten plenty of free meals due to people not immediately closing their canister after retrieving their food.

            I’ve had two interesting incidents with bears in camp…both in Wyoming. In the first one, about thirty years ago, I was sleeping with my food (this was before OpSacks). I woke up to something pressing against my leg through the tent fabric along with the sound of strong inhalation noises. Of course it was a bear, which I was eventually able to scare away, but I didn’t get much sleep after that. The second incident, a few years later while camped at an established high country hunting camp, a bear got to a deer quarter that my partner had, in his haste, left hanging too low. Over the course of three days, the bear did everything he could to get to the deer quarter, including pulling down on the 1/8″ hang rope multiple times until it wore through on the rough bark of the tree it was tied to. It was obviously an educated bear and had probably visited that camp several times, but if we had hung the deer properly in the first place, he may not have been so persistent.

            In short, I think one should use the method that is appropriate to the situation, based on the likelihood of there being educated bears in the area and also that person’s abilities. Also, never underestimate a bear’s nose and don’t be lazy in whatever method you choose.

    • Steven Hobbs January 20, 2019 at 9:08 pm #

      Brad, I was going to respond to this article, but you said almost everything I was going to say. I don’t want to Cary the weight of bear proof cans, so I have hung all my life. I DO, however, totally disagree with the suggestion you sleep with your food bag. An excellent way to see wildlife, however.

  8. Stephen January 10, 2019 at 2:36 pm #

    I just use a canister at all times, keeps the rodents out too.

  9. Langleybackcountry January 10, 2019 at 3:12 pm #

    The Tree. Finding a tree with a branch that is a) strong enough and b) rigid enough and c) free from branches below it and d) not too close to other trees and branches and e) clear enough to throw over and f) a reasonable distance from camp is like looking for a unicorn.

    I started carrying a hard cannister (BV450) more often because in spite of the added weight, the efficiency and peace of mind is so much better it is usually worth it. I’ve had rodents get a bag that I thought would be safe from them. They zeroed in on my honey-roasted macadamia nuts and left everything else alone. LOL!

  10. paulmsg January 10, 2019 at 3:40 pm #

    Agreed that most people suck at it (see: any Canadian paddler trying to hang a whole canoe barrel!). I have practiced a lot and to date, my mistakes have only produced one mouse-sized hole in a nylon stuff sack. I think that most people suck due to the weight of their food bag relative to their ability to comfortably pull on the rope and hoist the bag up (especially when using anything smaller than paracord). My solution is to use tie a stick to the rope and hoist the bag by walking away from the bag while holding onto the stick. From there, tie it to a tree. This method is slightly inspired by the PCT method (which also involves a stick) but is obviously different.

    Ursack + Opsak seems like a reasonable option but my hang kit was much cheaper and lighter. Definitely takes time to find the right tree, etc… and doing it in the dark is really frustrating.

  11. James Hanacek January 10, 2019 at 3:59 pm #

    I’ve been backpacking in the Sierra since I️ was a teenager and got back into it a few years ago. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, bear activity was significantly higher in the backcountry than today. Over half of our trips would have bear sightings and a monotony of those included encounters. My father taught me to sleep with rocks next to me, to scare off the bears at night. Typically we would wake up 2-4 times a night to toss rocks toward the bear(s) to keep them away from ourselves and our food (since I️ wasn’t taught to hang food back then). I️ still sleep with rocks next to me (old habit and I️ know it can scare off bears), but I️ haven’t had a real encounter in the last five years of backcountry hiking and camping. The bears I️ have seen, don’t pay any attention to me or my group and we are cautious when we come across them. I️ do hang a bear bag (as a majority of my time is in desolation wilderness), and I’m very particular about doing it right. I’ve tracked bears and have been in areas that have had known activity, it still have my food. It is nice being able to sleep through the night now, and knowing I️ have a good hang helps with that.

    There’s nothing worse than being three days into a five day loop (or point to point) and not having food.

    Areas that are not known to have bear activity and don’t require hanging, I️ evaluate as I️ hike and decide what to do, once at camp. I️ can only think of two occasion I️ hung my food outside of the Sierras, when there wasn’t known activity or warning signs.

  12. Michael January 10, 2019 at 5:00 pm #

    You describe several faults in typical bear bag scenarios but you never describe what you actually do…

    • Andrew Skurka January 10, 2019 at 6:24 pm #

      Refer to the section, “Recommended alternatives.” I follow my own recommendations.

  13. Darin January 10, 2019 at 5:15 pm #

    My 2 cents….. disclaimer-I use the PCT method but slightly tweak it to my liking for ease. Never used a canister, due to not needed where I camp and it’s to heavy, and ursacks look more convenient but have seen what bears can and have done to them.
    Nevertheless if a bear wants your food..he gonna get your food!!!! It’s just that simple. Ursacks are tied to trees …bears will get it. Bear hangs hang…bears will get it. Canisters are our in the open…bears will get it.
    And if you choose to leave your food or smelly items in your tent or even worse, your sleeping bag well, that all on you. Don’t blame the bear when shit goes south.
    Great article but not sure if your leaning towards comparison of ease or safety between different options of food bags/hangs?

    • Bcap January 10, 2019 at 9:07 pm #

      I’ve watched a Yosemite bear pick up a garcia bear can over its head and bash it on granite for 15 minutes while I yelled at it. It was pretty determined, but the garcia only got cosmetic damage. I really didn’t think it would be capable of taking that kind of abuse. Cans work pretty darn well.

      • Andrew Skurka January 10, 2019 at 9:11 pm #

        That’s a great story.

        Yosemite bears are on another level, watch out for them. I was amazed by some of the incidents filed by the park wildlife officers, and shared here, https://andrewskurka.com/2018/bear-canister-failures/. Some of the bears are completely fearless of humans, like walking into an occupied camp and grabbing a bag of food sitting on a log immediately next to someone. They also have devised some ways to get into canisters, like by rolling them off cliffs and, yes, beating on them until the lid locks pop open.

        • Carley January 14, 2019 at 10:17 am #

          And yet, bear spray isn’t allowed there. Getting a faceful of burning misery from time to time might help tell them that people aren’t just food distributors.

          • Rob January 15, 2019 at 8:21 am #

            I can imagine a full Little Yosemite Valley campground, with everyone running around spraying their bear spray, trying to deter one bear. Sounds like nothing but trouble to me.

  14. Liz January 10, 2019 at 5:17 pm #

    I’m trying to determine whether or not to invest in am Ursack. I’m based in the Northeast, so bear hangs are the norm, as are habituated bears. (We do have some bear boxes on the AT). But my food *feels* safer in a tree than in an Ursack. Even though the bear can’t get to it they can still render it inedible, and it being low makes it seem more likely that they’ll try to get into it. Does anyone else have this psychological hurdle? Any tips -or better yet, hard facts- to help me wrap my mind around NOT hanging my food in a tree?

    • Darin January 10, 2019 at 5:23 pm #

      Agree with you and have to say like in my comments a bear will get any food it wants and especially in the northeast the black bear just wants s quick easy meal. So I’ll say if we had a bear hang from a tree and on the same tree put up an ursack I think the bear hang would live to see another day. It’s like you don’t have to be able to run faster than s bear…just fast then the guy next to you.
      I’ll stick with the bear hang and save tons of weight as well.

    • Andrew Skurka January 10, 2019 at 6:31 pm #

      Some thoughts:

      * If bears regularly get into food where you backpack, you should be carrying a hard-sided canister. Stop f’ing around with less effective options, and do the responsible thing.

      * If bears don’t regularly get into food, then you are looking at hanging versus Ursack. I like the Ursack because it’s more reliable (i.e. no need to find a perfect tree), more foolproof (i.e. easier to tie it off to a solid anchor than to construct a good hang), and faster.

      * I don’t know why you’d find more confidence in a (usually) crappy bear hang, versus an Ursack. If you typically can get away with a crappy bear hang, you can probably get away with an Ursack too — it’s a sign that you’re not dealing with persistent and fearless bears.

  15. Jess January 10, 2019 at 6:13 pm #

    We have an ursack which we always hang. On a hike last summer, we hung our bag like we normally do because there was a bear in the area. Unfortunately, this bear had been breaking into trashbags that people were hanging all summer. He mauled our bear bag but didn’t get any of our food. He did break into someone’s hung trash bag the night before and the night we camped. Unfortunately, because it was not required to use bear proof containers/bags, and people did not see a reason to use them on their own and, that bear was killed. I don’t really care if people hang their bear bags or not. I just wish they would use one.

  16. PStuart January 11, 2019 at 6:34 am #

    I’ve used bear hangs in Shenandoah National Park when we camped off-trail, in part because our Scout troop was preparing for Philmont, where they require hanging bear bags. Finding a suitable tree was not easy, especially if you made camp after dark or in the rain. At Philmont, though, they have wire cables strung from tall poles to get the bags off the ground. Since they’re only concerned with black bears, Philmont could probably go with the bear poles used at camping sites on the AT, which requires little skill.

    • Nathan January 22, 2019 at 12:59 pm #

      Not all campsites at Philmont have the cables. Some of the cables were very low and when we had our entire groups food hung it bent the two trees the wire was on so much that the food dropped even lower and we could jump and reach some of the bags. They have you use three ropes with a carabiner. They each have a knot with a loop in the middle. If there’s no cable then you throw the knot over a branch on each tree and carabine them together. The third rope goes through the carabiner. You tie all the bags along the ropes and then get everyone to pull the 4 ends to get it up into the air and tie them off. The third rope is used for all the things people need later in the day and gets put up last. If done correctly it takes upwards to an hour or more. 10 peoples food for 3-5 days weighs a ton. We seen some other crews food and it was laughable at best. Might as well just set it on the ground…

  17. Louise Bottenfield January 11, 2019 at 7:18 am #

    I don’t get backcountry enough to be an expect but when kayaking in there is not much room to pack a barrel. I hang our food in dry bags. Finding the perfect branch is difficult for sure. Instead of trying to tie up a rock I place some small rocks in my stove bag and attach it to the end of the rope. No problems but I never have bacon etc that create amazing smells for all. I also lower it only to eat and then back up it goes with the bag of garbage included.

  18. Rob January 11, 2019 at 8:25 am #

    I do most of my backpacking in the San Gabriels in Southern California. There are plenty of bears there. Except for some trail camps on the PCT with recently placed bear boxes, you are on your own. There is one camp in particular, Hoegee’s, that has a bad bear problem, due to the relative ease of getting there. I’ve been there many times , and I always warn people of the bears and to take measures to protect their food. And more often than not, they are up during the night scaring marauding bears or picking up the remnants of their food in the morning. And in the trees in camp, there are at least half a dozen failed bear hangs festooning the flora. I always take my bearcan with me!

    • Andrew Skurka January 11, 2019 at 9:00 am #

      Sounds like a really good place to use a bear can. Good on you for doing so.

  19. Carl Clingman January 11, 2019 at 8:32 am #

    In Cliff Jacobson’s book, Boundary Waters Canoe Camping, he says he stores all his food in a locked heavy plastic box/case and places it some distance from the campsite when not cooking or engaged in preparing food. He adds he typically puts the box among the rocks somewhere near the shoreline.

    • Andrew Skurka January 11, 2019 at 8:57 am #

      Another person mentioned his name yesterday in a comment, so I looked him up.

      I didn’t read all of his stuff, but thought it was an interesting argument, and obviously time-tested. In addition to putting his food in an unexpected spot, his strategy also seems to depend on the food signature of his food. He advocates freeze-dried meals packaged in mylar, which are low- or no-odor.

      What’s he’s doing is essentially what I also like to do, but in a different setting. I keep my food in an odor-proof Opsak, and I intentionally don’t camp where other people camp (i.e. an unexpected spot). I’m not sure I would be as ballsy as him, though, and not have some type of real protection in an area with known problem bears.

  20. Warrski January 11, 2019 at 8:41 am #

    What are your experiences with the odor-free bags? Recommend?

  21. Andy Kowalczyk January 11, 2019 at 8:46 am #

    Cliff Jacobson has been saying stuff like this for years…

    https://www.cliffcanoe.com/bear-proofing-your-camp

  22. Ryan W January 11, 2019 at 9:59 am #

    While I don’t find hanging a bear bag to be difficult at all, there were some interesting points made here. However, the affiliate links all over the page for the Ursack brand bags makes this reek of an advertisement disguised as an article. Unfortunately won’t be trusting your opinion anymore.

    • Andrew Skurka January 11, 2019 at 10:12 am #

      In the disclosure I clearly state the use of affiliate links in this post and others. I have no financial interest in Ursack, but do have a long-term interest in providing thoughtful and trustworthy content. Affiliate marketing is widely used by content-heavy sites like this one, including others that you probably read like Gear Junkie, Outside Online, The Trek, Section Hiker, Clever Hiker, etc. Have to pay the bills and justify the time commitment somehow, or this site would go away or be much less active.

    • Dennis January 20, 2019 at 4:35 pm #

      One other point on this, the number of companies making such critter-resistant bags is very small, and Ursack is by far the best known. For a site funded by affiliate links, Ursack is the logical ad link for flexible bear-resistant storage. The snark is misplaced and unnecessary.

  23. Dave Morales January 11, 2019 at 10:20 am #

    I have witnessed black bears launching themselves off of a tree, taking the food sack down with them. No bueno. It’s more the little critters that are a concern. Over the last 35 years, I’ve lost some food to nature, and have even had some dangerous close calls, although mainly in the early years. I live in the PNW, so bears (and critters) are a reality. While they’re bulky and can be a PIA, I have come to love bear canisters. They not only hold all smellables, but are a seat, cutting board, wash basin, fresh water collector, and just stupid easy to stash in a safe place. 5 seconds and your “hang” is done. I am a nerd when it comes to food and make my own and dehydrate it all, so with that organization I can cram all kinds of things into my BearVault container. I usually am out solo and everything I need for an extended trip easily fits into my 50L Mountainsmith (a tragically underrated company) for a week long trip, canister included.

  24. Peter January 11, 2019 at 12:57 pm #

    I have heard of some kayakers who use moth balls to cover the scent of food as well as giving bears a scent which is unpleasant for them. Has anyone else heard of this technique?

    • Brad R January 11, 2019 at 2:52 pm #

      I know it has been used for mice. Moth balls have a very offensive smell and wouldn’t be natural for a bear to smell in the wild, so I suppose it’s a possibility that it could deter them.

  25. Greg Seymour January 11, 2019 at 1:57 pm #

    You have really given me something to think about. Hanging has been drilled into my head and on our AT thru I hung one every night except twice. Obviously, I became quite adept, but as you mentioned, there were a few bad hangs due to lack of good trees.

    While I doubt sleeping with my food will ever be an option, the Ursack and canister may. I like the hybrid of Ursack and hang.

  26. Terry L Fossum January 11, 2019 at 3:43 pm #

    I’ve been Blessed to have adventures around the globe – even on TV! I don’t agree that bear bags are an outdated concept – not sure how that could be, as both bears and food haven’t changed much over the years. Nor have trees, etc. Certainly some people suck at putting them up, but some people suck at many outdoor skills and should therefore practice – not just give up and purchase something less effective. If I’m in an area without trees, I have several tricks, NONE of which include keeping food in my tent. I can live if a bear gets my food, but I’ve grown rather fond of my body! (Though some days it doesn’t seem to feel the same about me). Just my 2 cents. What I LOVE is that you’re all a bunch of outdoors folks – my kind of people! Live with Adventure!

    • Mark Langley January 11, 2019 at 5:09 pm #

      Part of the point is that the alternatives *aren’t* necessarily less effective. But they are easier and more reliable, and so likely more effective in the grand scheme. Of course, YMMV depending on factors such as practice, environment, etc.

  27. howesthehike January 11, 2019 at 4:22 pm #

    Been using URsacks with Opsaks for a few years now. They are my go to because of their ability to be used in a variety of situations. Great article

  28. Robbie Z. January 11, 2019 at 4:33 pm #

    Why aren’t permanent apparatus installed when sites are established? Seems like an easy fix especially on the East coast where sites are “fixed” for various reasons. Many places do have lock boxes but semi-permanent hangs could easily be put up near lean-tos….. Just my 2cts….I have all methods in my quiver and it’s always an issue. Good write up👍

    • Andrew Skurka January 12, 2019 at 5:22 pm #

      The only good explanation is a limitation of resources, i.e. money.

      Given the cost of some of those AT shelters, it’s a little surprising that they don’t spend another $500 on a food locker, or at least $50 on a crossbeam to make for easy hangs. Food protection seems to be an afterthought with shelter construction.

      • Zachary Robbins January 20, 2019 at 2:55 pm #

        Yeah it makes zero sense here in the SE Appalachians and the AT where shelters are constructed. I’ll never understand why they don’t build bear cables like they do all over GSMNP. There are some huge problems with bears getting in food around AT shelters, especially in GA and Mt Rogers NRA. Bear cables in the Smokies are great and easy to use.

    • Nathan January 22, 2019 at 1:07 pm #

      In a lot of places there aren’t shelters or designated campsites so there isn’t one place that you could justify placing a metal bear vault or cable for hikers to use. The only place that I can think of them being placed is in a few small areas along the John Muir Trail in the high sierras where you are required to carry bear canisters. If I’m going someplace that I know won’t have good or any trees I carry my canister. If I know there’s bear activity I’ll vary my canister. But, if there’s trees I’ll hang my food all other times.

      • Zachary Robbins January 22, 2019 at 1:18 pm #

        I don’t really understand your point. We were both talking about the AT.

  29. Mark Langley January 11, 2019 at 5:17 pm #

    I have been a rigger (rock and roll and theatre) and a climber, so I know my way around ropes pretty well, and I find hanging usually to be a huge time suck and is almost always compromised in some way (height, clearance, etc.), especially on the W slopes of the Cascades where the trees are dense, often have bendy, downsloping limbs, and are very difficult to throw through. A bear canister is worth it when there aren’t better alternatives (like infrastructure).

  30. Gary January 12, 2019 at 5:04 pm #

    In complete agreement with Skurka

    Ive slept with my own food on the AT and Colorado Trail no issues. I did use and ursack in the Tahoe area but I probably could have slept with it there too.

  31. Steve B January 13, 2019 at 7:38 am #

    Andrew,
    Your efforts to make a positive change to a dysfunctional culture are admirable and overdue. I agree, bad bear hangs are the norm. I have ample experience and make more of an effort than many of the hikers I’ve seen. I’ll admit however that many of my hangs have not been truly bear proof largely due to difficulty in finding an appropriate limb.

    I have a Superior Wilderness Designs lunch sack and it is the bee’s knees. But as much as I’m loath to go back to deep, narrow, pack space-wasting, round food containers, you make a very strong case for me to change my practices.

  32. Jim M January 13, 2019 at 9:30 am #

    Where is the recommended place to store BV450 bear canister overnight in black bear country? In an unsuspected location such as Cliff Jacobson writes?

    • Rob January 15, 2019 at 8:16 am #

      In black bear country, I keep mine close enough to where I’m sleeping that I can hear if they’re messing with my bearcan, usually 50 feet or less. I have no idea about grizzly country.

    • Zachary Robbins January 20, 2019 at 2:57 pm #

      I’m not sure where you live Jim, in the Southeast I like shoving it in a dense cluster of rhododendrons or similar shrubs. Almost as secure feeling as shoving it in between the perfect boulder cluster.

  33. Tony F January 13, 2019 at 5:12 pm #

    Completely agree with you Andrew. Practically every time I have seen someone hang a bear bag, a bear would have had little trouble getting it if they wanted it. The canister seems like the way to go. Thanks for sharing.

  34. Aaron January 15, 2019 at 9:50 am #

    After pulling into camp several times after dark, with very few trees around with decent branches, I’ve mostly come to the same conclusion, so thank you for this.

    I’m leaning toward an Ursack. My concern, though is that I tend to hike and camp in the southern to central Washington Cascades, often along the PCT, and frequently wind up in established campsites with my kids. As you pointed out, chipmunks may be a more serious threat to my food than a bear, though bears are certainly there. If I’m not comfortable sleeping with my food, what would you recommend? Would the weight and cost of the AllMitey be a necessity? Is there anywhere you’d use a regular Ursack without worrying about rodents?

    • Andrew Skurka January 15, 2019 at 10:17 am #

      An AllMitey would probably be the best option. Mice will get into an Ursack Major, but an Ursack Minor won’t give you the bear resistance you need/want.

      But if you already own a bear can but not an AllMitey, I’d just bring the can. On a trip with your kids (or maybe a spouse), “ultralight” is out the window. You’re not going to be hiking far or fast, and you’ll probably bring a few luxuries that you wouldn’t carry on your own. Why not also bring the canister and be done with it?

      • Aaron January 15, 2019 at 11:04 pm #

        Thanks! Do you think rodents are enough of a problem in the Cascades to warrant the AllMitey and avoid the Major? I’ve only had an issue with them once when I was a kid (chipmunk ate a hole in my pack 25 years ago), but then again my food is usually hanging.

        • Andrew Skurka January 16, 2019 at 9:48 am #

          I don’t know the Cascades well enough to say. Maybe a local can chime in.

          Generally speaking, any established campsite in a National Park probably has rodent issues.

        • Mark Langley January 16, 2019 at 11:53 am #

          Some areas are infested. Roland Creek on the East Bank of Ross Lake does not have infrastructure and mice are everywhere. Other camp sites along the same trail have hang poles or boxes. As I mentioned earlier, that’s where (I assume) they climbed down my hang (3mm paracord) chewed through my stuff sack and hit the premium snacks.

  35. Serafin January 15, 2019 at 10:46 am #

    My first intro to the AT … campsite selection was heavily influenced by the correct limb on a living tree. Before the trip, I thought there would be loads of trees at every campsite to choose from, but wasn’t the case at all. Living in the Shenandoah valley, I’ve witnessed the amazing climbing abilities of black bears … the speed and intelligence of these animals is underestimated.

  36. Mitch January 15, 2019 at 1:56 pm #

    On my last two annual trips to the BWCA my brother and I have used the hard sided container method for food storage. My brother has two containers (I believe they’re the BV500 models shown above) and they worked quite well for us. We also used them as “camp stools” to sit on from time-to-time, although I’m not certain the manufacturer recommends this practice.

    • Andrew Skurka January 15, 2019 at 2:18 pm #

      Using a canister as a chair is a widespread practice. If you own a BearVault (or another canister with a screw lid), just be sure that the lid is screwed on fully (or really close to it). If it’s on partially and the threads slip, you won’t be able to access your food either.

      • langleybackcountry January 15, 2019 at 2:42 pm #

        This sounds like the sort of thing one learns from experience. 🙂

        • Andrew Skurka January 15, 2019 at 3:59 pm #

          Actually, it says so right on the lid!

  37. Mark Filbey January 16, 2019 at 10:09 am #

    I’m just curious what Mike Clelland thinks of your using his bear bag drawing AND discounting the method? I assume he doesn’t recommend it, as well?

    • Andrew Skurka January 16, 2019 at 10:17 am #

      I asked Mike for the drawing, and told him what the post was about. He didn’t have much to say, and I’ve never had in-depth conversations with him before about it. He worked for NOS for many years in WY and AK, and I’m certain that he has hung many bear bags (which is standard NOLS procedure). On more recent trips with me, everyone has had to carry hard-sided canisters, and at this point he’s probably made the conclusion that most others have: these damn things are heavy and don’t pack well, but they’re easy, foolproof, and make a good camp chair.

  38. Chris Finley January 18, 2019 at 1:47 am #

    I saw this and thought of you. A pretty impressive high-wire act.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJ1KQbi2sSI

    • Andrew Skurka January 18, 2019 at 9:47 am #

      I’ve seen that one before, it’s a classic. I particularly like the Canadian accents, nice touch.

  39. Ron Duwell January 19, 2019 at 5:22 am #

    I have a bear canister and use it where required or recommended. I still hang in areas less likely to have bears. I’ll say like you, it’s my least favorite in camp activity. Finding the right branch, throwing a dangerous throw, getting the rope caught on branches not intended and having to pull hard to get it down. For many years, I dreamt a bear was getting my food almost every night in the woods. My first night with a canister and I slept all night with no bear dreams. The weight of the canister is heavy though when you’ve gone ultra light. It’s the heaviest thing in my pack. I have bear scratches in designated poles and hanging spots. Shenandoah uses metal poles with loops at the top that I haven’t seen anywhere else. I never sleep with my food and I’m amazed to see the hikers who hang for in shelters against the rodents but seem to be calling the bears. Thanks for the article. I’m going to check out the ursack.

  40. Pamela Higgins January 19, 2019 at 5:34 pm #

    Great advice! I have an Ursack Major with opsaks inside, but considering getting a canister. In the meantime, any advice on the how’s and where’s to store the Ursack? I have hung it, when there is a provided cable system, but most times I tie it to a tree (can’t throw at all). So far I haven’t lost my food, in fact, never even had it disturbed. Thanks.

  41. Robert Haelterman January 20, 2019 at 10:40 am #

    The cheap bear bags sure doesn’t work very good! In this part of my YouTube video you will see what a raccoon did to my cheap dry bag from Walmart. Zpacks makes a good bear bag, but it’s $50. https://youtu.be/QQBqszhoI40?t=868

    • Andrew Skurka January 20, 2019 at 9:46 pm #

      The Zpacks bear bag is marginally more durable than yours, but it will not protect your food against rodents or bears, nor is it designed to do so.

  42. Scott January 20, 2019 at 1:13 pm #

    Hanging food is extremely effective method at Philmont Scout Ranch. They have had no issues with bears using this method since they started using it and they have more bear per acre than any where else in the lower 48. There are 2 caveats to this success. First the boys are trained in the proper way to hang and second more importantly the boys hang on a fixed cross beam mounted up in the trees. There is one of these set up at each dedicated camp site. It is also set in a location that makes the bear triangle effective.

    • Dennis January 20, 2019 at 4:43 pm #

      Congrats on the success rate, but rather misleading for your Scouts. Fixed installations like your cross beams or the anchored bear poles along the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier, do indeed make easier the process of securing food. The problem isn’t at such places; it’s out in the wild world where no such installations help with keeping food from the critters. Crafting a bear triangle at a seldom-used campsite, using only trees, is more complicated and frustrating.

      Interestingly enough, one of our site mates on the Wonderland lost food from a stuff sack ON the bear pole. Steel pole, slippery, 15′ to the hanging hooks. My guess is that they hung their food before dusk, and were a bit slow waking up next morning; the Canada jays probably saw the hang, and attacked the stuff sacks next morning. The threats are everywhere..

    • Andrew Skurka January 20, 2019 at 7:00 pm #

      I would tend to classify the cross beams at Philmont in the category of “backcountry infrastructure,” akin to steel food lockers like those in the High Sierra, bear poles in Shenandoah, or cross beams in Glacier and Yellowstone. Yes, these systems work, which is why NPS and Philmont installed them. In areas without such infrastructure, I think bag bag hanging is much less reliable.

  43. Brent January 20, 2019 at 4:15 pm #

    While I normally carry a bear resistant canister, in Yellowstone, backpackers are required to hang their food. To save weight, I left the canisters in the car. When I got to my site, there where fresh grizzly tracks in the snow and there were no bear hanging platforms like they said there would be (a downed tree likely took it out). I did the best I could, but didn’t feel completely comfortable knowing that grizzly would likely smell it. The next day, I didn’t notice any evidence of a bear, but I will likely take a canister next time in known bear country.

  44. Dennis January 20, 2019 at 4:52 pm #

    Interesting topic. For years we’ve hung our food in a pair of old OR stuff sealed stuff sacks, with Ziploc bags inside to minimize odors. Hanging isn’t difficult, though the identification of a proper tree can be. And of course there are those above-treeline trips where hanging is not an option. However, we mostly backpack in areas where encountering a bear is low probability; after watching the vids of bears climbing trees it’s a good thing bears likely never tested our setups because I think we may well have lost our food. At least some of the time. Time for an Ursack or two…

    One aspect I don’t understand: why not do a real hang of the Ursack? We go out of our way to hang food far from camp, in a way that makes it as hard as we can for a bear to retrieve the sack. If, after all that effort, the bear still can’t get into the sack, wouldn’t that be even more of a deterrent? I recognize that hanging is a colossal pain, but seems like an Ursack might be the last addition that makes hanging actually work..

  45. Lawrence Soucie January 20, 2019 at 5:15 pm #

    I don’t know where you backpack, but it is rare that a suitable tree can’t be found pretty much anywhere on the east coast. You may have a point in arid areas, or above tree line. But, come on, your premise is false. There are plenty of trees out there. The bear canisters are heavy and inconvenient to use. I have never used one of the bags, but I have read that they are not bear proof. I think you are really wrong about this. Tie a line on a stick and toss it over a branch. Really, it is not hard.

    • Zachary Robbins January 20, 2019 at 10:25 pm #

      That’s not taking into account his full argument. It takes a lot of time and effort to find a good tree and hang in the Southeast, where I hike all of the time. I actually stopped bear bagging the last 2 years because I finally bought a canister and it is much easier to deal with at camp. I’ve spent upwards of 30-40 min roaming around camp searching for a suitable tree and getting a rope over the branch. It’s not easy, and part of his argument is how efficient you are with your time when you make camp.

      • Lawrence Soucie January 22, 2019 at 8:41 pm #

        Zachary, my only experience backpacking in the Southeast was on the AT in 1982. We used to hang our food in the shelters – that was just how we rolled back in those days. So I can’t really speak from experience on the Southeast. I now always hang my food, even if I am in a shelter. Most of my trips are now in New England or New York, and it is not that hard to find a suitable tree. It may take a few throws to get it over the branch properly, but that is part of the fun. If you don’t mind carrying a bear canister, that is great, but my concern is that people who don’t hang their food properly or don’t want to carry a bear canister, end of ruining it for everyone by causing the forest and park administrators to require everyone to carry canisters.

        • Zachary Robbins January 22, 2019 at 8:51 pm #

          Almost everyone who doesn’t carry a bear canister doesn’t hang their food properly. That is also part of Andrew’s argument and it’s very true in my experience. Most bear bags I come across I can touch by jumping or they’re almost against the tree trunk. That’s just a fact of backpacking in popular areas.

    • Dennis January 21, 2019 at 9:00 am #

      I mostly backpack in the West – New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming – but have made a number of trips to Washington’s Cascades and 2 trips to the Olympics. Trees can be found. Lots of trees. But a tree that has:

      a branch stout enough to support the food and cooking gear;
      but not so stout that a bear can’t walk out on it;
      with a reasonably clear shot for tossing the line, and;
      more space so that the line throw doesn’t get hopelessly entangled after clearing the branch;
      and a neighboring tree where the line can be tied off;

      might be found, but it takes time TO find, then rig, then hoist. Zachary’s 30 – 40 minutes sounds about right. If I’m with a group it’s easy to detail a couple people to rig the hoist while others cook and set up camp. With just my wife and I it’s just one more thing that has to be done before dark, and one more factor in finding a campsite. Easy to be dismissive, but after watching those vids of a black bear going up a tree I know that I’ve made bear hangs that would not have deterred an actual bear. And that’s a lot of effort to deter chipmunks, jays, etc. – who are the real food thieves. The places my wife and I mostly go have relatively few bears OR hikers, so maybe critters aren’t as tuned to humans as a source of food. But it only takes one steal – say night 3 or 4 of a 7 day trip – to really change the trip narrative.

      It was one thing when all we had was the bear hang. But now, with options for protecting food, it seems a bit foolish to just dismiss them out of hand.

  46. Mark Medved January 21, 2019 at 7:34 am #

    Never had any problem with using a hanging bag in N Minnesota. Don’t intend to kill myself rigging it either, and wouldn’t carry any bulky hard container. Ursack bag possibly. Concerns on this, reviews indicate it can be breached by small critters and bears can pulverize the entire contents without getting inside it. Plus the cost.

  47. Alilise graham January 21, 2019 at 12:28 pm #

    This advice “can even sleep with your food” is irresponsible to say when you are self proclaimed expert. There unfortunately will be some who actually believe this is ok to do and YOU will have put them at risk for suggesting it. Increasing the odds even 1% is not required nor suggested by any true knowledgable camper. Why would someone even risk the potential if not probable issues they would cause themselves by doing this? You may have made other points that make sence but have lost all credibility by suggesting campers sleep with food in their tent. You will get someone injured or killed with poor advice like that.

  48. bcap January 21, 2019 at 3:46 pm #

    Shame on you Andrew Skurka for giving your own opinion on your own blog. How dare you have a nuanced opinion derived from thousands of miles of backpacking which is carefully explained with many disclaimers! How dare you! People with significantly less outdoors experience and who travel in wildly different geographic regions who don’t bother to read the body of your outdoor educational writing might possibly be mislead. It will be entirely your responsibility when another adult is an idiot in the woods!

    But more seriously. It is crazy that the world we live in is so often interpreted in such a binary way. ‘It jibes with my world view and is right … or it is wrong!’ Nuance and discussion seem to be on the decline.

  49. langleybackcountry January 22, 2019 at 4:46 pm #

    Honestly I think the weight issue can be a little overblown. The consequence of losing your food (to bears or mini-bears) is pretty high to be worth saving what is likely about 10% of your total pack weight if you are using a BV; less if you spring for a fancy can. I bet there are other places to save a lot of that weight unless you a fully dialed into ultralight. And you are also trading some weight by not having to bring the rigging and stuff sacks for a hang.

    In low-risk areas, sure, the tradeoff may be worth it, and you may not have to do a full bear hang, so sure,why not?

    The convenience of keeping snacks accessible but critters out while just hanging around camp or taking a short hike to the lake shore or whatever without having to mess with a hang is worth it as well.

  50. Zach January 23, 2019 at 2:34 pm #

    One alternative I use frequently and feel good about (though not always possible depending on where you are) is hanging the bear bag off of / over a big vertical cliff. It can take some searching and distance from camp to find the right spot but typically I feel like a 20-30′ wall or higher is a pretty effective deterrent. I suppose one could just slice the hang rope and drop it to the ground though.

    Agreed at how many laughably bad hangs I see out there.

  51. Scott January 24, 2019 at 12:07 am #

    Curious if you’ve done any canoe tripping and if you’ve tried the “bear canoe” method? Essentially, you put food bags into the canoe, tie an anchor rock to one end of the canoe, and another rope (or other end of a single, long rope) from the same end (so the canoe can pivot in the wind) to the shore. It’s essential that it is long enough rope that the canoe is in deep enough water that a bear could not stand up and reach in / overturn the boat. If it’s deep enough, even though bears are good swimmers, it’s very unlikely they have the treading skills to reach up and overturn the boat while treading (more likely just bumping it around).

    Can either use a second canoe to tow out the anchor rock and drop it as far as possible / into deep enough water, or if you have just one canoe (I led large canoe trips and generally this wasn’t the case!), You can either set the rock on the edge of the bow/stern and push it out and yank the rope when it’s far enough out to knock the anchor rock off, OR of you want above refreshing evening g swim, tread the rock out (obviously don’t wrap the rope around yourself and drown :P).

    This is pretty much exclusively the method we used on our trips in Algonquin park (Ontario). Mind you, it has many of the drawbacks of the bear hang in that it needs to be done correctly to be effective, it is often done incorrectly, and sometimes also impossible (eg. Shallow lakes!). When you’re experienced, it can be done relatively quickly (10 min ?), But can take a group 30 min + easily.

    Of course it’s not perfect, and conditions aren’t always optimal (depth of the lake being lost constraining, or if you only have short ropes!). It doesn’t work on river trips. But for lake canoe tripping, it can be a great effective method that is pretty simple. I’ve seen many bears and will keep using bear cannisters in the adirondacks, but love myself a good bear canoe !

  52. ARM January 26, 2019 at 2:32 pm #

    Hi Andrew, I’m a course leader for NOLS and in the areas that I have worked (Adirondacks, Idaho, Wyoming) we are not required to carry helmets for backpacking courses unless we’re planning on doing some top roping or rappelling. We like to avoid bear hangs, usually by using a bear fence, but wearing a helmet to throw a bear hang is not a NOLS requirement. Any chance you could amend that sentence?

    • Andrew Skurka January 26, 2019 at 5:07 pm #

      Happy to, thanks for chiming in.

      Do you know the source of this story? For example, was it a NOLS policy at some point? It’s a weird anecdote to be untrue, and I’ve heard it from many different sources.

  53. Bart January 26, 2019 at 7:59 pm #

    Another major hiking god sleeps with his food.
    I’m surprised no one referenced it.
    After someone has hiked 30,000 miles…
    Most PCT hikers sleep with their food.
    It’s not uncommon.

    https://www.thehikinglife.com/health-safety/bears/

  54. Shawn January 27, 2019 at 3:20 am #

    Everyone has heard that “you don’t have to outrun the bear ,,,” but there is a corollary. “You don’t have to hang your food out of reach of the bear – just higher than the guy across the way”.

    Seriously, I hang my food using a combination of the counterbalance with parachute cord hanging from each bag. The cord facilitates getting the bags sufficiently high, Then each cord is then sent over the limb of a nearby tree, pulled to separate the bags between the trees and tied off.
    Mr. Bear can break any one rope and nothing comes down. He can also break the two ropes tied near ground level and receive nothing for his effort.

  55. Carl February 3, 2019 at 10:15 am #

    Bear hunters hang bear bait bags in the exact same manner. 🤔. If I ever hang a bag, which is rare, I prep it when there is light out and hang just before bed and take down first thing in the morning.

  56. Buck Nelson February 4, 2019 at 8:02 pm #

    I rarely agree with a backpacking article as much as I agree with this one Andrew. Lots of sound arguments and conclusions. I especially like your summary after “Recommended alternatives,” it reflects my thinking almost exactly, including sleeping with my food when appropriate.

    I used an Ursack Major for the first time on the hiking portion of this summer’s Alaska Traverse. I used two BV500s on the paddling portion.

    • Andrew Skurka February 5, 2019 at 2:33 pm #

      That means a lot coming from you, thanks.

  57. ultralightguy February 10, 2019 at 4:11 pm #

    Get a canister. Save time, trouble and if a few ounces is making that much of a difference, considering what else might be in your pack you could leave behind. Besides, it makes a good seat until you place it properly. I also use an Opsak in the canister, never a problem.

  58. J. Harrington March 9, 2019 at 6:49 am #

    I have to admit that I was dutifully executing a hang and blasted myself in the face with the rock in a bag trick when it lofted over the limb perfectly and swung back in its pendulum descent. I have to further admit replicating this a couple of times and thankfully got really good at ducking. (Once bitten.) The time I was actually struck, like other times I chose to hang, was due entirely to social pressure. Other folks that have blind faith in the hang look at you like you may be trying to kill them in their sleep if you don’t hang, and I’ve been present for, and a party to, some nasty shelter spats on the otherwise friendly AT where the real threat frankly is mice. “Uh, hey man, aren’t you gonna hang that food bag?” (I find bear hang as performance art hilarious!) I also bought a bear canister in Lone Pine, CA, which I carried up to the first bear box I could find and left it there. Please file under: “Trail Magic” as I’m sure a needy broke kid scared of bear was thrilled to save $50 and made good use of it. Those things SUCK! Me and about every other piece of Hiker Trash I know use our food bags as pillows. This makes late night snacking and breakfast super easy, along with handing it over if a bear shows up. They say “A fed bear is a dead bear!”, but honestly my own survival is my only concern. In every close bear encounter I’ve had (a half dozen easily, and yes, you will if you keep hiking) I holler, the bear runs off, and I retain my precious Snickers. I will say I play it very safe in grizzly country where I follow all guidelines and remote locate my chow in a can or an Ursack in a campsite box whenever possible. Old Griz don’t scare easy like east coast honey bears!

  59. Bart March 9, 2019 at 9:34 am #

    Re: “Uh, hey man, aren’t you gonna hang that food bag?”

    All the more reason to camp alone. But sometimes it’s easier said than done.

    Andrew, comments?

    • J. Harrington March 9, 2019 at 10:06 am #

      As anyone who has attempted a “traditional” thru-hike of the southern AT can tell you, camping alone isn’t really a thing. PCT can get crowdy too.

  60. Nina March 9, 2019 at 4:16 pm #

    Very timely topic as I am 3 weeks away from my NOBO thru hike attempt of the AT. I’d say that food storage is one of the more controversial topics in a few Facebook and Reddit groups.

    In my experience, in years past, a PCT hang has been effective, but like Andrew points out, my hanging hasn’t been tested.
    I’m a side sleeper, and get sore shoulders. As I age, it’s getting tougher to toss a rock bag high enough. So, for this years hike, I’m going with my Bearikade canister.
    I get called out by just about everyone saying leave the canister at home. My base weight with the canister is less than 16lbs. I realize leaving the canister at home sheds 2lbs, but I like the convenience.
    I’ve looked at the ursack, and just picture a bear slobbering all over my food…or crushing it. Plus, it just seems like one more thing having to fiddle with knots when your hands are cold and it’s pouring rain.
    If I find the canister is a terrible burden, I can always send home. For now, I like that I can fit my pot, stove, hygiene products and 4 days of food in it.

    • Andrew Skurka March 10, 2019 at 1:49 pm #

      I think a bear can is overkill on the AT, and I wouldn’t recommend carrying one.

      There are very few bear incidents on the AT, and in most (all?) problem areas the ATC or land agency has stepped in with infrastructure. For example, the shelters in the Smokies are surrounded with chain-link fencing, in Shenandoah they have bear poles, and in a few areas in Georgia they have cables.

      Your bigger issue on the AT will be mini-bears. I think an Ursack Minor would serve you well.

      • Zachary Robbins March 10, 2019 at 7:52 pm #

        I’m going to jump in here because I live in NC and hike all of the time in the region. There are issues with bears in the Mt. Rogers – Grayson Highlands stretch that greatly affected thru hikers last season and will probably continue due to its popularity. There was such a big problem near the Thomas Knob Shelter that they installed bear lockers because bags, Ursacks, and even some canisters were torn apart every night. They might have also installed lockers at the Wise Shelter, but I’m not sure of that. You really need to be mindful of your food during that 50-mile stretch once you leave Damascus. There are also bear problems along the most popular sections in GA-NC from the start point to the Smokies. (Once you leave the Smokies the bear sightings are less frequent according to all my NC Facebook groups.) A lot of hikers frequent the shelters and sites year-round, so you are bound to have multiple sloppy bear hangs that could be destroyed by rodents or bears. I know the shelters once you enter NC, particularly the Southern Nantahala Wilderness and either side of NOC around Siler Bald, Cheoah Bald, Wesser Bald, and Wayah Bald, have had bear bag mishaps in the last year. I personally prefer bringing a canister over an Ursack anywhere in the NC mountains. For a thru hike it is a different story because of your weight, but if you chose to bring a canister you use it through the Mt. Rogers section and then switch it out for an Ursack. The nice thing about the canister is you’ll always have a seat removing one luxury item from your pack. In general I really don’t understand why cables or lockers aren’t installed at all of these shelters in the Southeast. I’m in the club who maintains 93 miles of the AT north of the Smokies, I’ll have to ask the trail work leaders about that issue and the cost associated with installing each.

        I’ll also add that the fencing has been removed from all of the shelters in the Smokies north of U.S. 441 I’ve seen in the last few years (haven’t been to Davenport Gap), and they may have been removed from all of the shelters. I believe they were removed for aesthetics and to discourage any hikers from keeping food in the shelter when they have perfectly good bear cables available.

        • Andrew Skurka March 11, 2019 at 8:41 am #

          This is really helpful info, thanks. Goes to show how bear activity changes over time and with changes in policies/regs.

    • MarkL March 12, 2019 at 11:01 am #

      If the system works for you and your needs/preferences/limitations, other folks have no business telling you you are wrong. Getting judged for your choices (as long as they aren’t endangering anyone) is just lame. You are hiking your hike, not theirs.

      • Bart March 12, 2019 at 11:18 am #

        “Hike your own hike”….buuuut you’re doing it all wrong.

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