In a post yesterday I shared my recommended food storage techniques. Some readers responded skeptically to my fifth method — sleeping with it — so I thought I’d discuss it more fully. I’m intentional about when and where I’ll do it, and I don’t have a death wish.
First, a disclaimer
Sleeping with your food seems riskier than storing it further away from camp. There’s little (or no?) data to support that assumption, but it seems intuitive. If you decide to sleep with your food, it’s on you.
In this post I’ll explain my approach, but I’m not recommending that you do the same, nor can I guarantee that you’ll have the same results.
Defining “sleeping with food”
If I’m sleeping in an enclosed shelter, I’ll keep my food inside it. If I’m cowboy camping, I’ll sleep on it or immediately next to it. Often I use my food bag as a knee rest, to relieve pressure on my back; it can make a decent pillow, too.
The food cannot be left on the ground “nearby.” From the perspective of an opportunistic food thief, unattended food is open for the taking. Wildlife look for easy calories, and only the most brazen and desperate bears and mini-bears would try to take food that’s obviously in my possession.
Why do I sleep on my food?
When the conditions are right, I always sleep on my food. It’s the lightest, least time-consuming, least fussy, and least expensive storage method. In other words, it’s the most convenient.
When & where will I sleep on my food?
If I decide to sleep on my food, three conditions must be met:
- The land agency must not require a specific storage method;
- The risk of a bear entering my camp is acceptably low, and ideally zero; and,
- The risk of rodents in camp is also low, and ideally zero.
If the land agency requires a specific method, then I’ll adhere to the regulation.
If I think that rodents may occupy my camps, I’ll plan to: hang my food out of their reach (a.k.a. “rodent hang,” which will not be out of reach for a bear, because the food will be only a few feet off the ground); or to use a soft-sided rodent-resistant sack like the Ursack Minor.
How do I determine the risk of bears or rodents? I rely on personal experience and research. What have I observed before, and what am I being told by area guidebooks, online forums, trip reports, rangers, and the local news?
I would consider an area to have low bear risk if:
- Few or no bears live in the area,
- Little or no bear sign has been seen (e.g. prints, scat, root digging),
- I’m camping far from seasonal food sources (e.g. berry patches), and/or
- There are no recent reports (and, ideally, no reports at all) of bears stealing food from backpackers or campers.
Assessing the risk of rodents is more straightforward, and also less consequential:
- At high-use and moderate-use campsites, I expect mini-bear problems.
- At low-use campsites, it’s rare but possible.
- At virgin campsites, I don’t recall ever having a rodent issue.
I haven’t kept count, but I’ve probably slept with my food for more nights than all other overnight storage methods combined. This includes many thru- and section-hikes of long-distance trails (e.g. AT, CT, IAT, NCT, PNT, PCT, CDT), a little loop around Alaska and the Yukon, and weeks on the Wind River High Route and Pfiffner Traverse.
I’ve had a few bears enter my camp, each time in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park (where hard-sided bear canisters are generally required, and always required for commercial groups). I’ve had far more problems with mini-bears, especially at high-use campsites in popular areas like the AT and in National Parks.
If I repeated these trips, I’d do things differently in some cases. In the past fifteen years, the risks, regulations, available methods, and my thinking have changed or evolved, and will continue to do so in the future.
Have a question, opinion, or experience with sleeping with your food? Leave a comment?
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