Ineffective & outdated: Six reasons to not hang a bear bag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 It’s an outdated and ineffective method of food storage, and backpackers (and bears) would benefit from a reprogramming on this topic.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 there are 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!

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Posted in , on January 10, 2019


  1. Pat on 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.

    • Chris on September 27, 2019 at 4:40 am

      Spot on! I’ve had a bear get at a sack I had hung in a tree, but I’ve never had a bear come inspecting an odor-proof sack I left lying on the ground away from camp. I probably should get an ursack but they’re expensive and I’m not super motivated, at least until my current technique proves to fail. I’m also usually only camping in the back country away from spots where bears have been habituated to come look for human’s food.

    • Rolf Asphaug on December 29, 2019 at 9:35 am

      After reading all this I’m going to get a canister … and an even lighter-weight pack to make up for it! In 1988 I was hiking part of the JMT when I was nearly seriously injured or killed trying to bear-bag my food. I tied my cord around a rock, heaved the rock underhand into the sky, looked up … right into the sun. I couldn’t see a thing and the rock slammed down next to me. I was a couple hundred yards off the trail and thought it would have made for an interesting forensic exam if my skeleton with a smashed-in skull, next to a rock with a cord tied around it, had been found several years later.

    • Frank on August 12, 2020 at 3:32 pm

      A black bear on Blood Mountain Georgia went through my Ursack in about 5 seconds on the 6th day of my AT thru-hike.

      • K Davis on September 4, 2020 at 9:08 pm

        Yeah. I seem to remember coming across the same in my research but I think it’s advised to use the sacks in non bear habitats. Otherwise get a canister. That’s my plan.

      • Cathy Meyer on May 17, 2021 at 9:36 pm

        We just north of there when 3 of us watched a bear get a bag that was hung in a tree. All of us yelling and banging in pots didn’t bother it at all. My partner and I decided we wouldn’t sleep there and packed up and hiked another mile in the dark to the next road.

      • Snow Cream on July 15, 2021 at 5:47 pm

        I used an Ursack for a while. Hated it. Went back to PCT hangs. Lost food to a black bear on the AT using a PCT hang. “Perfect” hang.. for the bear. Now I’m a bear Vault user.

    • Victoria Harvey on November 3, 2020 at 8:45 pm

      Nice- mentioning the bear triangle. I agree with you all about the bear bags. I hate carrying the canister, but it’s dependable.

  2. JD Schaefer on 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 on January 10, 2019 at 4:22 pm

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

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

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

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

        Second this

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

        I put it in my quilt also

      • Candi on October 30, 2019 at 10:39 am

        Ursacks are not bear proof. I have seen many ripped apart by bears and cannisters are not reasonable for long packs due to their unweildy size and weight. I’ll stick with hangs. They do work and are not nearly as hard as you make it seem. Hang it then think like a bear 😂 you’ll be fine. If your worried about losing all your food, hang more than one bag, they will be happy with one and not get all of your food.

        • APRIL on November 10, 2019 at 10:30 am

          I’m really curious as to where you are camping and seeing “many” Ursacks ripped apart? There is no foolproof bear food system and both canisters and Ursacks have recorded failures, but the failures generally seem to be infrequent, or in a cluster where the local bear(s) have learned how to defeat them.

          • Solo on January 15, 2020 at 2:26 pm

            You have not seen “many” ripped apart by bears because there have been very few ever reported. I’m willing to bet most of them we’re not hung according to provided directions. I don’t disagree with your opinion on traditional hangs though. It’s really not that hard to get it right most of the time.

        • Ivar on January 6, 2020 at 10:09 am

          You’re missing the most important point. It’s not about protecting you and your food from the bear. It’s about protecting the bear from getting any of your food, cuz then he’s gonna be a dead bear soon.

          • JAMES CONRAD on December 19, 2020 at 9:56 pm


        • Aaron H on May 20, 2020 at 9:04 pm

          That’s the thing. I would have no trouble with canisters if they came in any size other than friggin-huge, a weight other than friggin-heavy, and didn’t cost at least $65 for the privilege of carrying them.

          Also, they “fit” in packs, but sometimes with effort. I’ve got an Atmos 65. The engineering in that thing requires a slight bow in from the back panel touching the main compartment, so I have to shove the thing past it, which means I can’t most efficiently position the weight in my pack.
          Is it seriously impossible to come up with smaller sizes and more varied shapes – and for the powers that be to bless them – so it wouldn’t piss me off so much every time I read that this or that part requires them? I wanted to do the Half Dome this year, but after doing Mount Whitney I never want to carry one of those again. I’ll stick to the Rockies outside of Rocky Mountain National Forest.

        • Snow Cream on July 15, 2021 at 5:59 pm

          Yep. About 2 or 3 weeks ago a Grizzly drug a woman out her tent and killed her in Montana. She had food in her tent. Stupid idea sleeping with food in a tent..
          Hang more than one bag? A bear will be happy with one bag? Really? May 3, 2019. Hurricane Mountain Shelter in Virginia in the Greyson Highlands area on the AT. A bear walked up the AT snatching food bags. All Peanut had left was a instant coffee packet and her contact lenses. It walked 30 yards farther and got mine. He would have ate all mine too had I not caught it red handed and ran it off. Bears will eat every food bag they can get to.

      • Megan on March 24, 2021 at 3:30 pm

        Putting my entire comment – after reading all this 🤦‍♂️ – here bec in your tent is SUCH a TERRIBLE idea as is above or below your hammock. Last year in Shasta-Trinity NF we were woken up by people that did this same thing banging their pots & pans and screaming at 3 a.m. and then again at 3:30 & 3:45. We’d dubbed them the Human Tacos having seen their setup before bed. 😂 (Food hung a food over their hammocks/heads). I felt entirely different about “live and let live” at 3 a.m. after a long days hike in – particularly bec we hung our food – correctly – and had no such prob. We would have been toast if the bear came our way with nothing to make noise with other than screams if they’d come out as we had wiped out (wipes secured in a used ziplock inside the hung bag; not hard) & hung our used pots in the bag too along with toiletries. (Why wouldn’t you? It’s an extra few ounces wt in the bag & peeps washing pots in camp or a stream shouldn’t be). I think people are missing the big picture here which is first and foremost: Humans are guests in nature & should do absolutely NOTHING that would make animals – bears in particular – associate humans with food. Yeah, sleeping with your food they can smell hundreds of ft away kind of falls in that territory. That’s the root of the problem. That’s why bears come around to test your system. Keep your food properly hung outside of camp. If you can’t stand a 15 min walk in nature to your food bag & back, WHY are you overnighting in it? You prob don’t appreciate it enough to care for it & I saw enough of that last year to say: Please EXIT while there is anything left! 😁 Where there are prohibitions (particularly bec of lack of suitable trees rather than human error), of course, don’t hang. However, I can show the writer just as many videos of bears busting canisters against rocks & succeeding in either opening them or more often sending them over the cliff as he’s posted about bears accessing hung food. If you want to use a hung scent proof sack for extra protection, great. I use a dedicated stuff sack I wash when I get home: clip it and run the string through; no caribbeaner nec). The fact that you would only use them in “low risk” environments clearly indicates the (not hung) scent proof sacks don’t work as well as a canister as does NPs prohibiting their use in lieu in most instances. You’re turning today’s “low risk” of bear encounters to tomorrow’s “high risk” by using something that doesn’t work. As for it being dangerous to throw a rock or stick: Darwinism, I’m afraid. Please pay attention to what you’re doing (particularly if you’re having a fire) and the stone or stick need only be so heavy as to guide the string over the branch and fall to the other side. It shouldn’t be a boulder. It’s the pulley system that gets the weight of the bag up easily.

        • PAUL SMITH on March 24, 2021 at 5:16 pm

          Case 1:
          I smell like food and always will, because I’m not going to have a chance to bathe myself and put on freshly laundered clothing every time I go to bed in the woods. The bear is somehow able to tell that I am not a good target for food, even though I smell like it. If I hang my bag, all is ok, right? The bear can’t get to the food, he ignores me, and all is right with the world?

          Case 2:
          But if I have a very well sealed, wiped off food bag with me, I will literally smell worse than the food. And the same bear that ignored me the night before, even though I smelled like food, is now going to be able to detect the bag that smells less like food than me, and he’ll barge into my tent for a snack?

          Someone make this make sense to me. Bears are not psychic. How is the bear going to know that in case 1 I have no food, but in case 2, I do?

          • Leo on June 26, 2021 at 8:21 pm

            Bears don’t typically eat people. They know what you smell like. They want your food, not you. If you put your food with you, they will go through you to get to it. Keep your food away from you and you will be fine, even if you have to walk home hungry.

        • Susan Schwedler Lindson on July 6, 2021 at 10:00 pm

          Thank you for your cogent response.

    • moon on June 9, 2020 at 4:02 pm

      This is a humourous article that might cause someone’s death in the near future.

    • Eric Heagan on July 24, 2021 at 11:09 am

      My friend woke up to a bear standing over him when he kept his food on him.
      Be safe.

    • MoonEverest on April 2, 2022 at 7:33 am

      In your quilt? “My feet smell stronger than my well-sealed food.”?

      The odds of a bear attack are 1 in 2.1 million (NPS). When we travel thru wilderness we mitigate risk becuse it is inherently risky. Bear hangs when feasible mitigate risk. If there was a curious bear in camp it would be unfortunate to have FOOD in your sleeping system.

  3. sharkbytes on 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 on 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.

    • Taiger on August 7, 2020 at 10:37 am

      That occurred to me last time I hung my food. I felt like I was advertising my food to bears!

      Bear proof containers are expensive/heavy/bulky and I will avoid them unless I am required to by law.

      Next time I go out, I am bringing my leftover turkey bag from Thanksgiving; those bags are cheap and odor proof. Keeping my food inside a this bag inside my nylon bag will not add extra weight either.

  5. B.J. Clark on 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 on 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 hiker 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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.

          • Michael Martinez on July 22, 2019 at 7:37 am

            Agree with this. Out in the mountains, animals are basically wandering around randomly and people are basically wandering around randomly. The probabilities of the two running into eachother are generally slim.

          • Andrew Skurka on July 29, 2019 at 8:57 am

            The randomness argument is mostly true in a wilderness setting, where bears do not associate people with food. I say mostly because wildlife follow the path of least resistance between feeding areas, so the probability of an encounter is affected by whether the humans are following these same travel corridors. Two examples: (1) A bear entered my camp in Woods Creek in SEKI, but I’m almost certain it was because our camp was 20 feet off the trail in a tight canyon — the bear was simply following the trail, and when he saw us he figured it was worth a try. (2) As I was walking upstream along an Alaskan River, I had to step over multiple fresh salmon carcasses. I did not camp until I was safely out of this area.

            In a high-use area, all bets are off. The bears and mini-bears know exactly where people normally camp.

          • Erin Angel on April 26, 2020 at 11:27 am

            Your argument for using the Ursack or sleeping with your food follows this same logic. You don’t know unless it’s tested. I have had my own “subpar” bear hangs tested more than once, and they worked.(I could see fresh bear tracks and my breakfast was still there.) And there is no scent resistant sack or canister, people. Bears’ noses are more sensitive than a dog’s and a dog can smell minute amounts of substance. Canister + hang = intact breakfast.

          • Michael on April 27, 2020 at 9:43 am

            Erin – But you don’t actually know whether your bear hangs were tested unless you saw animals trying to get at your food.

    • Steven Hobbs on 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.

    • Jason S on April 30, 2019 at 11:51 am

      I use the same method. I don’t feel it’s time consuming at all. Plus it makes it easy to lower the bag if you want to get something out of it and the raise it back up.

    • Michael on August 7, 2019 at 6:26 pm

      Lots of good conversation here.
      I love a good hang, but you really have to make it a part of your day, iykwim. Cannisters arent easy to pack in sea kayaks, and those armoured bags are pricey for trips where you might need 2 or 3 per person.
      So I use two trees for the hang as well. Black spruce don’t lend themselves to a classic PCT setup. Two 5 mm static lines, joined in middle with a biner. Be like the arborists and ‘granny toss’ the rock with the line. Your granny knows what she’s doing. Attach pulleys and lines for food hoists near this midpoint, then hoist the whole thing in the air and tie off to the trunks. Can be time consuming, and you have to get the ‘crossbar” TIGHT to support weight of the food. We tie off at one end, tighten at the other. Helps to have one person pulling with a prussik while another one ties off.

    • Gabriel Cormier on August 27, 2019 at 9:29 pm

      I like the sound of this system. Would you take a picture of your next one?

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

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

  9. Langleybackcountry on 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!

    • Michael Martinez on July 22, 2019 at 7:40 am

      Another useful thing about the hard cannister is servers as a chair and a mini-table. I dislike carrying it of course – not only the weight, but I find it extremely difficult to tie securely on the outside of the backpack.

  10. paulmsg on 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.

    • Bret on September 30, 2022 at 9:38 am

      Started using paracord it’s less dense than guyline so not much heavier (if any) and tangles less and easier to hold. I’d say this is entirely situational. Yeah finding good trees is tough in high mountains, but non-issue for many lower elevation places. A 2.5# canister is overkill for many places. We have black bears but they avoid humans like the plague and we have good hanging trees never heard of incidents or bears even trying to get food. However there were some times in the mountains I wished I just had a canister.

  11. James Hanacek on 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 on 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 on January 10, 2019 at 6:24 pm

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

  13. Darin on 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 on 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 on 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, 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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.

    • Kristen on April 10, 2019 at 6:03 pm

      You could always invest in an Ursack and *still* hang it from a tree (rather than just tying it around a tree) if that makes you feel better about it, and to reduce likelihood of the contents getting crushed.

  15. Jess on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on January 11, 2019 at 9:00 am

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

    • 77 on January 18, 2020 at 8:44 am

      On my 2017 AT thru hike, I hung my food every night if there wasn’t a bear box, cables, or pole available. It was a time consuming process that generally took about 15 minutes. I was using the PCT method and a rock bag. Were all my hangs perfect? No. But there were so many bad hangs from other hikers that I figured mine was the least attractive. Which brings me to my point. Due to the popularity of the PCT and AT, more times than not you will be camped with others. Just be better and you won’t have issues.

      • wilbur on May 9, 2020 at 9:38 am

        You won’t have issues, but eventually the bears will. I’d not be surprised if much/all of the AT is canister only in a decade.

        • Aaron H on May 20, 2020 at 9:23 pm

          Well, that would be a good way to kill foot traffic on the AT. I’m not sure the businesses in the towns along the way that are reliant on resupply would be too happy about that either. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can’t imagine lugging one of those heavy-ass, big-ass canisters 2000 miles. If it happens, say goodbye to any new thru-hiker vids.

          • Zachary Robbins on May 21, 2020 at 12:23 pm

            Lol that’s kind of an overreaction. There’s almost no chance foot traffic will decrease dramatically.

  19. Carl Clingman on 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 on 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.

    • Chris Finley on February 26, 2020 at 9:50 pm

      Paul Kirtley interviews Cliff Jacobson in his latest podcast episode (#51). I really enjoy Paul’s guests and his interview style; Cliff Jacobson is no exception. They get into bears and food at 1hr 31m. I’ll just say, it gets entertaining.

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

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

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

    Cliff Jacobson has been saying stuff like this for years…

  22. Ryan W on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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.

    • Michael Martinez on July 22, 2019 at 7:56 am

      Can you elaborate on your “dangerous close calls”?

  24. Peter on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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. on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on January 22, 2019 at 1:18 pm

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

    • Michael on August 7, 2019 at 5:36 pm

      In Canada, designated back country sites in often have heavy steel bear boxes.
      (Im speaking of national parks and Ontario, cant speak for other provincial park systems.) Very convenient, although it can be a bit tricky getting the bears into them.

  29. Mark Langley on 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 on 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 on January 13, 2019 at 7:38 am

    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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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.

          • Russ on June 12, 2020 at 2:09 pm

            I have spent many nights at nearby Roland Point on Ross Lake (N. Cascades) and can attest to the mice! Luckily Roland Point has a metal bear box that we keep the food in on our kayak trips. There are plenty of bears around Ross Lake too – had one in camp at Lightening Creek 2 years ago when nearby campers cooked up a fancy dinner. It took a lot of banging and yelling to send it on its way. Either great hangs or canisters make sense at Ross Lake.

        • Aaron H on May 20, 2020 at 9:38 pm

          I can only speak from my experiences in the Sierras, Rockies and Black Hills, but although calling them “bear canisters” is sexier, rodents are the MAIN problem where food is concerned. On Mount Whitney the rangers will tell you that you don’t need the canister for the bears. You need it for the freakin’ marmots. It’s just a numbers game. Same reason when you leave camp to summit, you leave the tent and everything else open. Best to let the critters run around inside than have them chew their way in.

          There are only about 100 grizzlies in the lower 48 that do not live in Montana or the Teton-Yellowstone area. In Rocky Mountain National Park there are about 35 black bears in 266000 acres. Just do a little homework and plan accordingly.

  35. Serafin on 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 on 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 on 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 on January 15, 2019 at 2:42 pm

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

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

          Actually, it says so right on the lid!

  37. Mark Filbey on 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 on 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.

      • Mike Clelland on January 11, 2022 at 8:33 pm

        I have done a ton of bear hangs, and I’ve gotten *very* good at them. I usually get the string over in the first toss. And I often did the tossing for the students (as opposed to clients).

        Still, I’ve had some royal screw-ups, like getting the string stuck in the tree. And I’ve also done plenty that were “close” to correct, but not perfect.

        If I was going in a place where a string would work, I’d go with that. The Tetons was my home court for decades, and I had really good luck doing hangs in that terrain.

        The bear canister is a no-brainer, but it requires a slightly larger pack.

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

    I saw this and thought of you. A pretty impressive high-wire act.

    • Andrew Skurka on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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.

    • Andrew Skurka on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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.

    • Diana on July 30, 2019 at 5:38 pm

      Late reply, I know, but I just checked the Yellowstone website, and they are FINALLY allowing backpackers to use approved bear canisters as an alternative to hanging food via the supplied poles. It certainly took them long enough to catch up with the rest of the Park Service!

  44. Dennis on 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..

    • Kristen on April 10, 2019 at 9:01 pm

      I wondered the same thing. After reading up more, it seems that tying the Ursack securely around a tree trunk prevents it from being carried away or opened (by the bear pulling the knot apart). If it’s just hanging the bear could run off with it and spend time getting into it. But if it’s securied snugly to a tree they can’t make headway (and might also alert the campers who could come and scare it away).

  45. Lawrence Soucie on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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.

  54. Shawn on 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 on 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 on 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 on February 5, 2019 at 2:33 pm

      That means a lot coming from you, thanks.

  57. ultralightguy on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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.

        • michael merecer on June 19, 2019 at 1:50 pm

          Davenport Gap still has the fencing as of early June this year

    • MarkL on 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 on March 12, 2019 at 11:18 am

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

  61. Adrian Redgwell on June 13, 2019 at 9:57 am

    Ordour proof is the key as is knowledge of the area you are in. Mist eastern trails now have bear boxes as do the first 2 states of the AT.

    Bears on the AT are now smart enough for the PCT. And now I hear they are taking up bowling with the bear barrels lol.

    And that same shelter people are before Roan for the second year in a row, those special new tgru hikers keep hanging thier bags off the shelter and Mr Bear is having a field day taking all the bags.

  62. S.Matt Read on June 14, 2019 at 8:04 pm

    A fellow AT thru-hiker told me he used his food bag as a pillow! So about halfway through my thru-hike, I stopped hanging. Never had an issue, not even with rodents. Of course, I didn’t camp near shelters and I had low-odor food.

  63. William Grassie on June 18, 2019 at 9:31 am

    The best (and cheapest) odor barrier bags are self-basting turkey bags at the grocery store.

  64. Mike Mercer on June 19, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    Much as I respect Andrew I must disagree with this advice. This is not consistent with current best practice in LNT. Don’t be one of the losers with pathetic hangs. Do it right. If you are not sure how then you need to get some training. As a LNT master educator we do teach all kinds of methods for all kinds of environments including those where you don’t have convenient horizontal branches at the correct height. But also be careful to protect the trees. I’ve seen many innovative hang techniques that solve the problem of the hang but at significant damage to the trees. Dragging loaded lines with abrasive cord over branches or in the notch of a tree will do the tree in very quickly. We teach simple methods to avoid this damage.

    However note that Andrew is correct that in some cases, a hard sided canister is going to be your only option (and may be required). Just make sure your canister is easy to spot after the bear takes if for a ride.

  65. Bob Merger on July 1, 2019 at 11:50 am

    Just camped at Glacier National Park and I was surprised no one mentioned bear canisters from either the rangers or in publications. I had hauled my bear canister from Ohio and had started to question whether it was allowed or not. Thankfully I found out they were allowed on their website but I’m surprised food hanging was really the only method mentioned unless you dug around.

    • Andrew Skurka on July 1, 2019 at 9:45 pm

      Technically you “hang” your food in Glacier, but really you’re using park-provided infrastructure, specifically horizontal beams that have been installed at all backcountry camps. This infrastructure provides a much more reliable and effective hang than the conventional hang-in-a-tree technique. Not sure if you noticed, but most Glacier camps are surrounded by spindly trees (if any) in which a hang could never been properly done.

  66. Paul Bayne on July 15, 2019 at 7:17 am

    Hi Andrew,

    I guide groups in many of the areas you are familiar with (SNP, Dolly Sods, Flatrock/Roaring Plains, Spruce Knob, MD A.T.). For areas without infrastructure, what do you think is a good method for a guided group of about 8-10 people? We teach the classic bear hang and several modifications for typical “branchless” east coast trees and it takes a significant amount of time every day/evening to get right.



    • Andrew Skurka on July 29, 2019 at 9:27 am

      Assuming you’re not having problems in any of these areas, I’d go with Ursacks. Huge time saver over hangs, and at least as effective for this type of area.

      If you’re having issues with bears already, I’d look at canisters. They suck to carry, but they’re really good at protecting food, and they’re more foolproof than other options.

  67. Mica on September 8, 2019 at 1:59 pm

    For the perfect bear hang/hanging bear, see

  68. Erik on October 13, 2019 at 10:51 am

    I place my food (and other items with scents) in scent proof bags, then in an ursack, hang the bag, and at a distance from camp. Overkill? Maybe, but the peace of mind allows me to sleep more soundly.

  69. Bart on October 13, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    Boy Andrew! Nothin’ gets more comments than the thought of NOT hanging your food!
    On the PCT, I put my food and toiletries in an Opsack, that goes into a Nylofume bag, that’s goes inside my backpack, that goes next to me in my Duplex tent…have never had a problem.

    • Novice hiker (6k miles) on November 16, 2022 at 1:20 pm

      I have had success with a method almost identical to this in areas without specific restrictions or bear problems.

      The only differences being that all my food items are also individually sealed or Ziplocked and I also press all the air out of the bags and stuff my dirty clothes on top.

      I find it highly unlikely that this combination smells more enticing than I do and I’ve never had rodent (or bear) problems.

      That being said, I have also used most other techniques where specific restrictions or requirements apply, including:

      • Hard-sided containers (BV500) on the High Sierra section of the PCT. Ideally wedged between a cluster of trees in such a way that it would be somewhat difficult for a bear to lift out; alternatively, piled underneath rocks (which I return to their original location once done) – if only to slow the bear down and alert me to their presence.

      • Hanging (on infrastructure) in Glacier National Park on the CDT, using the “PCT hang” method. Often next to some truly pathetic attempts that could be pulled down by a hungry _human_ without much effort.

      • OPsack + Ursack in most other areas north of the Basin on the CDT. Placing the sack inside a cluster of trees gives a little more confidence against a bear chewing the sack.

      I’m due to hike the AT early next year (Feb-Apr) and I’m still evaluating options for that.

  70. Michael on October 14, 2019 at 10:13 am

    i think we need to realize that even if you don’t protect your food at all, it’s unlikely bears will get to it because bears aren’t in all places at all times. It’s unlikely they’ll be running across your camp especially if you’re there only for a night or two.
    Someone in this thread, a hunter I believe, had mentioned that if bears have gotten a whiff of your food from whereever they’re hanging out – across the mountain or what not, it can take a day or two for them to make their way over to your camp.

    • Mark Langley on October 14, 2019 at 11:56 am

      This may be true in true wilderness, but if you are camped in a spot frequented by other campers the bears learn very quickly where to look. Yosemite bears are in Yosemite and developed their superior abilities for a reason.

      • Michael on October 15, 2019 at 8:07 am

        Yeah, that’s true. In my 40+ years of camping I’ve never had any issues or occurences of bears trying to mess with my food, but I’ve never camped in crowded popular places like Yellowstone.

  71. Steve on January 5, 2020 at 4:11 pm

    Great discussion. I am struggling to keep my gear light and have used the PCT with Opsak with no issues in the Wind Rivers, but admit that most of my hangs are poor to barely acceptable and they do take a lot of time. Last year I nearly lost my bag not once, but twice when the line got stuck in the tree. I spent nearly 30 minutes to break it free. That made me think seriously about Ursaks. An added 9 oz is a lot though. I’m already adding warmer clothes and a CCF pad as a safety feature for typical sub-freezing nights (it’s nearly impossible to patch an airpad in the field)!

  72. Jon on January 6, 2020 at 10:22 am

    Andrew this video shows a sow teaching her three cubs to how to defeat a pretty good bear hang in the boundary waters of northern Minnesota. I find bear canisters to my liking.

    • Mike S on January 6, 2020 at 5:17 pm

      My standard bear-hang starts with good intentions always ends pretty awful. I don’t know how much time I wasted, thank god, so I can’t comment on the half hour suggestion
      . I went through renting Garcia’s to buying a BV to eventually buying a Bearicade. I justify the cost, weight, and packing annoyance with the Free Camp Chair.

      I keep getting older and keep going through my gear list looking for weight savings that won’t kill me or cost $100/oz (which will also kill me btw, in the form of my better half.)

      Most of our time is spent on the Sierras, not all national parks however. This post is inspiring me to get (spend more money on) a Ursack.

  73. Matthew White on January 6, 2020 at 7:17 pm

    In BWCA, the throw rock slipped out of the parachute cord knot, flew up over the bear bag branch we selected, and dropped down ripping right through my tent wall. Epic fail…. duct tape saves again. I still tell this cautionary tale today!

    • langleybackcountry on January 6, 2020 at 10:12 pm

      Ummm…maybe I’m stating the obvious hee, but aren’t you supposed to hang the bear attractant *away* from camp? 😉

  74. Adam B on January 6, 2020 at 7:42 pm

    During a month long trek in Alaska I bear-bagged a few times in the trees where possible, but I fully admit each hang was practically useless.

    By the time you’ve found a place to camp, deflating packrafts, making fire, had dinner, you’re tired and light is low. Last thing you want is to be stumbling around in the woods in the dark with head torches and dodgy footing throwing rocks and searching for the right tree. So you rush it, and convince yourself it’s worth it with an 8 foot hang on a rotten branch…

    Having had a close encounter with a bear outside our tent in Juneau (on an island no less), I’m glad I’ve always followed the double bag approach: each day’s food is sealed in its own aLoksak pouch, within a larger sealed aLoksak, inside an Ursack, secured at least 40m from camp (Can’t physically fit a hard canister along with packraft and camp gear in my pack).

    No idea if we were just lucky or not, but all I know is that any rare occasion we stumbled into a site with a locker: we used it gratefully.

  75. Paul on February 16, 2020 at 5:47 am

    You bring up a valid point. The term bear hang bag is dated. However, I still use a hang bag. Why? Because it forces you to collect your trash, food, etc and actually clean up your campsite before calling it a night.
    I would never sleep with my food, hygiene products, etc. You’re asking for rodents to pay a visit.

  76. Benno Nicholas on May 3, 2020 at 9:55 am

    I work for Government Agency in the backcountry.

    Often we’re not near suitable trees or trees of any kind.

    We’re always in Bear country.

    Grizzly as well as black bear and parts of the year Polar Bear as well.

    If we don’t have access to food/garbage/toiletries/other attractants storage lockers then we travel with Food Canisters.

    We are not permitted to hang anything.

    There are reasons other than effectiveness of the hanging methods that prohibit hanging of our food/garbage/toiletries/other attractants.

    Wildlife have been attracted to hanging opportunities and we are not permitted to engage in anything that can be considered encouraging wildlife encounters.

    Many animal baiting operations use hanging methods and wildlife get conditioned to hanging items. Food/garbage/toiletries/other attractants encourage wildlife encounters.

    We use both BV500 and Garcia Machine canisters only.

    Always great to hear other methods that have been successful for others in the backcountry.

    Everyone wants to be safe and enjoy their backcountry experiences.

    Continued success to all.

  77. Sam Wilson on July 13, 2020 at 7:41 pm

    For 40 years I have been backpacking using the counter balance method and have spent up to an hour or so before finding the ideal tree, the ideal location, the ideal retrieval stick, the ideal branch, the ideal throw rock and have never had a bear issue with this method. This method has provided lots of entertainment and laughs and is a campsite ritual for me and others.

    I would not use it in a problem bear area or where it was not allowed by law. However, in areas where bears are hunted and where they mostly avoid people, the odds of a bear getting your “properly” hung food, in my opinion, are super minimal.

    I’ll carry a canister when required by law, in areas without ideal trees, places with known bear problems and for short trips since they are so darn convenient(sitting, washing, cleaning, hauling water, etc). But on longer trips, where canisters are not required and in areas with ideal trees, I’ll skip on the canister due to their extra weight and volume…regardless of social shaming and guilt trips and bullying by government agency folks and other people.

    I have also noticed, in general, in backcountry areas where bears and people are not micromanaged, and hunting for bears is legal, the chances of a bear getting your food or interacting with you are very small as they have a natural fear of humans and try to keep their distance.

    This is based on 40 years of occasional experience with Black Bears in SEKI, private inholdings, Yosemite(the worst for bear behavior I know of, but I think they are getting better), INYO, USFS(Sequoia) and nearby areas. In Yosemite near Merced Lake I had physical contact with a black bear to remove it from our backpack camp. In hunting areas, as opposed to national parks, the closest I have ever been to a bear hiking and camping is maybe 150′ (at least that I was aware of!) and they almost always run off quickly(super fast – both uphill and downhill !)

    This article was very well written and a good analysis of the hang vs. canister topic…kudos to the Author ! Thank you for spending the time to write this.


  78. Susan Nolan on July 26, 2020 at 5:25 pm

    Thanks for daring to point out the emperor has no clothes. It’s my belief that camp-raiding bears are a leading indicator of overuse. Hiking in National Forest wilderness where hunting is permitted and summer visitors only visit lakes allows me to see truly wild country, and sleep with the food at my head (to fend off the occasional rodent).

  79. Scotty T on July 27, 2020 at 12:49 pm

    Thank you so much for this information. I have experienced much of the problems you listed for hanging. I have often thought is the hanging even efficient. Thank you for helping clear this up and put my mind at ease with the other options.

    Happy and safe backpacking to you.

  80. John on September 23, 2020 at 9:36 pm

    I think most people have forgotten the reason for hanging your food in a tree, away from your camp. If you have food, keeping it in your tent is not safe. If you hang it away from you, and an animal is determined, it will get it, even if you hang it but they will be drawn away from you. If a wild animal in the wild is not starving it would rather find something normal to eat than to accept your challenge. If you want to lug around a bear proof container I would still put it away from your camp.

  81. Paul on October 21, 2020 at 9:12 am

    I hate all these solutions, but it’s not because of the efficacy (or lack thereof) of the method. It’s because it implies I should be scared to death of bears. I stink. If the bear is going to be attracted to anything that smells of food and chomp on its head like a juicy salmon, that describes me to a tee. Why the heck am I camping in such a dangerous place? If I accept the fact that a bear will not murder me in my sleep because of my tuna breath, then it follows that food in my sleeping bag in an odor-proof sack is likely to be even safer than I am.

    I would LOVE to hear reasons this logic is incorrect. My logic sometimes is. But I’d like real reasons, not just some version of, “it’s dumb.”

    Things that will leave you stinky even though your food is “safe” in a tree:

    – crumbs you dropped inadvertently near or in your tent
    – food smell on your clothing because you ate food while wearing clothing
    – food smell on your breath, or, if you practice good oral hygiene, toothpaste smell, which they also claim bears love
    – that Clif bar wrapper you forgot to take out of your pocket
    – the crumbs from that Clif bar that are left in your pocket even though you did remember to remove the wrapper
    – the food residue on your backpack from that time you accidentally crushed that bag of stuff while synching it tight.


    Opsack stuffed in trash compacter bag.

  82. Shraddha on November 9, 2020 at 12:54 am

    the best way is to be away from areas that have bears as much as possible, or at least for a beginner like me.

  83. RockyNBullwinkel on November 20, 2020 at 5:38 pm

    Is a good topic. I like when previous dogma is challenged. In this case, however, it seems I’ll keep doing what I have been doing. In desert, I rodent hang. In forests or mountains, I bear hang. If there is infrastructure, I will utilize it. If there is a requirement for a canister, I will use one. I have never had a problem with scent by utilizing an Opsak inside a thicker Dyneema dry bag to hang my scented items.

  84. Bill on February 1, 2021 at 5:55 pm

    Properly done, doing a bear hang has always worked for me. I’m a big game hunter who has to backpack out my game meat. This takes several trips. I bear hang the meat backpacking out the quarters in turn. The only problem I’ve had with bears and wolves is when I’ve left the meat hanging overnight returning to it in the morning. Campers should seriously consider bear proof containers. One trick that’s worth considering is to powder the outside of your food container and the base of the tree with Cayenne pepper powder. It really messes with the sense of smell. Animals can’t smell anything for a couple of days after getting a nose full of that stuff. In most cases, critters can no longer smell your food/game bag.

  85. Ashley on March 23, 2021 at 9:57 pm

    I appreciate and agree with your perspective here. I carry a canister because I got sick of looking for a decent branch. That said, as a trail ambassador on the Georgia section of the AT, I despise this article. When we try to teach the PCT method to hang, someone always brings up this article and tells me that Andrew Skurka says we should stop hanging our bear bags. They ignore the rest of the article advocating using other, easier and more effective methods, and just toss the headline at me.

    • Andrew Skurka on March 23, 2021 at 10:20 pm

      I’m sorry that people can’t read. Hopefully you tell them they should re-read the article, which explicitly recommends other techniques.

    • Andrew Skurka on March 23, 2021 at 10:24 pm

      Also, why are you bothering to teach them the PCT Method when you agree that there are easier and more effective methods available?

      • Ashley on June 9, 2021 at 6:54 pm

        The ATC strongly advises hikers to use bear canisters, but they are not required for most of the AT. When we are working with hikers, they are either already on trail or coming to Base Camp at Amicalola Falls State Park to register and start their hikes. We will go over proper use and storage techniques for canisters or Ursacks if that’s what the hiker has, but if they have simple hang kits, then we make sure they know the PCT method rather than tieing off, as the bears here definitely know how to slash lines tied to a tree. The density of hikers on the AT, particularly in Georgia in the Spring, gives bears a lot of opportunity to perfect their thieving skills.

        And yes – I can quote some sections of this article, particularly the specific conditions under which you would sleep with your food – none of which are present on the Appalachian Trail.

        • Andrew Skurka on June 9, 2021 at 7:22 pm

          That makes sense. If the only thing they have is some cord, you might as well teach them to use it as best they can.

  86. Blake Wolfskill on April 3, 2021 at 7:38 am

    I was out for a 4 day trip through Harriman state park this past weekend. All food in an OPsack inside an ursack major. My dad has the same bag, but used a newer zpacks odor proof sack. We woke up the first morning and noticed all ziplock bags inside had holes in them. Then noticed everything had holes in it, powder from freeze dried meals had now leaked out, mixed with rain water, made a slimy paste, which had gotten inside several cliff bars that had holes in them. Nothing had gotten outside the ursack, but it was apparent a bear had found the bags and given them a few chomps before losing interest. I am not that keen on going back to hanging, and think a vault may be best option from now on.

    • Andrew Skurka on April 3, 2021 at 9:18 am

      I’ve not backpacked in Harriman since the AT in 2002, but this strikes me as a poor place for any method besides a hard-sided canister. Too much use, and probably a lot of entry-level backpackers because of its accessibility.

  87. Dave on May 10, 2021 at 9:20 pm

    I feel many points made are theoretical and many have noted their hanging method hasn’t really been put to the test. I’ve had about 20 experiences I’m aware of with bears and hung food, so thought I’d share:

    A few times, I witnessed a bear identify the hanging food, but not get it. A couple times when retrieving hung food I’ve discovered bear prints under the food, but the food untouched. Several times, I’ve woken to bear sounds and been able to scare the bear off before it could climb the tree. I’ve had three or four times that I recall that a bear was able to swat at the pack, creating a tear and knocking between 10 and 30 percent of the food out. I have no idea how many times a bear has scoped out hung food that I’m not aware of. For me, hanging, when available hasn’t been a perfect food protection solution, but it has greatly reduced food loss to bears. I’m just sharing some actual hanging experiences with bears, not trying to advocate any method over another.

    I think a really important point you make is that it’s not just about one’s individual risk of loss, but how even the occasional bear success can change bear behavior. I’ve read a few attack reports and articles that suggest bears ingesting plastic food bags may play a role in some bear attacks.

    I think it’s easy to just adopt common practics without thought, so whether people agree or disagree with your conclusion, you offer some great points and arguments to consider. Thanks for that. I already have a bear canister for some personal trips and look forward to hearing more reports about how the Ursacks fair with time. Thanks also for allowing a venue where such reports can be posted.

  88. Sean Neves on June 26, 2021 at 9:28 pm

    I’ve spent 3-4 trips per year a piece in the Uintas and Wind Rivers since I was 11. Yes hanging sucks. It is always imperfect and many times just plain wrong. But it encourages camp clean up, good cleanliness practices and has prevented food access in many cases as evidenced by bear prints, scratch marks and other sign. I use PCT almost exclusively although PCT does poorly in basecamp situations. It tends to dig in the tree and gum up your line with multie uses. Solution is to move your hang every couple of days.

    It’s important to note that the lack of bear encounters does nothing to inform us of the efficacy of method. Not to nitpick Andrew but I’ve seen you claim many times that you’ve never had a bear in your camp. I’d say that’s probably statistically not true given your prolific travels through bear country. You just didn’t observe one.

    So my practice is thus: no bear hangs outside of bear country. PCT almost exclusively, with a an unscented 3 mil trash compactor bag twisted and turned with a stout silicone band. Odor control is key. Also note that bear canisters inexcusably do not have gaskets and are not waterproof or smell resistant. Why have the designs not improved over the last two decades? Perhaps different closure methods and canister shapes? That’s crazy to me. I get the Aloksak thing but I’ve had bad luck with them and many failures. Canisters blow. I have them and use them if required. Frankly I’d rather carry a packraft for that weight. More utility and timesaving if you ask me. Walk Upper Ross Lake in the Winds. Half day of pure sufferfest on foot. 30 minutes in a boat. Hang take 5 to 20 minutes. It’s fine.

  89. Mike Marmo on July 28, 2021 at 11:37 am

    I disagree with most of what you say.

    Hanging a bear bag involves layers of difficulty for the bears. Just because a bear can get your bear bag down does not mean it’s not worthwhile. That is only one of the layers. If the bear gets your bag they still need to get access to the food, which is why you use a bear proof container. Some issues I have with your advice including my own anecdotes to follow.

    Reasons to hang a bear bag:

    1. YOU might suck at it, but most people do not. It is not nearly as difficult as you describe.

    2. It is usually possible. Just because you can’t find a textbook perfect spot to hang the bag is OK. Because this is just one of the layers of protection.

    3. It is not time consuming. See the first point.

    4. The risk of injury or death is so small that it is comical to include it as a warning. You have a better chance of drowning in a desert than killing yourself hanging a bear bag. Ridiculous.

    5. It is effective against most bears. A determined bear that has enough time to get the bag is rare.

    As others have pointed out in these comments, hanging a bear bag is a deterrent. That is the point. It discourages bears and they give up. Or it slows them down long enough for humans to notice. This is usually what happens. You are giving advice based on the exceptions, and that is poor advice.

  90. Bryce on August 10, 2021 at 11:48 am

    I think your first point is spot on. I’d say 50% of my hangs are bad, and the other 50% are total garbage.

  91. Friar Rodney Burnap on August 14, 2021 at 1:21 pm

    HYOH…stop telling other hikers you know better…if you don’t want to hang a bear bag that’s you…because of other hikers telling other hikers they are doing if wrong we no longer have some very good backpacking gear available to us anymore…HYOH stop being a know-it-all go away…

  92. Mike Mason on September 13, 2021 at 10:06 pm

    My favourite approach is just anchoring a canoe in about 3m of water. Very fast. Bears are great swimmers, but lousy canoeists.

    If your river is too shallow, and the trees are tall enough, hanging is the preferred method. It takes only a few minutes, plus a walk.

    Over the last 30 years, plenty of bears have tried to get my bags. All failed. It was entertaining to watch, from a distance, until we switched to barrels. I suspect barrels are low odor, because bears almost never go for them. I usually travel 2-3 weeks at a time with youth groups or my rather numerous children, which makes the number of Ursacks impractical.

    Although I frequently encounter bears while travelling (daily if the berries are poor), they rarely come into a campsite. The exception is if you’ve got a canister or barrel, and you’ve left it in camp, when there are no trees. The lesson is to take your food away from camp, always.

    I don’t understand the idea of sleeping with your food. Even if places exist without bears, I’ve seen hungry raccoons and once a fisher claw through a tent to get at food in OP bags, heedless of the sleeping humans. There is no such thing as 100% Odor-free.

  93. Mickey M. on September 23, 2021 at 11:22 am

    Lol. This is article is basically “You suck at hanging things. So don’t do it.”

  94. Ken Babinchak on January 12, 2022 at 3:08 am

    We learned the hard way that you shouldn’t smoke up before throwing the bear bag rope/rock. It just ain’t gonna happen. It’s good for 10-15 minutes of laffs and insanity, but hold off on the weed.

  95. Jay on February 3, 2022 at 8:58 am

    Sorry this bad advice, your reasons not to are quite weak, “your not good at it” “its hard” “it will kill you” “it takes to long”. I do loads of solo camping in Colorado had over 50 nights out last season, 2 of those I woke to the sound of a bear in the area of my bear bag at night and it was in a smell resistant dry bag.

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