Interview with Ursack CEO: Yosemite food regs, lobbying, & new products

Dave Chenault making dinner at an at-large campsite in Glacier National Park, where Ursacks are allowed and where there is a healthy population of grizzly and black bears.

Dave Chenault making dinner at an at-large campsite in Glacier National Park, where Ursacks are allowed and where there is a healthy population of grizzly and black bears.

Among bear-resistant food containers certified by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC), the Ursack S29.3 AllWhite is easily my favorite.

  • It weighs just 8 oz, or 80 percent less than my BearVault BV500, which has the same volume. It’s also $10 less. And,
  • Unlike plastic or carbon fiber canisters, it’s soft-sided and collapsible, and as comfortable to carry as a nylon stuff sack.

There is only one problem with it: It’s not an approved food storage device in parts of the High Sierra (notably Yosemite NP and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks), as well as Olympic National Park and Pisgah National Forest.

I decided to interview Tom Cohen, the CEO and Founder of Ursack, to discuss this policy, IGBC certification, his thoughts on lobbying pressure, and upcoming products.

If you have another question for Tom, please leave a comment.

Q. Do you think that the Ursack S29.3 AllWhite should be considered an acceptable food storage method in Yosemite National Park and other areas where it is currently not?

Absolutely. Or put another way: hell yes, without a doubt, no question about it.

Q. The AllWhite has been approved by IGBC, but ultimately that organization does not have final say over NPS and USFS regulations. On what grounds has the AllWhite been rejected as an approved food storage method?

It has been a continual source of frustration to us that we have not been able to have any kind of dialogue with the Parks and Forests that ban Ursack. Because of that, I am unable to fully answer your question.

Each National Park and Forest has its own regulations. There is no national standard, although many areas have now adopted IGBC certification so that any IGBC approved container is deemed approved in those areas. Almost none of the areas that continue to ban Ursack have given us a reason. It is my unsubstantiated belief that many of the naysayers simply follow Yosemite’s lead. For its part, Yosemite (and SEKI) has communicated very little information despite our constant requests. Nor, as far as I know, have they ever responded to the petition initiated by a customer, which garnered 2,910 signatures.

The only substantive response we have received from Yosemite/SEKI was a comment that they were able to poke a pencil point through the Ursack. We could have told them that in advance. It is a weave separation that will not propagate into a tear. You can read an excerpt from the letter we sent in response.

There may be other reasons Ursack is banned, but we don’t know what they are. Our track record with the IGBC certified Ursack S29.3 AllWhite is nearly perfect. That contrasts with the approved hard sided canisters on Yosemite/SEKI’s list. About 25 of those were broken in 2013 by a Yosemite bear (read Speaking of Bears, by Rachel Mazur). We don’t know the statistics since then. One of the canisters on the list has never passed IGBC certification. Another had highly publicized problems in the Adirondack High Peaks.

In short, no bear canister is perfect. That is why they are always advertised as “bear resistant” not “bear proof.” In spite of that, Ursack remains banned in some places where others are allowed and is given no explanation for the decision.

Q. That sounds frustrating, and I hope that at least the dialogue improves. But assuming that nothing changes, what are the situations (i.e. locations, regulations, level of bear and mini-bear activity) where you believe backpackers should be using an Ursack rather than the conventional hard-sided canister?

There are no situations I can think of where a backpacker should be using a hard sided canister instead of an Ursack. I suppose if I knew for certain that a particular camping area was guaranteed to have bears going after my food, I would probably add the aluminum liner to my Ursack. Normally I go without….knowing that the worst that can happen is that my freeze dried food will be crushed. Big deal. Just add boiling water and it is edible.

Q. What is the exact benefit of the aluminum liner? Is it purely to protect the food from impact? Does it make an Ursack any more resistant to bears or mini-bears?

Aluminum liner prevents most food from being crushed. It probably won’t help with ripe tomatoes. Not sure what you mean by mini bears, but the liner keeps the sharp claws of raccoons or the sharp beaks of birds out of the food inside an Ursack. Note that with or without the aluminum liner bears and mini bears will not be able to tear a hole in Ursack.

The BV500 and Ursack AllWhite S29.3 are both about 650 cubic inches in volume. But the Ursak is 80 percent lighter and is soft-sided. Which would you rather carry?

The BV500 and Ursack AllWhite S29.3 are both about 650 cubic inches in volume. But the Ursak is 80 percent lighter and is soft-sided. Which would you rather carry?

Q. Is it useful if backpackers contact land managers and voice their support for the use of Ursacks? If so, what would you encourage them to say and who should they contact?

We definitely want to encourage backpackers to contact land managers. First to ask that they consider allowing Ursacks to be used and second, if rebuffed, to ask for solid reasons from land managers why Ursack is not allowed. Land managers should be pressed to provide scientific evidence that IGBC approved Ursacks don’t prevent bears from getting human food. (Hint: there is no such evidence.) They should be asked why the IGBC’s long standing and respected bear canister testing program is being ignored. They should be asked what percentage of bear incidents in their area are caused by improper storage of food and whether a lightweight alternative to hard sided canisters might encourage more campers to properly store their food.

I expect one answer from land managers would be that in an Ursack without an aluminum liner, a camper’s food could be crushed. The counter to that answer is: the land managers’ obligation is to prevent bears from becoming habituated to human food, and not to protect campers from eating mush. They do not require backpackers to carry warm clothes or a tent or emergency equipment or anything else, so why should they have a requirement about food.

Public pressure helps eventually.

Q. What are you most excited about right now at Ursack?

We are excited about three things — all of which we hope will also excite certain customers.

We are developing a bear bag made from laminated fabric that will be waterproof and bear claw/teeth proof and critter proof. It should satisfy those who are concerned with the weave separations that can occur in our current bear bags. We don’t have a name for it yet and are a ways off in finalizing the design, but it might be called the Ursack ACGS (All Creatures Great and Small) unless your readers have a better idea or unless that raises intellectual property issues.

We also are testing a revised Grrrsack, a chewable dog toy we made a while back that turned out to be vulnerable to some dogs. This is also made from laminated fabric.

Finally, we are working on a beer bag — a cooler made with very high tech insulation and ballistic fabric. That’s a ways off.

Have another question for Tom? Please leave a comment.

Disclosure. This post contains affiliate links, which help to support this website. Personal funds were used to purchase the Ursack and BV500. I received no monetary or product compensation from Ursack for this interview.

Posted in , on September 20, 2016
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  1. Brandon Smith on September 20, 2016 at 9:32 am

    I have an Ursack S29 AllWhite that always comes with me to the Ouachita National Forest. The Ursack gives me a little piece of mind for 8 oz. It’s a brilliant product and should be apporved for all national forest. The only drawback to the Ursack is that it has to be hung from a strong branch to be effective. But with proper planning I should always be able to find a tree. If not, I’ll just have to risk sleeping on my food a la Andrew. 🙂

    • David Levin on January 6, 2019 at 10:20 am

      The Sierra parks service did not reply to my inquiry about an evidence based rationale for ursack ban. Disappointing. I suspect no data exists. I continue to use Ursack in ALL areas. It is a superior product on many levels for ultralight bpkrs. Until solid data revealing ursack vulnerability is produced, I suggest my fellow ultralights follow suit.

  2. Douche P. on September 20, 2016 at 10:10 am

    Can you tell us how the closure works, and how it stays shut?

    • Thomas A Cohen on September 20, 2016 at 11:16 am

      Check out the page on our website that details the closure: But the basic answer is: tie a surgeon’s knot, then tie to a tree or add more knots and leave it on the ground. No bear has ever chewed through or snapped the integrated cord.

  3. CJ on September 20, 2016 at 10:45 am

    I thought the point with the Ursack is that you DON’T have to hang it. Tie it to a sturdy tree and leave it away from camp, otherwise why not just carry a lighter and cheaper dry sack to hang!

    • Thomas A Cohen on September 20, 2016 at 11:19 am

      You tie Ursack to a tree mostly to keep bears from hauling it away. Also, the more a bear tugs on it, the tighter the knot gets. Alternatively, you can do a PCT hang with an Ursack, but that is just a preventive measure that does not always work.

  4. g-man on September 20, 2016 at 11:09 am

    You can also add Lassen NP to the silly list…

    • Tom Cohen on September 20, 2016 at 12:58 pm

      Lassen NP had a public comment period on the proposed regulations. The period ended 9/8/16. I am not sure of the outcome or if a decision has been made yet.

  5. Zak on September 20, 2016 at 11:57 am

    I went to the Ursack website to look around, and while on the “Field tests” page, the first (El Dorado NF) testimonial talked about a bear crushing all the food and even puncturing a can of tuna. It seems pretty clear that even if a bear can’t get a full meal, it can still get some food reward from a properly used Ursack.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to use an Ursack instead of a heavy canister that is always too big or too small. But park/NF managers are not setting regs in order to protect my snacks, they’re trying to protect bears and other wildlife by demonstrating that there is no reward in messing with human food and camp areas. I completely understand why there’s a high bar to clear for Ursack here. I hope that a future product can convincingly clear that bar.

    • Andrew Skurka on September 20, 2016 at 12:13 pm

      If this is the concern that Yosemite et al. has about the Ursack, then I would love to hear that from them. Similarly, if they’re too concerned about human error, please say so.

      But rejecting a bear-resistant product that has been certified by IGBC because “we stuck a pencil tip through it,” without further explanation, seems pretty weak. As a small business owner, I particularly sympathize with Tom for being given no instruction on how to improve his products so that they would merit approval.

      • Zak on September 20, 2016 at 4:42 pm

        Yeah, as another small business owner, I do feel for him, and I don’t see any rationale for not helping products become better (by the standards that the agencies set).

        But as a former wilderness ranger (not in a bear canister area), I do think that the standard would reasonably be to provide no reward for curious bears or mini-bears, and to meet some high bar of correct, effective use by the public who uses the area.

        • Tom Cohen on September 20, 2016 at 5:20 pm

          I agree with you Zak. Your standard is the IGBC standard. The Yosemite distinction is, theoretically, that they believe liquid will leak out of the weave separations and turn a bear into an addict. There is no scientific basis for this belief as far as I know. IGBC doesn’t buy it, or they wouldn’t allow 1/4″ gaps as part of their protocol. Also, what lightweight backpacker carries liquids?

          • Zak on September 20, 2016 at 6:10 pm

            To that last question particularly- it’s pretty common that even weight weenie backpackers will carry a container of oil, and also pretty common that backpackers will have packets of tuna in oil or something similar.

            I am interested in what the protocol is, and whether they imagined something different happening with a hard container and 1/4″ gaps than what the Ursack is.

            There’s a HighSierraTopix thread somewhere in which former or current rangers weigh in on how they see the Ursack, and how the possibility of some food reward is a drawback.

            I would like to see Ursack use encouraged more in forests and parks where canisters are not required. Food hanging that is suggested by agencies is usually poorly done, and often not even feasible- this would be a big improvement in those scenarios.

          • Andrew Skurka on September 20, 2016 at 6:42 pm

            > I would like to see Ursack use encouraged more in forests and parks where canisters are not required. Food hanging that is suggested by agencies is usually poorly done, and often not even feasible- this would be a big improvement in those scenarios.

            Ding, ding, ding!

            Food hangs are a complete joke, and I’m convinced that the only land managers that recommend this “food protection technique” have no bear issues in their areas. The bigger issue in most backcountry campsites are “mini bears” — mice, raccoons, squirrels. And the Ursack could be very effective in reducing this issue. I almost wonder if Ursack would have more success if they marketed their products more heavily towards this crowd. As popular as the High Sierra is, there are more backpackers probably just in NH’s White Mountains.

          • Thomas A Cohen on September 20, 2016 at 6:14 pm

            The protocol is spelled out in detail on the IGBC website:

      • SW on September 21, 2016 at 3:53 pm

        From my own experiences with how the NPS works concerning decision making (though not concerning Yosemite or SEKI specifically), there might not *be* a real reason for shooting down the Ursack. Time, money, perception, or even just the NPS’s innate resistance to any kind of change or innovation could be enough to torpedo it.

        I’m actually surprised you got something like “you could poke a pencil tip through it” as a response. That seems, to my family’s personal experience, like an unusual amount of information when the park service is disinterested in something.

        As an odd approach, perhaps you could start talking to one or more of the nonprofit partner groups that allies closely with the individual parks. I feel that visitors making advocacy efforts might be a futile effort: The NPS will always feel it knows better. Having the advocacy of a group that is tightly allied with the park in question might be a more fruitful avenue. For example, you might get more feedback from the Yosemite Conservancy than from the NPS. Get them on your side, and get them advocating for the ursack, and the odds of it getting approved raise. At the very least you may have a better feedback from the YC than from the Yosemite NPS super.

        I honestly don’t know if most parks take their ideas from the Yosemite NP. On one hand, it’s one of the bigger, more popular parks, but on the other, national parks are almost siloed off from each other, with, as mentioned, the supers having an unusual amount of discretion over the management of the park. Even if the NPS as an organization allowed the ursack, it wouldn’t be unusual for an individual park to ignore that mandate.

        • Tom Cohen on September 23, 2016 at 5:29 pm


          That is a good idea and one we will look into undertaking.

          On the other hand, it is a sad commentary that our taxpayer funded employees won’t respond meaningfully to their employers.

      • jay on January 25, 2018 at 3:13 pm

        What about the ursack almighty? Is it better than the allwhite? for minibears?

        • Andrew Skurka on January 27, 2018 at 10:23 am

          Yes, it will be, and so too will be the Ursack Minor.

          • d20 on October 1, 2022 at 5:24 pm

            Any changes is six years?

      • Gary on December 23, 2019 at 3:22 pm

        It’s very easy to find out. Talk to a wilderness ranger, they don’t like shooting bears. They will tell you a bear gets a food reward from the Ursack. That’s not good.

        IMHO, bears are more important than profits for some company.

      • Aaron on November 2, 2020 at 8:04 pm

        I think they made their concerns pretty clear in the 9th Circuit case:

        First, unlike with hard-sided canisters, bears were able to chew the bags, mutilating the food inside and rendering the food inedible due to the presence of bear saliva. In some instances, the aluminum insert was crushed and torn, resulting in small fragments of metal mixed into the smashed food. The ability of bears to destroy the food was problematic for three reasons. First, backpackers might be inclined to dump their spoiled food, allowing bears access to the food and also con- tributing to wilderness litter. Second, the presence of bear saliva on the food posed a small risk of rabies infection, and the possibility of a backpacker eating food containing shred-ded aluminum posed its own safety hazard. Third, a back- packer who saw a bear chewing the bag might attempt to frighten the bear away in order to save the food from spoilage, which would put the backpacker at risk of injury should the bear decide to attack. The second major concern was that when bags were tied to trees in accordance with the manufac- turer’s directions and bears wrestled with the bags, testers noticed damage to the tree’s bark and the substrate (soil) around the trees.

    • Brandon Smith on September 20, 2016 at 12:59 pm

      Yeah I don’t buy it. If the Yosemite staff is testing bear resistant products by poking them with a pencil, I have no faith in the system. Also, Ursack sells an aluminum insert. Couldn’t they allow Ursacks only with the insert if they are worried about the “pencil like” bear fingers poking their way into your food. At this rate we’ll never outsmart the bears.

    • Tom Cohen on September 20, 2016 at 1:00 pm

      Food does not always get crushed. Check out this informative video:

      • Rick Smith on September 23, 2016 at 8:59 pm

        “Food does not always get crushed.”

        Translates to:

        It only sucks some of the time.

  6. James on September 20, 2016 at 12:32 pm

    Andrew, do you know if Tom has tried submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request?

    He (or any of us) should be entitled to receive any documentation or emails on the discussion of the evaluation of the specific Ursack product:

    I agree with you that there’s no reason we shouldn’t have a detailed explanation for why a specific product is not suitable for use in specific parks – there’s no way for these products to improve otherwise!

    • James on September 20, 2016 at 12:50 pm

      Ah, it appears Tom Cohen’s main profession is actually law – someone on the JMT facebook group just dug up this court document from 2011 that affirms a ruling for the Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group:

      Not sure what differences there are between the S29 and S29.3 – but it seems like there were several incidents during an initial evaluation period.

      Would be great to get some clarity from both sides on if documentation ever came forth that explicitly stated the reasons or explored the methods of evaluation that lead to not permitting use of the ursack.

      • Andrew Skurka on September 20, 2016 at 12:57 pm

        I think the S29 has changed since that ruling, notably with the seam construction. Refer to the FAQ’s on Ursack’s website for some details,

      • Tom Cohen on September 20, 2016 at 1:20 pm

        The complaint by Ursack and three customers against SIBBG (Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group), Yosemite, SEKI and Inyo NF was filed in April 2008. It was based on SIBBG’s ban of an earlier model (green) Ursack. We argued that virtually all of the alleged failures (6 as I recall) were based on user error. Bears were not ripping Ursack open, but were getting in through the closure when not properly deployed. Our new AllWhite bags changed the closure to successfully eliminate that problem. The case was decided in defendants’ favor because we could not prove their actions to have been arbitrary and capricious, which is the standard applied to federal agencies. They are given great deference by the courts.

        Several things happened following the lawsuit. Inyo changed its policy to allow commercially made bear-resistant products, which includes Ursack. SIBBG went out of business with the Parks stating that they were no longer in the bear canister testing business. In July 2012, Yosemite and SEKI established a plan for reviewing bear-resistant products “under which the parks periodically review new portable bear-resistant containers certified by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.” But even though they rely on the IGBC for testing, they are not bound by IGBC certification.

        • Dave on September 20, 2016 at 1:42 pm

          Hi Tom,

          I cannot find anywhere on Inyo’s website regarding a change in policy that would allow an Ursack to be used in lieu of a bear canister. Can you post a link showing that clarification on Inyo’s website? I know that if you ask the Rangers at the Mammoth Welcome Center they will tell you that you are not allowed to use an Ursack.


          • Tom Cohen on September 20, 2016 at 2:26 pm

            Here is the link:

            This is the latest version of the Forest Order I can find on their website. It has been in effect since 2009 and is still in effect. There is no list of approved containers. The magic words are: “a container designed to prevent access
            by bears.” Ursack has been deemed to meet that requirement–although there is no official writing (other than emails to me from rangers) that confirms this.

    • Tom Cohen on September 20, 2016 at 1:03 pm

      We did a FOIA request in December 2013. It did not turn up anything of consequence. I suspect the Yosemite/SEKI folks are not putting anything of consequence in writing.

      • Rick Smith on September 22, 2016 at 8:14 pm

        Sounds like a conspiracy!

  7. J.vonMulert on September 20, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    I just wanted to say thanks Tom, for your hard work and a great product. I went on my first solo trip this July and I loved the Ursack.

    Also, not to undermine your business, but is there anything special about the aluminum liner? The day before I left for my trip, my nerves got the best of me and I made my own liner from a sheet of aluminum I had laying around. I made it to the same specs you have listed regarding size and thickness but I was wondering if a particular alloy was required or if you somehow hardened the aluminum.

    I will also add that the liner makes a fantastic windscreen for a canister stove.

    Thanks again. Hopefully Yosemite and the others come around soon. I would love to be able to us my Ursack there as well.

    • Tom Cohen on September 20, 2016 at 5:17 pm

      It is aircraft aluminum 6061T6 .025. It’s pretty hard to form into a cylinder without special equipment, but be my guest.

      • J.vonMulert on September 20, 2016 at 5:22 pm

        I just used a a few strap clamps to bend it around a large steel pipe that I have in my shop. But you’re right, it isn’t easy to bend.

  8. Peter Robinson on September 20, 2016 at 10:27 pm

    We just finished the jmt with both a bear vault and an ursack. Each were used every night and neither was touched. I think the concern of the Yosemite Rangers has to do with making sure bear resistant containers are idiot proof. Based on who we meet on the trail, Yosemite and seki are full of beginner backpackers who are facing a host of challenges. You have to use an ursack correctly to be effective. A bear vault requires only screwing on the lid till in snaps. Ditto with toilet paper, etc!

    • Tim on October 17, 2016 at 9:30 pm

      You hit the nail on the head. Food storage needs to be bear resistant and idiot proof.

  9. Anthony on September 22, 2016 at 5:38 am


    I love the Ursack. I have two of them and have carried them faithfully into the Canadian wilderness for the past 8 years. I love that I don’t have to do a bear hang which is almost impossible in thick spruce forests.

    I have an older beige model and the newer white. I liked the closure on the older model better (fwiw).

    Any chance you would be making a slighly larger version? I tend to carry 7 days food for me and a dog and that really is a tight squeeze (both ursacks are full). I would love to be able to carry 10 days food for me and the dog between two ursacks.

  10. Patrick Podenski on September 22, 2016 at 9:44 am

    Thanks for the article on Ursack!

    I did want to note that you have grossly understated the weight difference between the Ursack and BearVault 500 in this statement:

    “It weighs just 8 oz, or 60 percent less than my BearVault BV500, which has the same volume”

    By my calculations, a BearVault 500 is much, much heavier. According to product page it weighs 2 lbs 9 ounces (41 ounces) while the Ursack white weighs around 8 ounces.

    (41 – 8) / 8 = 4.125, or BV500 is 413% heavier than the Ursack.

    For a BV450:

    (33 – 8) / 8 = 3.125, or BV450 is 313% heavier than the Ursack.

    It’s interesting that the parks have experienced these canister breakages and still accept the canisters, while saying that the Ursack can be poked with a pencil. Maybe the IGBC needs to become a mandatory standards body for the parks?

    The book reference from the interview is also good and much appreciated –

  11. Carl on September 23, 2016 at 8:16 am

    It’s not hard to suspect that bear container requirements will spread to more areas over time. As noted above, Pisgah has a requirement for some of the national forest there, but not all areas – yet. The requirement is for a hard-sided commercially-made container:

    As of February 2016, there is a new National Forest Supervisor for North Carolina named Allen Nicholas. My understanding is that he is based in Asheville. Address, phone, and contact form may be found on this page, for those who wish to encourage him to approve the Ursack as a bear-resistant container – and drop the requirement that it must be made of non-pliable material.

    Hikers and backpackers need options that foster compliance. Requiring a large 3 lb rigid container does not, IMO, do that – in fact, it may even make the situation worse, if a higher compliance rate could be had with a less burdensome solution.

    Dayhikers that use established campsites as a base would benefit from heavy-gauge steel bear boxes or lockers installed at such campgrounds (group or individual). Widespread use of such things might also reduce the risk to cars from bears trying to break in. Not to mention “mini-bear” attacks as well. I would think they’re more effective than bear cables too, though perhaps the Ursack and a bear cable would be a formidable combination, and not too expensive to install, either.

  12. Kevin M on September 25, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    The top of the article states 80% weight savings between the 29.3 AllWhite and the BV500, the photo caption states 60%. Looks like one is a typo?

    • Andrew Skurka on September 25, 2016 at 5:13 pm

      Thanks for catching that. The correct number is 80 percent. 8 divided by 39 (2 lbs 9 oz) = 19.5 percent.

      • Jimothy on March 23, 2017 at 2:23 pm

        To nitpick a bit, that means that the Ursack is roughly 20% the weight of a BV500, or that the BV500 is roughly 500% the weight of the Ursack, or roughly 400% heavier.

        To nitpick further, 8 / 39 = 20.5%

        • Jimothy on March 23, 2017 at 2:24 pm

          Ah, I see the mistake. 2 lb 9 oz = 41 oz, and 8 / 41 is, indeed, about 19.5%.

  13. Brian Barney on September 25, 2016 at 6:33 pm

    I own the BV 500, BV 450 and the Ursack s29.3 all white. I wish I could use the Ursack for the weight savings all the time but I hike in the Olympic National Park including the Washington coast and hard sided canisters are required. When I asked the Rangers in the Visiting Station why they thought the Ursack wasn’t acceptable they brought out an Ursack that had been chewed open by a mountain goat. The hole was about the size of my fist. That ended the conversation.

    • Tom Cohen on September 25, 2016 at 7:12 pm


      That is more information than they have ever given me. ANd we have never had a report from a customer about Mountain Goats. Was the Ursack they showed you an AllWhite?

  14. Brian Barney on September 25, 2016 at 10:11 pm

    No it was not. It was one of the early yellow versions.

  15. Matt Swider on September 27, 2016 at 10:19 pm

    Well, here is my two cents on this one. I have a friend at work who’s brother is a ranger in Yosemite NP. I have been following the Ursack saga for a few years, both on the Ursack website and what my friend tells me. Obviously, what I get from my friend is second hand and can likely be taken with a grain of salt.

    His story is that Ursack has either threatened to or actually taken some park agency to court over approval of the product. I don’t recall now what the outcome of this was, but my impression is that due to the threatened or actual litigation there is bad blood here. So, the NP service, being a government agency, can be very adept at dragging its feet,or doing absolutely nothing, and is able to get away with not being held accountable.

    Again, I don’t know how much truth is in what is being related to me from my friend, but it would not surprise me if those NP never approve the the Ursack. That is quite unfortunate, as I believe it is a superior product that the hard sided containers. I signed the petition and encouraged others to do so as well. I even purchased an Ursack in hopes of its approval, and I have yet to use it as when I have backpacked in areas requiring a bear resistant container it has been in areas where Ursack is not approved.

    Fingers crossed for the JMT next summer, but not holding my breath.

    • Thomas A Cohen on September 28, 2016 at 11:51 am

      That’s probably a good guess. We did, in fact, sue the Parks several years ago. See my response above for details. We never sought money in the lawsuit–just approval of Ursacks since they had the same success rate as certain other approved canisters.

  16. Brian Carlson on December 15, 2016 at 2:17 pm

    Who do we write to at Yosemite to ask for Ursack to be allowed for use? I know they have a new man in charge.

  17. Thomas A Cohen on December 15, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    Thanks for asking. We are currently trying to meet with Yosemite (no success as of 12/15 but we will keep trying). Any letter or email can help, but I am not sure who to contact. In the past, it was Superintendent Don Neubacher, but he is gone. NPS just posted a job listing for the post. You could try Woody Smeck (of SEKI) but currently acting supe at Yosemite: [email protected].

  18. Karl Wilcox on April 27, 2017 at 6:04 pm

    Food hangs are not “a complete joke” as I employed the technique for 30 years in Yosemite and never lost any food. The only problem with food hangs is unskilled persons who cannot do a food hang properly. And, yes, I recognize that the adjective describes most backpackers who frequent Yosemite.

  19. Thomas A Cohen on August 4, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    Canisters Constantly Failing in Yosemite

    A total of 85 approved bear canisters were either broken or stolen by Yosemite black bears between July 15, 2012 and July 11, 2017. During that same period, 2 Ursacks failed (1 incident was mistakenly reported twice). All of the Ursacks were older models—not IGBC approved. Ursacks were not allowed in Yosemite during this period.

    This information was gleaned from a comprehensive spreadsheet of wilderness bear incidents provided to us by Yosemite. Some of the information in the report is difficult to precisely analyze because the narratives crammed into the spreadsheet are truncated. But as best we can determine, 30 approved canisters were broken enough that a bear got a food reward. Another 55 were rolled or batted away from camp and never recovered. Many others were rolled away from camp but were eventually found.

    Overall 200 incidents were reported. Not all involved canisters. Some of the recurring findings: bears taking backpacks with or without food inside; bears pounding canisters so that the food was inedible even if the canister remained intact; and several tales of bears getting improperly stored food because campers could not fit everything into approved containers. It is worth noting that these 200 incidents are based on reports to rangers. Many incidents go unreported.

    We will ask Yosemite to post the spreadsheet because it contains fascinating and useful information, and demonstrates how hard it is to keep bears wild–especially in the heavily traveled parts of Yosemite. If you are camping in that area you need to be exceptionally vigilant.

  20. Mb on September 1, 2017 at 2:07 am

    Was ursack igbc tested, while tied to a tree, ie the required means of deployment?

    No, it wasnt is what i recall.
    Witness the CT hiker whose was ripped apart by a black bear, while tied to tree this summer

    What would a user do above treeline in yosemite where nothing to tie too?

    Tieing to same trees in high use areas would produce damage to trees.

    Even is bear do t get food, it gets taste reward so it doesnt lose interest. Igbc was only 1 hr test of bear play, not all night.

    Wear and tear from multiple attacks would be cumulative. When is user expected to replace?

    Yosemite and backcountry are not in business of needing to rescue hikers stuck in backcountry with unedible food because it was chewed and slobbered on by a bear.

    Truth is, it ha A LOT of problems. If I was in charge, I wouldnt allow it.

    Igbc test, is not the definitive test. It is 1 hr of bear play. Thats it. It is one tool to help evaluate if a continer a chance of success. Tne 1 hr limit asumes bear loses interest or is driven away by user. Maybe less likely ….for a flavored chew-toy. Ever try to take a bone from a dog?

    Again, in real world, a lowly black bear ripped bottom out of one tied to tree on CT this yr. Wasnt seam failure, it was shredded.

  21. Mb on September 1, 2017 at 2:19 am

    Have to add thaat even hard cannisters that passed IGBC also fail…to lil ole black bears
    Bear opens lid
    Bear eats hole on cannister, that supposedly shouldnt be able to get jaw on
    Bear rolls cannister off cliff and shatters it on rocks,

    They are not perfect. They require you to protect your food. Given enough time bear can get in. Failures happen when people dont do that.

    Another problem with ursack, is it cant be rapidly closed and tied to suitable tree when bear approaches camp while container is open. Yosemite has many of bear food incidents occur this way. It must be tied to tree to keep bear from getting it…end of story. It simply. Is NOT equal to a hard side cannister in ANY way.

  22. Thomas A Cohen on September 4, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    Let me address a few of your points.

    1st. We have not heard about an Ursack failure on the CT. Please forward that information if you have it. Since we offer a lifetime warranty on out IGBC approved bags, we expect to hear from customers when there is (an extremely rare) failure.

    Our original IGBC test involved 12 bears for 2 hours because there was a shift change before the 1st hour was up. Two of the bears weighed close to 1,000 pounds. We have also tested with black bears at the Folsom Zoo. You says that IGBC is not the definitive test. In fact, it is the only nationally recognized test of bear resistant products.They have spent years developing the test protocol. The many rangers there who devised the test do not believe that a container fails if it has holes or gaps less than 1/4″. In other words, bears can get a taste. There is no, repeat no, scientific evidence that we are aware of that concludes that a bear that gets only a taste of food will become food habituated.

    Our new AllMiteys are highly puncture resistant. Bears cannot get a taste.

    Repeated maulings of Ursacks do not result in fabric failure.

  23. Thomas A Cohen on September 8, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    Correction. We did hear from the CT trail hiker. You can read his response on his facebook post, but basically he was very happy with the way we treated him and continues to use the replacement Ursack we sent.

  24. Unnamedpeaks on April 1, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    Any updates? I’ve been summiting permits for 2018 season!

  25. Thomas A Cohen on April 1, 2018 at 10:22 pm

    Nothing new, but we continue to press for answers. Feel free to contact Park superintendents directly to let them know your thoughts.

  26. Dogwood on December 6, 2018 at 1:51 pm

    “Unlike plastic or carbon fiber canisters, it’s soft-sided and collapsible, and as comfortable to carry as a nylon stuff sack.”

    Not so much when the Al liner is in the Ursack.

    Kit wt and condensable volume conscious backpackers, and let’s be real, that’s the targeted market for Ursack, I’ll surmise many will choose not to include the Al liner… as Andrew said on a selective basis with obvious anti wt and anti rigid volume priorities. The Al liner alone weighs nearly 11 oz. People often ignore that. That increases the wt of the system from 8 oz to almost 19 oz NOT something typically joyfully embraced for evolved kit wt conscious backpackers. Let’s be real in that wt and volume considerations can cloud hiker’s judgements in ANY OF US. So, we’re back to having pencil size holes that food/food tastes can be accessed. Let’s also be factual that backpackers do regularly include somewhat “wet” foods. Even if not “wet” an M&M or peanut or bit of cheese can be squished through a pencil size hole. A tear does NOT have to occur.

    I’m also conflicted on how well the Al liner is in protecting food. I can easily envision a non filled Ursack with the Al liner insert(a flat piece of rolled aircraft grade Al) where a bear can gain purchase and leverage at the Al seam possibly accessing bits of food. This is/was one of the issues with black bears and hard sided Bear Vault type containers…bears gaining leverage. And, that assumes a bear will not or can not access food/food tastes at the bottom or top of the cylindrical or roughly pear shaped Ursack where there is no Al sleeve.

    Even though hard sided bear cans are clunky and non collapsible IF legally required never allowing unused volume inside helps condense kits to smaller volumes. However, It can be challenging to find acceptable and legal food protection in the areas not approving the Ursack while going UL/SUL

    If required I’ll alter my more typical backpacking approaches in regard to food protection to best serve others, nature, and myself…in some balance with me or my preferred priorities not always being at the center. It’s not about maintaining my own self indulgent familiarized backpacking approaches.

    I agree with Tom that it would be nice if more direct feedback was provided by authorities in how to improve the product and usage. A soft sided lighter wt(than hard side cans) legally accepted food protection system is sorely needed as an option!

    BTW, I really enjoy using the 5 oz Ursack Minor made of tight woven kevlar with enclosed new Opsaks for smaller critter protection as part of a multi layered protection approach.

    Taking a multi layered approach to safer food protection from bears and small bears was a GREAT piece done by Andrew! I sincerely hope more backpackers and hikers avail themselves of the included info in those articles.

    • d20 on October 1, 2022 at 5:36 pm

      I’d wondered a lot about the aluminum liner. Let us be honest. If it would protect my food from being crushed I’d carry and use it as that is still a significant weight saving over a BV 500 which I currently carry.

      If it doesn’t work then it is just dead weight.

  27. Nara on April 20, 2020 at 3:46 pm

    I’m curious about your thoughts on DCF Bear Bags (MLD, ZPacks, etc). They are much lighter than Ursack but I’m not sure if it is reliable against bears and critters. Thank you!

    • Brian on April 20, 2020 at 3:53 pm

      Those are not used for the same purpose. Those are just ultralight stuff sacks for your food. They don’t protect your food from bears or critters.

  28. Jason on July 18, 2020 at 10:47 am

    Skurk, any update on this? Do you talk to any Yosemite officials when you are planning/going on your guided yosemite trips?

  29. Jamie Compos on April 9, 2021 at 11:22 pm

    You should have asked him why the retail price for the Ursack Minor has doubled in recent years for basically the same product :-p

  30. Matt on October 1, 2022 at 6:27 pm

    when I hiked the JMT sobo we used an Ursack for our food that didn’t fit in our cans in SeKi. At that time I thought it was allowed, but can’t tell now. Earlier this month we did a loop out of mineral king and was told Ursack is not allowed as its not an approved container. Had hoped to use it the last day of our trip, as we were camping at sites with bear boxes. Ended up renting a Bearikade for that night.

    Was also told that a bear had torn one in the park that summer. Seems like in California national parks, that Ursack isn’t ever going to be accepted.

  31. GroundHog on October 2, 2022 at 6:38 am

    Every year Yosemite & SEKI have to shoot & kill between 150 & 250 bears. All because incredibly stupid park visitors leave Coleman coolers full of food in plain sight.
    The backcountry is not immune either; on the JMT, far from any road, I’ve seen Christian church groups hand feeding a formerly wild bear and posing young children with the bear.
    This is why the Park Rangers have stopped listening & stopped responding & why they sometimes act like the general public is mentally defective.
    Before a bear is shot it is given a name… a file is opened, incidents are logged in the file. It generally takes 2-3 years of file notes before a euthanasia order is deemed unavoidable. By that time the bear is no longer an anonymous wild creature but a part of daily life.
    Imagine how you would feel if every week you had to go out and shoot someone’s family dog as a condition of your employment. That’s what killing a named bear with a 2-3 year known history feels like to the people who have to do the shooting.
    And make no mistake about it; the Park Service is very much a family and the bears feel like their animals. And not one person who works there singed up to work work at “Auschwitz’s for Animals”
    The park employees act the way they act because the idiot public has backed them into corner that is totally unnecessary and incredibly painful.
    Until something changes you can expect more of the same…

  32. KARL on October 4, 2022 at 1:09 pm

    Sobering comment indeed. I hung food in Yosemite trees for 30 years. Never lost any of it to a bear. However, I realize that in order to save food and bears’ lives, I needed to carry an approved bear can with all of my food in it because most people lack the skills to hang bear bags. However, a good friend of mine got ticketed by the Park Service after he was attacked by bears while cooking his food (Muir Trail). The government was guilty in this instance of failing to recognize when a responsible backpacker is a victim (not of bears) but of other irresponsible backpackers who ‘trained’ that bear to seize human food. A 1 hour training video (with a test at the end) should be required for getting a wilderness permit, it seems. Hate to say that, but ignorance is rife when it comes to bears and human food.

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