Friday, April 29, 2022

Bear Hangs and Other Options

Hanging bear bags isn't always the best way to keep food and other smelly objects away from bears. This is primarily because most of the time, the bag isn't adequately hung. It's either too close to the tree or it's not high enough.

Another really common mistake is to throw a line over a tree branch, haul the bag up off the ground and then tie off the other end to another tree. (Full disclosure: I did this for years.) The bear may inadvertently release the bag and it will come down.

A Bear Vault Bear Canister

A few years ago, Andrew Skurka, a well-known backpacker and backpacking instructor, wrote a controversial article about why he doesn't do bear hangs. In his article, he identified six reasons not to hang bear bags. We've already hit one, you're probably terrible at it because you don't do it enough. He also notes that, (2) it's impossible if you don't have the right terrain. (3) It's time consuming to do it right. (4) You can get injured throwing a rock over a branch. (5) A determined bear will get it anyway. And (6) there are other alternatives.

Many backcountry travelers (and land managers) prefer hard-sided bear canisters, or soft-sided bear bags. Popular hard-sided canisters include things like the Bear Vault or the Bare Boxer. In the soft-sided world, the Ursack is by far the most popular product.

In the soft-sided world, some models come with an aluminum shield that can be placed inside the bag. There are a handful of land managers that prefer this to a straight soft-sided bag and will require them in the backcountry.

Several Ursack Models
Click to Enlarge

Most guides carry Ursacks. This is because the bear canisters take up so much room in one's pack that they are a somewhat unreasonable. But Ursacks are not fool-proof. They require a complex tie-off technique to close them adequately...and a bear might just leave with your sack anyway, leaving you without any food. As such, when possible, I will hang my Ursack from a tree. The following video demonstrates one clever bear hang technique.

The knots from the video can be found below:
Bear hangs with bags that are not bear resistant have to be really really good: 12 feet up. 5 feet out from the tree. And 5 feet below the branch.

And then there is another option, an option that is used by many guides in the high country and is suggested in Skurka's article under the right circumstances. It is possible to sleep with your food to protect it from bears. Most will be startled and run away if you wake up and start yelling while they're pawing around your camp.

The right circumstances are first, no bear canister requirements. Second, black bear country, not brown bear country. And third, a limited, or no history of bears in the area. Obviously, when you're well above tree-line, this may be the preferred option.

Bears are no joke. And food storage, wherever you are, should be carefully considered...

--Jason D. Martin

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