Backpacking with a Bear Food Bag
I’ve been backpacking avidly for the last 10 years, but I only recently learned and practiced a bear hang. I’ve done most of my backpacking in the Sierra Nevada where bears are very habituated to humans and bear canisters are recommended or required in most areas. Bear canisters are heavy and bulky and I was ready to ditch the weight and learn how to hang a bear bag for one of my short backpacking trips here in the Pacific Northwest. If you’re just starting out backpacking with a bear food bag, here’s what you need to know.
What All Goes In Your Bear Bag
You will need to put all scented items into your bear bag when you hang it overnight. Bears have a really sharp sense of smell and they could mistake your sunscreen or chapstick for food. Be sure to include toothpaste, lotion, soap, deodorant, trash, and anything else that has a scent, even if it is a non food item. If you have room, you could even include your cookpot because it will most likely have food residue in it.
Choose Your Method
- The most popular method these days seems to be the PCT Method. This is the method I learned for my recent trip and its pretty simple. It uses one rope thrown over a high, sturdy branch which is then clipped with a carabiner to your food bag. The other end of the rope is then strung through the carabiner and the bag is then hoisted up in the air. A stick is used as a stopper to hold the food bag in place. The PCT method is considered one of the best bear hang methods because there aren’t any ropes that the bear can chew through or pull on to get the food loose. If you want to learn more, check out this awesome video that really helped me learn the PCT Method.
- The Double Rope Method, or Counterbalance Method, is another great option for hanging your food bag. For this method, you divide your food into two bags so its a good one to try if you’re on a longer trip or with a larger group. You will need to find a higher tree limb to do this hang and it uses a little more rope than the PCT method. It can also be a bit tricky to retrieve your food because you actually have to use a long stick to pull on the rope. To learn more about the Counterbalance Method check out this helpful video. One tip they don’t mention in this video is to tie your rope in a loop on the second food bag so that it is easier to pull down.
- The Two Tree Method is good for those that are not so great at aiming and throwing their rope over a really high branch. You can use lower limbs for this method but you do, however, have to throw two ropes and you need a little bit more rope than the other methods. Its usually easier to find trees for this hang versus the other two hangs.
Basic Rules to Follow for Any Method
- Food bag should be at least 12-15 feet off the ground
- Food bag should be at least 6 feet away from the tree trunk (s)
- Food bag should be around 6 feet below the supporting limb (s)
- Try to cook and hang your bag downwind of where you will be sleeping
Practice Makes Perfect
Hanging a food bag is a lot harder than it looks. You could run into difficulties, such as finding a suitable tree, not being able to throw the rope high enough, not having great aim, getting the rope tangled on other branches, rain, wind, and darkness to name a few. When you get to your campsite, make it a priority to locate where you want to hang your bag and to get your rope hung. That way you won’t be scrambling around and getting frustrated at dusk. Its also a good idea to practice in your yard, at a local park, or local wilderness area so you know exactly what to do out in the wild. Hanging a bear bag is a skill that takes practice and patience.
Choosing a Food Bag
You want to choose a food bag that is water resistant so if it rains the contents will not be ruined. If you happen to use a bag that is not waterproof its a good idea to hang it upside down (with the drawstring on the bottom) so rain water will not go straight inside. Its nice to have a bag with the ability to clip a carabiner to so that you can easily clip and unclip your rope. If you want to save weight, you can use a bag that you are already taking for something else such as a sleeping bag stuff sack. I like to have a designated food bag for storing my food and keeping it organized in my pack. Many hikers use something called an Ursack which is a rodent and bear proof bag. No need to even hang it, but you might want to tie it to a tree to make sure it doesn’t get carried off.
Outdoor Research Ultralight Dry Sack
|10 / 15 / 20 / 35 liter||1.4 / 1.6 / 1.8 / 2.4 ounces||7 x 17 / 8 x 19 / 9 x 20.5 / 11 x 24.5 inches||Yes, fully taped seams||polyester with polyurethane coating, PVC free||Starting at $20.00 on Amazon|
Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil View Dry Sack
|13 / 20 / 35 liter||1.9 / 2.3 / 3 ounces||8.6 x 21 / 10 x 24 / 12 x 27 inches||Yes, fully tapes seams||15 denier siliconized nylon||Starting at $14.66 on Amazon|
|1178 / 1684 cubic inches||8 / 9.5 ounces||15 x 18 / 20 x 18 inches||No||Knitted stainless steel wire mesh||Starting at $34.99 on Amazon|
You will probably need 40-50 feet of rope for your bear hang. Any rope will do, but some are better suited for the task. If you use a very abrasive rope or cord, it could be harmful to the tree bark. Arborist rope is made specifically to be easier on the tree and usually slides easily over branches.
Rope/Cord Size Description Price Line
Zing It Throw
1.75 mm x 180 ft 8-strand solid braid, special slick coating for gliding over branches $29.19 on Amazon
Dynaglide Throw Line
1.8 mm x 200 ft Strong and slick $35.16 on Amazon
Which bear bag hang method do you prefer?