Bear Bags

Backpackers have to protect their food against animals while they sleep.  In most parts of the country correctly hanging food in a bear bags can be effective. Unfortunately bags won’t protect your food in locations with habituated bears whose response to backpackers is “Great, I get another treat filled piñata tonight”. In Yosemite I have watched bear tracking backpackers while they were hiking resulting in an after dark visit. I hate the weight of a bear can, but always use one in locations that have a high frequency of human / bear interaction. Please do the same. Below was a great post by Don, the creator of the Photon Alcohol Stove:

From: Don Johnston []
Sent: Thursday, July 04, 2002 4:48 PM
Subject: Bear bagging thoughts

Anyone who hasn’t been to Yosemite really should visit just for the eye opening education (and the scenery). Go to Yosemite. Camp in little Yosemite valley where there are lots of trees that meet the Ideal hanging criteria. Place most of your food in a Garcia Bear can. Hang the rest of your food by what ever method satisfies you. If a bear visits the area my money says you will be be eating breakfast out of the Garcia bear can while you clean up the mess around your formerly hung food bag. Pay your ticket and go home. The Yosemite bears know tricks that would amaze and astound folks attending the Greatest show on earth. Just to mention a few of the most well known techniques: Kamikaze bear (various variations on branch breaking or leap from another branch), Totem pole bear (The tower of bear cub on bear gymnastics would make a Cheerleader or Pom Pom squad proud), Chain saw bear (sharp teeth, strong jaws, soft wood, lots of time). Send up the bear cub to walk out branch. (Many results possible including the branch breaks and both cub and food come to moma below) There isn’t a more motivated and patient bear in the US.

They don’t give up and will frequently work the problem all night and sometimes keep working the problem in daylight. They have learned that they are more motivated to get your food than you are to defend it. You  sleep they don’t. They are often seen hovering around horse pack camps just out of stone toss range for days at a time. If one doesn’t loose food that is properly counter balanced in Yosemite the bear didn’t visit or the bear was not motivated to work the problem due to known easier pickings.

Outside certain areas of the Sierra, counter balance hanging when done right works over most of the rest of the USA but not everywhere. Even in the Sierra your food is safe if it is in an area bears have not learned provide good piqata hunting. If there is no bear visit to your site your food is safe sitting on the ground. I have kept my food in the Sierra by a  combination of stealth camping where no one else camps and luck. On my first Muir trail hike I stayed at Hamilton lakes in Sequoia. The other folks camped in the area hung their food well but theirs fed the bear so my hang wasn’t challenged. I was lucky. Perhaps the softball size stone I had caused to descend crashing down through the branches of a small tree next to the bear in the early evening had caused him to look at the other folks site first. Just because I didn’t loose my food doesn’t mean the bear could not have gotten it.

Bear cans are required in some areas because they work at any campsite and more people can operate them properly than are will to put forth the time and effort to hang their food properly. Bear cans are usually required because of a history of bears wrecking trips by regularly getting backpacker food. The bear also becomes more dangerous to human life and property and eventually has to be destroyed. Posts on this list show that there are varying levels of willingness to meet height over the ground criteria. People think if they can’t reach it the bear can’t either. That depends on the bear. Many can reach much higher than we can and two bears can reach higher still. All the bear needs to do is touch it in a swipe with extended claws to rip most bags. Few people will spend the time searching for a branch that meets the size, length, drop, and distance from other branch requirements that make it difficult for a bear get your food down by working the problem from up in the the tree.

Campsites often don’t have trees that have much chance of giving a bear a hard time. Bears have defeated both hang from cable systems and pole systems. It doesn’t help when Backpacker Magazine publishes methods that are nifty and stupid. They may work in non problem areas but not in popular areas like Sierra, smokies and Adirondaks.

When we visit each new campsite it is new to us. We may think the site has a very good hanging tree but the bear lives there and knows his way around the pantry of his house. Food hung from trees the bear is already well practiced at defeating may look good to us but if the bear has already learned the combination he is going to defeat what we view as a well locked pantry because he already knows the combination.

Bottom line is the Garcia Bear can is proven to work better than anything else. Especially with inexperienced people and that is where we all start. Proper hanging of food takes experience, time and willingness to learn. Properly done counter balance hanging works very well in areas where the bears do not have a history of defeating it. Especially if they are not motivated to try due to plentiful food sources.

This is not a Garcia can advertisement. I have no connection with the company and don’t own one. Personally I would look for lighter alternatives that are accepted in the area I would travel in.


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