Beginner Camper Question: Do I Need A Bear Bag?

You’re about to go camping next week and you’ll be in a place with bears. You don’t own a “bear bag” and with all the fuss going around on the internet, you can’t help asking yourself these questions: Do I really need a “Bear bag” to keep me and my food safe? . What else can I use? How high should I tie it up in the tree? What if there are no trees? Should I buy a bear proof canister or just bring a gun?

For some outgoers, bear bags are pretty pathetic. If they actually work is still to prove… bears are pretty smart when it comes to figuring out how to get your food supplies.  You may also opt for pre-packaged food which bears don’t like it. Despite the benefits of the above methods, it’s good to know that they are not always effective. Many bears will climb a branch to get the food, or break it to get the food down.

Conversely, one “Bear Bag” hanging method seems to actually be very effective to deter animals trying to get at your food.

Hanging A Bear Bag—The PCT Method

There are multiple techniques to hang a bear bag, but when I first learned the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) method, it’s been my favorite option.

The PCT method uses a single rope that is tossed over a high, sturdy branch and is then clipped to the bear bag with a mini carabiner. The standing end of the rope is clipped back through the carabiner and then the bear bag is hoisted all the way to the top of the branch. At this point, use a small stick (or even a spare stake) to use as a toggle. Tie a clove hitch with the rope around the toggle as high as you can reach up on the rope. When you slowly release the cord, the bear bag will stop at the mid point when the toggle connects with the carabiner.

The PCT method uses less cordage, which can help reduce weight and bulk in your backpack. I prefer using a slippery line that will glide more easily over the trees and prevent cutting into the bark. I highly recommend the Spectra kit from AntiGravityGear.com, which comes with a lightweight throw bag that doubles as a storage bag for the line. I use a lightweight cuben fiber or silnylon stuff sack as my food bag, which can then double as the bear bag. The cuben or silk fabric is waterproof, which helps to protect my gear when hanging in the rain overnight. All told, this kit can weigh as little as 2 oz (57 g) or less.

Hanging-A-Bear-Bag

Another key element to hanging a bear bag is location. You should hang the bag well away (200 ft/60 m) and downwind of your sleeping area. Your kitchen area should also be 200 ft (60 m) from your sleeping site. Everything that smells (e.g., food, garbage, hygiene items, food-soiled clothing, etc.) should be placed in the bear bag for safety. Clean stoves, pots, water bottles, and utensils can be safely left in the kitchen area.

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