Bear Bagging and SUL

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    Ike Jutkowitz
    BPL Member


    Locale: Central Michigan

    I do a fair bit of hiking in black bear territory. Over the last couple of years, I've become pretty lax in the area of bear bagging. I frequently hike until way past sundown and find myself hastily setting up camp in the dark. Stumbling around and finding an acceptable tree to set up a proper bear bag in the dark has not typically gone well, so I've grown accustomed to sleeping with my food. Rules that I follow include:
    1. camping away from established areas
    2. avoiding cooking in camp
    3. double bagging food items (food individually packed in small ziplock bags, placed in a 1 gallon ziplock and secured overnight in pack liner). Ray Jardine described a similar approach in most of his books, commenting that he is prepared to awaken and defend his food if need be. (Realistic?). I also rely upon the fact that bears are hunted in these areas and frequently shun human encounters.

    On more recent SUL trips, I haven't bothered to bring my bear rope (a weight savings of only 1.4 oz). To date I have not had a problem in the Adirondacks (NY), Porcupine Mountains (MI), Mountains to Sea Trail (NC), or Upper Peninsula of MI. However, I'd hate to win the Darwin award for a bear attack due to use of food bag as pillow.
    What do other SULers do?

    Robert Cowman
    BPL Member


    Locale: Canadian Rockies

    MLD pro bear bag set up. My Area has the largest population of grizzly outside of Alaska, and a ton of black bears. the 3oz is well worth the weight, so I don't get mauled in my sleep.

    Randy Martin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Colorado

    At a minimum you should be using Loksak Opsak and not your grocery store variety zip locks. Zip locks do NOT keep odors out well.

    Chris Lucas


    Locale: SC

    Posted in the MYOG forum where it was largely unnoticed. I'll be curious to see what sort of information develops in this forum.

    By the way, I was fooling with this more today and I'm fairly sure I can work out a system of placing a food bag in a tree >10' up and >4' out from the trunk with my trekking poles lashed together. The food bag would need to hang from a hook perhaps something like the new rounded titanium stakes bent into a J. The one drawback is big wind gusts might knock the hook off the branch. I can lash my trekking poles together with just a few gram's worth of materials (1 nacrabiner and 2 5"x1/2" grossgrain ribbons with ladderlocks).

    John S.
    BPL Member


    Ziploc Bags for Preventing Bears from Smelling Food


    Wilderness activities occasionally result in bear-encounters. To deter bears from detecting food scents, the American Bear Association recommends double-bagging food carried into the wilderness.


    Our objective was to determine if food sealed in double-bagged Ziploc bags would decrease the ability of bears to detect food scents as compared to food in unsealed Ziploc bags.


    This was a prospective randomized single-blinded study performed on bears at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, WA. Two black bears (Ursus americanus) and 2 brown bears (Ursus arctos) were presented with open buckets in front of their enclosures: one concealing food wrapped in 2 layers of Ziploc bags and another with empty Ziploc bags. The time the bears spent at each bucket was recorded for 30 seconds. In the first phase, Ziplocs were open; in the second, Ziplocs were sealed.


    The average time the bears spent at the open Ziplocs with food and open Ziplocs without during the first phase of the experiment was 9.573 and 6.613 seconds, respectively (N = 75). The average time spent at the closed Ziplocs with food and closed Ziplocs without in the second phase of the experiment was 6.25 and 6.8875 seconds, respectively (N = 80). The standard deviation for all average times was 1.5 seconds. An independent samples 2-tailed t-Test demonstrated a statistically significant difference (P = 0.032) when comparing the time the bears spent at the open Ziplocs with food to the closed Ziplocs with food. There was no statistically significant difference between the controls from both phases of the experiment (P = 0.854).


    The bears spent a statistically significant greater time at the open Ziplocs with food compared to the closed Ziplocs with food. These data suggest that sealing food in 2 layers of Ziploc bag may decrease the ability of bears to detect the scent of food from within. We advise following the ABA recommendations.

    Ike Jutkowitz
    BPL Member


    Locale: Central Michigan

    I appreciate the data. Very interesting, though I wonder how much results would vary in a less controlled environment (ie where the bears could actually reach the bag contents) with a larger population.

    Any other fastpackers not bear bagging? What do you do instead?

    Javan Dempsey


    Locale: The-Stateless-Society

    I often neglect to bear bag also, even in areas with black bear sightings on the regular down here in WNC.

    Honestly, I'm curious if it has more to do with my diet (vegetarian), and food choices on the trail, but I rarely even have rodents bother my food when in the occasional AT shelter. I've never had a bear go after my food. Maybe it's because I like all my stuff at about a 8 or 9 on the spiciness scale, or maybe they just hate the smell of curry cashews. ;)

    I have recently started taking a small or medium OPSack though, just for good measure. I wish they had an interim size though, or a pleated bottom. The medium at 12×20 is too big and weighs like 40something grams, and the small is too small often.

    Still, weight really has nothing to do with why I often don't hang my food. It's almost entirely due to the hour long process of finding an appropriate tree in my area, getting a line up to the only useful branch in a mile radius, after multiple hang-ups, finally getting a decent hang, usually, in the dark, as Ike mentions.

    Link .
    BPL Member


    Chris Lucas


    Locale: SC

    This is what I'm calling my SUL bear bag kit in that I haven't yet ruthlessly slashed every gram out of it at the expense of functionality. This is still easy to use and with 49' of cord finding suitable limbs is fast and easy.

    Exploded View of Kit

    Stowed Kit

    The fully assembled kit is 9.75 in³ (3.25" x 4" x 0.75") when packed somewhat neatly and compressed.

    Itemized SUL Kit

    Now my calling the kit SUL implies that I've given though to a XUL version which I have. If I wanted to wring every last gram out of the kit at the expense of extra hassle there are two things to cut while still allowing for a correct PCT hang with an odor-proof liner. 50' of cord is overkill since you don't start and stop the cord at the ground. I'm short and I can comfortably reach 7' above the ground for purposes of unhooking a rock bag and lashing the OPSak to the rope with a nacrabiner. Furthermore the free end of the cord can be tied to the tip of my hiking pole (this is the reduced ease) to save another 3' of cord length. Finally, not every single bit of the cord will be asked to run over the branch with weight on it. Only the cord from the branch down to the food bag does this, the rest is exposed to air and hand only. So why do we need thick smooth line for that part? Granted I wouldn't want to hoist 20 pounds of food with dental floss but a few pounds with AirCore 1 isn't that bad. Thus, the back half of the cord can be switched out with the lightest cord possible. These two changes yield the XUL kit below.

    Itemized XUL Kit

    Of course one can go lighter by skipping the odor-proof bag or not bothering to hang a bear bag at all but I wanted to attempt to put together full functionality with virtually no mass. At less than an ounce it should be feasible for many XUL gear lists to accommodate an odor-proof bear bag kit.

    EDIT: I forgot to mention that in my kit designs I've allowed for a hang on a limb 25' above the ground. Doing so with the XUL kit would really take some finesse but it is possible even for short folks like me.

    Javan Dempsey


    Locale: The-Stateless-Society

    Anna, what was the point of posting that thread? Just trying to drive home that I've gotten really lazy about BBagging it? ;p

    If you're going to do it, I still recommend 50ft of line. I use 1.8mm "new england brand; dynaglide" these days.

    For long trips I'm still prone to take the BB gear. I'm also more likely to have stuff a bear would want. Like dehydrated smoked salmon.. mmmmm.

    Javan Dempsey


    Locale: The-Stateless-Society

    Chris have you had any problems with the 1.4mm Z-Line cutting into branches of softer woods, or other concerns?

    The Dynaglide being so slippery makes it pretty breezy to use, and it doesn't tangle easily, but I'd like to save the weight, I measured ~36g for 50'.

    Bob Gross
    BPL Member


    Locale: Silicon Valley

    Also, get a couple of jingle bells. (?)

    You know the little round hollow metal balls that get sewn onto things in the holiday season?

    I tie a few of those onto a heavy nylon thread, and then I tie that somewhere around the hung food bag. It might be from the bottom of the bag, or maybe from the rope on top.

    In the middle of the night, if I hear jingle bells, I wake up to defend the bag from bears or other varmints, plus to get the wildlife photograph. Skip this on a windy night.

    They don't weigh much.


    Chris Lucas


    Locale: SC

    But I haven't hung any big loads from it yet. My trips tend to be short because of my and my wife's careers. I definitely think you can lighten up though Javan.

    Dan Durston
    BPL Member


    Locale: Canadian Rockies

    OPsaks have rocked my world. So much easier to use…especially on those rainy mornings when you don't want to get suited up to go fetch your bear bag.

    BPL Member


    As a mostly long distance hiker I go about this in a rather organized manner.

    I have bought probably 45+ OpSaks over the last few years.

    I have used a permanent marker on each of them and included a day of week (monday, tuesday, etc) on the top.

    When I am preparing for a hike I will package one days worth of food and stuff it into each bag. (I actually have and try to keep over 30 days prepared at this point)

    This makes it easy while out on the trail to keep my brain organized as well as my food. When I hit a trail town I just mail back the empty bags to my house (they are to darn expensive to throw away).

    When I do need to hang my food I just throw them all into my ZPacks Zero backpack and string the backpack and food up. At around 3oz the backpack is not even a consideration when compared to the weight of the food itself. Though I really do hate hanging food. I will only do it if I know for a fact I need to do it. Otherwise, I just keep it besides my tent. Never had a problem with my an animal coming into camp. Prepare meals on the trail before I hit camp and I try to eat while hiking so there is no food hitting the ground at the camp site. Of course when I hike with a group of others that is a whole other situation.

    . .
    BPL Member


    Locale: Puget Sound

    I was using the 1.25mm z-line with the Dacron sheath and found it to be not quite strong enough for bagging. Has anyone had any durability issues with the 1.4mm?

    Dale South
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southeast

    David "Lone Wolf" Blair of Damascus, Va has hiked the AT five times. He has never hung his food. He always sleeps with it. One of my hiking partners needs 61 miles in Maine to complete the AT and she has never hung her food. This spring at the start of thru hiking season, lots of bear activity in Georgia. The only hikers that lost their food to bears were the ones that hung their food.

    Just information and not a recommendation.

    Kevin Babione
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pennsylvania


    Using your pack as your bearbag is brilliant – I'm now embarassed that I never thought of it. I typically provide the bearbag setup for the 4-5 of us that hike together. I actually purchased a second bearbag because of the bulk of the food the first night out! My bearbags are light – around 3 ounces each (MLD and Lawson Equipment), but still I never thought to use my pack instead.

    When you hang your ZPacks Zero from the line – what do you use on the pack? My usual pack is a GG Murmur. It has a hang loop but I really only use it for putting the pack on and taking it off. I'm not sure about hanging it from the loop with 20 pounds in it. A failure there means all of our food is on the ground and we may not hear the "thump". That would be inconvenient.

    I guess I could make a net or harness with a couple grams of Aircore 1 that would work pretty well. Anyone else have experience hanging their SUL or XUL packs?

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    "Honestly, I'm curious if it has more to do with my diet (vegetarian)"

    Javen: Back in my California BPing days and especially in Yosemite and Sequoia with their very troublesome black bears, the bear has always gone for the pack with the salami in it. So, yeah, if I was sleeping with my food, I'd sleep better with less stinky food.

    Back to the AT bear discussion: I've only dayhiked on the AT, all my black bear experience is on the west coast. But I'd find a stout stick as I approached camp and have it alongside me at night. At 17, I cowered in my sleeping bag as a black bag gnawed through everything in one of our packs. Then I decided that I'd be a better actor than the bears and adopt some 'tude. It would surprise clients (I lead trips semi-pro for a few years) when I'd grab a stick and yell when running right at the bear, just putting out of my mind its claws, teeth and strength and focusing only on how hard I would whack it with the stick when I got there. But they were always gone when I got there, after a second of looking surprised.

    Overall, I like the no-bear-bag, use-it-as-a-pillow approach for 48-state use outside of Glacier / Yellowstone NPs. But in grizzly country, I'm still going to hang or use bear cannisters. And do the 100 meter triangle thing – cook, store food and sleep at least 100 yards from the location of the other activities.

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    You know where that tree with the level branch sticking out exactly 20 feet off the ground is? In the phamplet the ranger gave you about bear-bagging. And nowhere else. And in Alaska? How do you hang food in a scraggily 12-foot black spruce?

    Okay, I'm usually a low-impact guy, but I think the lowest impact we can have in high-use areas is to install fixed food boxes so the bears don't get the Mountain House Chili-Mac and go back to berries, termites and ground squirrels.

    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member


    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    I usually use my pack as my bear bag.

    In Oregon and Washington the problem is more with mice than bears. If you use it as a pillow, they'll get in while you're sleeping. If there's no tree, sometimes I'll hang it from a large rock.

    James Marco
    BPL Member


    Locale: Finger Lakes

    Yes. I have done that in the past. It is easier to simply carry a light bear line, since my food is already in a bag…often a corner of a garbage bag. 6 or 7 pounds is fairly easy to get up, 20lbs is harder to pull, often needing a pulley or Marrison(sp?) methode to get them up. The major problem is the straps/shoulder harness. It can get snagged fairly easy on many species of trees, pines being about the worst. The solution, of course, is to turn it inside out. Adding a clip helps but a simble loop and a "found" stick works as well.

    Generally, I use 1.5mm line. It is more than strong enough. That isn't really the issue. I "try" to select a dead branch with no bark. This is about half the time. For anything around 10 pounds of food, 1.5mm is fine. For heavier I usually go with a full 1/8" line. This will usually prevent the sawing into bark that damages trees and can "weld" the line overnight with sap. I spent a couple hours one morning before I got my food down using some long sticks. It had been sticking for the last two nights anyway, so I had fair warning…too stuborn to give up, I guess. I quit using really fine line (ie 40# braided nylon fly line backer) many years ago (1990-1995 or so.) I got a small, as in really tiny, brass pulley. But this didn't save any weight over just using wider line.

    Angelo R.


    Locale: Northwest CT

    I used my pack as a bear bag (for the first time) this summer in Glacier NP. I tied some guy line through both shoulder straps and hung it that way. My pack is an MLD Exodus. It worked great.

    Robert Perkins


    Locale: The Sierras

    This technique could lead to disaster in the Sierras. Not only would you lose your food, your pack would be gone or destroyed. It must not be an issue in Glacier, so knowing when and where to do which technique is the key. Most of my hiking is in the Sierras and my bearcan is what is keeping me from reaching the 'prestigious', ;), SUL catagory, but I sleep really well at night not worrying about having to scare a bear away from my food, or worse yet my food and backpack! I think I'll keep the extra weight of the bearcan.

    I remember about 7 years ago in Yosemite at the Half-Dome/JMT junction seeing the remains of a backpack that someone had attempted to hang to avoid packing it up Half-Dome. It looked like the remnants of a pinata with it's edible contents gone and the pack useless. It would have been funny if I didn't know that someone probably needed that food for their hike.

    Mina Loomis
    BPL Member


    Locale: Central Texas

    When we hiked the Wonderland Trail (2009), where the park requires the use of permanent hang poles at the designated camps, I used my pack (ULA Catalyst on that trip) as our hang bag. Wet weather the last half of the trip. Pack, back pad, hip belt, shoulder straps, all soaked, never dried out. Since I carried an umbrella and we were using an 8 x 10 tarp, if not for hanging it in the rain at night, I could have kept it a lot drier, and thus much lighter, if I'd brought a lightweight waterproof hang sack instead.

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