Bear-bagging above treeline

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    Art Sandt


    How does BPL "bear-bag" their food when they are above treeline? Even if you don't expect ursine visitors to your campsite, there are still marmots that need to be kept at bay.

    On past trips in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona, I've always camped pretty close to the treeline and have been able to haul my food bag up into a tree, but I'm planning a few trips next year into Montana and Wyoming where, at least on the topo map, the treeline looks like it might be miles away (I don't know exactly, though, as I've never been to these places before, one destination is the Wind River Range, for example). Do you bring a bear canister on trips like this? Or do you just go, expecting to find trees?

    Justin Baker
    BPL Member


    Locale: Santa Rosa, CA

    I have heard suggestions to bring climbing equipment to sort of rig the bag off a cliff. Other than that, you are kinda out of luck, unless you can find a crevice or crack in a rock to shove it into.
    In black bear country, I would consider sleeping next to my food if necessary, but in grizzly country, heck no!

    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member


    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    Sometimes I hang food off a rock – good for rodents, not so good for bears

    Buck Nelson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Alaska

    I have occasionally hung food over a cliff. In open tundra in Alaska I've carried a bear canister if required, otherwise I put my food in a plastic bag, seal it, and stash it out of sight, away from and downwind of my tent.

    Usually, though, if I don't expect bear problems I'll sleep with my food. It's almost always habituated bears that are the problem.

    Paul Wagner
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wine Country

    Just to be clear about this–I don't think ANY government agency or wildlife organization recommends anything other than hanging your food beyond the reach of bears, or putting it in a bear can.

    Ergo: If you are in an area that doesn't have what you need to correctly hang your food, you should put it in a bear can. To do anything else is to run the risk of accustoming bears to getting food from backpackers—and that ruins it for the other backpackers, and REALLY ruins it for the bears.

    And please don't explain that you've never had a problem. The reason that you have never had a problem is that the bears aren't accustomed to finding food near backpackers.

    And you are doing exactly what it takes to change that.

    Randy Nelson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Rockies

    Probably depends on where you are above treeline. In Colorado, bears rarely go above treeline. I've never seen one above treeline and don't know of anybody who has. RMNP used to only require bear canisters below treeline but recently changed it. But, according to the ranger I talked to, they did so to standardize their regs, not because they had any incidents.

    Buck Nelson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Alaska

    It's important that bears don't get your food. In areas where bears aren't habituated, I think sleeping with food is often more likely to prevent conflicts than hanging it. That's because I see many, if not most, people hanging food improperly. They hang it too low, having no idea how high a bear standing on it's hind feet can reach. They hang it too close to the trunk where bears can pull it in, and so on. Hung away from camp, bears can take their time figuring out how to get at it and once they do they will watch for those opportunities again.

    It is very rare indeed for a bear to try to take food out of a pack that a person is wearing. The same with a person sleeping with food where bears aren't habituated. Sleeping with food where bears are habituated is really asking for trouble and likely illegal.

    It's failing to control your food that creates the habituation in my opinion. Coolers on the picnic table, unattended tents with food in them, etc. In areas where bears have learned that people mean food, then there's no question that canisters, bear boxes or hanging are the way to go.

    As I mentioned, in the wild areas of Alaska with low bear populations I will stash food overnight in an air tight plastic bag, and I will put it out of sight, downwind where a bear can smell me . Out of sight, out of smell, out of mind. In most areas of Alaska bears are hunted and have no interest in approaching people.

    Depends on the place, the bears, and the rules. As usual, it's risk management.

    Bob Gross
    BPL Member


    Locale: Silicon Valley

    Bear canister is the way to go.


    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member


    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    When I've slept with my food, rodents got into it

    Better to hang it off the ground close to you

    Assuming you're not in grizzly country or Sierra Black Bear areas, etc.

    Wesley Witt


    Locale: Northwest

    An Ursack works great for this.

    peter vacco


    Locale: no. california

    " I think sleeping with food is often more likely to prevent conflicts than hanging it. "

    yup. quite correct.
    .. and it takes some huevos too..

    so: … peter splits the difference. i obtained from PacerPole a little chit of bent alloy that allows the poles to form a bi-pod, and from this, using my "bear rope" to support it, i hang my supplies.
    supplies stay outside the tent, in direct sight-line of my door window, about 1-1/2 car lengths away, at a distance that if something gets nosey (like a fox) i will know about it, but if "something bigger" decides to show interest, i might have a chance to exit the tent and have a spray about it.

    the PacerPole rig will hold about 40#'s. leki's with their straps intertwined will go a bit higher.

    the downwind placement trick is also good. provided the wind does not change direction …
    really, once something is in your stench-zone, bears will pretty much avoid it for a reasonable time.

    there are any number of excellent stands of tress tucked away well north of the treeline, and every one of them looks like a great spot to camp, except they are infested with mosquitos and bears.
    camping right smack dab in the center of a trail is another fine spot to meet a bear.
    you'll notice next morning when they leave a steamer 4' away from your tent. (base of Gilbeau Pass)

    i am well attached to the bi-pod hang process and consider it all but a mandatory part of setting camp. it does create a sub-issue of needing to perhaps undo small knots with frozen fingers the next morning. i also take care to rig in such manner that if a bear walks off with one bag of food, the others are not necessarily dragged along with it, resulting in a total loss.

    in the states i'm all about just carrying the stupid bear can now. my load's too heavy anyway, and it makes a great camp chair, and i can sleep better, and enjoy smelly'r food.


    Dan @ Durston Gear
    BPL Member


    Locale: Canadian Rockies

    Opsak it, or hang it off a cliff. I carry Opsaks as a plan B, and ideally hang it off a cliff but keep my breakfast in the Opsak for efficiency in the morning.


    "In Colorado, bears rarely go above treeline. I've never seen one above treeline and don't know of anybody who has."

    That correlates with my experience in the southern Sierra. Never seen one, don't know anybody who has.

    That said, I try to leave a buffer zone whenever possible, as there isn't a little black line delineating the frontier between below and above treeline. Bears do have sensory organs.

    Edited for content.

    Mark Mendell
    BPL Member


    Locale: Midwest

    I hang everywhere, even above the timber line if I can. The ONE time, and I mean the ONE time I didn't, I had been through a Hell day, walking through rain and sleet all day to a lovely lake on Haley Pass in the Winds. The wind was howling, and I was feeling hypothermic, so I cooked in my shelter (still howling wind and rain) and slept with my food.

    Next morning, lovely morning, I cross the pass to and run into a grizzly above timber. This was late June or early July in the Winds.

    Changed my attitude in a hurry.

    Ben Wortman
    BPL Member


    Locale: Nebraska

    While in the winds last summer, I was above tree line for several days, but there was always a boulder or rock wall to hang off of. Pretty easy to do. One interesting thin I did see past Island lake, was a group that hung off a cliff and below that clif was about a 20 foot drop into a creek. I hope they were careful when they pulled that one up or they would be feeding the fish.

    I you are above treeline, I'm not sure an ursak would be very useful. There would not be many things to tie it off to if you trying to keep it away from bears. They could just carry it away without too much difficulty. It might work agains marmots though.

    David Olsen


    Locale: Steptoe Butte

    "In Colorado, bears rarely go above treeline. I've never seen one above treeline and don't know of anybody who has."

    Saw a bear cross Forester Pass early spring 1992 (CA PCT).
    wiki photo forester pass

    It paid no attention to us, (large group). It was moving fast.

    Back then we slept with our food above tree line. Never had a bear problem, did have
    marmot problems and would do a marmot hang if we left gear in camp when off for day hikes

    Heard stories from other instructors of a bear pulling up food hung off a cliff, muzzle over paw.

    Now a days I set up my cliff hangs off a short 5th class pitch so the bear can't get anywhere near any part of the rope.

    Any more Grizzly stories and I might start sleeping from a bear hang and leave my food on the ground.

    Bob Gross
    BPL Member


    Locale: Silicon Valley

    "Now a days I set up my cliff hangs off a short 5th class pitch so the bear can't get anywhere near any part of the rope."

    The only reason that bears can't climb 5th class is because they can't find rock shoes that fit their hind paws.


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