- Sep 25, 2017 at 1:24 am #3493044
Justin BakerBPL Member
@justin_bakerLocale: Santa Rosa, CA
I hang my food bag when possible and sleep with my food when there are no good trees to hang from. Sleeping with my food is typically not legal and I don’t care. I’m not particularly scared of california black bears and I don’t expect a bear to be hanging out above the treeline in a bunch of granite boulders at night. Until I hear about a backpacker getting mauled by a california black bear above the treeline at night while sleeping with their food then I will continue to consider it an effective method of food storage.
I recommend that you always carry a bear canister where required because the few places where they are required are usually high trailheads with lots of patrols.Sep 25, 2017 at 9:54 am #3493077
Well, we do know someone (an experienced Sierra club leader) who was sleeping with the food above treeline in the Sierra, maybe around 15 years ago, and got evacuated to a hospital because in the middle of the night a bear went for the food. When he sat up suddenly upon being awakened by the bear, the startled bear raked his face pretty good with its claws.Sep 25, 2017 at 10:24 am #3493084
MJ HBPL Member
Right, but was he wearing a green sweater? Because I have a theory about green sweaters.Sep 25, 2017 at 10:39 am #3493088
Jerry AdamsBPL Member
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
I have never had the hint of a bear looking for my food
I do occasionally have rodents nibbling on my food. When it’s on the ground. So I always hang it at least a few feet off the ground.
Most frequently is a rodent getting into my car and eating my food. So I use the bear canister there.
My last trip a rodent ate half my banana and nibbled on some cherry tomatoes. I threw the banana on the ground so the rodent could finish it, and threw out the tomatoes that seemed to be contaminated, but rinsed off the rest of the tomatoes and ate them anyway.Sep 25, 2017 at 12:04 pm #3493105
” The other issue is proximity–do the bags reduce wind-borne odors bringing a hungry bear to your camp?” ”
They will certainly reduce the odors by some amount. The question is by how much. It is a near certainty the nylofume works far better than a Ziploc bag, because even I can smell odors through a Ziploc bag, but not a nylofume one.
“Once the bear is there, it may not work, but as a bear is searching for food, will it be attracted?”
That is the crux of the issue, and one that has not been completely resolved, IMO, certainly not by a test under very artificial conditions with dogs trained to detect drugs. Too many issues left unaddressed. See below.
” If you are camping in impacted areas where bears know that people and food may be, it’s worth it to stroll by and check it out. Then, the OP sack won’t deter them, unless just plastic alone slows the transmission of the odor.”
While I would never sleep with my food in such areas, precisely because they will come even if they can’t smell food, I question your statement about the OP sack not blocking odors, at least effectively enough not to attract a bear from a distance. That remains an unanswered question, IMO. In any case, I consider habituated bear country to be either canister country or in forested areas where I know I can execute a good hang, hanging country. This excludes most of the PNW, BTW. Down sloping tree branches make for very poor hangs.
” I’m pretty sure it doesn’t: I bet a high proportion of campers have some or all of their food sealed in ziploc bags these days.”
If you are talking about Ziploc bags alone, you are on solid ground, IMO. If you extrapolate from that to nylofume bags, I think you are on much shakier ground. Those bags are used to protect food and other household items in situ during fumigation of houses for pests, and are guaranteed to be odor proof. The question for me is are they 100% odor proof when bears are in the picture, or is the manufacturer using a different standard of “odor proofness”? I am not sure that they would be if a bear’s nose was in close proximity to a nylofume bag containing food. I am, however, confident that they block odor effectively enough to avoid attracting a bear passing, say 200 meters from my camp, in areas where bears are not habituated or highly unlikely to be present, and I can’t do a proper hang. Confident enough to sleep with my food.
” Testing under field conditions isn’t really science, and isn’t ethical:”
Let’s deal with the ethical issue first. For the purposes of the topic under discussion, I think we could all agree that dogs trained to detect food would be an adequate substitute for using bears. If they could detect the food, then bears, with their far more sensitive olfactory sense would also be able to detect the food.
” too many variables (how do you know that a bear would have happened by to investigate your food? Failure of sack=rewarded habituated bear=dead bear). I figure one would need to test smelly food, neutral food like oatmeal or crackers, and a bag with a non-food/attractive product, to see whether they investigate without an odor cue.”
For a more realistic result, conduct the test in an area with a known bear population, use motion detecting cameras to determine if they were drawn to the tent containing the bagged food, and drive them off when they got within, say, 5 feet of the tent with flash bangs of some sort, or perhaps an electrified perimeter. No harm done to the animals, and no reward. Such tests could be done with both OP sacks and nylofume bags, and I would want a double nylofume bag inside a waterproof roll top bag to validate, or not, my own approach. I would also want the test conducted with foods of varying odor intensity, to replicate the range of foods carried by backpackers. If we wanted to make the tests even more realistic, they should include cooking versus no cook scenarios, simply because a cooking scenario would provide the dispersed odors that would likely bring a bear in close to investigate, something the no cook approach is intended to avoid. I realize we cannot reduce this kind of an experiment to one variable at a time, but I do believe it would produce useful results. Close enough for gummint work, as the saying goes. I think what I have described here, while not entirely controllable, in the strictest scientific sense, would give us a lot of useful answers as to what works and what doesn’t, even if dogs were used.Sep 25, 2017 at 12:22 pm #3493111
Ryan P. MurphyBPL Member
Now 8 pages in, let me add my $0.02. Regarding evidence of “good hang” failures you only need to look at the Adirondack examples. In high use backcountry areas with a healthy bear population, bears have a lot of opportunity to learn how hangs work and how to defeat them. Black bears are very intelligent and the Adirondack bears have been referred to (unscientifically) as “the smartest bears in the world” (I suspect largely due to Yellow Yellow being able to defeat the Bearvault brand canisters including the redesigned one).
In the Eastern High Peaks region of the Adirondacks “good” hangs were routinely defeated. This includes a campsite where food was hung from a cable over water. Was an empirical study run? Not that I’m aware of but these hangs were routinely defeated. As a result in the early 2000’s (2006? can’t quite remember) bear canisters became mandatory. At the time I found having to carry a canister annoying. They are bulky and heavy. They are, however, great once you get into camp since you don’t need to faff around finding a good hang site. A good canister site is much easier to find than a good hang site and requires much less effort. A year after the canister requirement went into affect I spoke with one of the bear biologists from the Department of Environmental Conservation; she told me that based on their data, bear encounters dropped 98% IN THE FIRST YEAR. While I still sometimes find it annoying to carry a canister I appreciate their simplicity and effectiveness.
In the other parts of the park I frequently use a PCT hang and have never had issues. That being said I’ll share some anecdotal evidence. 2008; flowed lands lean-to with a group basecamping and peak bagging. Our first night our neighbors hang a bear bag in this canister only zone. Within 15 minutes their bag was down and they lost all their food. We had one of our 6 canisters shuffled around but no other problems. Next night; new guy in the same campsite; we go over to tell him about the incident the night before to give him a heads up that a bear will likely visit since it had been rewarded the previous night. This guy doesn’t have a canister either. He didn’t seem very concerned. We offered to loan him an empty canister for the night to minimize problems. He begrudgingly accepts. He puts some of his food in the canister and then proceeds to hang a textbook PCT hang with the rest. Within a half hour his textbook PCT hang is down on the ground being eaten by a bear.
So yes, at least in the Adirondacks even good hangs were routinely being defeated before the canister requirement and even after by folks violating the rules. The canisters cut down on bear encounters almost immediately. Carrying a bear canister is not against the ultralight ethos though it may be in your best interest to carry the lightest you can find. Canisters protect the bears and the users of the area and keep areas open. I have come across several backcountry areas that are “closed” due to problem bears; canisters can prevent these closures. For me ultralight backpacking is about enjoying the backcountry places I want to be and part of the reality of that is working within the confines of the regulations. Canisters are an easy risk management choice for lang management agencies in areas where bears and people have problematic relationships.
Are canisters being required places where maybe they aren’t necessary? I would not be surprised if some land agencies implement canister regulations as a simple “best practice” rather than based on any documented need and I do think that there is room to push back if we feel that this is happening. but that would require a thoughtful conversation with the agency and an examination of the data regarding bear encounters.
Sep 25, 2017 at 12:54 pm #3493116
- This reply was modified 2 months, 2 weeks ago by Ryan P. Murphy.
While different odor reducing bags are being tested, I think it might be interesting to also test odor absorbing material in combo with different bags. If it means an extra layer of protection contributing to being able to sleep mostly safely and undetected with my food, then I wouldn’t mind carrying around a little activated charcoal filled satchel or the like.Sep 25, 2017 at 1:30 pm #3493125
” If it means an extra layer of protection contributing to being able to sleep mostly safely and undetected with my food, then I wouldn’t mind carrying around a little activated charcoal filled satchel or the like.”
Oh yeah a satchel of charcoal will deter a bear every time.Sep 25, 2017 at 1:38 pm #3493129
If nylofume bags prove to be pretty effective in general for reducing odor, the activated charcoal in combo would just increase it’s effectiveness. It’s a proven tech for absorbing odor, gases, fumes, etc which is why it’s a key ingredient in gas masks, air filters, and the like. The idea is to to use two nylofume bags, one in which the food goes in, and the other over that with the activated charcoal.
What exactly is the problem with this suggestion, and why the need for the snark?Sep 25, 2017 at 1:50 pm #3493133
Sorry, I was picturing a sachet.Sep 25, 2017 at 2:49 pm #3493145
I hadn’t thought of activated charcoal, but that would definitely be worth testing.Sep 25, 2017 at 3:14 pm #3493149
J RBPL Member
No combination of materials and charcoal filtering will completely eliminate odors detectable by a bear, their sense of smell is just too keen. I believe it was quoted further up this thread, a statistic I’ve heard before, that a bear’s sense of smell is believed to be 7x greater than a bloodhound’s, which makes it hundreds, if not thousands, of times more sensitive than ours.Sep 25, 2017 at 3:33 pm #3493150
I prefer to have testing done before completely ruling it out automatically.
Because bears do have such a keen sense of smell and are pretty intelligent, they can also distinguish relative volume of food via scent, and if something is emitting the amount of odor of tiny crumbs vs meals because of the use nylofume bags + A.C., then it’s possible they would be less likely to investigate if they smell humans are right near the food odor (speaking on average and perhaps not those unusual bear populations).
In any case, it should be tested.
I have no major issue with the idea of carrying a canister personally, but it would be nice if it they could be designed lighter.Sep 25, 2017 at 5:38 pm #3493164
“No combination of materials and charcoal filtering will completely eliminate odors detectable by a bear, their sense of smell is just too keen.”
That is precisely the question being discussed, with no certainty as to whether what you state is, in fact, true. If you have documentation of reliable testing to prove that, all of us here would sure like to see it.
Sep 25, 2017 at 6:20 pm #3493172
- This reply was modified 2 months, 2 weeks ago by Tom K.
The sort of testing being advocated here simply isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Who’s going to fund it? In the meantime, people will do what we’ve always done: rely on everyday experience.
We knew about gravity and acted accordingly well before Newton gave it a mathematical formula.
I wonder how quickly charcoal absorbs odor? and how much it would take to absorb the odor of, say, six days worth of food?
Tom relies on his vast personal experience to decide how to protect his food. It must be underlined that he isn’t speaking about the sort of on-trail situations that most people hike in. In his case, nylofume bags and the rest make sense as one piece of an overall strategy; a partial deterrent.Sep 25, 2017 at 6:24 pm #3493174
Tom – how do you seal your food in nylofume bags, just a twist tie or something more involved? I’d never thought of using them for food but it might make sense even if one were hanging the food.Sep 25, 2017 at 6:51 pm #3493182
Jon FongBPL Member
@jonfongLocale: FLAT CAT GEAR
I think that you are missing a few bits of insight about animal behavior. If a bear knows that a container (ursack, grocery bag, stuff sack) may contain food and that they can break into it they will, regardless if it smells or not. They have become condition to know where calories are hidden. Additionally, bear olfactory system are quite sensitive and no matter where you store your food, you have been cooking in the area. This is why bear canisters work, bears know that it is difficult to break into them: regardless if you use odor sack or not. This is why the steal plastic grocery bags, it may not smell but in many cases there is sealed food in there. In Yosemite, all food and containers are to be removed from your car. Bears recognize ice chest, grocery bags, potato chips backpacks, etc. my 2 cents
Sep 25, 2017 at 7:01 pm #3493185
- This reply was modified 2 months, 2 weeks ago by Jon Fong.
Franco DarioliBPL Member
I think that you are missing a few bits of insight about animal behavior. If a bear knows that a container (ursack, grocery bag, stuff sack) may contain food and that they can break into it they will, regardless if it smells or not.
I was wondering when someone would work that out….
Rats, for example, have learned that they can find food around shelters. They don’t have to see it or smell it , they just know that there is a very good chance food will come to them.
Same for other animals too.Sep 25, 2017 at 7:06 pm #3493187
True; that’s why an empty and clean ice chest left visible inside of a car at the trailhead may still result in a bear break in. D’oh!
so…a backpacker=food, smelly or not.
Sep 25, 2017 at 8:36 pm #3493199
- This reply was modified 2 months, 2 weeks ago by jeffrey armbruster.
“It must be underlined that he isn’t speaking about the sort of on-trail situations that most people hike in. In his case, nylofume bags and the rest make sense as one piece of an overall strategy; a partial deterrent.”
That is exactly it, Jeffrey. Several posts ago I stated that this is not a strategy I would employ in areas with a lot of people and, therefore, bears. Canisters are, IMO, the way to go in that case, or at least a well executed hang and probably sleeping very lightly, if at all. Not my cuppa, as a rule. And, as Jon posted, once bears associate a bag with food, whether or not it smells is pretty much a moot point. They’re going to check it out.
” how do you seal your food in nylofume bags, just a twist tie or something more involved? I’d never thought of using them for food but it might make sense even if one were hanging the food.”
Yes, a twist tie, but after the first twist off, I continue to twist the bag material, then double it back and use the tag ends of the twist tie to twist over the doubled back section of bag. It looks like a shepherd hook, with the twist tie used to seal it off in 2 places. Lousy description, but that is a close as I can come with my limited vocabulary. :0(
And , yes, I use a nylofume bag inside my food sack all the time, from the time I pack my food at home on through the trip. It minimizes the chance of odors seeping into my backpack or spreading when I hang the bag at night.Sep 25, 2017 at 10:58 pm #3493221
That’s a fine description; I can tell exactly what you mean about twisting the bag shut, thanks. Maybe because I was thinking along the same lines when I asked the question…Sep 25, 2017 at 11:45 pm #3493225
Let me see if I’m understanding this correctly. Bears in general, or most bears, are like AT shelter mice that have little fear/trepidation of humans and will nilly willy run over you in the middle of the night?
Where I live and hike most at, the bears are pretty shy and cautious about humans (unlike the much, much less intelligent mice). Now, if I have a big ole honey pot, covered with peanut butter, open in my tent right next to me–that seems to be asking for trouble. But if I have low odor food wrapped up in two nylofume bags with activated charcoal, directly near me, at least in this area, chances are, unless the bear is really hungry and desperate, it’s not going to try to ransack my tent for something it can barely smell and probably computes as “tiny amount of food”. And if it’s that hungry and desperate then problems could arise anyways.
Bears are intelligent enough to do some risk assessment of their own.
I don’t doubt there are areas where bears are so habituated to and unafraid of humans that even using very low odor methods would be a form of risking it. But I haven’t been to those areas, and it sounds like canisters are required at most of them anyways (which makes sense and seems more than reasonable).
Like a lot things in life, it seems like this issue is relative and complex. Not one size or method fits all. When hiking the CT, it seemed like a lot of people slept with their food. I’ve heard that this has been and is, pretty common on the CT, and yet as far as I know, there hasn’t been much bear-human interaction.Sep 26, 2017 at 2:26 am #3493233
Franco DarioliBPL Member
No you don’t understand that correctly or at all.
If instead of thinking with your uber macho part of the brain , you had engaged your feminine side and taken a holistic view, you might have understood that there is the possibility that bear can recognise possible food sources with their own eyes and not just their nose.
Amazing, isn’t it ?Sep 26, 2017 at 9:58 am #3493284
J RBPL Member
Neither bears nor shelter mice are born with a lack of fear of humans. Quite the opposite in fact, at least when talking about black bears rather than grizzlies. But they both are intelligent, and that intelligence is an evolutionary survival adaptation that on a daily basis is mainly applied to finding food — so they learn quickly.
And keep in mind that human food is so much more calorie-rich than what can be found in nature that bears are highly motivated to get at our food — one campsite raid can yield more calories than a full day of foraging. And their intelligence helps them to remember details about food sources, whether it be berry bushes or beehives or food sacks or coolers.There even are bears that can recognize the shape of a cooler hidden under a blanket on the back seat of a car and will tear the car open to get at it.
Not to mention that bears have a strong social order whereby the cubs are raised by the mother for a couple of years and all of the accrued and acquired knowledge is taught to the cubs (bears don’t have to keep figuring this stuff out by themselves every time).Sep 26, 2017 at 10:46 am #3493298
Hi JR, yes, I understand and already knew all that. I addressed that side earlier when I wrote,
“I don’t doubt there are areas where bears are so habituated to and unafraid of humans that even using very low odor methods would be a form of risking it. But I haven’t been to those areas, and it sounds like canisters are required at most of them anyways (which makes sense and seems more than reasonable).”
I’m just not a fan of black and whites. I think in some areas and some situations, that sleeping with severely reduced odor food is not really that “extreme” or risky.
Ah Franco, I knew it was too good to be true and that it was just a matter of time, cause you just don’t have the willpower. We had agreed to just ignore each other, and I’ve done that.
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