How to Use an Ursack
Nov 24, 2021 at 9:00 am #3733119Mark WetheringtonBPL Member
@markwethLocale: Western Montana
Companion forum thread to: How to Use an Ursack
Ursacks are lighter alternatives to bear canisters for food storage but require the right knots and tying locations to protect your food.Nov 24, 2021 at 12:33 pm #3733130Chris RBPL Member
You missed out “don’t tie you Ursack around a tree but leave it resting on the ground”Nov 25, 2021 at 8:01 am #3733181Nov 26, 2021 at 12:17 am #3733195Ryan JordanAdmin
@ryanLocale: Central Rockies
Chris R – this may be one of the myths of Ursack use, that’s why we didn’t include it. When I visited the Grizzly Discovery Center in West Yellowstone and watched some Ursack tests there, the “height” of the Ursack didn’t seem to matter – bears became equally bored whether the Ursack was tied near ground level or tied up high (if they couldn’t access the contents). This may be one of those issues where it makes sense to tie it higher on a tree (requires more effort?), but IRL probably doesn’t matter that much.Nov 26, 2021 at 5:47 am #3733196Chris RBPL Member
I think if it on the ground they are able to do the “front paw stomp” that a lot of mammals use when dealing with non compliant potential food. It’s a great way to apply a huge amount of force to an object so reducing the ability of bears to do that would seem to make sense.Nov 26, 2021 at 8:37 am #3733204Mina LoomisBPL Member
@elmvineLocale: Central Texas
I’ve used ursacks on some trips, trying to lighten up from the weight of the Bearikade Weekenders we also have. When we got our Ursacks their web site didn’t have the slip-knot/carabiner video linked above. I’ve always just followed their original instructions to tie the ends of the cord around the tree with a figure 8 knot. A figure 8 knot is easy to tie and untie, like they say, but I’ve always found it a major hassle to tie while holding cord cinched tightly enough around the tree with the sack of heavy food. Without 3 hands, the cord always seems to develop some of that forbidden slack during the process of tying the figure 8. After watching the video, I tried the slip knot method at home with the ursack and a fat table leg. In the video, the actor shows the two cord ends that go around the tree, but he doesn’t have anything standing in for the tree. The way this method is configured, the final tightening of the second knot, after the carabiner is inserted, lengthens the standing end of that cord just enough to produce that forbidden slack again. The three half-square-knot method, like the figure 8, is hard to tie while holding the cords taut enough against the weight of the food. However. I next tried a slip knot on one cord, ran the other cord through it, pulled that tightly around the table leg the other way, and then tied the 2 ends with the three half-squares. No slack! Yay! The table leg isn’t as thick as a suitable tree would be, so a real hang would take more of the cord for the second trip around the tree, but there should be enough cord to work with an 8-inch tree.
On our last trip I took the Bearikades because of the hassle of getting the slack out of the cord with full sacks. Maybe I’ll try the Ursacks again with these new ideas about tying.Nov 26, 2021 at 9:13 am #3733206Ray JBPL Member
I’m probably in the dark, but the “Dreaded Slack” I thought just had to do with never leaving an opening into the storage cavity for bruin to hook a claw in and work into it. I would agree with leaving little to no slack tying it to a tree also.Nov 26, 2021 at 9:22 am #3733207Mina LoomisBPL Member
@elmvineLocale: Central Texas
The photo that accompanies item #2 in the part of the article about How Not to Secure an Ursack shows slack in the cord around the tree, and suggests that this exposes the sack opening (even when well-cinched as shown) to animals, increasing the chances of failure. The weight of food in the sack makes it very difficult to eliminate around-tree slack without an interim method of holding the cord taut while the final knot is tied. While my efforts normally do not result in the large amount of slack shown in the photo, I have struggled to get the cord as taut as, for example, is shown in the photo earlier in the article, of the three half-square knot.Nov 26, 2021 at 9:45 am #3733208ArthurBPL Member
When using the Ursack for the little guys, I tie it like this. It seems to make a better closure for the mice. It has worked well in the main corridor campsites in the Grand Canyon. That is where mice and ravens go to get their PhD in thievery.Nov 26, 2021 at 7:19 pm #3733259AK GranolaBPL Member
I’ve given up using the Ursack, although not so much that I’m willing to part with it just yet. It gets filthy and absorbs smells, ends up with sap all over it, and just doesn’t feel as secure to me. It’s easy to tie though, and mine has the instructions sewn in. But the bear canister is just so secure and easy. I’d rather give up a pound somewhere else and have a seat to sit on while cooking, and know that my food is safe and so are the bears.Nov 27, 2021 at 9:39 am #3733271
Bear slobber is really sticky and nasty. I wouldn’t want to try to eat food out of a slobbered sack. It would be pretty crushed anyway.Nov 27, 2021 at 3:02 pm #3733301
I forgot to mention that bears are more common and habituated in much of the Sierra, where I hike, so more likely to find and chew on an Ursak (which isn’t allowed in most parks). Certainly there are plenty of other places and scenarios where they would be a great option.Dec 4, 2021 at 1:35 pm #3733956Michael DBPL Member
As I found out, Ursacks are not particularly useful to the user in situations involving a determined bear. On the CT this summer, I had a black bear thoroughly chew-up my Ursack. Even tied to a tree trunk and with all of the knots tied and intact, the bag was punctured in numerous places and my food and cook kit were thoroughly crushed, punctured and drooled-on. All of the food and equipment inside were destroyed, even though the bag was never actually ripped-upon. For me, this was a huge setback. For the bear, it was probably tantalizing and enough to keep him coming back. I suppose that it is good for public wildlife management policy that the bear didn’t get to enjoy the contents, but I didn’t either. As a product, the Ursack was a very modest success.
Ursack was good enough to replace the bag, so now I can potentially repeat this scenario. In the future, I plan to hang the Ursack as I would any other food bag, albeit with a significant weight penalty.Dec 4, 2021 at 3:43 pm #3733964Dec 4, 2021 at 4:42 pm #3733967dirtbagBPL Member
if you plan to hang the Ursack.. I dunno, I would leave it home and just PCT style my food bag.Dec 4, 2021 at 5:24 pm #3733973
“if you plan to hang the Ursack.. I dunno, I would leave it home and just PCT style my food bag.”
I agree. A bear would just carry your Ursak off and you wouldn’t find it. If you did, once again, it would have become the remains of a chew toy for the bear. So what’s the point?
From what I understand, lining the Ursak with a plastic odor bag is mostly an exercise in wishful thinking. The bear will smell you, know that you have food, and then find the Ursak at close proximity, odor liner or no.
Again, the bear slobber on the bag is sticky and nasty. There’s no way to protect what’s left of your food from becoming contaminated. Sure, you could wash the bag in a stream. It won’t get all the slobber and germs off. And some will have penetrated the bag. Hey, maybe a good boil of the food will do the trick. I wouldn’t want to risk it.
As for chasing the bear away…well. plan to stay up all night. the bear will be back, again and again. More, trying to chase off a bear that now ‘owns’ your food can be dangerous.Dec 4, 2021 at 6:11 pm #3733976
“”“if you plan to hang the Ursack.. I dunno, I would leave it home and just PCT style my food bag.”
I agree. A bear would just carry your Ursak off and you wouldn’t find it. If you did, once again, it would have become the remains of a chew toy for the bear. So what’s the point?”
*** Some areas REQUIRE and Ursack or Canister… so that can be a ‘point’…
“From what I understand, lining the Ursak with a plastic odor bag is mostly an exercise in wishful thinking. The bear will smell you, know that you have food, and then find the Ursak at close proximity, odor liner or no.”
*** Bears can can distinguish between a lot of food smell and a little food smell… they are not stupid, they will go to the camps with the most food smell… If you use and odor proof bag, that might not be your camp…
“Again, the bear slobber on the bag is sticky and nasty. There’s no way to protect what’s left of your food from becoming contaminated. Sure, you could wash the bag in a stream. It won’t get all the slobber and germs off. And some will have penetrated the bag. Hey, maybe a good boil of the food will do the trick. I wouldn’t want to risk it.”
*** I would. If the choice is starving or eating, I would eat. The doc can give you antibiotics when you get home :) Wash it off and boil the food. And I doubt all packages will be penetrated.. .
“As for chasing the bear away…well. plan to stay up all night. the bear will be back, again and again. More, trying to chase off a bear that now ‘owns’ your food can be dangerous.”
*** Staying up all night is better than going without food IMHO.. It can be done. I throw rocks, bang pots… bears don’t want to be hassled and if they haven’t yet got anything out of your bag, they may just walk away to easier pickings. Just don’t try top grab the bag out of the bear’s paws… throw rocks from a distance. I’ve done it and been successful. Defend your food!!!Dec 4, 2021 at 6:43 pm #3733978
Defend your food!!!
Or just carry a Bearikade Scout and not have any issues. It’s simpler. No issues with starving and protracted bear encounters throughout the long night and ICU units when you get home. Sheesh.Dec 4, 2021 at 8:32 pm #3733982Michael DBPL Member
Yes, I used an OPSack inside the Ursack, and yes, five of us screamed at the bear for about 20 minutes before he ambled off into the night. The OPSack was pretty well shredded, as were the contents. Smokey was a real pro. I found out later that there were a couple of Forest Service campgrounds in the vicinity, so Smokey was probably just making his usual rounds. It might be easier to defeat or scare-off a non-habituated bear, but this one was pretty determined and not at all intimidated by humans. He also chewed some holes through an adjacent camper’s Bear Vault, right around the rim of the lid. He knew exactly what his best chance at the BV was. The food and gear inside the BV wasn’t ruined, but that BV is now a real conversation piece. IMHO, this is the kind of bear that the Parks Department folks should consider a real hazard to humans..Dec 5, 2021 at 8:32 am #3733993
“IMHO, this is the kind of bear that the Parks Department folks should consider a real hazard to humans..”
Or.. a situation created by humans that is a real hazard to bears… perspective
Situation and situational awareness is everything… important to pick the right tool for the job…Dec 5, 2021 at 11:23 am #3734004Rex SandersBPL Member
Some Ursacks have their uses.
I backpack mostly where bears are not a problem, but smaller animals are. So I carry an Ursack Minor with a small wad of steel wool to plug the nearly-impossible-to-close opening. And I usually suspend it from a handy branch using a short cord, to further discourage small rodents. Never bothered with OPSACKs or similar.
It’s worked well so far, in campsites frequently visited by humans and rodents. The Ursack Minor is much lighter and easier to carry than my Bearikade, and much easier to safely store at night than various bear-hanging methods plus my laughable rock throwing skills.
Different gear for different environments.
— RexDec 5, 2021 at 5:35 pm #3734063Alan WBPL Member
Here is another story reminding that the design intent of Ursack is to protect bear from your food. It is NOT designed to protect your food from bears.
AT hike. 2017. New England. A bear attacked my Ursack at first light near designated tent camping.
Prior evening, I had leaned a log against tree to hang extra high, and then removed log. It was very tightly tied. (Spoiler: it was not torn apart by bear.)
None of my care in hanging mattered to an apparently habituated bear — or to most of my food, stove etc.
He climbed up and went to work. Jaws. Claws. Climbing above bag and doing WWF drops with full weight. Everything.
After 20 minutes watching my bag being pulverized, fang punctured, and slobbered upon, I armed with hiking poles, branches, and rocks. Bear was dissuaded — about 10 yards. Then he huffed, moved me back, and went to work again on Ursack.
After another 20 minutes, an accomplice showed up and helped me scare away bear for good.
After all, the bear was not getting anything for all his efforts except for strong scents through the Kevlar.
The Ursack did its job. It protected the bear from my food.
Alas, my food, Jetboil, sunscreen, etc. were not protected.
Despite having no bulk packaging inside, just individual snacks & meals, > half of small packages were ruptured and grossly slobbered.
I was on short rations for 2 days — and cold soaking dinner. Inconvenient, but not the end of world along AT in New England.
That was last Ursack use for me. Have used hanging or cannister ever since.
However, those methods have faults too. I am thinking about using Ursack again for hikes where I can surely return to food within 2 days without aborting longer goals.Apr 17, 2022 at 5:50 am #3746688karl hafnerBPL Member
@khafnerLocale: upstate NY
I do not view any food containment system as absolutely bear or animal proof. We had a bear canister the barrel looking one and one morning in the adirondacks I watch a chipmunk chew a hole threw it, took him under 45 minutes. We stopped him before he got to the food but it now had a nickel size hole in it. The company immediately replaced it for free. They all can fail. I like the ursack the best. It can be compressed as food supply is used and is easier to get into a pack. Bears can kick, drag those round items a long way and if they end up in water your food may be toast.Apr 17, 2022 at 7:40 am #3746698Bill in RoswellBPL Member
@roadscrape88-2Locale: Roswell, GA, USA
Forest Service personnel chase bears away with air horns. REI now wisely sells mini air horns that fit in my hipbelt pocket. Everyone within a quarter mile will hear it, too, warning other hikers of an active bear.Apr 17, 2022 at 8:39 pm #3746736Bill in RoswellBPL Member
@roadscrape88-2Locale: Roswell, GA, USA
Michael D, could you please give specific detail on the location of your bear encounter. Thank you.
Summer 2021, mid June, Betty Cr Gap, NC on AT, 2 brothers I know were camped w about 17-20 other hikers. The brothers had an Ursak, as did a few others. Bag hangs others hikers used were traditional and PCT. Two hikers used BV500s. A quite large black bear started foraging. He chewed up the Ursaks, punctured a few food bags. The brothers threw their slobber covered bag away at the next stop. The bear climbed trees, shimmed out the tree limbs above the food bags, then dropped onto the bags taking them to the ground. Type of hang didn’t matter. Next, Mr Bear repeatedly stomped on a BV 500 deforming it until the lid detached. Apparently having eaten enough, he batted the other BV500 downhill into a laurel thicket. All the hikers made noise, banged pots, blew whistles while their food was being destroyed. Mr Bear slowly rambled away. Many hikers freaked out and called shuttles for next day pickup since they were by a FS road. More ppl in the wild, more bears under pressure from human development. I expect an increase in encounters. I have an Ursak and been happy. But after this encounter and that more areas in NC are going to require bear cans, Im thinking the Bearicade is the only surefire option.
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