Ursack – Current Consensus?
Jun 18, 2021 at 1:53 pm #3719166
What is the current consensus on Ursack usage in black bear areas? Anyone have good/bad luck with usage?
Area in question would be Socal mountains-9-10K feet.Jun 18, 2021 at 4:32 pm #3719181Chris RBPL Member
The posts I’ve seen on Facebook have got me thinking that there is just too much opportunity for user error. Not surprisingly folk are just not reading or ignoring the instructions and then getting upset when they fail.Jun 18, 2021 at 5:49 pm #3719193
Having a bear chew for hours on my Ursak full of food is not appealing. Bear slobber is really, really disgusting. So is the chewed up mush in the bag.
If you hang an Ursak and the bear gets ahold of it, it will be gone. If you attach and Ursak to a tree, it may get chewed like a catnip toy.
all that said, I’ve never used one. However, another issue is whether an Ursak is allowed where you’re going. A ranger may not be sympathetic should you meet up.
I bought a Bearikade. Extremely light and far easier than finding a hang. Dependable. No bear slobber.Jun 18, 2021 at 5:54 pm #3719194
Yeah, I wouldn’t want my food smooshed/wet with bear slober-that’s not helping anyone.
I have the older Garcia can. It’s a beast in weight and size. The Bare Boxer would be nice-hard to find if they are in production still. Bearikade looks nice as well. Only available ‘smaller’ cans are the BV450 which is still pretty big for short solo trips.Jun 18, 2021 at 6:26 pm #3719197
The Bearikade Scout is perfect for 5 days or under. And yes, I get 5 days of food into it, carrying the first days lunch and dinner in my pack. It’s very light and relatively small, so a lot of packing issues are greatly reduced.Jun 18, 2021 at 6:55 pm #3719199rubmybelly!BPL Member
@sleepingLocale: The Cascades
I’ve used an ur-sack for several years now with no issues. But I double-nylofume bag everything, then put that in the ur-sack. I tie the ur-sack as high as I can on a tree trunk, so that it’s not at bear nose level. Has worked well everywhere I’ve gone, including Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and California, as well as Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia in the east.Jun 18, 2021 at 7:43 pm #3719215Jenny ABPL Member
@jenniferaLocale: Front Range
I have been using an Ursack (where allowed) in Colorado for five years with no issues. The light weight and decreasing size as food gets eaten is a no-brainer. Like Rubmybelly, I use OP sacks. I also keep a clean camp, though one has little control over who was there before and their practices. In the one area i go where the metal insert is required, that isn’t a dealbreaker either, tho it is slightly less convenient. Still lighter than a hard canister.
I do have some concern that there is more room for user error with Ursacks over hard containers, and many folks just won’t take the time to learn the proper cinching and knot tying techniques, which will probably lead to no Ursacks someday.Jun 18, 2021 at 8:17 pm #3719218obx hikerBPL Member
Oh boy a bear thread!
^^ Pretty much describes my experience and process especially the double nylofume and ‘hanging’ well up a trunk that’s still too big to chew through, except for location. I’m Cal. Wyoming, Utah, NC, TN, VA.
If possible I also like to have something like a big wall or lake etc. down-wind to allow any smell to disburse before it reaches the supernose. Still in really bear habituated territory I carry a bearicade and really interested in that new Nunatak pack ;)
Also practice the 3 points with a wide separation like 100 meters or more. In the Winds for ex. you can find these perfect little islands in the lakes. Use as either kitchen/dining room, hanging/storage spot or even sleep spot depending!
But again if it’s terrain with a lot of consistent reports of Yogi and BooBoo in action I’ll take the Bearicade.
Difference in those active locations is that personal diligence makes no difference when the bears are purposefully sniffing out people and their food. When there are bears looking for your food as opposed to bears accidentally coming across a powerful scent and following up the risk ramps right on up. A bear sniffing out that least light trace and tracking it down likely has some experience and they are really good at following a scent.
I’m pretty sure you can’t use the ursack in Yosemite and possibly Seki. Lots of National Parks require a hardsided canister. So to me it depends but both are methods that work well enough depending on the terrain. Still I’m happy to have the choice in gear and appreciate the relevant agencies requiring canisters in bear rich habitat. Who needs the hassle of bears getting after your food? And the agencies certainly don’t need the hassle of dealing with problem bears, incidents, possible capture and relocation or worst termination all because someone has been carelessly feeding the bears. Tyranny of the average.
Also should add that some National Parks require IGBC approved canisters and strictly speaking I’m pretty sure the Bearicade is not IGBC permitted. Apparently some massive captive grizzly with about a week to figure it out managed to get his jaws around a bearicade and crush it. Personally I call BS on that rule especially where the bears are black bears but happily have not had to run that argument past a Judge. Knock on wood no personal interaction w/ bears so far….Jun 19, 2021 at 5:43 am #3719232
I have an UrSack that I use in area where a bear proof container is required but I really don’t expect to see any bears. If I’m in a place I really think we may camp in an area that has bear activity, I use a hard sided canister. Most of the places I use the UrSack are above treeline so you really cant use it appropriately there anyways.
If you are looking for a small solo weekend canister, what about the bear boxer contender?Jun 19, 2021 at 6:03 am #3719233James MarcoBPL Member
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
Why use one when a bear bag is so much lighter? If you need bear protection, either through laws or other circumstances, use the lightest bear can you can.Jun 19, 2021 at 7:03 am #3719237Diane “Piper” SoiniBPL Member
@sbhikesLocale: Santa Barbara
The idea of consensus among a bunch of freedom-loving, iconoclastic, against-the-grain gram weenies, is kind of ridiculous. But it sounds like most people who use Ursacks use them either as a back-up plan for the first few days before all of their food will finally fit inside their bear canister, or they use them for rodent protection. I’m not sure that they actually work all that well for rodents.
There’s not any consensus about what to do with your food in black bear country where bear canisters are not required, with some people being super paranoid about it and others just sleeping with their food in an ordinary bag inside their tents.Jun 19, 2021 at 10:25 am #3719245dirtbagBPL Member
I hike and camp in black bear territory. Sometimes I sleep with my food bag next to me.. usually winter months. Mostly I tie it off a tree away from my camp. It is always carried in an opsak inside an Ursack. Never have any problems or encounters all my years.. well, no encounters I am aware of. I do have a Bearikade Blazer which I have not needed to carry yet, but eventually when I spend some extended time in the Daks I will probably need it and when my time comes for the JMT I think it will also be needed. For now.. I love the Ursack.Jun 19, 2021 at 12:16 pm #3719254StumphgesBPL Member
I switched from hanging to an Ursack about two years ago. Used extensively in northern Minnesota (BWCA, SHT), New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming.
I’ve actually been flabbergasted that the bag isn’t consitently found, mauled and slobbered on. In the BWCA, during our hanging years, we often found fresh bear piles directly under our hung food bag. As far as I know, our Ursack has only been found once in two years, despite being hung mostly from tree trunks at human eye level.
I give some consideration to where to hang, usually going up or down trail 100+ yards from camp and then hanging on a tree 20-40 feet off the trail.
After most recent trip on SHT I noticed that the dyneema was chewed and slightly damaged. But I never noticed any damage to our food on this trip, and I had a bunch of ramen noodles in, which I would have thought would have got smashed. Flabbergasted. I do not own the metal liner.
Overall, I much prefer the Ursack to hanging. Much less hassle and so far so good. The recent mauling did damage the bag, and I wonder how many more run ins it will take before being breached. It looks good for at least one more, so I’ll not retire it until next time, which is hopefully in another two years or so.Jun 19, 2021 at 4:46 pm #3719263matthew kModerator
The Bare Boxer would be nice-hard to find if they are in production still. Bearikade looks nice as well. Only available ‘smaller’ cans are the BV450 which is still pretty big for short solo trips.
It looks like the Contender is available at bareboxer.com. It’s a great bearcan. With discipline and strong Tetris skills, one can squeeze 4 nights of food in it. 3 is easy.
The WI Scout’s exterior dimensions are barely larger than a BV450. You can get a week in there if you try hard.Jun 19, 2021 at 5:23 pm #3719265
In areas where an Ursack is allowed…I’d most likely still bring my Scout. It’s easier. If you forget something that you want (ibuprofen) after packing up, it’s easy to retrieve.
The question really is tied to where you hike and conditions there. I believe the OP is going to S Cal–I was assuming the Sierra. Maybe the Whites are less of a bear issue…? In any case, in the Sierra, cans are required in most places.
I hung for years. I was really good at it. Eventually I made a mistake. This is almost inevitable. the thing is, it’s the bears who really pay–and hikers, to the extent that bears associate hikers with food and will come looking.
I wonder about the effectiveness of odor liners. Bears smell humans; humans have food. Homing in, they’ll smell an Ursak.
I’d rather hang than use an Ursak tied to a tree–unless I was off trail at elevation. then I’d still use the Scout. Where do you tie an Ursak at 11,000 feet? I guess I’d hang it off a cliff.Jun 20, 2021 at 8:38 am #3719290Paul WagnerBPL Member
@balzaccomLocale: Wine Country
As usual, where and when you hike will determine many if your options. I mainly hike the Sierra.
Yosemite requires a hard sided food container, period. SEKI has bear boxes in high traffic campsites, and requires cans outside of those. But the National Forest wilderness areas in California just requires safe food storage– your call in how to do that. Same for Lassen NP
Those that hang good might want to review the Yosemite study that prompted their bear can requirement. They found that more than 90% of all hangs we’re not done effectively–including those done by people who thought they had done them perfectly.
I’ve had a bear hammer my hang once by following the rope and snapping it with one blow. But that was fifty years ago in Yosemite. We use a can now all the time (Bearvaults). We don’t have to remember out toothpaste, lip balm, or any of the myriad things that require you to undo your hang and start over …Jun 20, 2021 at 1:05 pm #3719346Murali CBPL Member
I have used Ursack + Opsack on PCT-Washington and Colorado trail. I actually prefer it to bear canisters as you can tie the Ursack to a tree rather than a bear canister which can be rolled away or carried away by a bear. I have not had any issues with bears getting into it. Did the CT in 2020. I did read a report of Ursack completely torn apart by a black bear on the CT in 2020. From what I gathered, perhaps the Ursack was hung a little low or maybe the bear could sit on the ground and work on the bag for a entire night. You want to tie it high with cross branches holding the bag so that the bear cannot pull the Ursack down to the ground and work on it. I am thinking standing and working on the Ursack for a night would tire the bear and it would give up – just my theory. I also always carry a bear bell which I tie to the Ursack hoping that I will hear the racket and can wake up and see if I can scare the bear away.
Of course above tree line, we did keep the Ursack near us – in our vestibules actually.
I think the key is to tie to a tree high, with Opsack (make sure you are not touching the outside of Opsack with your food hands too much – also don’t overstuff the Opsack. I actually fold the Opsack closure 3 to 4 times like a dry bag) and some noise making thingies that can wake you up if the bear is working on your Ursack.
I still think Ursack is better solution than canister which seems like it can be easily rolled away by a bear. Though it never happened on the JMT. I have heard stories of bears throwing the bear canister down a hill and then going down the hill to see if it is broken:-)Jun 21, 2021 at 2:44 am #3719430Luke SchmidtBPL Member
My Urasack has never been touched as far as I can tell. I actually put it low on the theory that it won’t disperse the smell as far. But this is in true wilderness campsites (i.e. no history of regular camping in that immediate vicinity).
It usually takes bears a while to find a food source and get comfortable coming into it. The Sierras are different because you have people camping in the same spots night after night and bears that have gotten used to raiding them.
My theory with the Urasack is it will probably prevent a bear from becoming food habituated. I might have to quit early if I bear makes a mess of it but I’m okay with that risk in my current situation.Jun 21, 2021 at 9:26 am #3719439
Looks like I need an arsenal of methods. The upcoming trip is in an area with known bear activity coming into camps. Small can here would seem appropriate here.
@matthew k Did you order your Bare Boxer directly from them? I have some reports they have issues processing orders.Jun 21, 2021 at 10:13 am #3719440
I think a hard sided canister is the answer if you’re camping in an area with known bear activity. Like I said before I use my UrSack only to meet the legal requirement in area’s I think are very low risk for a bear coming into camp (off trail trips well above tree line) as I’m not convinced it would hold up well with a bear going at it. I think in the IGBC test – the bear had an hour. Not to mention it wouldn’t take long for the bear to ruin all your food even if they didn’t get any food out of it. Most of the places I camp have no trees – at least not tree’s that are above shoulder high or have limbs that would keep a bear from carrying an UrSack off.
The only time I’ve ever had a bear in camp messing with my food was last summer on the SoSHR where we camped one night on the JMT (mistake). Both canisters were knocked over in the morning – my guess is the bear was checking the well used campsites along the river looking for people who forgot to secure the lid.
Bear canisters are a pain in the butt. They are heavy, they are bulky and hard to pack in your backpack, and they are hard to pack food into efficiently, but they are easy, reliable, and fool proof.
I think regular bear bags (hanging), UrSacks, and Canisters all have their place, just use the right tool for the job. I once did a trip with a guy in Great Smoky Mountain National Park (where you must camp in designated campsites that have a cable system for hanging) who brought a BearVault. The ranger at the permit office told him he was welcome to use his BearVault as long as he hung it from the cables! They didn’t want any food canisters in other places around the campsites or get bears looking for anything that wasn’t on the cables even if it was bear proof. In the end he didn’t repack his food and just carried the 39oz paperweight.
It is worth noting that no matter what you get, it may not be approved in all areas you hike (or could hike). The UrSack for example, is not approved in the Sierra’s. The Bearikades are not approved in the Tetons or RMNP. The BearVaults are not approved in a small area in northern NY.Jun 21, 2021 at 10:23 am #3719441
To answer your original question I think the UrSack is a decent resistant food storage device when used by a diligent and skilled person in the perfect conditions. I do not think it will hold up to a bear’s attention as long as a hard sided canister, and I’m not convinced that the bear does not get some food taste through the bag while chewing on it.
I also think that the chances of you being with ruined food are much higher with an UrSack.
The UrSack just requires a lot more skill and dillagence than a hard sided canister, and due to the lack of those things by many backpackers, I think the failure rate will be much higher. This isn’t even getting to the fact that to be used per the instructions it requires more specific conditions. ( A bear can is pretty simple – lock, store away from camp and away from cliffs and streams). My gut feeling is that you will see more and more National Parks (and other recreational and wilderness areas) requiring “Hard Sided” canisters from the IGBC to exclude the UrSack.Jun 21, 2021 at 10:36 am #3719442Jon FongBPL Member
@jonfongLocale: FLAT CAT GEAR
To me, the basic question is “do UrSacks save bear lives?”. They are not designed to prevent your food from being crushed or sloppered on, they are meant to prevent bears from getting into your food and developing bad habits around humans (and have to be euthanized). In a majority of cases, bear canisters have done exactly that; bear tend to avoid them as they are not worth the energy to break into. It seems to me that IGBC tends to believe that UrSack does not meet that criteria and will be bad for bear / human interactions and more bear will hve to be euthanized. Am I wrong here?Jun 21, 2021 at 10:59 am #3719444
Recent versions of the UrSack is IBGC approved so according to their tests it does keep a bear from getting a food reward for at least an hour. I’m not convinced the bear gets no reward through the kevlar fabric after chewing on it for an hour, but at least it doesn’t get a free meal.
It’s correct that the canisters weren’t designed to protect your food, but all it would take for a few rescues for rangers to take notice and you know there will be someone that will hit the SPOT SOS button if they were three days from a trailhead and didn’t have edible food.
I think the real issue is that the UrSack requires a bit of skill and effort from backpackers to make it bear resistant unlike a canister which is pretty idiot proof. Now, you could argue that those people don’t need to be in the backcountry, but who is going to police whether you are competent or not? All it will take is a few people that don’t close the UrSack correctly and allow a bear to get a food reward and rangers might start thinking they are not worth the trouble.Jun 21, 2021 at 11:12 am #3719447James MarcoBPL Member
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
Jon, you are not totally wrong. But most agencies, especially here in the ADK’s, err on the side of caution. Yes, the Ursack meets the standard bear deterrence policy. It doe NOT meet the guidelines in NY. While we have a large bear population in the mountains, most other areas are occasional at best. For example along the NPT there is only about 100 bears around that you would have to worry about. They used to be called “dump” bears since they could be found in most of the garbage dumps. Now days, not so much. of the 100 denizens of the NPT, they usually avoid ALL humans because they are hunted. It sort of depends on which instinct the animal adopts first: Afraid of humans or Need to eat. I had one set of a sow and 2 yearlings follow me for about 3 miles, I stopped in a down wind corner and sat on a rock waiting for them. (I figured they would get me at night after I set up camp and things got quiet.) Soo, when I popped up in front of them raising my staff and waving it, and yelling “BEAR, BEAR, BEAR…”, they ran like hell. I didn’t know they could move through the woods faster than I could on the trail. I scared hell out of them. Slept like a baby at camp, no bear problems. I only hang my food, and, place the line on another tree above my head spiralling it down till it is easy to tie off. For over 40 years I have been doing this in bear country. On occasion, I will find a couple tracks around, maybe some scat. On one occasion I had a bear walk right through camp, between the lean-to and the fire. He snuffled around then left. I had no food, nor even smelly stuff so this was fine with me. Over the years I have gotten more worried about these critters. Soo, as much as it pains me to say so, I agree with the NYSDEC. Solid canisters means your food is safe and the bear is safe. Unfortunately, the Ursack only passes one of these. OP sacks do not work. If a young bear chews up a Ursack, he will learn to check out ANY camp…just for the taste of real food. Yes, you are correct. Sooner or later, the bear will become a problem and need to be shot.Jun 21, 2021 at 11:18 am #3719448Murali CBPL Member
Agree that bear canisters are idiot proof compared to Ursack. And they make great stools to sit on!
Make sure to always to treat your bear canister like a refrigerator – that is open, remove and close! Even a few seconds of inattention or distance between you and canister can end in the bear getting the food.
I also feel the kind of food folks eat also contributes to food smell travelling. I always just boil water in a cup and then pour into freeze dried food or eat cold soaked food. When you cook stuff in a open pan – even Ramen with added condiments, I feel the smell of food is strong and can travel.
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