Ursack – Current Consensus?
Jun 21, 2021 at 11:32 am #3719449Jon FongBPL Member
@jonfongLocale: FLAT CAT GEAR
I guess that I am biased, I care more about bears than suboptimal decisions that humans make. If you chose to take a Ursack and bear munches on your sack and your three days out on the trail, your bad. You aren’t going to die out there. You may have to end your trip early and you may be hugry; but you opted to take a Ursack and not a bear canister. My 2 cents.Jun 21, 2021 at 12:02 pm #3719454
But what about when the backpacker doesn’t tie the UrSack correctly or doesn’t tie it to a tree correctly and the bear runs off with it and gets in it? A bear resistant canister is only effective is properly used. My manual transmission vehicle drives just fine, but if you don’t know how to drive one (or are not proficient) it’s likely not going to work well for you.
I’m not campaigning against UrSacks, I have one (as well as 3 different sizes of bear canisters) and may use it in WRR this summer like I did on the WRHR in 2019, but I am saying it is far more prone to user error than a hard sided canister, especially after a tough day and/or inexperienced hikers.
Personally I also don’t trust it as much as a hard sided canister. If I don’t hear a bear working on my UrSack for six hours, my guess is they would get food, however my confidence is much higher that a hard sided canister would keep the bear from getting a food reward under the same time period.
Thus I suggest using an UrSack only when you want/need an IBGC approved food storage device but you feel the likelyhood of a bear encounter in camp is low. If you’re going to be in well established campsites, along popular routes, or area’s with known bear problems a hard sided canister is your (and the bear’s) friend.Jun 21, 2021 at 12:05 pm #3719455John S.BPL Member
Agree with Jon Fong.Jun 21, 2021 at 1:06 pm #3719472
I think all strategies can fail. A bear can roll the bear canister away. It can happen. Just because it has not happened to you, doesn’t mean it cannot happen.
In fact, the rangers will tell you to keep pots/pans on top of the bear canister so that you can hear them fall and hopefully wake up and make noise or take other actions to make the bear leave the container alone.
Same with Ursack. I tie a loud obnoxious bear bell to my Ursack so that I can hear the racket of the bear trying to get into my Ursack (hopefully I wake up before an hour has passed by:-)). That should wake me up hopefully and I can take some action.
What I am saying is – you need to be able to take action in the presence of a bear trying to get into your food. Without that, any method can fail – best bear hang, bear container, Ursack etc.Jun 21, 2021 at 1:33 pm #3719474jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
In the Sierra bears know they can’t get into a canister and simply leave them alone. they’re very smart. They move on looking for food that IS gettable from campers. They can’t chew on a canister–too wide and round. A bear CAN chew on an Ursak. That’s why I said it was a catnip toy for bears.
Chasing a bear away only works until you retire once again and then they’re back. Not my idea of a fun night.
My bear canister ahs never failed. I once had a bear tip one over and leave it, probably to see it the lid would pop off.Jun 21, 2021 at 2:06 pm #3719476
In the Sierras, you don’t have a choice anyways – have to carry the dang bear canister.
My Ursack has never failed me as well:-) Agreed – as you say, bears can chew on it.
Having a bear canister that is not tethered to anything bothers me. Because they can roll the canister away. Sure it has not happened to me on the JMT. But again, we are second guessing bears. I have seen videos where bears pick up the canister and shake it and toss it. Just like how a bear can chew into the Ursack, it seems that a bear CAN roll the canister away. That seems like a bad design to me. I would much rather have a bear canister that can be tethered to something. I will feel much better. And when there are no trees or rocks to tether it to, then you just have to take the chance and do what you do with bear canisters.
Maybe the thru hikers like the PCT thru hikers have it right – sleep with the food:-) Bears do not want to deal with coming into the tent to deal with a hiker. Of course I don’t do that or recommend it, but PCT thru hikers I talk to usually say – has not happened in 2650 miles….I don’t care.
Here is a good write up from Cam “Swami” Honan – he actually does a few extra things – like wild campsite, avoid popular campsites, don’t cook where you camp etc and then uses Opsacks and sleeps with the food:-)Jun 21, 2021 at 2:22 pm #3719477Randy MartinBPL Member
I think too often the focus is only on the storage mechanism (hard sided vs Ursack) and not enough attention is given to eliminating odor. I use resealable Mylar bags to hold my food and trash. Those then go inside the container (Ursack or Hardsided container).
Putting things in a hardsided container but without odor prevention just invites Bears to visit your container where you put it which can possibly lead to them investigating your camp. The idea is to keep them from approaching camp at all.Jun 21, 2021 at 2:49 pm #3719480Geoff CaplanBPL Member
@geoffcaplanLocale: Lake District, Cumbria
I suspect that odour-proof bags offer a relatively limited benefit.
Smugglers know that sniffer dogs find contraband in these bags without any problem.
Bears have a sense of smell around 10 x better than even a bloodhound.
Here’s a vlog showing a real-life test with a bear and smell-proof bags. The best you can hope for is that they will reduce the range at which the bear can smell your food. If they are nearby, it’s unlikely to work – especially as in the field it’s very likely you’ll leave some scent on the outside of the bag as you use it.
TL/DR – don’t rely on odour-proof bags to protect your food.Jun 21, 2021 at 3:07 pm #3719482jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
You’d also have to wear an odor proof bag. Hard to do. Bears can smell people; people have food. Ergo,…Jun 21, 2021 at 3:28 pm #3719483
Geoff – thanks for the video. Did you watch it? Because the conclusion he came to was that Opsack or odor proff bags DO work. He seems to think that if the bear had been habituated to the fish smell, it may have done a little more damage.
There are problems with this test – mainly that he used fish which are notoriously smelly. In spite of that, the bears did not go after it. I would not take fish mainly because they smell. Freeze dried food do not have a strong smell. Also, most of the folks will place the food inside a ziplok that is air-tight and then into a Opsak. So double protection.
It seems like this video reinforced the idea that Ursacks and Opsacks do work!
I am sure hikers smell of food as food eaten throughout the day will get on their clothes. Still we do not see lots of accidental bear entries into tents. I feel that bears in general do not want to deal with people. They are opportunistic. They will go after food that is left unattended. They are not going to come and steal food from your backpack as you are walking – as they can surely smell the food in your backpack. So, what I said originally holds true – make sure you can hear the bears attacking your food source and try to make noise or try to scare it away. And move the food source away to a different point after that bear encounter. Or move camp. Of course you want to make sure you don’t get the bear into your campsite at all in the first place – that can be done by not eating near your camp, wild camp, avoid heavily used campsites, use odor proof bags, avoid smelly foods etc.Jun 21, 2021 at 3:50 pm #3719484matthew kModerator
I would much rather have a bear canister that can be tethered to something.
Yosemite says you should not tie anything to your canister.Jun 21, 2021 at 3:56 pm #3719485Todd TBPL Member
@texasbbLocale: Pacific Northwest
“Tether” is the wrong word. It’s called a “handle.”
Don’t give the bear something to grasp. The canisters are designed so they can’t get ahold of it with either teeth or claws.Jun 21, 2021 at 4:26 pm #3719487Bob KernerBPL Member
You might as well have asked Chevy or Ford!
Given the variety represented here and the internet in general…variety of environment, experience, skill, funds etc…it’s unlikely you’ll get a clear answer or consensus. What works for me in NY probably doesn’t work in CO. Another thing to consider is risk assessment and risk tolerance. And you’re seeing that in the responses. What works for one person in a particular set of circumstances doesn’t work for all.
I use an Ursak and here is why:
Risk Assessment: I’m in downstate NY. We have a couple of black bears where I hike and they tend to frequent particular campsites. There are also smaller critters. I avoid the areas known to be visited by Da Bears. Objective Risk = low to moderate.
Laws requiring a certain method: none for my area but there are rules in the Daks further north. Therefore , camper’s choice.
Past Experience: zero bear encounters. Zero instances of critter invasion.
Skill Level/ Environment: there’s lots of deadfall and trees that don’t lend themselves to hanging a bear bag. As such my skills are barely adequate and difficult to maintain.
The Ursak was a logical choice for my situation and environment. I am unwilling to sleep with my food because of the critter potential. I can tie it high on a trunk away from camp and be reasonably certain it will be there in the morning. And it has been. A canister was neither required nor necessary for this scenario. Change something in the assessment and I might reach a different outcome.Jun 21, 2021 at 5:06 pm #3719495Geoff CaplanBPL Member
@geoffcaplanLocale: Lake District, Cumbria
I probably shouldn’t have used that video as an example – given that it was a sample of a single bear. My point was that the bear could smell the food, even if this particular bear wasn’t motivated to go for it.
The more important point is the one about the sniffer dogs. The odour proof bags are useless against them as any smuggler will tell you. Some years back someone here carried out an experiment by putting puppy treats into those bags and hiding them in his house. The puppy found them in moments.
No authority accepts odour-proof bags as an adequate prevention measure. They MAY reduce the range that a bear can smell your food, if you take lab-level care not to leave scent traces on the outside of the bag. So they’re not useless, as the video said. But they certainly aren’t an adequate solution on their own.
To repeat myself – bears have a sense of smell more than 10x as powerful as the typical sniffer dog. Even bloodhounds aren’t in the same league. You are not going to hide your food from them by putting it in a plastic bag.Jun 21, 2021 at 5:18 pm #3719496Brad WBPL Member
Aren’t mylar bags better than Opsak?Jun 21, 2021 at 6:00 pm #3719512
Mathew K and Todd – yes – you do not want to tether anything to currently designed bear canisters. I was talking of a design which would let me tie a bearikade to a tree like a Ursack to avoid a bear rolling my bearikade can down a cliff or a lake or displacing it. And when there are no trees, I would want the rope thingie to be removed so that a bear doesn’t make it off with the bear canister.
Yes – bear canister is the safest. I will take it where it is required.
I will take the Ursack + Opsack when I am not required to take the bear canister.
And in places where I know bears are not a problem, I will take the Zpacks food bag.
Geoff – I know you are right regarding bears having an exceptional nose. And dogs being able to sniff out drugs or treats from such bags.
As Bob Kerner said, it is all about risk assessment and what you feel comfortable with.
The odds are in our favor as areas we hike in are humongous areas and bear populations are small. The intersection of all the right variables lead to a bear encounter – which is still a very small chance of encounter.
I still don’t like the stories of recent fatal bear encounters – the one in Colorado where a woman with her dogs was mauled/eaten partially etc, a Grizzly killing a guide in Yellowstone. With temperatures rising and droughts increasing, I wonder if we will have more encounters in the future.Jun 21, 2021 at 8:24 pm #3719520K CBPL Member
@kalebcLocale: South West
I have used an Ursack on my last 10 backpacking trips, all in the Eastern Sierra, couple in Utah. I have not had a bear encounter in several years. I have seen many in the past (about 40) and they have never bothered me or stuck around. I will keep using a Ursack until I have had a bad experience with one.
Are you all basing your opinions on hypothetical situations? Are you having consistent bear encounters where you backpack, if so what is the percent of the backpacking trips that you have bears around camp?Jun 21, 2021 at 9:00 pm #3719522JohnBPL Member
@johnnyh88Locale: The SouthWest
Odor proof bags, well, aren’t. Humans can’t fathom how strong a bear’s sense of smell is compared to ours.
I use a bear can more and more often now. I’ve seen too many irresponsible campers storing their food improperly. Even in this area, where bears are not common, I found these tracks next to the river beneath my campsite in the morning. The bear didn’t bother me, but I was glad I used a bear can.Jun 21, 2021 at 10:05 pm #3719527StumphgesBPL Member
In the little report I gave above, I forgot to mention that I don’t use Opsaks. I do carefully bag in ziplocks and put all in a cheap sil/pu drybag, as well as try to keep the outside of that bag clean. I have no idea why bears have only once found my Ursack in two years.Jun 22, 2021 at 12:10 am #3719530Sam FarringtonBPL Member
@scfhomeLocale: Chocorua NH, USA
Can’t tell the OP if canisters are better because have never had to use one. And like solitude, so would never go into parks where they are required.
But can say that I’ve used ursacks of two types: the kevlar cloth ones for hanging, more against small varmints than bear visits. After all, with carrying the food all day, that has got to be far more exposure to bears than hanging well away from the tent site.
But used to run into black bears (and moose) regularly while on the move in CO and the New England north county. Even saw a blond black bear in CO racing along the highway shoulder with my car. Spoke to RMNP, who were certain not a griz. Had enough frights alone in the Canada rockies, and so do not go in griz country. Pack for enjoyment, not confrontation.
A good throwing arm is a must to get a rock over a high up limb, well away from the tree trunk, with sturdy cord wrapped around the trunk down to the attachment knots. Then camp well away from the hang.
Used the OpSacs, but only when double bagged and with the tubular clips bought at Amazon inside the Ursack, which is a heavier spectra, as I recall. And only for caches, where the bear has a week to ten days to work on the extraction. The spectra ursack is large enough for ten days food, and will last longer than I will. Sorry, don’t know what’s in the material Ursack currently uses. But no high caches were compromised, nor were any of the hung up kevlar ursacks overnight.
Finally, got some rescued small shelties who are not only great pals, smart as whips, and never saw a bear again after that. Now have an aussie plus a shelty mix who is full size. They get along great, thank heaven. Were I a bear, would not mess with the aussie.
So there is no need to carry a canister. Not wilderness backpacking in my book. A form of snobbery perhaps, as are the comments of the bear lovers. Always recall the comment from Elaine in the Seinfeld episode where the mother is desperately seeking her lost child in the outback, “Sorry, a dingo ate your bay-bay.”Jun 22, 2021 at 5:23 am #3719540
I fully agree it is all about the risk assessment in the area that you are backpacking in, and sometimes hanging your food is fine, others an UrSack is an appropriate tool, and still others a canister is the right tool.
I could be wrong, but my guess is that in ten years the UrSack won’t be approved in many locations (despite IGBC Certification) due to failures related to user error.
I’ll say that just because a canister is required doesn’t mean it’s not a remote wilderness area. While most of the places canisters are required are high use areas, I’ll argue you can still get off the beaten path. I’ve done a few trips in SEKI off trail where we didn’t see anyone in a week once we got off trail. I also have spent 11 days in Brooks Range (Gates of the Arctic NP) where canisters are required – didn’t see a single person, and 14 days in Wrangell St. Elias NP (where I saw 6 grizzlies) on a route where I could only find evidence of two groups (a group of 4 and a group of 2) that had completed the route before. True wilderness if there ever was one.
This summer I’ll be back in Wind River Range. I’ve done five trips there before and I’ve used a variety of methods to protect my food. My first trip in 2012 I hung my food, but it was a pain and I’m not sure how effective they were. I camped once below tree line, and unlike the Southeast, the tree’s weren’t made for a good hang (perhaps with more experience with those type of trees). Above tree line I just hung over large boulders, but only once or twice did I really feel good about my hang. My next two trips I used a hard sided canister, and my last two I’ve used an Ursack. I don’t camp below treeline so the scrub trees I am able to tie it too are shorter than I am and have branches a bear could certainly rip off if it wanted, so it’s a risk, but since we are not in previously used campsites and above tree line and generally away from their usual food sources, I think the risk is low. I’ve never seen a bear in over 500 miles of hiking in WRR, only seen signs of them once above treeline. I’m sure there around – I’ve seen prints in the snow at 11K feet in the Sierra – but I imagine they are few and far between.
I’m not sure if I will use a canister or UrSack this year – I’m going with two friends and we will likely discuss and all go the same route prior to the trip.Jun 22, 2021 at 10:14 am #3719562
Brad – what do you do when you are above tree line and there is no place to tie the Ursack? Do you keep it in the vestibule or do you keep it inside your shelter? It seems like if you keep it in the vestibule and you are fast asleep, a bear could carry the Ursack and take off? Keeping it inside the shelter seems better – but a crazy bear could decide to enter your shelter……I still feel bears are opportunistic thieves and will not enter the tent to steal as they don’t want to deal with people. Better to find something unattended. Of course if you are in Yosemite valley checking into the Yosemite lodge, the rangers there will show pictures of mangled car doors to remind you to not keep anything smelly in the car. In those places, you definitely do not want to keep food inside your shelter….But these Yosemite bears are very habituated. Maybe a wild bear will not enter the tent…..just like a thief who is looking for a open car door to steal from rather than trying to break into a car…Jun 22, 2021 at 10:47 am #3719570Jenny ABPL Member
@jenniferaLocale: Front Range
AFA using Ursacks or bear bags above treeline, I have entertained the idea of using climbing cams for wedging into cracks in rocks and hang the sack attached to the cam in a rock taller than a bear. Yes, I’ve seen the videos of bears climbing rock faces, and that usage assumes an outcrop tall enough that a bear couldn’t easily reach. For that matter, one could do this below treeline in a crack in a cliff face. Never tried it, but seemed like a good idea. At some point, using a hard-sided canister is just less hassle.Jun 22, 2021 at 11:29 am #3719576
@Murali C – I haven’t found a really good solution for that and while I use it only in area’s that I don’t really expect a bear to come in camp (as opposed to say a campsite in Cirque of the Towers). Generally I tie it to a rock and put my cookpot (which has only boiled water) on top hoping it will make a noise and wake me up if it’s disturbed.Jun 22, 2021 at 4:25 pm #3719603Brad WBPL Member
Thanks for all the input. Lots to chew on here. For this upcoming trip I have decided on a Bare Boxer canister. There were recent reports of black bears tearing open a unoccupied tent at our soon to be camp site as well as other sightings. I wouldn’t be opposed in future trips to use Ursack given the correct set of circumstances.
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