Ursack – Current Consensus?
Jun 23, 2021 at 12:17 pm #3719676Brad WBPL Member
Got the Bare Boxer. This will work out great, it’s smaller and seems to be as well built as my Garcia can.Jun 24, 2021 at 11:14 am #3719910Paul McLaughlinBPL Member
Local situations and the degree of habituation of the local bear population make all the difference in the world, and thus any method of protecting your food from bears has its limitations. In the Sierra, where in most wilderness areas and NP’s a canister is required, I would hazard a guess that in 90% of the area you could safely leave your food in your tent with no problems, because the bears are not habituated to people, are not expecting to get food from humans and avoid them. BUT – people are hardly ever in that 90% of the area. They are mostly in the 10% or less where the bears are habituated and do associate humans with food. Which means that there are a lot of places where canisters are required, but if you get off the trail and out to a remote spot rarely visited, you can get away with almost any kind of food storage. And that is why taking anyone’s experience of how well their system works (unless that system is a hard sided, approved canister) as a guide for how well that same system will work for you is not a good idea. You may be in very different circumstances where the same methods will not work.
Let’s just keep in mind here that a bear can smell people from a long ways off. So if the bear is habituated, and associates humans with food, they are pretty likely to come around for a look-see. Which is why odor proof sacks and the like are probably not doing anything – the bear knows a human is there, if the bear associates humans with food the bear is coming to investigate whether they smell food or not, and a sack tied to a tree, for a habituated bear, is going to be pretty interesting because it smells like human, even if the contents is contained in a truly odor proof sack (and whether these sacks are truly odor proof is another matter altogether). I suspect that folks who use the odor proof sacks could leave them behind and nothing would change – it’s not the sacks that are keeping their food safe, it’s their choice of locale and campsite.Jun 24, 2021 at 4:44 pm #3719966obx hikerBPL Member
^^ That’s a well-written consistent statement and why I use a canister in known problem areas with habituated bears.
I use an ursack some other areas where I’m mostly off-trail, there are no reports of habituated bears and I can reasonably expect any bears that might be around associate humans with danger. I like the easier packing and lower total weight. I use the 3 points and double nylofume bags as an extra precaution and in keen appreciation of Murphy’s law. My precautions increasingly tilt the balance towards canisters everywhere but So far so good. I expect hanging would work in some of these areas as well but the consequences of failure are greater for the bear. Like others here I’ve seen the country go from no precautions at all to canisters in more and more places. I expect we’re headed towards canisters up and down the line. I suppose if canisters were a pretty much universal requirement habituated bears would become more scarce, but with suburban scavenging there’d still be some. It’s a conundrum.Jun 24, 2021 at 7:58 pm #3719997
Yep – nicely worded summary Paul!Jun 24, 2021 at 9:31 pm #3720004Luke SchmidtBPL Member
Yeah I think Paul nailed it. There are hunters who TRY to attract bears with baits or scents and fail. Sometimes bears just aren’t around or aren’t interested. In those situations anything “works.” But if a bear associates humans with food you have a potential problem.
Anyone know the home range of a Sierra black bear? Grizzlies in my old area seemed to roam a lot. Supposedly one was tracked covering several hundred miles chasing moose. I wonder if its easier to create a problem bear if they stay in a smaller area and repeatedly encounter people in certain spots. Sort of like bears in Yellowstone don’t worry about people in or next to cars but they get nervous if you approach.
I wonder about those bear proof fences. I think the advantage would be that a group might be able to keep total weight down lower if everyone was in the fence vs 5 or 6 bear cans.Jun 24, 2021 at 9:42 pm #3720006Trace RichardsonBPL Member
I saw 3 ursacks torn open in the first week alone on my Colorado Thru last summer.Jun 24, 2021 at 10:03 pm #3720009
I did the CT last year and used the Ursack – no bear problems.
But here are some pictures from a hiker whose bag got ripped open on the CT last year – looks like it was hung low. The bear probably sat and was able to work on it entire night. They heard the bear and screamed apparently – but were not able to drive the bear away.Jun 25, 2021 at 3:26 am #3720018Geoff CaplanBPL Member
@geoffcaplanLocale: Lake District, Cumbria
Those Ursack failures are sobering. I had assumed you might end up with crushed food, but didn’t realise that they can be opened so easily. Bad for the hungry hikers and bad for the bears, who are more likely to end up becoming problematic and getting themselves shot…
Turns out that the authorities who so controversially refused to certify the Ursack were the smart ones.
I suspect that Paul has pretty much nailed it. In areas where there are no habituated bears, the Ursack and odour-proof bags can offer a measure of added assurance to offset a risk that’s already close to zero. But it seems that they absolutely can’t be relied on in high-traffic areas with habituated animals.
As Paul points out, however well you mask the smell of the food, they will certainly smell you. And once they are attracted to your camp there is no way you are going to mask the smell of the food – a bear’s sense of smell is far too acute for that.
Jan at Nunatak has developed a pack designed to minimise the misery of carrying a large can. With more and more areas requiring them, it seems he might be on to something!
https://nunatakusa.com/bear-canister-compatible-ul-packs/232-bears-ears-50.html#/bears_ears_hipbelt-medium_32_34/bears_ears_water_bottle_holder-0_7_1_0_liter_smart_water_style_bottle_right_side/bears_ears_sizes-small_16_18_ships_before_7_15Jun 25, 2021 at 8:05 am #3720027
Why not make everybody carry bear pepper spray? so that we can use them if a bear is trying to get into our food. Will that not de-train them or de-habituate them? Seems like it will be a lighter solution and keeps bear-human interactions to a minimum. Maybe even have them at various spots on the trees for hikers to grab and spray….sure it may harm the bear…but, I am sure they are hardy beasts.Jun 25, 2021 at 9:54 am #3720042Luke SchmidtBPL Member
Murali I believe bear spray is banned in the California parks and not commonly carried in Colorado. I’m sure it would negatively condition bears. Honestly though I’d probably rather haul a bear canister than run out in the dark to spray a bear. Its not that I’m scared of the bear (at least in CA). I’ve discharged bear spray and it doesn’t take much blow back to make you uncomfortable.Jul 5, 2021 at 10:29 pm #3721094Sam FarringtonBPL Member
@scfhomeLocale: Chocorua NH, USA
The Bare Boxer looks like a game changer if going through areas where canisters are required. But did not see info about where they are approved. Going through areas run by the the National Park Service (Dept of Interior) is a whole different ball game than trekking in wilderness areas run by the Forest Service (Dept of Agriculture).
Even if I planned to walk through a National Park in less than a day, and not camp there, I’d expect to need to carry an approved canister. If approved, the Bare Boxer looks like it would carry the day, be much more packable, yet difficult for a (black) bear to grasp in its jaws and crunch open. Sometimes run-ins with rangers can be worse than those with bears.
I would still hang the canister high up in an ursack or other varmint proof bag. Use of odor barrier bags and clamps would depend on the bear populations. Would never overnight in Yosemite, for example. I do pray that west coasters get some climate relief. But having driven 8 days out and back to Colorado most years, coming from the west coast is a much shorter trip and well worth it.
Don’t think all this would stop a determined griz or two though. My only face to face confrontation was in the Canadian Rockies. Fortunately, I was able to tip-toe backward and away from my gear down a ravine, and there was a hikers’ cabin on the other side. From there, watched the two grizzlies play with my gear, one partial to waving the flexible tent poles like casting rods while the other searched my pack like a cop. There was quite a crowd of us shut in the cabin that night, and many suffered from extended bladders.
The next day went back across the ravine, and the gear was almost undamaged. Just a couple patches needed on the sleeping pad. But for a while there, it had looked like taps for moi.Jul 6, 2021 at 4:51 am #3721098
did you drop the gear on purpose to distract the bear? And the bear was able to open your backpack without ripping it? or was your backpack on the ground and open when you encountered the bear?Jul 6, 2021 at 11:06 pm #3721164Bruce TolleyBPL Member
@btolleyLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
@ Murali Just to belabor the obvious.
Bear spray is a deterrent to keep bears (Grizzlies) away from humans. In other words to protect humans.
Bear canisters are to keep the human food away from Grizzlies and the more common Black Bear in order to protect the bear, because a fed bear becomes a bear that wants to be fed again and then becomes a nuisance bear that gets killed. A fed bear is a dead bear. So bear canisters are to protect bears (and humans).Jul 7, 2021 at 11:55 am #3721222
I assume you are replying to my suggestion that we should be forced to carry bear spray instead of a canister.
My point was that if a bear associates humans with food and thinks the following:
BEAR ASSOCIATES “HUMAN = YUMMY FOOD”
Then, by using pepper spray when the bear charges or when bear is attempting to steal food, then bear will start associating humans with the following:
BEAR ASSOCIATES “HUMANS = PEPPER SPRAY; EYES BURN LIKE HELL; HUMANS NASTY; LET ME GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE”
Bears will start leaving humans alone. Bears are safe. Humans are safe. Everyone is happy. We just need to carry bear pepper spray. No canisters.
Current strategy is expensive in that it is forcing everyone to carry bear canister and then have those humongous bear boxes in every campsite in every national park. And this strategy may be okay in say Yosemite valley where there are just too many people. But once you are on JMT etc, why not use pepper spray strategy?Jul 7, 2021 at 12:15 pm #3721223Bruce TolleyBPL Member
@btolleyLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
First, the canister protects the bear from our food even when we are sleeping or summiting a peak or fishing or taking a nap. The California Black Bear tends to forage a few hours before dawn and the hour after sunset when campers and backpackers are not wearing their packs, and often not even close to their packs.
Second, the standard Counter Assault 10.2 ounce can of bear spray costs $49 retail. You cannot carry the can on a plane so if you are travelling you have to pay to ship it surface. The manufacturer label also says the can expires. So you use maybe one or 1/2 can per year or $25 per year. The BearVault 500 costs $79. I tend to avoid areas where they are required but bought it in 2006, used it several times and have loaned it out, so so far it has cost me $5.33 per year. So I would argue the use of a canister is cheaper.
Hope this makes sense.
CheersJul 7, 2021 at 1:29 pm #3721227
You can always take the food with you when you summit. The reason you are not taking it with you to the summit is because the bear can is a pain in the butt to carry. If you are sleeping, standard practice is to place your cookware or whatever on the can so that you can hear the bear fooling around with your canister so that you can wake up and scream or take whatever action to make the bear go away. What if the bear takes off with your can while you are sleeping or the bear gives it a kick and the can rolls into water or a hill? The instances where Ursacks have been broken into, the campers knew that a bear was working on getting into the Ursack. If they had a bear spray, they could have gotten rid of the bear.
My Bearikade costs $375 or something like that. For me bear spray is cheaper, lighter and easier to carry. Heck, I may even carry two. I ship my poles, tent stakes anyways – so, shipping bear spray is not a problem. You are assuming that you are using your pepper spray every year against a bear. The probability of you encountering a bear is very low.
If you are hiking the Colorado Trail (500 miles) or PCT (2450 miles) sections where bear canister is not required – will you carry a bear canister so that you can protect the bears out there from your food? I think not!
Cheers!Jul 7, 2021 at 4:23 pm #3721242
The reason you are not taking it with you to the summit is because the bear can is a pain in the butt to carry.
Not exactly. The reason I don’t carry a bear can on a summit is because I don’t really want to carry anything that I don’t need in a stripped-down summit bag. If I do need something, it goes with me whether it’s a pain in the ass or not. I wouldn’t carry an Ursack in that situation because that amount of food isn’t really needed; if it was needed, I would carry it appropriately.
On another point: it’s good that the other-than-food smells have been mentioned… because you can’t get rid of them, you can’t cram them into an odor-proof bag, and bears can smell that stuff just as easily as they can smell food. Body odor, detergent, sunscreen, perfume, air freshener, isobutane…the list is endless, and all could easily signal food to a bear that has adapted to them and learned what they mean. Think about how dogs are trained to find explosives or other substances: bears aren’t really any different.Jul 7, 2021 at 4:41 pm #3721244
Bonzo – since body odor is a problem. Are you suggesting we backpack without taking our bodies or stuff ourselves into a bear canister?:-) Okay – that was too easy to pass up:-)Jul 7, 2021 at 5:25 pm #3721248jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
“But once you are on JMT etc, why not use pepper spray strategy?”
Because inevitably you will end up camping near some one, or several people. And when they see that you have no canister but are relying on some idiotic ad hoc method of food protection, they will be annoyed because you’re attracting bears who would normally move on when they see everyone has a canister. and then in the middle of the night you’ll try to pepper spray a bear and the spray will drift into the neighboring campsites. That’s when you’ll find out that one of those campers is carrying a hand gun.
Bears are very silent, stealthy and clever. They will have your food and be off into the night well before you’re able to respond. If you spray a bear and it’s a near miss–and the likelihood is that it will be a near miss in the middle of the night with you half asleep in your underwear- so that you piss off the bear, who knows what will happen.
p.s. Bonzo’s point is that we need to use canisters because it’s impossible to mask our body odors and other odors bears associate with humans, and so they will come looking for food.Jul 7, 2021 at 6:13 pm #3721275
Ha ha! I burst out laughing when I read your response. I am just messing around at this point.
I am always hoping that there will be some backpacker who is cooking aromatic food and the bear will go to his tent. It is the strategy of “I don’t have to be faster than the bear – just faster than the other hikers or not as stupid as the other hiker”.
So you are saying as soon as they see a canister – they will leave? So next time, I am just going to carry a mock up of a bear canister. Maybe make one in black 5.0 osy DCF so that it is light.
I have always wanted to know – if bears can smell so well, why are they not ripping the backpacks off of our backs?Jul 7, 2021 at 6:56 pm #3721280jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
I’m messing around too.
I’m waiting to hear about a TSA inadvertently pepper spraying a terminal when he or she pulls out a canister from a backpacker’s carry-on.Jul 7, 2021 at 6:57 pm #3721281
p.s. Bonzo’s point is that we need to use canisters because it’s impossible to mask our body odors and other odors bears associate with humans, and so they will come looking for food.
Yes, and also no. I’m not specifically advocating canisters: I’m saying that focusing only on food as an attractant is misleading…and I’m advocating for effective solutions that address specific conditions. There’s no panacea to be had, here or anywhere else; there are only solutions that are either more or less effective than others, and this effectiveness is based on the unique conditions at the time. Rather than targeting an elusive and impossible “ideal” solution, we need to think very hard about the various and plural solutions that we have at our disposal, and the conditions that either favor or marginalize them. Sometimes the best approach will be an Ursack, and at other times it’ll be a hang, or a vault, or a canister…or just realizing that we can’t stop here because it’s bear country.
I have always wanted to know – if bears can smell so well, why are they not ripping the backpacks off of our backs?
Well, to answer that, you only have to do one thing: start thinking like a bear.Jul 7, 2021 at 9:36 pm #3721312
Here is an article on yahoo: looks like the bikers kept the food inside their tents. Then when the bear came, they removed the food from their tents, secured it and went back to sleep. Then the grizzly came and killed one person inside the tent. The other 2 in neighboring camp emptied their bear spray which made the bear run away.
Bad idea to keep food inside the tent in grizzly country – I am guessing they ate inside the tent which is probably why the grizzly got into the tent due to the smell (this information is not in the article – that they ate inside the tents – I am guessing here). While I don’t want to make light of the fact that a person died – bear pepper spray worked. It made the bear run away. Standard practice should have been to eat a mile or so away from your campsite in grizzly country.Jul 11, 2021 at 5:21 pm #3721677
Bad idea to keep food inside the tent in grizzly country…
Which sucks, for those of us that have to eat every couple of hours.Jul 11, 2021 at 7:38 pm #3721683George WBPL Member
They were sleeping in town on the grass by the post office. The bear had already caused other problems in town, and after the attack pulled a door off its hinges at someone’s house.
They caught it while it was raiding more chickens, and I think it charged the rangers before it was shot.
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