Ursack – Current Consensus?
Jul 15, 2021 at 4:41 pm #3722034Hikin’ JimBPL Member
@hikin_jimLocale: Orange County, CA, USA
I’ve been hiking and backpacking in Southern California for the majority of my adult life (I’m about 60 now). By “Southern” California, I mean Los Angeles, Imperial, Riverside, Orange, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, San Diego, and Ventura counties.
Bears usually aren’t that big of a problem, but some places like Hoegees in the San Gabriels or Half Way in the San Gorgonio wilderness have a history of bear problems. Unless I’m going to a spot with a history of bear problems, I generally regard the UrSack to be adequate. The UrSack is permitted in the “Big Four” national forests of Southern California (Cleveland, Angeles, San Bernardino, and Los Padres). I’m not aware of any agency in Southern California that requires a hard sided canister. I’ve never had any bear problems in 50+ years of hiking in Southern California, but if I were planning to camp in an area with known bear problems, I might consider a hard sided canister.
Hope that helps,
HJJul 17, 2021 at 1:45 pm #3722194Kelly CBPL Member
Put your Ursack inside your bear can for ultimate protection!
Seriously though, just got back from a trip using my Ursack Allmitey. It’s definitely more of a pain to use than a bear can. On this trip although I technically was in grizzly and black bear territory I didn’t expect to see any bears due to the higher volume of hikers in this area. I took it more for squirrel protection. (Some fellow hikers had their oatmeal eaten by ground squirrels. Their solution was to move their food into their tents rather than leave in their backpacks.). I think cans are simpler, offer more protection, and the lid makes a handy little table. For the record my go-to can is usually a BV450 since most of my outings are 3 days or less.Jul 17, 2021 at 3:55 pm #3722202
I have a philosophical objection to the idea of using pepper spray to deter bears from food, in lieu of carrying and using a bear canister. I’m also not convinced it would work; I think the bears would succeed in getting food enough times that the bear spray would not be an effective long-term deterrent and it would be an on-going battle.
The woods and mountains we recreate on for fun are their home, the only one they have. To continually and constantly harass them with pepper spray just for our own convenience is really an assault, and one they don’t deserve. A bear canister isn’t that heavy, and not that hard to carry, if it keeps them safe, our food protected from them, and diminishes negative interactions between bears and human visitors.Jul 17, 2021 at 7:55 pm #3722225Scott HBPL Member
I agree completely, I do not live and so far have not camped in grizzly country, but we have black bears locally, the chances of a bear attack are about zero but there is a chance animals will go after your food supply including bears. I would not carry bear spray except to use for personal protection. Plus you have to sleep sometime. What do you do then? Bear can.Jul 18, 2021 at 8:22 am #3722239jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
And that’s why you don’t want to protect your food with bear spray while hiking the JMT.Jul 18, 2021 at 12:50 pm #3722335BonzoBPL Member
@bon-zoLocale: Virgo Supercluster
No, that’s why I don’t want to go to a mall in Florida. I’m far more averse to a Florida strip mall than bear spray…or, for that matter, bears. Think about it: if you stand your ground and yell “GO AWAY, BEAR!” a bear will likely do exactly that: go away. Try that with Florida Man and you’re going to get an ass-beating at the very least.Sep 12, 2021 at 2:39 pm #3727234Russell LawsonBPL Member
@lawsonLocale: Olympic Mts.
I have an Ursack but I only use it in winter, when the bears are asleep, this way I can leave my food hanging from a trekking pole in the snow and smaller animals will not get at it. Otherwise I just use a silnylon bearbag and hang or tie to a tree with multiple layers of bags between the silnylon and the food. I prefer a twisted and bent bag neck over a ziplock bag, and the portion of the bent/twisted neck that is exposed, I’ll fold it up before entering into my food so it is not exposed to as much scent, and the less gussets on the base of the bag, the better.Sep 14, 2021 at 7:01 am #3727305bradmacmtBPL Member
Interesting conversation, lots of opinions and varied experience. Here in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem where there are a lot of both Grizzly and Black Bears, I’ve never used either. I use a silnylon rolltop dry bag in conjunction with a good hang.
Having mostly read through this thread, there’s no way I’d rely on a Ursack tied to a tree in bear country (unless during hibernation). I could see the Ursack used with a good hang, though I fail to see the point, except where mandated – a lighter nylon sack works fine. If I was required to use an Ursack or Bearikade, and no possibility of hanging were available, I’d keep it in my tent. But I’d also pack Bear Spray, legal or otherwise.Sep 14, 2021 at 7:49 am #3727310
I was watching a show on PBS show Nova about “fear factor” or something like that. There is a national park in Africa where due to civil war, most of the predators had left except for some lions. Many of the species like Impala etc had population reductions as well. After the civil war ended, some of the species started rebounding. But, what they noticed was that some animals like Bushbuck (which primarily lived in the bush) started exploring the plains for better food. This was considered very unusual as Bushbuck typically never venture out due to fear of predators. Also they noticed that many species were overlapping in food they ate. In Kenya etc, these species had well defined food sources which did not overlap. They felt that the natural balance had been disrupted due to lack of predators and lack of fear. So, the caretakers introduced wild dogs into the national park from Kenya. The wild dogs are supposed to be great predators. In a short amount of time, the Bushbuck retreated back to the bushes as they were scared of the new predators.
Elephants in the same area were going after crops. And they had an elaborate system with people using drums to wake up the village when they spotted elephants coming and the whole village used get involved in chasing the elephants away by firing rockets and what not. The biologists decided to place these bins of african bees tied together by ropes and when the elephants tried to cross these ropes, it would trigger the african bees which would then attach the elephants. The elephants have a healthy fear of these african bees apparently and stopped going after the crops.
The show ended by showing more wild dogs being introduced and more predators like Leopards etc returning to the area.
The point I am trying to make is that bears need to be scared of humans. When they lose fear of humans is when we have bear-human interactions. Just like those Bushbucks etc. Using bear spray or whatever to induce fear into the bears seems like a great method as far as I am concerned. Using bear canisters is a way of managing the problem. To really solve the problem, bears need to be scared of humans. Then they will leave us alone. Just like what was witnessed in the national park in Africa.Sep 14, 2021 at 8:52 am #3727347
Keeping food in your tent in bear country, especially grizzly country, seems insane to me. Your presence won’t deter a hungry bear who can smell your food and do you really want an interaction? This very scenario played out last summer on a popular trail here in Alaska. Guess what, the bears got the food. The people got a torn-up tent, but fortunately weren’t torn up themselves. They even had children in the tent with the food! “How to bait a bear…” And of course every camper following them had to worry about whether the bear would return.
The park rangers have experience-and-science-backed reasons for their rules about how to store your food in a particular locale, like Yellowstone. Doing whatever you feel like instead of considering the advice of experts is pretending you know more than they do, simply because you read something on the internet, or saw it on tv. No one has ever done that before…Sep 14, 2021 at 9:18 am #3727352
“The park rangers have experience-and-science-backed reasons for their rules about how to store your food in a particular locale, like Yellowstone. Doing whatever you feel like instead of considering the advice of experts is pretending you know more than they do, simply because you read something on the internet, or saw it on tv. No one has ever done that before…”
What, what, WHAT!
Well, we follow rules, however silly they are. Never pretended I know more. I just reported what I saw. NOVA and PBS are respected shows. The biologists are experts in this field and they were from Princeton which is the number 1 university in the US.
Do not assume that park rangers are experts and know everything. The average park ranger is not as experienced as you make it out to be. You don’t need an advanced degree to become a park ranger I am guessing.
Also, what I said I saw on the show makes sense. Fear is what keeps us from doing stupid things. No different with bears. A bear that is scared of humans will leave the humans alone.Sep 14, 2021 at 9:21 am #3727353Chris RBPL Member
The problem with making bears scared of people is that this shrinks there available habitat. Sure, you don’t want them coming in to camp, but if they are avoiding areas with campsites, trails or anywhere else people go, this can severely limit their access to some of the best feeding areas. In some parks trails are closed to avoid stressing bears (and to protect people) at certain times but this requires a high level of resources and requires folk to respect the rules.Sep 14, 2021 at 9:38 am #3727355
“Do not assume that park rangers are experts and know everything. The average park ranger is not as experienced as you make it out to be. You don’t need an advanced degree to become a park ranger I am guessing.”
False assumption that ordinary rangers are making wildlife decisions. National Parks, National Forests, BLM… they all have experience wildlife biologist on staff… with tons of bear-specific experience.
“Also, what I said I saw on the show makes sense. Fear is what keeps us from doing stupid things. No different with bears. A bear that is scared of humans will leave the humans alone.”
Not necessarily… hunger will overcome fear at times… an hungry bear
And while people are afraid of bears, that doesn’t keep them from doing stupid things… like keeping food inside their tents. Even food inside a bear canister can be smelled by a bear.Sep 14, 2021 at 9:42 am #3727356
But we already use this strategy of bear spray against grizzlies. Just extending it to black bears. Sure they are not as dangerous as grizzlies.
The parks we are talking about like Yosemite, Yellowstone are humongous. I doubt they will run out of areas to roam or find food.
When we picked up our permits for the Sierra High Route this summer, the “highly educated/experienced expert” ranger told us that we will not encounter any bears on the SHR – but, we still need to carry the canister which we of course did.
In the 400 miles or so that I have backpacked in canister required bear country doing the JMT/SHR – I have not encountered a single bear even though JMT is such a popular trail. I am just wondering if I had a bear spray to scare the bears instead of a bear can, would the hike have been any different? I don’t think so.
Sure getting up in the middle of night when you hear a bear getting into the Ursack or whatever and discharging the spray is painful – I still think it is an effective strategy because the probability of encountering a bear is so small in the wild. Maybe the bear canister should be present when hiking from the Yosemite valley to Tuolumne meadows which is where most of the bears cause problems. Beyond TM, I doubt you need a bear canister.
Also instead of making everybody buy a bear canister, would it not be cheaper to install 20 of those heavy duty bear boxes on the JMT for campers to use? Make 100 of those bear boxes available on the JMT or wherever there is bear pressure. Space them every 10 miles or so.Sep 14, 2021 at 9:46 am #3727357
“False assumption that ordinary rangers are making wildlife decisions. National Parks, National Forests, BLM… they all have experience wildlife biologist on staff… with tons of bear-specific experience.”
Probably consulting with the Princeton biologists:-)Sep 14, 2021 at 2:10 pm #3727380
Ideally you’re using bear spray ONLY in the case of imminent attack on your person, not on a bear chewing on your food. I don’t know anyone who would advocate chasing after a bear that is eating your food, and spraying them with bear spray.Sep 14, 2021 at 2:23 pm #3727381Brad RogersBPL Member
@mocs123Locale: Southeast Tennessee
When I hike in the Sierra it’s usually off trail for the most part, but when I do need to use an established trail like the JMT, I don’t want to have to camp near other people and use a bear box. I’ll just stick with my canister.
Of course the one night I did camp on the JMT last year, I had a bear visit my camp and turn my canister over (obviously people have left the lids off before) and bite by fuel bottle (HEET) that was stored on top of the canister.Sep 14, 2021 at 2:38 pm #3727385
“Probably consulting with the Princeton biologists:-)”
I would bet money that there are Princeton biologists on staff somewhere in the park system… but… hey… Princeton biologists are not necessarily any better at this than those from other universities… sounds like you dun drunk the Princeton Kool-aidSep 14, 2021 at 2:47 pm #3727386
As for bear spray… similar to guns… more likely to hurt yourself than the bear if you don’t have training… and can’t imagine that the hundreds of thousands of backpackers will get that training. Best solution is always to avoid the problem in the first place… which means not attracting the bears with food smells and not allowing them to get food in the first place, which just habituates them to expect to find more from other backpackers…
I have backpacked in the Sierra for over 40 years… and I can tell you from having backpacked pre-canisters and post, that the canisters have made a HUGE difference in bear incidents… While I really dislike having to carry a canister, they work… so much so that the younger generation now wonder why carry them as there are so few bear incidents… so more and more people are cheating the rules and not using canisters… which inevitably will cause more bear incidents…Sep 14, 2021 at 3:06 pm #3727389Chris RBPL Member
Just because the park is a large area doesn’t mean that it is all suitable habitat for bears or that it is all useable all the time. Bears use different habitats at different times as and when food becomes available. If they are being pushed away from an area that has abundant food due to human traffic they will be forced to either eat less or potentially confront people. Not good.
Also, if you spray a bear that has your Ursack there is the potentially for covering the sack in bear spray. It’s going to take a lot of scrubbing to get that clean enough to use again.
I agree that some form of deterrent to prevent a particular behaviour would be useful but not so that they develop a general fear of humansSep 14, 2021 at 9:20 pm #3727400rubmybelly!BPL Member
@sleepingLocale: The Cascades
“To really solve the problem, bears need to be scared of humans. Then they will leave us alone.”
In effect, you’re saying that we need to make sure bears are afraid of us in their own ‘homes/territory’ so that we humans can damn well go where we please, even encroaching on an animals territory, without fear. I don’t think I can get on board with that.Sep 15, 2021 at 8:47 am #3727413
Fear is probably not the term to use, for animals that are familiar with humans, but wary enough to keep distance. That’s pretty much how the black bears in my neighborhood act, as well as the grizzlies in Denali. They haven’t gotten into human food, for the most part, so they don’t associate us with getting food. But they also know that we aren’t really safe to be around (why would they ever think that?!) so they don’t approach. I have encountered numerous bears while hiking in Denali, but thankfully, none have come toward me, and one quickly moved away when we discovered each other at too close range (no food or cubs involved). I’d be very sad if they were all harassed away as a management strategy, so that we could never see them. I think most visitors would like a view, at a distance. And I wonder how a “scare all the bears off” approach would work when a close encounter happened without warning. Would we be seen as even more of a threat than now?
“To really solve the problem,” carry and properly use a bear canister. The problem isn’t bears; it’s us and our food.Sep 15, 2021 at 9:08 am #3727414Jon FongBPL Member
@jonfongLocale: FLAT CAT GEAR
“To really solve the problem,” carry and properly use a bear canister. The problem isn’t bears; it’s us and our food.
Spot on! Lets say you are carrying 7 days worth of food for a single person. So, that is about 15,0000 to 20,000 calories? Here is an interesting note that I found on the interweb:
Yes, folks, bears have entered their pre-hibernation feeding frenzy, called hyperphagia. During this period of excessive eating and drinking, a black bear can eat 15,000 to 20,000 calories a day.
So, if a bear scores on your unprotected food, they are good for the day with minial effort. Our effrots to optimize volume/weight leads us to carry high calorie denisty food which could be considered perfect for a bear.
Once bears realize that food in unabtainable, they leave in order to search out better sources of food. In the Sierras, I have seen bears walk by bear canisters as the effort/reward factor wasn’t there. Bears in my area have learned about bear canisters. There are plenty of people who leave food unprotected and the rewards are there. I am not sure if they have learned anythiong about Ursacks yet. My 2 cents.Sep 15, 2021 at 11:35 am #3727425
Mostly Ursacks are only allowed/approved where bears are not a a big problem or as aggressive. I have used an Ursack for years where allowed. I think they are reasonable option where bears are not so aggressive. But Ursacks require more care and thought to set them up correctly.Sep 15, 2021 at 4:28 pm #3727448James MarcoBPL Member
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
DWR D, I agree. If bears are aggressive, you really need a hard sided canister. This is like the 4th or fifth time I have heard some sort of failure from an Ursack. Using a correct hang with an Ursack is clearly a waste of time…why do that when a 3/4oz of line and a 3oz bag will accomplish the same thing? ( I am being very generous here, they vary between 1.5oz and 3.5oz.) A comparable sized Ursack weighs 8.8oz plus line to tie it off with (even at 3/4oz it is a lot more than double a bear bags weight.)
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