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5/12/2018 2:07 pm  #1

Bear bag

I'm planning a 6 day/5 night hike of the Western Uplands trail in August and I'm worried about being able to hang my bear bag every night.  My problem is twofold:  1) I suck at throwing at the best of times, throwing up and over a specific branch is nearly impossible (don't bother giving me throwing tips, it's just not going to happen).  I'm considering taking up archery just so I can have something to shoot with.  Either that or bring a slingshot.  2) I've been on a number of sites where I could find no suitable branches - evergreen trees as far as the eye can see: tall, bare trunks everywhere, and the occasional spindly little branch.

What do you do when you can't find any good branches?  And know of any "bear bag" rocket launchers?  I'm not kidding about the slingshot.

Edit:  Has anyone ever used an Ursack?  Lightweight *and* doesn't need to be hung up!


Last edited by AnnieD (5/12/2018 2:32 pm)


5/12/2018 3:02 pm  #2

Re: Bear bag

For backpacking the Ursack is your answer Annie. Pricey but a lot of people swear by them. I haven't had too many problems with the bear hang. But, if I did I would get an Ursack.


5/12/2018 9:54 pm  #3

Re: Bear bag

The problem with bows and slingshots is that they are often considered firearms and that could get you in trouble even if your intended use is to hang a bag. However, I am not sure what the specific rule is for Algonquin Park. 

Once I was at a site that lacked good horizontal branches so I managed to wrap one end of cord high up around a vertical truck and the other around a second nearby tree, allowing me to tighten the cord and hang a bag from the horizontal section between the trees.

Another thing to consider is finding a very long branch on the ground and using that to place your cord exactly where you want it. Try it in the woods. You only need to get your bag up about 3 m off the ground.


5/12/2018 10:28 pm  #4

Re: Bear bag

When no suitable branch can be found we have rigged a rope between two trees. Rig a carbiner with the bear rope through it near the center of the span before hoisting the other rope up and tieing off. In essence the first rope becomes the branch. Problem is now you need to throw two ropes lol. The last couples  years my throw bag from canoe has doubled the bear rope. I load the bag with a few rocks for weight.  Has proven to be more effective then trying to tie a stick or rock to the rope on its own.


5/13/2018 6:19 am  #5

Re: Bear bag

I always hated hanging a bear bag, so years ago I bought a BearVault food container and have been very happy with it. In an attempt to save a couple of pounds of gear weight I recently bought an Ursack, which will be heading into Algonquin with me very soon for a 9-day trip. I'll post my impressions of it when I get back. 


5/13/2018 8:02 am  #6

Re: Bear bag

Did some research on the ursack now. I still see people hanging them as they are NOT scent proof so this may not fully remedy  your problem. There's is an alternative called Opsack? ? , that advertises  scent proof also. The last thing I would want is a hungry bear , now a pissed bear batting  an Ursack around my campsite frustrated he can't get in to it Lol! I've never had an issue with a campsite bear, yet, so I'll continue as we have for now. Bear vault may be best option IMO.


5/13/2018 8:06 am  #7

Re: Bear bag

Thanks everyone for the responses.  I'll get an Ursack to play it safe (looking forward to your impressions Uppa) but I'm impressed with the strategies to deal with lack of branches.  I don't think I could figure that out on my own, though if ever someone decides to offer a bear bag hanging course in downtown Toronto, I'll be there!  Annie

     Thread Starter

5/13/2018 8:35 am  #8

Re: Bear bag

I used to be pretty good at hanging a bear bag. I had a little kit with a tiny stuff-sack that I could put a rock in or fill with dirt, special arborist dyneema line with a slick samthane coating on it to prevent the line from sticking to tree branches (eastern Hemlock is the worst for that, and yet is usually the best tree to hang from. Sad.), and a carabiner so I could do a PCT style hang (google pct bearbag hang). I studied videos on YouTube. I was a bearbag hanging nerd.

But that takes up a lot of time, and I usually go solo, so sometimes it became a race to get everything done before dark. When I arrived at a campsite, I would first identify the trees for hanging my hammock, then immediately wander 100 metres into the bush to find a bearbag tree, and hang the line in preparation for hanging the bag later after dinner. (By the way, I don’t understand people who hang the bag on a tree right in their campsite. Sure, the bear won’t get your food, but now the bear is in your face!)

But if you get to camp late in the day, it is not very much fun to try and find the perfect tree branch and then try to loop a rope around it, while the light is fading and your stomach is rumbling.

So I’ve been using an Ursack, with an odourproof bag inside it, since 2012. I actually have two, for long trips, and because they are not very big. (I see now that there is a larger size. I would buy that one if I were a new customer).

Just seal the heavy duty odourproof bag (bring an extra bag in case the bag seal delaminates.) Cinch the bag super tightly. Tie the knot tightly as written on the bag tag. Then tie the bag to a tree or better, the crotch of a tree. Then remember where you put it. Done.

Pro: simple, easy to do, no time wasting, secure, the Ursack is indestructible and so is the rope. Your food might get crushed, but not stolen. :-)

Con: heavy-ish bag, low capacity, and odour-proof bags can malfunction. Expensive! $99 for the small.  Darn USD-CAD! I paid $71 in 2012 and that hurt.

The bear vault would give you something to sit on or a little table to put a lantern on or something.

I’m happy to lend my Ursacks if our trip schedules don’t overlap. I’m going this week, so that’s out. In August I’m going the 17-19 and 24-4th.

Last edited by Methye (5/13/2018 8:38 am)


5/13/2018 1:59 pm  #9

Re: Bear bag

Yes, I forgot until you mentioned it that I often use my BearVault as a seat - especially since I don't bring a camp chair. More and more I'm wondering if taking 2 pounds off my gear weight is really worth giving up my BearVault for. But I'm leaving in 15 hours and everything is packed, so it's too late to change plans now. I'll give the Ursack a go and see what happens. And yes, I have the larger Ursack Major, and I'm using it in conjunction with Opsack odor proof bags. 


5/13/2018 5:01 pm  #10

Re: Bear bag

Right - I missed the post up above re: also using an Orsack.  The Ursack may be pricey but I expect it will last a long time so I don't mind getting it - it will get a fair bit of use and well worth it so I don't have to stress out over finding a good tree or being able to hang my bag properly.  

Have a great trip Uppa - kayak camping, now that is very cool! I will definitely be checking out your website at some point for camping tips - and to find out how you pack your gear in a kayak!

     Thread Starter

5/13/2018 5:16 pm  #11

Re: Bear bag

Honestly to me the Ursack is completely useless. It isn't scent proof in any way, so basically people are getting cocky just because the bear cant chew or claw through it, but what about all your food that's now mangled inside the bag? Do you store your food in containers inside the bag that wont crush when the bear is swatting at it and hanging from it with all its weight?
This makes things tricky, sure you use odor proof bags, but at some point food scent will probably get on the outside in some way, espeically after a week. At least with a bear hang you have the added secutiry of them not being able to easily get to it. If a bear smells your Ursack it's going to probably mess around with it for at least few hours or until you notice.

Last edited by ATVenture (5/13/2018 5:20 pm)


5/14/2018 6:41 am  #12

Re: Bear bag

I have both sizes of the Ursacks and I use odour proof bags as well. Never had an issue and to my knowledge no bear has ever found and played around with either of them.

In my opinion they work well for several reasons:

1) I know we are talking about bears but honestly the bigger threat to getting into your food are squirrels and chipmunks etc. These solve that problem.

2) Yes a solid hang is always better. Which you can always do with these too. I keep rope and a pulley inside the bag as well. BUT how many times have you been at a site with really no workable spot? For me, more than I can count. So if you have to use a less then ideal hang with a non- bear proof bag and a bear gets it your food its gone. Same scenario with an ursack you still have food.

3) If a bear finds the ursack you will hear him playing with it. Just go out and scare him away. Easy Peasy

4) My wife is type 1 diabetic so losing all our food in the middle of no where is kinda a big deal. So even if the food is mashed up it is still food. A lot of our stuff is dehydrated chilli etc. Can’t really mash that up anyway. Ursack sells liners that protect your food too. I dont have one but an option if you are concerned about that.

5) Arriving late to a camp site in the dark or any time really .. just easy to go out an hang off a branch and the food is still very safe.  Or going for a paddle in the middle of the day just quickly shove all your food in the bag and hang on a branch.

6) Easy to pack and when empty is takes up way less volume. Bear vault/ barrel always takes up the same space no matter how empty

7) How many sites have you been on with an old piece of  rope hanging from a tree that broke off on someone? Looks like crap IMO. Again not really a problem with these..

That’s my experience. Hope it helps with the decision.

Last edited by ShawnD (5/14/2018 9:20 am)

We do not go to the green woods and crystal waters to rough it, we go to smooth it.
 - George Washington Sears

5/14/2018 9:55 am  #13

Re: Bear bag

ShawnD wrote:

2) Yes a solid hang is always better. Which you can always do with these too. I keep rope and a pulley inside the bag as well. BUT how many times have you been at a site with really no workable spot? For me, more than I can count. So if you have to use a less then ideal hang with a non- bear proof bag and a bear gets it your food its gone. Same scenario with an ursack you still have food.

If a site doesn't have a good branch for a hang, what I do is suspend a rope between two trees with my pulley system attached at the midpoint.


5/14/2018 2:14 pm  #14

Re: Bear bag

I'm sure everyone knows but its worth repeating ... whether its a ursack or not if the rangers don't consider it properly hung you always run the risk of a getting a fine.  I think they usually only apply this fine if you have more blatant issues (e.g. left food out while gone fishing) .. .but you never know. 

If in doubt at least show you made the effort to hang it on whatever you had to work with .. .between trees should suffice as long as its high enough  ...   


5/14/2018 2:36 pm  #15

Re: Bear bag

Dead_Weight (DW) wrote:

I'm sure everyone knows but its worth repeating ... whether its a ursack or not if the rangers don't consider it properly hung you always run the risk of a getting a fine.  

D-W - Can you provide a reference for an Ontario Parks regulation stating that you have to hang food and relating cooking gear? I am not aware of one. I know there are routine recommendations to hang food, but I don't know of a specific regulation requiring it. 

For everyone's reference, here is the definitive video of why not to bother hanging a food bag and exactly how NOT to respond when a bear does try to get your food. 

For those folks who want to go ahead and hang their food bags anyway, then Barry has a good write up on how to use a pulley system - I just can't find the page right now. When hanging stuff, make sure to include all cooking gear, all toiletries and any clothes that might remotely have food scents on them.

This is a valid but recurring topic. Most Ontario Parks don't provide options for meaningfully storing food. Hanging just adds wear and tear on trees - as noted at the start of this thread by the absence of branches anywhere near established sites. (No, I don't have a peer reviewed academic paper to reference for this off the top of my head. For anyone who wants to go looking, I'd suggest starting by searching for Parks Canada funding justifications for installing bear cables in back country campsites in Banff and other western parks in the 80's)

National Parks out west provide bear cables strung between posts. Those work fairly well for grizzlies which don't generally climb. Lots of videos of black bears happily climbing and traversing ropes to get to hung bags so I doubt even a proper cable set up will have much value in Ontario with black bears. Even with the cables, to be effective you need to cook at least 100 yards from the tents and then hang at least another 100 yards from there. 

Pukaskwa National Park and Frontenac Provincial Park  provide food lockers. The ones in Pukaskwa are concrete with galvanized steel doors. Those are likely effective. 

Then again, if you're eating chili (which is a standard meal on our trips), then your sleeping bag probably smells pretty good by morning anyway. 


5/15/2018 8:48 am  #16

Re: Bear bag

I think rule number 6 would apply here- seems to be worded in a way to give rangers a lot of leeway.

That's an entertaining and impressive video- they're very persistent! However, I don't think that a good 2 rope bear hang is defeated very often- I could only find one other video of a bear going for roped food on youtube for whatever that's worth. Aside from my food getting destroyed if a bear were to spend some time gnawing on a Ursack, I would be concerned that that would still be considered a 'win' for the bear- even if it wasn't fed, it did get to chew on a pretty tasty bag for a while. Therefore, bad habituation. 

As suggested, it's got to be tough to avoid ANY scent generation on a week long trip if these bears can smell as well as claimed. So I think there's more value in never rewarding the bear, rather than trying to make your food unfindable. Every single time our food is hung well away from camp at least 3m high on a rope strung between 2 trees- never off of a branch (that would be a very effective way to feed wildlife of all sorts). I do have the advantage of having a tripping partner, so we can share camp tasks, but if I were soloing I think I would still prioritize bearproofing my food. After some practice it doesn't take too long to get a good 2 rope with pulley system set up. Minimal damage to trees this way as well. 


5/15/2018 9:40 am  #17

Re: Bear bag

NVM - is this the rule you were referring to?


  • Campsites must be kept clean and free of attractants for wildlife (e.g., bears, wolves, raccoons, etc.) at all times."

As you noted it does not mention hanging food as something that is specifically required. Rather it leaves it open as to how best to keep your campsite "clean and free of attractants for wildlife". In that context an Ursack or other really "bear proof" container would definitely qualify as responsible storage. 

I completely agree that regardless of the storage method, it is important to discourage the bear rather than to stand back and let them rummage around your site at will. This is as true today as it was in the 70's when the grizzlies used to routinely wander through the campgrounds out in Jasper. 

There are a couple of organizations that have done testing on 'bear proof" containers using real bears. One is Wild Safe BC: and another is the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center near Yellowstone:

Here is one video professional bears testing products: 


Last edited by RobW (5/15/2018 9:43 am)


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