Proper food storage is important in the backcountry. If certain steps are not taken, you could get a visit from an unwelcome guest, such as a small rodent or bear, to your campsite at night. Once these animals know where they can get a easy meal, you can be sure they will return becoming a nuisance to all backpackers in the area.
The most popular method to protect and store your food is by hanging it from a tree in a bear bag.
WHAT IS A BEAR BAG?
A bear bag is a waterproof bag with a roll top closure that protects your food and other items from the weather, animals, and bugs. For a long time I used the 13L Sea to Summit Dry Sack.
Now bears have an extraordinary sense of smell. It's estimated that their ability to smell things is so acute that it's about 7 times greater then a bloodhound's ability and 2,100 times better than humans. So, that means whatever is in your food bag a bear can certainly smell it.
However, there is a special odor proof liner that you can get for your bear bag called an Opsak Bag. The Opsak is a specially designed bag that acts as a barrier to all odors thus significantly reducing the ability of a bear smelling the contents of your bear bag.
WHAT TO PUT IN YOUR BEAR BAG?
You might be thinking this is a silly question. You put food in your bear bag, duh. Well, that is true, but animals will be attracted to any strong smelling items, such as bug spray, sun screen, toothpaste, and deodorant. So, all of these items also need to be stored in your bear bag.
HOW TO HANG A BEAR BAG
There are many ways to hang a bear bag. One common method I have seen on the trail is to simply throw a line over a branch, attach the bear bag on one end of the line, pull it up high in the air, and then tie the other end of the line to a tree. The problem with this method is that bears are smart. They will eventually find the line attached to the tree and cut it with their claws. And there goes your food.
A better and more secure way to hang your food is using the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) style bear hang. Here is a step by step process on how to do that. Plus, there is a video down below for further instruction.
The tree needs to be 100 ft away or more downwind from your campsite. The branch should be around 20 ft from the ground and extend out at least 6 ft from the base of the tree.
The branch should also be big enough to support the weight of your bag, but not too big that a bear could climb out on it.
Step 2: Prepare your rope to throw it over the branch
Make a loop at one end of your rope. Attach the carabiner to the loop. Then attach your rock bag to the carabiner. After that place a rock into your rock bag. Now your rope has a weighted end to it which will make it easier to throw over the tree branch.
Step 3: Throw the rock over the branch
Tie the loose end of the rope to a small bush nearby so you don't loose your whole rope in the tree when throwing it. Now the challenging part. You want to try to throw the rope with the rock bag over the tree branch. This can take several attempts.
Step 4: Attach and hoist the bear bag up to the branch
Once you have made it over the branch, retrieve the rock bag and replace it with the bear bag. Then feed the free end of the rope through the carabiner and pull your bag up all the way to the tree branch. (click on images to enlarge)
Step 5: Attach the stick to your line
With your bear bag still up high touching the branch, grab your small stick and reach up as high as you can and attach your stick to the rope using a clove hitch knot. To do this first place the stick in front of your rope and then wrap the rope around the stick once. Hold the rope in place with your thumb while with your other hand form a loop by crossing the rope over itself and then sliding it on the stick. (Click on images to enlarge)
Step 6: Release the stick to your bag
With the stick attached to the rope, slowly release the rope and let down the bear bag. The stick will act as a stopper and prevent the bag from falling all the way down, thus leaving it suspended in the air.
Completed PCT style bear hang
The end result should be that your bear bag is hanging safely 12 ft from the ground and at least 4 ft from the base of the tree.
HOW TO HANG A BEAR BAG VIDEO
PCT STYLE BEAR BAG HANG PROS
Harder for a bear to get at your food
Easy access to your food or other items
The whole bear bag system weighs very little
PCT STYLE BEAR BAG HANG CONS
Doesn't work well in locations where there are no trees or areas with trees that have no suitable branches (like pine forests) to hang your bag
I never had it happen to me, but you can potentially get your line tangled in the carabiner
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