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Bear Safety - A Conversational Guide for Scouts
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Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Bear Safety - A Conversational Guide for Scouts on 05/01/2009 07:07:35 MDT Print View

I was curious about bear bags, ropes, hanging techniques and whatnot and noted the Scout Handbook was rather inadequate on this subject. Thus, Googling turned up what seems to be a well written article on the subject as well as bear safety in general.
What do you think of this and has anything changed for some reason in the past 10 years?

Dan Cunningham

Locale: Land of 12,000 Loons
Re: Bear Safety - A Conversational Guide for Scouts on 05/01/2009 07:39:10 MDT Print View

I hang my food using the PCT method as described in the BPL article Bear Bag Hanging Techniques. I prefer it to any other method.

My food goes in OP sacks and then in a Sea to Summit silnylon stuff sack, and I use the AntiGravityGear TreeLine 40' Spectra 725 Line as my rope. It slides over tree branches really nice, so it's easier to pull the food into the air.

Edited by mn-backpacker on 05/01/2009 07:42:33 MDT.

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: Re: Bear Safety - A Conversational Guide for Scouts on 05/01/2009 08:16:55 MDT Print View

A good engineering method - I like that. I'm guessing from what I've read so far they wouldn't let you use the PCT method at Philmont even though you could certainly buy heftier equipment to handle a crew's bear bag. For one it isn't double tied, but there's no real way a bear could get to the rope anyway.

Where are the canisters required? I'd assume western (well-visited) national parks and perhaps some state parks and maybe those areas above the treeline.

I'm also puzzled how squirrels can't get into these bags as they're certainly capable of climbing up and down ropes, just like they walk across various wires, cables, etc.

ed dzierzak
(dzierzak) - F

Locale: SE
Bear bagging at Philmont on 05/01/2009 08:27:08 MDT Print View

It's not likely that anything other that the "approved" method will be allowed at Philmont. Considering crew size - up to 12 - and the amount to be bagged after a food drop, the actual weight is astounding - up to 50 pounds in 3-5 feed sack size bags. Of course, this includes all the "smellables" for the whole crew. Hoisting and lowering is quite the crew event.

Dan Cunningham

Locale: Land of 12,000 Loons
Re: Re: Bear Safety - A Conversational Guide for Scouts on 05/01/2009 08:35:39 MDT Print View

Uh... yeah. The PCT method works great for smaller amounts of food. Remember, you'd be holding the line in one hand with the weight on it while tying a clove hitch with the other. It's pretty easy when there's only like 10 pounds of food and such on the line, but 50 would be another story.

As for being double tied, unless the bear and pull the rope all the way down to the clove hitch and then undo it, you are pretty safe. ;)

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: Bear Bags - squirrels & birds? on 05/01/2009 11:23:33 MDT Print View

If you had a crew of 7-12, you wouldn't have to hold it in one hand and tie a clove hitch with the other - you get to supervise others doing it. :) I was just thinking out loud anyway.

I'm still curious why squirrels don't climb down the ropes to get into bags though. I know they're not big scavengers like coons, but easy to get food is still a temptation. Or ravens and similar birds landing on the bags is another one that just popped into mind - they're a huge problem in our town for getting into trash.

Edited by topshot on 05/01/2009 11:24:18 MDT.

Phil Barton
(flyfast) - MLife

Locale: Oklahoma
Bear Safety - A Conversational Guide for Scouts on 05/01/2009 16:16:43 MDT Print View

Michael, the PCT method works very well. We found on campouts that older boys are sometimes patient enough to learn a new technique. The older boys can teach the younger fellas. It's always fun to watch the adults try something new too.

It is possible for a critter to infiltrate the system. We've just not had that issue.

Philmont is a different story. Doug Prosser's article here on BPL has excellent advice. By 2006 his crew found that it was one area where it was easier to go along and use Philmont's nylon burlap bags and heavy ropes. We did that last year. Neither of our 2 crews had any problems. The bear bags and ropes were our only Philmont-issued gear. Our crew members carried about 7-10 pound base weight.

Doug and others have learned that some rangers can be sold on using alternative food bags and lighter ropes. Our Venturing Crew is headed to Philmont in '09. We plan to use Philmont's bear bags and ropes.

Ed is right. Hoisting a food bag for 9 or 12 guys is an event. It's always entertaining.

Edited by flyfast on 05/01/2009 16:23:43 MDT.

ed dzierzak
(dzierzak) - F

Locale: SE
Bear ropes and knots on 05/04/2009 07:16:57 MDT Print View

The only part of Philmont bear-bagging that's more fun is when someone in the crew completes their remote knot-tying merit badge and ends up with a bear rope semi-permanently tied to the cable...


Edited by dzierzak on 05/04/2009 07:17:33 MDT.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Bear ropes and knots on 05/04/2009 07:47:57 MDT Print View

Hauling up Heavy food bags can be hard on living limbs and hard on the crew. Using a small pulley will make things easier on the limb and on the crew. It can be added to the middle of a tree-to-tree line, or hoisted into position on the end of a separate line.

If tying off to small or soft bark trees, insert three or four small sticks vertically under the rope to act as buffers.

ed dzierzak
(dzierzak) - F

Locale: SE
Bark on 05/05/2009 08:51:40 MDT Print View

Yes, ropes are tough on bark. However, just about all camps at Philmont have bear cables. The Valle has no cables.

Some Rangers have been teaching the use of sticks to protect the bark of the tie-off trees.

Patrick Starich
(pjstarich) - MLife

Locale: N. Rocky Mountains
Bear Safety - A Conversational Guide for Scouts on 05/14/2009 20:24:08 MDT Print View

I've hung bags at Philmont on the cables and thought leaving the heavy ropes and sacks near the hanging sites for the duration of the treking season would sure lighten everyone's load. One way to reduce the bag raising effort and weight of the bagging system would be to use multiple smaller bags. Lighter cord and the carabiner would work just fine with lighter bags.

Bruce Tolley

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Bear Safety - A Conversational Guide for Scouts on 09/13/2009 19:35:00 MDT Print View

This Troop 111 document is full of sound advice but omits some key points about planning trips in bear country.

First, Scouters should check the regulations and guidelines of the wilderness area they are visiting.

For California, SierraWildBear will give you the recommendations/requirements for all the wilderness areas and national parks.

For many regions, the bears are learning how to get food that is hanging from trees and, much to the chagrin of those of us who want to go light, hard sided bear cannisters are required.

Second, if you really want to manage/reduce the risk of a bear encounter, go to places where there are fewer bears or the bears are less accustomed to acquiring thier food from humans. (Little Yosemite Valley comes to mind as a camping spot to avoid.)

Edited by btolley on 09/13/2009 22:45:44 MDT.

George Geist
(geist) - M

Locale: Smoky Mountains
Efficient, lightweight Philmont bear rope system on 10/01/2009 21:13:32 MDT Print View

Our Troop designed an efficient bear bagging system for our 2009 Philmont Trek that meets the following seven goals:

1. To create a system where a single person could raise and lower the bear bags and thus improve the safety, speed, and effort of the Philmont bear bagging.
2. Eliminate damage to Philmont’s trees caused by tying ropes to the trunk
3. Eliminate the potential of ropes getting tangled with other crews on the trunk
4. Eliminate the need to tie off to two different trees, which is done to decreases the possibility of a bear undoing one line and dropping the bags, but complicates the process of lowering the bags
5. Eliminate (or reduce) the need for an oops bag by making the main bags easy to raise
6. Simplify the process of sorting food, and gear from a single large bear bag back into the crew’s individual backpacks
7. Make the system stronger and weigh less than a single standard issue Philmont bear rope, which is 150ft of 1/4" nylon rope that weighs 2.5 lbs and has a tensile strength of 1200 pounds.

You can find a description and pictures of the system at

At this same URL you can also find an article on tips for using lightweight bear ropes in the standard "Philmont Way" bear bagging method.