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Ursack failure
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Karl Keating
(KarlKeating) - MLife
Ursack failure on 08/12/2006 12:15:15 MDT Print View

I was at the ranger station at Devil's Postpile National Monument on August 10. A ranger said that a pair of hikers reported that a bear had gotten into their Ursack the day before. The Ursack had the mandatory aluminum liner.

According to the ranger, the bear used its claws to tear at the Ursack's opening until it had worn away the fabric.

jonathan hauptman

Locale: A white padded room in crazy town.
maybe on 08/13/2006 00:33:14 MDT Print View

is it possible that the hikers where using something claimed to be an ursack, but they were lied to(thick stuff sack or something)/I think we would need more info. before we take this failure seriously. do you know if your ranger freind actually saw said ursack or did the hikers just tell him about it(did bear carry of the sack)/more info and/or witness reports would help. I do not mean to nitpick, but an ursack failure is a serious matter when it comes to ursack getting/staying approved. A failure could be the end of the ursack in bear territory. This would be bad for ultralighters everywhere(extra 2 pounds). I hope that this so called failure is a false alarm. If sucks!!!

jonathan hauptman

Locale: A white padded room in crazy town.
p.s. on 08/13/2006 00:37:30 MDT Print View

P.s., is it possible that the ranger(possibly a disbeleiver in ursacks) just assumed that it was an ursack. Perhaps the idea of an ursack in his woods put a stick up his ****. maybe just a biast ranger.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Ursack failure on 08/13/2006 09:38:52 MDT Print View

While failures have happened, they are rare (yes, I am a huge fan of Ursack bags)...and almost always are due to the human not closing the bag properly. If the failure did actually happen, I'd wonder - considering that a bear shouldn't be able to get to the opening if tied off to a tree!! The bear would be able to pull at the bag from the rear - with it's teeth.

I am always suspicous when a ranger is the one selling the tales. Why? Here in Wa, at the ONP, there is a ranger that tells tales to force bear canisters on hikers. His freaking tales change constantly! They are always about how Ursacks are not good enough. We blatantly lie to him at this point. Ursacks are allowed everywhere in that park except for the coastal strip, so they go with us. We obey the coastal rule. But when a story ranges from insane mt goats to drooling bears, and it changes on every visit, you have to roll your eyes.
Yet the park service there actually has Ursacks that they use themselves!! Some of us ran into him in the backcountry-and did he have a canister? Nope.
Though I can understand the point of canisters. If everyone used one, they'd have almost no incidents. It is easier to just require them, than to rely on humans to use a tool properly, which is what an Ursack is.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Re: Ursack failure on 08/13/2006 10:14:35 MDT Print View

all great responses. I too wondered out loud when I read this yesterday. I almost responded with the same questions, but thought ahh not again. There are some folks out there that would love to see Ursack fail. For me, above tree line I think Ursacacks are on of the most fail safe containers out there. I fehave owned different Ursacks over the past 5 years and not ONCE have I had a problem. As for the aluminum instert. I happily accept it into my Ursack when nescessary.

Edited by kennyhel77 on 08/13/2006 10:15:55 MDT.

Karl Keating
(KarlKeating) - MLife
Ursack failure on 08/13/2006 18:54:22 MDT Print View

1. It wasn't clear to me whether the ranger had seen the Ursack.

2. The present NPS policy is that Ursacks should NOT to be tied to trees but are to be left lying on the ground: "The Ursack must be used with the aluminum insert and we are asking users to leave them on the ground (100 ft from camp) and not tied to an object in order to prevent resource damage."

3. The ranger said the hikers found their Ursack about 50 feet away from where they had left it, implying that they had not tied it to a tree.

4. I tied my own Ursack to downwood, but in retrospect I see that that would not have prevented a bear from clawing at the opening. I should have tied it to a branch a few feet off the ground.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Ursack failure on 08/13/2006 21:05:31 MDT Print View

The whole "resource damage" line is a bunch of hooey in most situations. At least IMO. I tie my Ursack off, as does everyone I know with one. We tie ours off around tree bases or branches, so that the bag is hitting the ground.
A hammock can do more damage than the Kevlar threads would....sigh!

The NP Rangers just need to admit that they don't like Ursacks, and call it a day.

Al Shaver
(Al_T.Tude) - F - M

Locale: High Sierra and CA Central Coast
Tree Damage on 08/13/2006 23:50:45 MDT Print View

Sarah, The tree damage is not from the sack, but rather from the bear clawing at the fragile and essential bark as well as disturbing the ground at the base of the tree. has a link to this SIBBG (Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group) commissioned report.

I'm curious why the NPS doesn't allow Ursacks in the coastal strip of Olympic National Park.

I agree that this fine and critical tool for lightweight backpackers requires more skill to use effectively than cannisters. I always suspect poor technique in a case of failure. A few careless people could get these outlawed for us all.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Tree Damage on 08/14/2006 07:54:44 MDT Print View

Al, they made canisters (or use of hard sided plastic buckets hung on bear wires) mandatory a number of years ago...due to lazy humans and the racoons. The coons were so bad they would rip into tents, sleeping bags, etc. Coons are adapt at sending the young up bear wires, and opening pinatas ;-) The rule has worked well, and racoons are pretty rare these days.
The tree damage makes me wonder though...bears rip into trees all the time up here! It is a food source for them. You can see where bears are active by looking for missing bark :-)

Alice Hengst
(Moondust) - MLife

Locale: Southern Sierras
Re: Ursack failure on 08/16/2006 15:23:04 MDT Print View

Perhaps the hikers weren't careful about using the Odor-proof bag in the proper manner. I have always made sure to keep the top of the OP bag as far away from the opening as I can, so that a bear couldn't possibly rip it open without first breaking into the sack. I also find it takes a little work to get the opening of the Ursack closed as far as it will go, and then to tie the overhand knot so it won't open any farther. A bag that was closed sloppily could have made it easier for the bear to rip it.

I too have questioned the resource damage reason for not tying the bag to a tree. Bears rip up trees in SEKI all the time! Even if a bear carried my sack 20 feet, there's a good chance I could not find it. (Heck, I can't even find stuff that's right in my pack.)

Mike Storesund
(mikes) - F
Re: Ursack failure on 08/17/2006 09:00:33 MDT Print View

It seems there are a lot of ‘unknowns’ and hearsay with this thread.

1. Did the users close the Ursack properly?
2. Was part of the inner bag protruding out of the opening?
3. Was the bag overloaded making it impossible to completely close the sack?
4. Was it really an Ursack?
5. A ranger said it was reported…
6. Is the ranger biased against the Ursack?
7. Were Odor Proof bags used?
8. Were the OP bags handled by cooking hands after being closed (leaving scent on the outside)?

Numbers 2 and 3 further imply improper closure / usage of the sack. Numbers 5 and 6 questions the source of information (second, third, forth-hand?) and the integrity of the ranger, which I try not to do, but still needs to be considered. Numbers 7 and 8 question the materials used and their handling procedure.

I have had my Ursack almost 2 years now and added the liner to make it a Hybrid last spring and have not had a failure. I have not had any encounters with bears either, so my experiences are limited. I do take caution when handling the OP bag to ensure as best as possible that I do not contaminate the outside of the bag with odiferous substances. That could also be the reason I have not had any bear encounters ;O) I really like the product and will continue to use it, regardless of the outcome of this isolated, unsubstantiated ‘report’.

Edited by mikes on 08/17/2006 09:08:36 MDT.

Dan Schmidt
( - F
My ursack failed on 08/17/2006 09:36:13 MDT Print View

My ursack failed. Mice started a little hole and a bear finished it. This was an older yellow kevlar one.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: My ursack failed on 08/17/2006 10:01:10 MDT Print View

I'm wondering how a policy like this might affect the habituation of bears...

"Hikers are expected to remain with their food at all times. Although specific brands and models of storage containers are not required, the hiker is responsible for making sure that a bear does not come into contact with their food, by using bear spray as a deterrent. Hikers should carry all of their food with them while day hiking away from camp. Hikers should sleep with their food. If a curious bear should show an interest in their food, the hiker should allow the bear to approach close enough to spray the bear directly in the face."

Preston Patton
(prestonpatton) - F - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Ursack Failure on 08/17/2006 11:55:40 MDT Print View

I was in Yosemite earlier this week and had an Ursack failure. The bear dragged it off (I didn't have it tied to a tree, per NP regulations) and tore a hole in the bottom of the bag. It looks like the threads were torn. The aluminum insert also tore a hole in the fabric and is protruding about 0.25 inch. It was one of the new hybrid models. I followed all instructions and recommendations. I would like to say that I'm VERY impressed with Tom Cohen at Ursack. I sent him an email with pictures and he refunded my money the same day and is very interested in improving the design. (I'm sending the failed bag to him so they can take a look at it.)
Urasck Failure

Edited by prestonpatton on 08/17/2006 15:13:34 MDT.

David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
Re: Re: My ursack failed on 08/17/2006 12:07:33 MDT Print View

One of the problems with bear spray is that it doesn't really hurt the bears. Heck, humans can get tolerant to pepper spray. Spraying bears a lot would probably produce bears that were at best slightly annoyed by pepper spray.

So rather than having a hungry bear come after you and your food, you'd have a hungry, slightly annoyed bear coming after you and your food. Probably not an improvement.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: Re: Re: My ursack failed on 08/17/2006 12:13:31 MDT Print View

>> One of the problems with bear spray is that it doesn't really hurt the bears. Heck, humans can get tolerant to pepper spray.

I've heard this, too, but haven't been able to dig up any hard evidence or proof substantiating this claim. In all of the case studies I've read from YNP about bear spray "failing", in every case, there was evidence the spray never made it to the eyes because of wind or bad aim.

Ryan Faulkner
(ryanf) - F

Locale: Mid atlantic, No. Cal
Re: Re: Re: Re: My ursack failed on 08/17/2006 12:19:11 MDT Print View

Just wondering if you were using an OP liner, I did when I was in yosemite last week and had no problems of any kind with my ursack, I thik it may help just to keep the odor down then the bear wont be as interested with your campsite, I dident even see one bear while I was out

Preston Patton
(prestonpatton) - F - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: My ursack failed on 08/17/2006 12:23:52 MDT Print View

Yep, I used an OP liner and was careful about closing both the liner and the Ursack. I was just north of the Cloud's Rest/JMT trail junction. According to the ranger I talked to, there's a bear there that is pretty agressive about getting backpacker's food. I guess I found him!

Aaron Wallace
(basilbop) - F
Re: My ursack failed on 08/17/2006 18:36:08 MDT Print View

>>I'm wondering how a policy like this might affect the habituation of bears...

And thus, we may have the answer: a certain percentage of hikers will use marginal storage techniques and not correctly/optimally use their bear spray, and the bears will become habituated to getting food successfully from people sleeping at night. (An evolutionary biologist might take this further: bears could eventually gain an adaptation that makes them tolerant of the spray. They're probably already developing enzymes that let them digest Clif bar wrappers and even freeze-dried food...)

One problem is it takes a disproportinate amount of negative conditioning to override occasional positive reinforcement. Any "keep the food from the bears" technique has to work pretty much all the time, especially since the reward for stealing food is so good, and the negative consequences of failure are comparatively slight.

Edited by basilbop on 08/17/2006 18:38:19 MDT.

d k
(dkramalc) - MLife
another failure on 08/17/2006 20:16:38 MDT Print View

Coincidentally enough, I just talked with a friend this evening whose trip in Sequoia last week was aborted on the 3rd night after a bear made off with their Ursack (secured between 2 rocks with a steel cable, since they were above treeline). The bear bit through the cable and the sack was never seen again. Granted, it was an old-style (no aluminum liner). They hiked back out in 1 day what they'd taken 3 days to do...bummer.

Edited by dkramalc on 08/17/2006 20:18:13 MDT.