Forum Index » GEAR » ursack vs bear canister


Display Avatars Sort By:
Jeremy Pendrey
(Pendrey) - MLife

Locale: California
ursack jack-o-lantern on 08/13/2012 19:03:19 MDT Print View

Having just come back from a trip where I earned some experience relevant to the ursack - bear can debate, I thought I'd share.

We spent two nights at the same location. We had 8 people and 2 dogs. We had 7 food storage devices between us. 4 bear cans. One Bearikade Weekender, one Garcia Machine Backpacker's cache, 2 bear vaults, one of the old green material ursacks and 2 of the newer white material ursacks (not sure if the material is different other than color but, as I describe below, it performed the same).

First night: 4 bear cans placed near each other. 2 white ursacks tied per product instructions to a tree near each other. Green ursack tied to a different tree per product instructions. Bear spends some time trying to open bear cans, playing bongos, grunting, sniffing, generally gets frustrated, and that's all we hear. Dogs barely even notice, but that's a whole separate discussion.

Next morning: Bear cans are fine. Barely moved. Ursacks are all severely mangled with tooth holes and lots of claw holes, but they are still tied to the tree and were not pulled open. One was pulled so tight by the bear that it took a half hour to untie it from the tree. Contents are completely mangled. Were talking dog food in my tooth brush and bear spit in my peanut butter and hot chocolate mix pouring out of the tooth holes. It's like the next day after a high school party when the parents are out of town. All three ursacks are like this. By the way, all the food in the Ursacks was in supposedly odor-proof OP sacks.


Here are some pics of my ursack post mangling:

Jack o lantern

ursack

up close


Afternoon: 6 hour intense hail and rain storm with wrath of god lightning and thunder. Despite being under bushes, all of the bear cans take on some water, though most contents are saved because of contents being in individual sealed plastic bags. Some of the water may have entered when we tried to feed our families during the deluge. Not positive. One package of tortillas is a sticky gooey mess. Ursacks at this point are just holding trash (the night before's mess and some dog food).

Second night: We all sleep soundly following the storm. No one hears the bear.

Next morning: One ursack was pulled from the tree. The knot didn't hold. It was the only ursack that still had food. Dog food and top ramen. The two with trash were undisturbed. Mine was not the one that got pulled down so I don't know what knot my friend tied. The removed ursack has an approx 2 inch opening at the top where it should have been pulled all the way closed, so the botttom knot held (not the tree knot), but not tight enough the bear was still able to remove all the contents through this hole. The bear tactfully left the shredded plastic bags and a souvenir scat next to the empty ursack. (Yes, we reported the incident to the ranger.)

Lessons learned:

1) Ursacks do not protect your food from being useless to you. Even though the bear may not be able to open a properly stowed ursack, it will completely destroy it's contents. Thus, it may save the bear, but if you are relying on the ursack alone, your trip is over. Thus, maybe as Cameron suggests, it buys you time to fight for your food if you hear the bear, but that's it.

2) OP sacks are useless. I will no longer waste my money.

3) Ursacks will not shred, but they can be difficult to secure properly, and you don't know if you secured it properly until the bear tests it for you. If removed from the tree they are tied to, the bear will squeeze out the contents like toothpaste from a tube. Again, I don't know how well my friend secured his ursack and how well he closed the top opening. Mine stayed on the tree, but it is apparently critical to get the knot on the tree right and the one at the closure right too.

4) Bear cans work. Bears can't open them. I own a Bearikade Weekender and will be buying an Expedition before my next family trip. The ursack will stay at home, or just be used for toiletries and trash.

5) All of the bear cans can leak a bit if subjected to intense rain for many hours. Put everything in plastic bags. Maybe even the whole bear can in a plastic bag if weather is coming through. The BearVault, due to its complete cover lid, performed the best in the rain, and maybe only took on a bit of rain when opened. Not sure on that.

6) Bottom line: I want to love the ursack. I've used it for years. But it just can't do what I need it to do and I will pay the "penalty" in weight and cash to use a Bearikade whenever I travel in bear country. I still keep my base weight at around 10 to 11 pounds even with the Bearikade so for me it's worth it.

Hope this helps.

-Jeremy.

Kevin Burton
(burtonator) - F

Locale: norcal
ursack on 08/13/2012 19:31:33 MDT Print View

I have to admit that I use my ursack even in places which haven't approved it yet.

If it's good enough for 80% of national parks it's probably good enough for the bears in your park too.

I also tie it to the ground.

I assume that if a bear comes upon it that he won't get my food but that my food is then destroyed.

He will probably crush / shred most of the food inside I think. Especially granola bars.

So I have my fishing rod as plan B and will eat trout for 3-4 days until I can get out of the woods.

Humans can go 90 days without food. Sure it will suck for 3-4 days but I haven't EVER had a bear mess with my canister (I think).

Dena Kelley
(EagleRiverDee) - M

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
Re Ursack vs bear canister on 08/13/2012 20:02:30 MDT Print View

Good info in this thread, thanks to the OP and all contributors. I hate my bear can (heavy, bulky) but after reading this thread I see that the Ursack is not a viable alternative. And going without in bear country probably is not so bright.

Thanks again.

Ken Thompson
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: Behind the Redwood Curtain
Re: ursack jack-o-lantern on 08/13/2012 20:15:32 MDT Print View

Jeremy. I wonder how much better things would have been if you used the optional liner? An additional 10.8 oz granted but still a lightweight solution. I just bought a Weekender myself. But I do still love my untested Ursack. Though I would take a canister on any trip longer than a day and a half from a trailhead.

steven franchuk
(Surf) - M
Re: ursack jack-o-lantern on 08/13/2012 21:17:41 MDT Print View

"5) All of the bear cans can leak a bit if subjected to intense rain for many hours. Put everything in plastic bags. Maybe even the whole bear can in a plastic bag if weather is coming through."


The water resistance of bear canisters (Garcias and bearikades) can easily be enhansed by simply placing the removable cover on the ground (upside down). That way the water proof bottom of the canister takes the full force of the rain and the water simply runs off and the removable cover stays dry.


I am quit surprised as to how badly the sacks performed.

chris Nelson
(Nel250)

Locale: San Francisco
Re: Re: ursack jack-o-lantern on 08/13/2012 21:33:26 MDT Print View

Jeremy

Great Info!! Interesting seeing both Urasck and bear cans used in the same bear event. I honestly hate caring the bear cans. Large and heavy. But I use it every time i'm in the wood because it is the responsible thing to do.

Jeremy Pendrey
(Pendrey) - MLife

Locale: California
ursack jack-o-lantern on 08/13/2012 21:49:06 MDT Print View

Ken: I actually own one of the ursack aluminum liners because I used to use it back during that brief period where it was provisionally legal in Yosemite (2007?). But my favorite feature of the ursack is the fact that I can roll it smaller once the contents are eaten. On this trip my son carried it half full so I prefer to have it less than full size so it fits in his kid-size pack. But if I use the ursack on future trips I will definitely use the liner so that the contents are actually edible after an incident. But I'll likely just use the no fuss bearikade so I don't have to worry about whether the bear is going to be able to get in the top opening and/or pull it off the tree.

Steven: Good point. My wife thought of that the next day. I'll have to try turning it upside down next time. Then the only concern is not to have it in a ground water runoff path so that it gets flooded from the bottom up.

Robert Blean
(blean) - MLife

Locale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
Wrong knot on 08/13/2012 21:52:52 MDT Print View

Your report illustrates one of the Park Service's worries about Ursacks -- that it depends on correct knots, and that some people will get those knots wrong. In other words, it's too easy to make a mistake with an Ursack that will result in a bear getting the food.

That said, does anyone have any similar experience with an Ursack with the metal liner? That is the only configuration that the Park Service was even taking seriously.

Jeffrey McConnell
(Catalyst) - F
liner makes the difference? on 08/13/2012 21:55:56 MDT Print View

Like Ken, I think it would be interesting to know how the ursacks would have performed with the optional liner. Doesn't surprise me to find that your food was crushed without it. Also, I wonder whether the opsaks didn't work because the bears smelled food, or if they just reasoned that the ursacks looked like something that would be holding food. I guess either way they end up being useless. Thanks for sharing.

Edited by Catalyst on 08/13/2012 21:58:00 MDT.

Jeremy Pendrey
(Pendrey) - MLife

Locale: California
Re: liner makes the difference? on 08/13/2012 22:03:33 MDT Print View

Jeff: Good point. It is possible the bear was just investigating the ursack, pierced it and the OP sacks with it's claws and teeth and then smelled the food, or possible that the awful closure on the OP sacks didn't hold, or that one of the sacks had some food outside the OP sack. OP sacks seem to get dinged up pretty quickly in my experience and then there is a risk of a small pinhole and the gig is up that way too. Either way, hard side can seems to be the solution.

Robert Blean
(blean) - MLife

Locale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
Re: liner makes the difference? on 08/13/2012 22:09:23 MDT Print View

One thing I read about bears is that they learn. One reason hanging does not work at campsites is that there are few suitable trees, and so everyone uses the same trees. The bears soon learn that certain trees are food trees. Proponents of that school of thought say that it the important most bear storage requirements are:

*) It not smell like food -- bears have a keen sense of smell
*) It not be located anywhere the bear will expect it

One sensible conjecture might be that bears have learned that whenever people attach bags to trees those bags are likely to contain food. I'm suspicious that Jeff is right -- bears know that bags tied to trees in and around camp are likely to be food bags.

Perhaps an important part of Ursack usage needs to be locating the Ursack away from the campsite -- somewhere the bear will not expect it and where the bear will be unlikely to stumble upon it (i.e. not near a trail). I realize that this conflicts with Ursack's advice to hear the bear and then defend your food.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: Re: liner makes the difference? on 08/13/2012 22:59:19 MDT Print View

I've never believed that using odor-proof bags is going to do much. For one thing, you are handling the bags, and thus they smell like people even if they don't smell like food. And bears are more than smart enough to know that people smell equals food.

For another thing, if a bear is investigating your campsite because it has smelled you, then the bear will check out anything it finds, no matter what that thing smells like, just in case, since it equates people with food.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
liner makes the difference? on 08/14/2012 07:47:44 MDT Print View

In the ADK's, with all Black Bears, and a few smart ones, I do not worry about it. I never used an OP liner. I hang my bag about 12-15' high about 4-6 feet out on a limb and about 3-4' down from a limb. I hold the line high, and wrap it around the tree a few times...no, do NOT try this at night after a few drinks. Only the high peaks has been difficult, since Yellow-Yellow has been active there. Maybe she is now gone, but I cannot say for sure, because, she was teaching her cubs to open Bear Vaults. She can be defeated by drilling out and installing a size ten 3/4" flat-head wood screw on the oposite side as the catch. She apparently understands how to unscrew the lid. The wood screw prevents this. Put your cup on top after placing the keg for the night. Anyway, I have had bears go through an older, well used campsite, but never a stealth campsite. Habituation is correct, I believe...

Ben H.
(bzhayes) - F

Locale: So. California
Re: ursack jack-o-lantern on 08/14/2012 09:34:39 MDT Print View

"...bear spit in my peanut butter and hot chocolate mix pouring out of the tooth holes...."

This is the most disconcerting part of your post. Everyone knows bears will mangle your food in an Ursack. The idea is to prevent them from getting food. This bear got food from your ursack, so predictably he came back the next night for more. I really wanted Ursack to work, but it just doesn't seem like a viable bear defense container. Too bad :(

The other thought I had about Ursack, is that even though you can use them in Inyo National Forest, it seems the reason you can use them there is because Inyo NF didn't want to get wrapped up in the lawsuit between Ursack and Yosemite. Now that the lawsuit is resolved, I suspect Inyo NF will follow suit with whatever Yosemite comes up with. Based on posts like this I wonder if Ursack will be illegal to use in all of California's bear country within a year or so.

Jeffrey McConnell
(Catalyst) - F
Re: Re: ursack jack-o-lantern on 08/14/2012 09:51:12 MDT Print View

"This is the most disconcerting part of your post. Everyone knows bears will mangle your food in an Ursack. The idea is to prevent them from getting food. This bear got food from your ursack, so predictably he came back the next night for more. I really wanted Ursack to work, but it just doesn't seem like a viable bear defense container. Too bad :(

The other thought I had about Ursack, is that even though you can use them in Inyo National Forest, it seems the reason you can use them there is because Inyo NF didn't want to get wrapped up in the lawsuit between Ursack and Yosemite. Now that the lawsuit is resolved, I suspect Inyo NF will follow suit with whatever Yosemite comes up with. Based on posts like this I wonder if Ursack will be illegal to use in all of California's bear country within a year or so."

I don't think a situation where you have a bear poking through with teeth to get little bits of food is the issue. The liner can be used to prevent that sort of situation (unless it hasn't in some situation which would be interesting to read about) and any approval will probably require use of the liner. What I think Yosemite et al. is going to be concerned with more is the other situation that occurred - an improperly tied knot resulting in the bear getting the bag (assuming it was improperly tied in his friend's case). It seems that if used correctly with a liner the ursack could be a great option. Ease of use and likelihood of user error resulting in failure is what I think Ursack's biggest problem will be in regards to getting approval.

Ben H.
(bzhayes) - F

Locale: So. California
Re: Re: Re: ursack jack-o-lantern on 08/14/2012 10:42:05 MDT Print View

I agree JM, going forward, the Ursack should only be considered if used with the liner. The problem is, with the liner the case for Ursack is pretty weak. It is only 5 oz. lighter than the Bearboxer (albeit with considerably more capacity). It is still 10 oz lighter than the bearikade scout (but not 20 oz lighter) and much cheaper. But... those weight savings come with an awful lot of fiddle factor. Plus with the liner you don't get the bulk volume savings that make normal ursacks so appealing. It is a pain in the butt getting those bear cans packed nicely in your bag.

Lyan Jordan
(redmonk)

Locale: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
ursack vs bear canister on 08/14/2012 11:33:41 MDT Print View

Neat.

I'll continue to chase off bears, Ursack or canister.

I would rather not condition bears into hanging around camps.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: ursack jack-o-lantern on 08/14/2012 14:01:19 MDT Print View

Was the food in the bear cans in odor proof bags too? I'm thinking the Ursacks might have been targeted because of proximity, not because of smell, but the smell from the bear cans drew the bear in.

steven franchuk
(Surf) - M
Re: ursack vs bear canister on 08/14/2012 20:33:24 MDT Print View

"I'll continue to chase off bears, Ursack or canister."

Why bother chasing off a bear when you are using a canister? In most cases a experienced bear will recognize the canister simply walk away. He knows that there is no hope of getting the food inside. Only the bears that have little or no experience with canisters will spend time trying to get in. Eventually they leaves when they realizes that there is no hope of getting the food.

Iv everyone used canisters the bears would not hang around popular campsites.

Edited by Surf on 08/14/2012 20:37:27 MDT.

Jen Churchward
(mahgnillig) - F
location on 08/14/2012 21:01:40 MDT Print View

Just out of curiosity, where in CA were you when this incident happened? I recently bought an Ursack in order to cut down on pack weight... so far so good, 3 overnight trips and no bear mischief. However, if there is a risk of this happening, I might start using the canister again.