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What to do with pack at night?
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Sean Heenan

Locale: Southeast mountains
What to do with pack at night? on 04/08/2012 09:04:49 MDT Print View

I've been backpacking with my son's troop for a couple of years and they use pack sticks lashed to trees and the pack hung on the stick at night. I had never seen this before I started backpacking with them, I had always had the pack in my shelter with me at night. I go along with this because that is how the Scoutmaster does it and I really don't have a big issue with it. But I was wondering if this was standard Scout practice or just something unique to our troop Opinions, pluses minuses?

pack on 04/08/2012 21:09:48 MDT Print View

At Philmont your pack must go under the dining fly at night.

Everywhere else, do what you want.

I put under my legs sometims if I only bring torso pad.

In sub 35 F weather I will have full length pad and may leave the pack outside or under tent vestibule, even if Im sleeping with the food. I do leave all pockets open so mices dont have to chew their way in to investigate. Ive hung it on the side of a tree or bush too just to make it harder for rodents if it doensnt look like rain.

I dont think there is any BSA procedure for what to do with packs at night, nor should there be any blanket policy.

If in bear country, your pack might have smells on it since food was in it, and it might be prudent to not have it with you. This topic can be debated endlessly, but remember generally bears dont want anything to do with people, they only want a free dinner.

However, considering that a bears nose is 7x greater than a bloodhounds, and a bloodhound can smell where a person walked 12 hrs ago, and what direction they were going. Bears have been known to smell dead carcasses miles away, even underwater.

If you had food in your pack, everything smells like it. Your tent, your sleeping bag, your clothes. Its just a matter of how much. IMO we are generally safe because bears DONT want anything to do with us, not because we have no residual odors on anything.

Edited by livingontheroad on 04/08/2012 21:21:25 MDT.

Paul Johnson
(johncooper) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: What to do with pack at night? on 04/09/2012 03:53:07 MDT Print View

Do you have a picture of this "pack stick" method?

I've never heard of it. Definitely not BSA driven. We usually keep packs in vestibules or the tarp depending on the setup.

Sean Heenan

Locale: Southeast mountains
What to do with a pack at night? on 04/09/2012 05:51:32 MDT Print View

I don't have a picture of it, but it is fairly simple. You find a strong stick around 18 to 24 inches long, nobody is actually measuring, and then lash it to a tree at approximately shoulder height and then hang your pack on the stick. It does get your pack off the ground so little varmits would have a tougher time rummaging through your pack and does get your pack away from your tent so if you are in bear country and your pack has food smells you would not be close to your pack. If it's raining you put your pack cover over the pack.

Bob Shaver
(rshaver) - F

Locale: West
hanging pack on 04/10/2012 10:13:01 MDT Print View

I like to hang a pack around camp to get it off the ground. I usually look for a branch to hang it on for easy access to its contents and to get it off the ground. If there is no danger of bears, I leave it there overnight.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: hanging pack on 04/10/2012 10:30:20 MDT Print View

Having your pack chewed by rodents is more of a hazard than bears and the little monsters can do some real damage. Marmots are infamous for such stuff-- boots too. I guess they like the salt. If you use a trash compactor or garbage bag for a liner, you can hang your pack in a nice weatherproof and less odorous cover using the trash bag. Works good under a hammock too.

Sean Heenan

Locale: Southeast mountains
What to do with a pack at night? on 04/12/2012 17:02:07 MDT Print View

I totally agree that small critters are alot more likely to pilfer from your pack. I was wondering if any of you westerners think the pack stick method would be effective for staving off critters big and small in the Sierras. My son and I hiking in Kings Canyon this summer.

Bruce Tolley

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
What to do with pack at night on 04/12/2012 17:42:08 MDT Print View

I assume we are not talking about Philmont.

A standard lightweight practice which works well in California bear country where bear canisters are not required is to keep your food and snacks in an odor proof (OP) sack during the day. The food can be hung from a tree in a bag at night. I doubt that any food smell would be on the pack.

The pack can then be used as extra insulation as described above.

I have never heard of the stick method and doubt it would stop an aggressive raccoon habituated to human food. It seems awfully complicated. Can you actually find that many free sticks on the ground?

Walter Underwood
(wunder) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Packs and food on 04/23/2012 21:51:40 MDT Print View

Our troop always hangs food because of raccoons (mini-bears) and ground squirrels.

After that, my pack goes in my shelter. The pack isn't very big with the shelter, sleeping bag, and food out of it.

Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: What to do with pack at night? on 04/23/2012 22:48:21 MDT Print View

Sean, small critters can climb tree's and often do so o pack is really safe unless you get all the stuff they like out of it.
Like Walter said, "the pack isn't very big with the shelter, sleeping bag, and food out of it". So size and critters are not an issue so in the shelter/vestibule it goes.

BTW, bringing cord to lash the stick seems to be a waste of effort carrying and lashing.

Ken K
(TheFatBoy) - F

Locale: St. Louis
Outside for bear country, inside when bears are non-issue. on 04/24/2012 21:26:48 MDT Print View

I've never heard of the stick method you describe.

There's not too much worry of bears in Southern IL or eastern MO. Most of the time, my pack just stays in my tent with me, and I've never had a problem of an animal coming in the tent looking for it. When I'm doing Philmont-specific training, it goes under the crews dining fly ("the Philmont way").

In bear country (but not at Philmont), my empty pack is either leaned up a tree at night or hung from a branch separate from the bear bags. In both cases, all the pockets are left open so rodents don't have to chew through it to check out any phantom smells (learned that one the hard way with a granola bar WRAPPER left in a pocket). Making sure all the pockets are open also serves to make SURE I got everything out of it.

Sean Heenan

Locale: Southeast mountains
What to do with a pack at night? on 04/25/2012 19:19:06 MDT Print View

I have used this method while backpacking with my sons troop because that is the way they do it. It does have advantages with a bunch of kids who are not as careful about emptying packs of smellable items. It is not difficult to do, rarely have I had trouble finding a stick, except when there are 20 of us. It seems like some of you already hang their pack or keep their pack away from their shelter at night, and this seems to be the goal of the pack stick method. I have done it both ways now and as a matter of fact just backpacked at Mt. Rodgers in Virginia and just kept my pack in my vestibule at night, it was pouring rain. My thoughts seem to be that it does no harm and may have advantages. In California I thought that it may be a good way to keep backpacks at night, but I may be worrying about bears out there more than I should?

Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
What to do with pack at night? on 04/25/2012 19:39:05 MDT Print View

It all depends on the environment for me. If it is a rainy night I will bring it in the shelter. If it is a nice night I will hang it in a tree near the campsite. I have a full length sleeping pad so I do not use my backpack as a sleeping pad. Keep it simple.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: What to do with pack at night? on 04/25/2012 21:15:55 MDT Print View

I use mine as a pillow.

bill berklich

Locale: Northern Mid-West
Pioneer Lashings on 05/22/2012 05:13:04 MDT Print View

What a great way to get your Scouts to actually use their Pioneer Lashings. I do agree that it generally won't keep the rodents out. I may discourage Ground Squirrels - I've never seen them climb a tree but coons? Those critters will got to great lengths to get what they want and they are smart too. Same with Grey and Red Squirrels. One of my college roommates was being a pain on a trip around the Keweenaw so we tossed a couple of black walnuts in his pack. The Squirrels had a great time tearing it apart ;-)

Robert Kelly
(QiWiz) - MLife

Locale: UL gear @
Pack at night on 05/23/2012 11:29:54 MDT Print View

I take great pains not to contaminate my pack with food odors (I know, I may be kidding myself here) and just hang my mostly empty pack from the apex of my Hexamid tarp (previously from the apex of my Gatewood Cape) or my tarp ridge line, where it serves as a convenient place to keep loose items I need to put somewhere or find during the night. Food and smellables are in an OP sack, usually inside a bag that is PCT-method hung in bear country, or in a critter bag tied to a tree close by (Ursak Minor) in non-bear country.

Guy Sanders
(coloradowalt) - F

Locale: Southeast
My Guess As To Why on 05/24/2012 10:33:29 MDT Print View

As a former boy and boy scout :-) I would venture to guess that the "stick lash" method is as much about camp order as any other reason.

Todd Kunze

Locale: North Coast
What to do with pack on 12/21/2013 09:50:14 MST Print View

I just clove hitch a line around a tree and then biner my pack hanger handle to it. I then use the waist straps and wrap and cinch around the tree. The pack is empty and zips are open. I may put my pack cover on it as well.
You can accomplish same thing without the stick.

Food is in bear bag or with me in tent depending on area. Sometimes I may keep pack in my tent but it's emptied out then as well.

Bruce Tolley

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
What to do with a pack at night on 12/21/2013 10:04:18 MST Print View

it sounds like some old school tradition.

Other posters have referenced the Philmont practice which I have seen some Troops in California practice with some modification outside Philmont Namely, hang food separately and leave the packs outside the tents.

I am not sure what purpose lashing the packs to the trees serves and, if the food is still inside the packs, it is not really a deterrent to critters. A separate "bear" bag would fulfill that function and be in line with BSA Leave No Trace principles.

I guess I would worry about where the Scouts are finding all these stout sticks and what happens to the trees when the ropes are lashed and subsequently untied. If the campsite looks impacted after the fact with 20 stout sticks lying around that were broken off live trees, then it might be time to adopt some other procedure. If the campsite looks like the Troop was never there, then you are probably OK.

You could perhaps get some of the Scouts (and Scouters) into the BSA LNT training and then have them assess current practices. There is a LNT patch that the Scouts can earn and LNT is a major part of the Camping MB.

Caleb Johnson
Alternative on 12/21/2013 10:40:24 MST Print View

Assuming the pack were weathertight (compactor liner, etc) and relatively light, is there any obvious reason not to just hang the whole thing rather than using a separate bear bag?

Bruce Tolley

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
What to do with a pack at night on 12/21/2013 10:53:57 MST Print View

@ Caleb
This question was posted in the context of a BSA Troop backpacking with what I assumed to be traditional gear.

If it is just one or two folks with lightweight packs, I assume you could hang the whole pack in such a way that raccoons and bears could not get to it. Since I use a short pad, I usually stuff my pack under my feet at night.

When I lead a group of 12 to 20 or more twelve-year olds, I focus on hanging the food in "bear" bags. You can have 3, 4 or 5 Scouts attach their bags to one small carabiner on a rope which simplifies the whole process. If you are base camping, you can leave the rope and carabiner in place and just haul the bag up at night and down in the morning. Having the food in bags, also helps the Scouts keep the food together in their packs during the day especially on longer trips.

Caleb Johnson
Scouts on 12/21/2013 11:02:00 MST Print View

You're right, I definitely jumped off the original topic at hand a bit. It was more of a personal curiosity than a relevant point. I've been debating purchasing a full bear bagging kit for my upcoming section hike versus just picking up some cord and a mini carabiner.

pack on 12/21/2013 12:07:19 MST Print View

"Assuming the pack were weathertight (compactor liner, etc) and relatively light, is there any obvious reason not to just hang the whole thing rather than using a separate bear bag?"

How about because now instead of just losing your food to a bear, you lost your pack too. Makes it hard to carry your gear out if you know what I mean.

If a bear gets a food bag, he might eat the food there, or carry it off a ways and you never find the remains.

Bruce Tolley

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
What do to do with pack at Night on 12/21/2013 14:02:08 MST Print View

@ M.B.
How about because now instead of just losing your food to a bear, you lost your pack too. Makes it hard to carry your gear out if you know what I mean.

Caleb Johnson
Eh? on 12/21/2013 14:35:19 MST Print View

How, exactly, is a bear going to escape with a pack that's hung from a tree well over its head?

Bruce Tolley

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Eh What to do with pack on 12/21/2013 15:09:41 MST Print View

'If Bear takes the pack....

Admittedly, the probability is low that this could happen, and I have never seen it happen but if it did, the bear would most likely shred the pack to get to the food.

I have seen bears go for my hung food. And I have had bears approach my camp while cooking dinner.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Eh? on 12/21/2013 18:47:09 MST Print View

"How, exactly, is a bear going to escape with a pack that's hung from a tree well over its head?"

Black bears can climb trees. I admit that a mature black bear might be too fat to climb some trees, but that is why the mother bear sends her cubs up the tree. Cubs can climb pretty fast, and they are not always careful. The cub might get just one paw of claws on the pack as it falls, but that might be enough to destroy a pack.

We used to refer to bear cubs as Kamikaze Bears.


?? on 12/22/2013 09:00:13 MST Print View

"How, exactly, is a bear going to escape with a pack that's hung from a tree well over its head?"

Are you thinking that hanging food is 100% effective?

There is a reason the bear cannister exists and is required in many areas.

A determined bear, will eventually get food hung from a tree, given enough time.

They can gnaw the limb off, gnaw thru the cord, drop onto the bag and pop the cord or rip it open.

They are incredibly strong acrobatic climbers. Small bears live in trees, Ive watched them eating in the top of a tree 50' off the ground. They can climb and hold on for hours on a branch with legs and one paw, using the other paw and teeth to gnaw thru something.

Edited by livingontheroad on 12/22/2013 09:08:41 MST.

Dan Lee
(scoutbuff) - MLife

Locale: Colorado
NEVER TEST A BEAR... on 01/02/2014 12:38:01 MST Print View

I was backpacking in the Sierras with a couple of buddies in my younger years (~20 years ago) and had an encounter that taught me to NEVER underestimate bears.

We had dinner (fresh lake trout BTW), "cleared" our packs of smellables in a cannister and stashed the cannister several hundred feet from our site. As we began to fall asleep, a scraping sound woke us up only to realize that a bear had my pack in his mouth about 25 feet from us. We jumped up, roared and threw some rocks at him. He dropped the pack, took a long look at us and lumbered off.

Here are my biggest lessons... 1) Bears are silent and can seem to appear out of nowhere. To get to my pack (we were camped between some very large rocks) he had to step over one of us when we weren't fully off to dreamland. 2) Clear EVERYTHING that MIGHT smell and stash your pack away from where you're sleeping. After retrieving my pack, I found that I had inadvertently left an empty baggie in one of my side pockets that had previously carried some trail mix. We suspect he smelled our dinner, simply came into our camp and found what he could.

Whether you choose to hang your food or stash it in a cannister, make sure you get all smellables out of your pack. Unless I'm snow caving, my pack is always away from my sleep area. You can make your own risk/reward decision but I'll never test a bear. -DL

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Never provide positive reinforcement to a black bear on 01/02/2014 13:18:30 MST Print View

>"but I'll never test a bear."

Whereas I always challenge black bears. Grizzlies, OTOH, I don't confront nor run from. I move away slowly while they move away, eventually, quickly.

As a teenager backpacking in the Sierra, black bears would freak me out. I gave that up. It can BE my breakfast, but I won't let it EAT my breakfast.

bears on 01/02/2014 16:18:12 MST Print View

heres what you need to know about black bears and hanging food:

bear 1

bear 2

bear 3

bar 4

Gary Dunckel
(Zia-Grill-Guy) - MLife

Locale: Boulder
Never provide positive reinforcement to a black bear on 01/02/2014 17:09:21 MST Print View

I say we put David and his breakfast in a huge cage with a hungry black bear, and you know, see what happens, and how he does it. Kat Pee will film it, -B.G.- and the Idester will be the referees, and I'll sell tickets to pay the zoo for the cage rental and also our travel expenses to get to/from there. Animal Planet is sure to buy the rights to Kat's footage, and we'll all be well funded for our 2014 gear purchases!

just Justin Whitson
Re: ?? on 01/02/2014 17:34:03 MST Print View

Re: those pics of the black bear getting the food.

and he must be, an acrobat, to talk like this, and hang like that..