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Bear canisters in the backcountry
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robert mcmahon
(mcmahonr) - F
Bear canisters in the backcountry on 06/07/2005 13:53:40 MDT Print View

Most of my backpacking in the Sierras for the past 30yrs has been in the high above treeline areas, mostly offtrail. Bears are rarely seen at high altitude, since their natural foods are down in the woodlands. They become a problem at the high traffic trails and camps where people have carelessly left food unsecured. Most heavy trafficed bear-prone campsites now have bear boxes for food storage. The NPS and USFS is now requiring approved bear canisters as a condition for almost all trail permits, EVEN FOR OFF TRAIL CROSSCOUNTRY TRAVEL. I have always practiced safe food storage when traveling through bear-prone areas. But I resent now having to carry the extra weight of a bear canister into areas where no bear will go because of rarity of encountering humans and the lack of any natural food sources. The High Sierras are a great place to travel light because of the gentle climate and its open terrain allows one to get away from people (and bears). I resent the NPS and USFS adding to my pack burden. Anyone care to comment?

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Bear Cans on 06/07/2005 14:40:49 MDT Print View

I agree. I have been backpacking in the Sierra's now for 12 years and have only had the pleasure of seeing one bear, last year in Yosemite. I am dumbfounded that the powers that be will not allow an Ursack in SEKI and Yosemite when it passed all of their tests. What gives? All of the other areas in the Sierra's that I have used an Ursack (Emmigrant, Hoover Wilderness, Tahoe area) I have never once had a "bear encounter". Hmmmmmmmmmm.

Mike Storesund
(mikes) - F
Bear Canisters on 06/07/2005 17:31:22 MDT Print View

I have only come across a brown bear once in the Sierras and that was above Lake Isabella by Roads End in 1984. I have come across brown bear on two different occasions in the Pike National Forest in Colorado. Both times we were close to established campsites and they just passed through our site on their way to the established site.
With the saying "A fed bear is a dead bear" I suspect those of us that are responsible are having to pay (in the additional weight of the canister) for those irresponsible 'Car Campers' that mostly come out on amateur weekends (Memorial Day, 4th of July and labor Day). Therefore another coined phrase - "One rotten apple spoils the bunch."

I too do not understand why the authoritative agencies are not allowing the Ursack even after passing tests. Perhaps they are considering the scarring of trees IF a bear attempts to try for a hanging sack.
Of course, no one is stopping you from taking your items out of the canister once you receive the permit. However, I understand the fines are quite stiff if you are caught.
Good luck.

Edited by mikes on 06/07/2005 17:36:23 MDT.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Bear cans on 06/07/2005 19:32:58 MDT Print View

Yep the fines are quite steep and the lectures that you have to endure from a ranger is quite funny. What's not funny is when a beautiful bear has to be put down for becoming too habitualized with human food. I had a lecture from a very friendly female ranger in Little Yosemite Valley last year on the last night of a wonderful trip with some friends. She told us that the bear was bluff charging other backpackers and becoming increasingly hostile when trying to obtain food. Geez I wonder how she became so brazen about gathering food. Little Yosemite Valley is only 4.5 miles from Yosemite Valley and an easy pack trip from the valley so many novices and such can take a little trip into the wilderness. Unfortunately, the bear was a mother and she was teaching her cubs the same methods.....sad. The destruction of such beautiful animals saddens me a great deal. I hate using cannisters but also understand the reasoning behind it. Too bad I can't pull out my "I'm a seasoned backpacker" badge and pass go and use my other alternative methods for storage. For those who are interested, Bearvault is making a half size cannister that weighs in at around 25 oz. I own one and love it. It stores enough food for 3-4 days. Just a thought.

Edited by kennyhel77 on 06/07/2005 19:33:30 MDT.

John Carter
(jcarter1)

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Ursack prohibited on 06/07/2005 19:58:27 MDT Print View

So they are concerned about the bears scraping off bark, yet they aren't concerned about the trail damage due to stock use? Sounds like a bad excuse. More likely they are concerned that some idiot will use an Ursack incorrectly, such as forget to tie a knot in the cord or put it in an OP sack. Ya gotta keep things real simple for them general folks, like screwing a lid off and back on.

Dylan Skola
(phageghost) - F

Locale: Southern California
Current ursack status on 06/07/2005 22:04:36 MDT Print View

http://ursack.blogspot.com/

Check the Nov 9 entry for the abstract of the SIBBG study, with Ursack's comments. Potential for tree and soil damage seems to be the sticking point.

Edited by phageghost on 06/07/2005 22:05:39 MDT.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
bear cans on 06/08/2005 14:40:32 MDT Print View

Well as I said before in 12 years I have only seen one bear. I don't stealth camp and I have been in some "high" activity bear areas. I really think that the powers that be are being a little ridiculous on not allowing Ursacks.

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Re: bear cans on 06/08/2005 15:34:47 MDT Print View

Ok, since no one is going to do it, I guess I will have too – just to make sure another point of view enter into the discussion. Every so often this topic comes up and it is always the same – people don’t want to carry a bear can, they never see bears, its only the idiots who get bothered by bears, etc. etc. I agree it is a hassle and I appreciate the sentiment since it seem about %70 of my trips now require bear cans.

Nevertheless, someone always needs to remind people, even the sophisticated backpackers in this forum, that the regulations on bear cans are *not* about you, or whether you might loose your lunch. They are about the bears, and only about the bears. If you haven’t seen or been bothered by raiding bears in the last few decades perhaps you should thank several decade of enforcement of the bear can rule. We don’t want to go back to the early seventies when there was an orders of magnitude more trouble, at least in the worst places like Yosemite. The fact is that research has shown that Bears are very smart, and the kind of high cal food that we carry is like bear heroin. It usually only takes one experience of getting a taste of it, and its association with humans, to turn a bear into a raider for life. Unfortunately relocating such bears is very expensive, and often is futile ending up with the bears having to be put down.

I’m guessing (but don’t know) that the reason why Ursacks are not yet acceptable is that after the bear has chewed on the bag for half an hour he may get at least a little taste of something leaking out. You will not loose your lunch, but for the bear it will not matter. It would be just as bad for the bear as feeding it. It’s not about protecting you or your food, its about protecting the bears from making *any* association between humans and food whatsoever, and all that that implies.

So IMHO these kinds of discussion usually make the mistake of dealing with the statistics in the wrong way. First, the fact that you don’t see any bears may have a lot to do with the long term education of backpackers and other visitors and the enforcement of the regulations. Second, it only has to happen once for a bear to end up a problem, and possibly dead. If carrying a 2.5 lbs can it what it takes to protect the life on a single bear, then I say do it. And even if respecting the regulation only has symbolic value but helps support the general climate of concern for the bears then I say do it. Its not about you, its about the bears.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Bear Cans on 06/08/2005 17:34:12 MDT Print View

Mark I could not agree with you more. It does sadden me (look at one of my earlier posts on this subject) when a bear has to be put down. I take using a cannister in stride as a nescessary evil. I do know the ramifications of bears raiding my food supplies. I just wished that there was lighter options available. Bearvault is making a smaller cannister but there still has to be some middle ground somewhere.

Michael Martin
(MikeMartin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: North Idaho
Re: Bear Cans on 06/08/2005 17:58:25 MDT Print View

Ken-

I saw a mini Bearvault on their website called the "BV250 Solo" that they claim weighs 30oz.

Is this the one you mentioned in your prior post? Or, are they coming out with one that's even lighter?

Best Regards,

-Mike

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Re: Bear Cans on 06/08/2005 18:46:49 MDT Print View

uhh actually that probably is the correct weight that you listed. Sorry. I was just going off the top of my head on the weight. Being that I am such a ounce weenie I should have listed the correct weight. My apologies. I bought one a month ago and used it in Yosemite a couple of weeks ago and was quite pleased with it. For an overnighter or 3-4 days it is well worth it. I was getting quite frustrated using my Garcia for overnighters in Yosemite. This meets my needs completely.

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Re: Bear Cans on 06/08/2005 19:32:18 MDT Print View

I suppose the main problem is the size since you can't mess with that too much. Maybe in country where there are no grizzlies the authorities could be made to accept a slightly smaller size since black bear probably would have trouble carrying a can that grizzlies would be able to pick up. I’m not sure but I believe one of the “official” testers of new bear-proof devices is a griz in a zoo.

The other problem is thickness since the can would have to be strong enough to withstand some bashing.

But when you look at the materials to do this it is hard to find some material that will work better. When you think about ultralight we really have nothing in this category. Most of out gear will not stand for accidental abuse by a human, let alone intentional abuse by a bear. You could make one out of thin titanium but it would cost an arm and a leg. I can se it now - for the backpacker who has everything (and some of us nearly do), a titanium bear can (monographed, of course) made out of space age materially - $2000 at Goldman sacks. Right next to the solid gold cufflinks. I work at NASA and as far as I know we have nothing stronger, lighter and cheaper.

On the other hand ….I did a few back of the envelop calculations and you could decrease the weight of a bear can while keeping the volume constant by making the height and diameter equal (that is optimal). This would allow for about a %5 reduction in weight. I’m not sure why the elongated shape is optimal. If you cold make a bear-sphere you could reduce the weight a little more than %13 saving almost 6 oz! Not that great, but hey, in this crowd, that’s pretty major. Isn’t that how much Ryan’s pack weighs? Easier to pack the inside – no corners. I suppose it would take some planning to put in your pack. Multiple use as a soccer ball!

And then there is the bear rolling problem!

You could save more substantial amounts by making smaller cans for smaller trips, but unless you are prepared to spend a lot of money, there isn’t a lot to be done while leaving the protection the same.

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
decreasing the size on 06/08/2005 19:51:16 MDT Print View

Remember that you can't make it smaller that a black bear's mouth. Since black bears are about 1/3 the weight of a griz, by scaling this would imply a mouth with linear dimensions of about %70 that of a griz. So that's how much you could decrease the size of a can to be use in black bear country. It would weigh about 1/2 (%48 to be precise, as Mr. Spock would say) of a traditional sized can, and would carry 1/3 of the food. That would be pretty good for a weekend and still presumably pass muster.

That seem to be a good as you could do. You could get back to 1 weeks rations by using small food. All you have to do now is convince someone to make one.

By the way, all of this information will appear in my forthcoming book, "A Mathematical Treatise on Cannus Ursus" :-)

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Bear Cans on 06/08/2005 19:54:36 MDT Print View

Great reply there Mark! You should check out that new Barvault cannister though. Pretty nice.

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Re: Bear Cans on 06/08/2005 20:21:36 MDT Print View

Ken,

I like, I like. In fact I just ordered one. I also like the fact that it is clear, and that it appears to have a large opening. I like the fact that it has a more manageble size even more than the weight savings. Thanks for the tip.

Michael Martin
(MikeMartin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: North Idaho
Re: Bear Cans on 06/08/2005 21:42:31 MDT Print View

Ken, Thanks for the info. Just ordered one also. :)

Edited by MikeMartin on 06/08/2005 21:43:51 MDT.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Re: bear cans on 06/08/2005 22:29:02 MDT Print View

some mos. ago i read on the web how "testing" of a would be bear can/sack was performed. unfortunately, my "old-timers" is actin' up & i can't remember the website.

basically, the article mentioned that a prev. rogue bear, now having a mailing address at some zoo, is the "tester".

supposedly, according to the article, Ursack failed, not b/c the bear managed to get any food out of it during 30 min., or so, of wreaking havoc on the "sack", but b/c of one or more tooth punctures.

if i recall this article correctly, this would support a prev. poster's contention that the Ursack might allow a bear to make a connection b/t the "sack", humans, & food.

don't have time now to search the web (it's after midnight here & i need to get up in 3hrs for work). i'll try to locate the URL tomorrow & then post it.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Bearvault weekender on 06/09/2005 17:10:19 MDT Print View

Just checked on the weight of the Bearvault Weekender and it weighs in at 30oz.

Edited by kennyhel77 on 06/09/2005 17:15:00 MDT.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Bearvault on 06/09/2005 17:14:26 MDT Print View

I have used my Bearvault for one weekend so far and it was a complete sucess. For weekend trips in which you have to use a cannister this is perfect. Smaller in size (real important) and less weight (real important) at 30oz. It does have a large opening and it is pretty close to the width of other cannisters. It is just shorter.

Edited by kennyhel77 on 06/09/2005 17:16:02 MDT.

robert mcmahon
(mcmahonr) - F
bear cannisters redux on 06/11/2005 21:59:07 MDT Print View

Well, I probably will get one of the lightweight Bearvaults, if for no other reason than to avoid a ticket from the ranger. But my original point stands. Bears are very, very smart. They know backpackers carry calorie rich food and will seek them out and find ways to get the food (they have learned to defeat the old bear hang method) But they are also smart enough to know its not worth the energy expenditure to roam sparsely traveled backcountry to find the rare backpacker, when more likely pickings can be found along the main thoroughfares. So I object to the NPS treating all areas the same. Yes, when I go through Kearsarge Lakes I use the metal bear boxes for storage, but when I am deep in the wilds of places like Brewer Basin, the Kaweahs, Ionian Basin and other pretty inaccessible areas I hardly see the need for a bear canister. If bombproof food storage is the answer, why not have a few more bear boxes established? Especially along the backpacker mainlines.
Another note. Along the Rogue River in Oregon the BLM has been putting in small portable electric fences for food storage at campsites previously frequented by rowdy bears. A battery in a box powers a couple of strands of electric wire around a very small (maybe 6ft by 6ft)enclosure. You use some insulated handles to open the fence and put in your food. It has been very effective at reducing bear pilferage at high use rafter/backpacker campsites. The negative reinforcement is so powerful that now simply placing some stakes resembling the electric fence is enough to scare off the bears. NPS take note.