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Any advice for bear bagging?
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Cary Dwiggins

Locale: NW
Any advice for bear bagging? on 01/27/2013 10:44:48 MST Print View

I have never correctly hung a bear bag. I've been thinking about it, so I dragged my 13 year old to the local woods to practice. We tried for an hour to get our line over our chosen branch, to no avail. I've decided that bear bagging is only for strong tall men, or at least those with better arms than my son and me. This is why my bear bag attempts have been so pathetic when out in the backcountry. My attempts have only achieved a hang that most bears could probably reach if they wanted to. I have only attempted the PCT method, as I don't believe any other method would be successful in its purpose.

Should I just give up and get an Ursack? There is no way a bear vault would fit my family's trash, pots and food. It's not like I'm traveling places where they are required. But I have done the Rogue River in Oregon (and saw several bears), and of course used their bear repellant areas where possible.


James Reilly
(zippymorocco) - M

Locale: Montana
Rock Pouch? on 01/27/2013 11:04:57 MST Print View

Have you tried a rock pouch? I've not used them myself but am sure they would help a lot.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Any advice for bear bagging? on 01/27/2013 11:07:39 MST Print View

I don't know what to recommend for bear bagging other than more practice. I'd put in the time to do that rather than carry a bear container if it's not required.

But as for your assumption that an Ursack would give you more room than a canister, I'm not sure that makes a big difference. They weigh less for an equivalent volume, but they're not huge.

You mention not being able to fit trash, pots, and food.

Pots don't need to go into a bear container; just wash them.

As for trash, if you're talking food trash and wrappers, what starts as a full food package in your canister take up far less space as an empty you can repackage and consolidate things at home to produce less trash. I can typically finish a week long trip with only one quart-sized ziplock of trash at the end.

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
Bear bagging on 01/27/2013 11:15:31 MST Print View

If you don't have a rock pouch, I would try one.
Site selection is key too. Spend more time looking for a good tree than you spend throwing rocks.

Cary Dwiggins

Locale: NW
well... on 01/27/2013 11:43:31 MST Print View

I do have a rock pouch. I just simply can't throw high enough. I'm sore from all of our throwing:p. Any branch that I can manage to get my pouch over results in a hang that I can almost reach from the ground. Also, I take my kids out with me, so we create quite a bit of trash.

I was wishing for some sort of launcher to get my rock bag over the branch.


I know I'm completely pathetic. I can't even lift my 130 lb self up for a single pull- up.

Randy Nelson
(rlnunix) - F - M

Locale: Rockies
Bear bagging on 01/27/2013 11:51:38 MST Print View

Definitely use a throw sack. Probably like most people, my line is kept it and the mini-biner clipped to it. So it's kind of dual purpose.

I've played baseball and softball a good portion of my life, but for bear bagging, I toss it up underhand. My bag will hold a rock a little smaller than fist size and I try to find one that will pretty much fill it. Don't get very far away from the branch. Just toss it up and over. And be ready to get out of the way of a miss or toss that bounce off the branch. It doesn't take much arm strength to underhand a decent weight rock 20-30 feet up. Use your legs for a little more power.

When I've seen people struggle with it, they are usually standing well away from the branch and trying to overhand it. Makes for a longer, tougher throw.

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Any advice for bear bagging? on 01/27/2013 12:15:22 MST Print View

Years ago, before we had bear canisters, there was the Yosemite method of bear bagging. This is the two-rope-two-bag method. Still, you have to get the first line up in the tree.

Some people recruit a friend with a baseball throwing arm to go along and throw the first line. Some use the overhand throw. Some use the underhand throw. Some sling it like David and Goliath.

If you are trying to throw a rock in a roch pouch with a big rope behind it, you will have great difficulty. If you do it with a teeny tiny cord, it is much easier. Part of that comes from having the cord laid out on the ground between you and the tree branch, so the cord can be "taken up" without any snags. Once you get the first cord up over the branch, it can be used to pull up a heavier cord if that is needed.

For one particular campsite, I knew that there was only one suitable tree to use. For it, I could stand uphill from the branch so that I didn't have to throw the cord so far up. I threw it more outward, and that made it a lot easier.

If you start your baseball throwing exercises now, your arm will be ready in time for backpacking season. Think of this as spring training camp.

If all else fails, you could get a big bear canister. No throwing required.


Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: Any advice for bear bagging? on 01/27/2013 12:32:33 MST Print View

My first piece of advice is get a canister. I gave up on bear bagging myself after I got tired of having to camp where the trees were suited for hanging instead of camping where I wanted to. As others have mentioned, pots don't need to be in the canister - just wash them and leave them out. A bear may sniff them, even lick them, but no damage will be done if they are away from where you sleep. Trash is more a matter of management - after all, the trash can't take up more volume than the food did when it was in the package, right?

However - if you must hang, you need to learn to sling your rock up into the tree. Which means using a rock sack,and swinging the rope around in a circle to get up momentum, and then releasing at the right moment and angle so that the rock goes where you want it to. It will take a lot of practice, but it will allow you to get the rock higher than you can throw it.

John Harper
(johnnyh88) - MLife

Locale: The SouthWest
re: Any advice for bear bagging? on 01/27/2013 13:25:55 MST Print View

I gave up on bear bagging and bought an Ursack. I don't regret it one bit. Not wasting 15-30 minutes every day hanging my food, looking for a good tree, and getting frustrated is worth the weight penalty to me (about 4-5 oz). Additionally, I honestly could not always find a good tree and had several sub-par hangs. You don't always have many choices when in a canyon. I figure a bear has less chance of getting into my food with an Ursack than with a poor hang, which is better for both the bear and me.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: re: Any advice for bear bagging? on 01/27/2013 14:23:34 MST Print View

I don't get it

Loop line around rock several times and tie with taut line hitch, pull tight.

Throw over branch - maybe under handed.

Maybe it takes several throws. Maybe it comes off the rock and you have to re-tie. Maybe you have to select a different rock that is shaped better. Good for a laugh or two at pathetic throwing, rock selection, and tieing skills.

But, I mainly just go in PNW where bears aren't that big a problem. Rodents are the main culprits and maybe Raccoons.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Re: well... on 01/27/2013 17:22:59 MST Print View

"I do have a rock pouch. I just simply can't throw high enough. I'm sore from all of our throwing:p. Any branch that I can manage to get my pouch over results in a hang that I can almost reach from the ground. Also, I take my kids out with me, so we create quite a bit of trash."

Don't use a 5 lb rock!!!!! :).

Agree with the others, the key is finding that perfect tree and a bit of practice. Just don't wack yourself in the head with the rock.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Sling the rock bag on 01/27/2013 18:39:23 MST Print View

I, too, hate having a sore shoulder from repeatedly attempting to throw a fair-sized rock again and again.

"However - if you must hang, you need to learn to sling your rock up into the tree. Which means using a rock sack,and swinging the rope around in a circle to get up momentum, and then releasing at the right moment and angle so that the rock goes where you want it to. It will take a lot of practice, but it will allow you to get the rock higher than you can throw it."

Yup, that's the ticket. Imagine Ayla from Clan of the Cave Bear, whipping a stone in a sling around her head before accurately casting it to dispatch a hyena or scare off a cave lion (backpackers were tougher back then!). Then turn that whole assembly 90 degrees - not a horizontal circle but a vertical one.

The bigger the circle, the more energy you've pumped into the rock bag and the further it will fly - way too far is easy to do. To allow a bigger circle, you can stand on a flat log or boulder to get a few more feet off the ground.

Rock bags (versus a cord around a rock) are especially good for the sling technical. Because the rock gets traveling FAST and if it comes loose, it could veer off and hit someone or go straight up and put yourself at risk.

You can lay our the extra line towards the target tree so it doesn't get tangled as you release the rock.

Try this at home only if you have a very large yard. Otherwise, find an empty field or park.

You've a got a kid along? Make a game of it. Put a target up in a tree at home and have the kids compete to see who can hit it first / most often / hardest. Then they'll have the timing and rock speed to arc over the desired branch. They also be all sighted in, should there be a bear on that branch late at night. THAT'S when I really throw my arm out - throwing heavy rocks as hard as I can at the bear.

Kevin Babione
(KBabione) - MLife

Locale: Pennsylvania
Over the branch on 01/28/2013 08:37:39 MST Print View

I use a rock sack and get the line going in a 2-foot diameter loop in a forward direction (my natural inclination was to loop backward). It doesn't take too long for you to realize the point where you need to release the line (right around 11:00) to get the arc you need to go up and over your branch. One of my friends could only loop it backwards so he'd walk past the target branch and actually release the rock sack backwards over his head.

I've used this to go over branches 20-25 feet in the air and it only takes a try or two now.

With that said, our group policy is that the new guy (if there is one) is responsible for putting the line over the branch. It's usually good for a laugh or two.

Mike V
(deadbox) - F - M

Locale: Midwest
RE: Any advice for bear bagging? on 01/28/2013 08:55:53 MST Print View

I am unsure why you are having trouble with a PCT hang unless you are trying for a branch that is over 25' up or you are using way too heavy rock(s). Try to keep the weight of the throw sack to less than a baseball and throwing 15'-25' up should not be difficult, even if you do not have much upper body strength. Also don't stand directly under the branch, throwing at an angle is much easier than strait up, also this makes it less likely to hit yourself with a rock!

Here is a helpful link for how to use the PCT method. Happy hiking!

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
+1 Ursack on 01/29/2013 11:00:11 MST Print View

In the real world, most bear bag hangs don't look as neat and nice as do the illustrations you might see on a powerpoint slide in a beginning backpacking class or in a book about backpacking. The majority of hangs I've seen range from inadequate to pathetic, given that black bears evolved to climb trees. Flight responses from black bears I've encountered are more typically of the "run away" sort, but I've definitely seen them climb the closest tree instead, quite quickly and effectively.

In that context, I think that it's better to carry an Ursack. Use an odor proof liner, and follow the instructions and recommendations.

Of course use an approved canister when hiking in areas that require those. But in contrast to hanging food, an Ursack is in general a superior way I think for the average person. Not only to have an easier time of it with this otherwise frustrating and sometimes time consuming issue, but to do a better job of keeping bears from getting to your food --- with all the unfortunate consequences that entails for future hikers, and for the bear(s) involved.'

Hmm, while the above could be read as me being a paid shill for Ursack, I'm not --- no connection, I just think it's generally a better compromise. Maybe I would see this differently if I hiked more in areas with lots of deciduous trees of the sort that have long strong branches.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Another Ursack fan here on 01/29/2013 13:53:45 MST Print View

I also use an Ursack unless a bear canister is required. As Brian says, it's really important to use an odor resistant sack inside the Ursack. Thanks to arthritis and a general lack of skill, I can't throw and I never could hit the side of a barn when inside it anyway.

Do note that there are a few places where bears have learned that any hanging bag is a piƱata but canisters are, for some reason, not required. For those, I recommend a canister or at least a really good high hang. Otherwise the bears will keep after the Ursack for hours until they get finally inside.

As with any other item, it's really important to follow the directions exactly. If the opening of the Ursack isn't closed tight, the mice and birds will get in even if a bear doesn't!

And no, there's no way you'll get your pots inside; the space in an Ursack is similar to the large Bear Vault or Bearikade Weekender. Wash the pots or use the "Freezer Bag" method in which you rehydrate in the plastic bag containing your dinner and your pot only contains water (see for details). You can cut trash to a minimum by repackaging at home. Remember that the amount of space used by the food is (or should be) far more than the volume of your trash. That's been true even when my grandkids have come along on the trip.

Edited by hikinggranny on 01/29/2013 14:00:20 MST.