We are continuing bear month on Prone to Wandering. When you’re out and about as much as I am, knowing how to keep your campsite bear free is definitely a skill to learn. An important part of that is knowing how to store your food, and keep it away from bears by hanging it in a bear bag- both for your sake, and theirs. If bears become accustomed to human presence and human food, it puts us in danger while camping or hiking, and eventually the bear in danger as well.
How To Hang a Bear Bag
There are many different methods. In the past, I have always just thrown my line over a tree, hoisted it into the air, and tied the line off on another tree, which is a simple method. However there are drawbacks to this method: if a bear in a particular area is used to humans hanging their food, there is a chance that the bear will know to swipe at the line tied to the tree.
This past weekend while I was camping with some friends, I experimented with the PCT method that I’ve been seeing online. While a little tricky to get right, I see the value of the system, e
specially as bears can’t toss down your line as easily as they would with a simple tie off. You’d need to carry a few small items that you wouldn’t otherwise have, but if you are tying a bear bag every night, they become necessary kit. Here are steps to follow for hanging a bag in the PCT Method, and the “simple” method I’ve used before while camping. For all methods, the bear bag should hang 12-15 feet off the ground, and 6-8 feet away from the trunk. Codey and I learned the hard way about hanging the bag too close to the trunk.
- A thick stick
- Your Bear Bag
Steps in the PCT Method
- Throw your rope over the branch where you want to hang your bear bag.
- Attach your carabiner to one end of the rope (Rope End A).
- Attach your food bag to the carabiner.
- Take the end of the rope that is not attached to the carabiner (Rope End B), and feed it through the carabiner, making a loop.
- Pull on Rope End B to hoist your food bag into the air.
- While the bag is in the air, attach a thick stick to Rope End B. (it would be nice to have a friend to help hold the bag here!) I use a clove hitch knot.
- Release the bag gently. It will lower a little bit, and then the stick will catch on the carabiner, stopping it where it is.
- Throw one end of your rope over the tree branch.
- Tie one end of the rope to the top of your bear bag.
- Hoist the bag in the air.
- Tie off the loose end around a tree across from your bag, or attach to a stake.
For a printout of the steps, and a checklist for bear proofing your campsite, enter your email below!
Materials Used for Bear Bags
The bag that I typically bring with me is a waterproof roll up bag. For lightweight hikers, this would not be practical. However, I have found it useful on short trips for storing my food. It is waterproof and is made of good durable material. It also clips at the top so it is easy to attach to the carabiner.
You can really use anything for your bear bag- however, keep in mind that a bear’s sense of smell is far greater than a human’s. So if you can get odor free bags to store your food in, that will decrease the probability of a bear coming to investigate. You can get odor free bags or bear canisters at your local outdoor store. You can make your own bear bag and bring your own materials, or you can buy fully ready ones. There are lots of options to keep your food away for those bears.
Bear Lockers and Bear Safe Bins
Many backcountry campsites have bear lockers and bear safe bins. For example, in the Kananaskis region where I live in Alberta, all the designated backcountry sites have bear lockers! So the other day when I was practicing hanging a bear bag in the PCT method, I was doing so in plain view of designated bear lockers- which might have made me look a bit silly. But if these are available, use them! They are already set up in the proper place, away from campsites, and would be odor free and sealed with a latch- a bear isn’t getting into one of those anytime soon! Bear safe bins can be found at most day use areas in parks that you can dump your garbage into. If there are no bins- pack out!
A Note for Lightweight Hikers: I was reading about the different ways people tie bear bags, and came across this cool article on Section Hiker about ultralight bear bags, if you want further reading!
Continue to learn about how to keep yourself safe from bears by learning about bear spray and how to use it! What method do you use for hanging a bear bag? Comment below!!