Jeff Ryan, Author & Speaker

Bearproofing your food in the backcountry

Few things are better than enjoying meals in the backcountry. Few things are worse than encountering a bear intent on them away from you.

There are three methods for minimizing the likelihood of a bear (or bears) marauding your stash: bear bagging, bear canisters and the latest invention, using an Ursack.

Bear bagging

Bear bagging involves hoisting a bag (or bags) of food and other bear attracting items over a tree limb and suspending them safely out of reach.
Pros: Doesn’t require much extra gear other than a 50′ rope and a carabiner.
Cons: Time consuming, trees/branches for proper set up may not be available.

Bear canister

A bear canister (trade name “Bear Vault”) is a shatter-resistant plastic container with a wind down top designed to frustrate bears. The idea is to place your food and other items in the container, then stow it safely away from your tent.
Pros: No set-up time. REQUIRED for use in many national parks (where bear bagging and Ursacks may be prohibited).
Cons: Heavy, rigid (not easy to load and carry with backpack).


An Ursack is a stuff sack made using Kevlar®. The fabric is so tough that it fends off bear clawing and biting. When properly sealed and tied from a tree branch, it is proven remarkably effective.
Pros: Lightweight (compared to canister or carrying hoisting rope). Packs easily.
Cons: Not approved for use in most national parks that currently require canisters. NOTE: Some parks are beginning to allow the use of Ursacks as an alternative to canisters. Be sure to check park requirements in advance of your trip.

See also  In Appreciation of Lesser Known Hiking Trails

Overview of all three methods

Dave Collins at Clever Hiker has put together this great overview of all three techniques.

About shelters

Animals know where they can find food. That means shelters are popular hangouts for mice, squirels, chipmunks and other critters. They’ve come to learn that oatmeal flakes, pieces of ramen noodles and other goodies are easy takings. Thus, if you use a shelter:

  • Practice safe food storage habits such hanging food.
  • Hang your pack with pockets unzipped to deters rodents from chewing through your pack in search of food.
  • Cook and eat outside of the shelter whenever possible.
  • Be careful to minimize food spillage.
  • Don’t leave bags of unused food hanging in the hope that other hikers will enjoy what you’ve left behind. Pack it out with you instead.

Jeffrey H Ryan is an author, adventurer, photographer and historian. He has written several books about his outdoor exploits, his fascination with hiking trails and the people and places found just off the beaten path. His debut book, Appalachian Odyssey: A 28-year hike on America's trail was hailed by the former Executive Editor of National Geographic as "a classic of nature and travel writing" and set off a national tour (in a 1985 VW camper, no less). His books are known for weaving a deep appreciation for history into walks across contemporary landscapes that give readers the feeling they are hiking right alongside. When Jeff isn't trekking, chasing down a great story or spinning yarns from his keyboard, he enjoys sharing his adventures with audiences who love the outdoors. He spends much of his time in his beloved native state of Maine.

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