Protecting Your Food

Protecting Your Food:
Something that happens quite often for people new to the outdoors, is the question of “what do I do with my food at night?” This is literally one of the most important decisions you will make when in the outdoors – do it wrong and you can face being hungry and miserable.

Please remember, YOU are the visitor to the wilds.  It is your duty to keep human food and garbage from the animals. A couple years ago, at Mt. Rainier NP, I experienced a bear that had been fed by humans at a trailhead campground, simply because they thought it was cute to do. That bear kept coming back (as they will do) into the front country. Needless to say, I watched the black bear panic and destroy a basically new hood on an innocent hiker’s car (it was jumping up and down with claws out). That bear was lucky, it was given 3 chances in being relocating and finally did not come back. Many others though are put down every year. It does NOT have to happen if we are more careful of our presence when visiting the wilds.

We need to protect our food from a wide range of animals: bears, raccoons, coyotes, squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, birds, mice, rats, skunks, etc. Ironically the smallest animals can be some of the worst offenders. Mice drive people in shelters crazy, birds will swoop in. Raccoons can unzip tents and packs to get in.

You have options – but on using them it depends on where you hike and the regulations. Be sure to read up online and or call the rangers office for the latest information.

Bear canisters:

All you do is pack your food in them and put in or on your pack. In camp you put your food, garbage and smelly toiletries in and leave near camp. Tree stumps work great if hollow inside, pop it in. Just make sure the canister is not near water or cliffs, so animal cannot roll it away. Also do not tie the canister to anything. It helps to put bright duct tape or paint on them in case it does get tossed around. A suggestion is to put your name andphone number on  the canister in permanent marker or have a a business card taped inside. For example, our canister, a Bear Vault, has this info on the outside and offers that we will pay a reward if found (so we can get it shipped back). This is good if you ever have a bear roll your canister away!

On garbage and storing. Yes, it is unappetizing. But you have to do it! Gallon freezer bags work well for storing your food in and then the same for garbage. This way nothing touches.

Canisters are a must for areas with highly habituated bears (ones that have been fed human food and do nightly patrols of backcountry camp sites) and Grizzly bears. Both are undesirable to have in camp. Canisters used according to directions leads to the bears getting no rewards and leaving.

The main players are:

The Ursack:

We have been using Ursack Bear Bags for nearly 8 years now. Some people do question it since it is a soft sack, your food can be squished if a bear sits or stands on it. But if you carry dry food (like most of the recipes here), that isn’t a problem. With an Ursack all you do is tie it off to a tree base with a figure 8 knot or hang from a tree. It depends on where you are and the rules. It holds more than the canisters, and best of all, rolls down and compresses as you eat your food. They are very lightweight and  offer a hybrid aluminum insert to put into the sack to form a lightweight “canister”. If you choose to use an Ursack realize that you should separate your Ursack from camp at night, more so if you are camping in heavily used areas. In our hiking group, there are at least 20 of us with Ursacks. We go into copses of trees on the edge of alpine meadows, avalanche areas full of downed trees, in the forest go up a couple hundred feet uphill from camp. Most animals that come into camp are coming back because they got fed before. No food in the “normal” areas and they leave. If you do choose to use one, you must learn how to use it right. No complaining allowed if you use it wrong! That means reading the directions and trying it out so you learn how to do a figure 8 knot. DO NOT use in areas with highly habituated bears or with Grizzly bears. Canisters have their places and this is one area.



Rat Sack:

A bag made of fine stainless steel mesh it does a good job of protecting food but needs to be hidden from birds such as Ravens who are crafty. Will work for most animals but not for habituated black bears or Grizzly bears.

Bear bagging:

And you might think “there is no info on it here”. Well, that is because I HATE bear bagging! If done right, it does work, but you need trees of the right size and the know how. Personally I recommend that you use an Ursack, Rat Sack or a canister. If you do choose to bear bag, please use a sack that is only used for your food. Practice in a park or your back yard. Learn how to do it in the pouring rain, when you are so cold that you can barely move your fingers…imagine how you can do it, standing in a moat of snow 4 ft high. Do it at night and make sure that you have friends laughing at you as it takes an hour. Study up on the PCT Method. Do NOT do bear bagging in areas with Grizzlies or highly habituated black bears. Mama bears do teach the babies how to climb up to get rewards.

More thoughts:

How you camp and eat can also play into wether or not you get night time (well even day time sometimes!) visitors.

Keep a clean camp. No crumbs, no washing dishes with food on them into the bushes. Don’t leave open food in camp and wander off.

Avoid highly used campsites that bear the mark of bears if you can. Bears are smart and know what areas have sloppy campers. They do regular patrols of the easy areas. Same with rodents and raccoons.

In Grizzly territory stop an hour or two before camp and make your main meal. Eat and clean up and then continue hiking. This helps stops the smell association.

Maintain a kitchen area that is seperate from your tent.

Do not cook in your tent. Or eat in your tent.

Double check your pack for wrappers before bed, same with your pants and jacket. Clean up before bed – wash your hands and face. In Grizzly territory you may be advised to sleep in clothing you do not cook in.

If a bear comes into your camp do make noise. Hiding in your tent and letting it get rewarded only allows it become habituated.