Protecting your food in the backcountry can save your life. Bears consume upwards of 20,000 calories a day, and it’s far more efficient to snatch the food bag of an unsuspecting outdoorsman than to forage for berries. And once a bear has learned that your camp is an easy source of food, odds are that it will return for more. To protect yourself and your family from bears, make sure that your cooking area, your tent and your food are all at least 200 feet away from one another. To keep your food safe when it’s out of sight, employ one of these strategies.
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HANG IT HIGH: It’s important to remember that bears have foiled virtually all “bear hang” techniques in the backcountry. But while a bear hang should never be your primary food storage strategy, it does offer a measure of protection against bears less accustomed to human interaction, and is an important skill to master.
First, find a sturdy branch at least 15 feet high and 10 feet long. Take a 50-foot rope and tie one end to a rock or heavy stick. The next step is a little tricky, so leave yourself plenty of daylight. Throw the rock with the rope tied to it over your branch, so that the rock lands on the other side and your rope is now suspended in the tree. Be careful that no one is injured during the rock throw.
Once your rope is suspended in the tree, prepare your food bag, ensuring that you also include any toiletries as well as cookware that might have lingering scents. Tie off the end of your food sack, and secure it to the rope. A carabineer is a handy tool for this. Pull on the rope hanging down from the other side of the tree until your food bag is suspended at least 10 feet in the air. Now walk over to the trunk of the tree, without moving the bear bag inwards on the branch, and tie off your rope to the tree with a complex knot, such as a bowline.
LOCK IT UP: Ideally, with a bear hang, you’ll use a branch that is not only 15 feet high, but also too small to support the weight of a cub. These can be difficult to locate, and for this reason, bear canisters are recommended in many parts of the country.
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Bear canisters are hard-sided containers with complex opening mechanisms—preventing both a bear’s powerful jaws and their remarkable intelligence from breaking into your food. An added bonus is that they can double as a camp stool. Take care with the placement of your bear canister. Like with bear hangs, your canister should be a minimum of 200 feet away from camp and your cook site. Ideally, locate a group of fallen trees, or a few well-placed boulders, to place your bear canister inside of, thus preventing the bear canister from being displaced more than a foot or two.
SECURE SEAL: Bear-resistant bags are a relative newcomer to the game. Made out of bullet-resistant material, these bags are a lighter-weight option to the traditional bear canister. They can also be tied to any available secure object, such as a tree or boulder, to prevent a bear from removing your food and complicating your ability to survive in the wild.
Currently, there is only one game in town if you’re looking for a bear-resistant bag: the Ursack (ursack.com). Made out of Spectra fabric—a material 10 times stronger than steel—the Ursack passed the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee test and was placed on its bear-resistant products list in July of 2014.
For added protection, add on an OPsak (loksak.com) to make your food odor free, and an aluminum liner that will prevent your food from being crushed by a bear.
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This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Winter 2016 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.