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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Ask A Bear: Storing Food Above Treeline?

Our resident bruin expert answers all your questions in our weekly feature, 'Ask A Bear.'

by: BEAR

 Q: I’m often hiking above treeline. At what altitude is it okay to not hang a bear bag? If that is never okay, how do you suggest securing food above treeline without a bear canister? —Katie Robinson, via email 

A: Just like you, bears love to get high—above treeline. Witness the efforts of grizzly bears in Glacier National Park, who climb up into the peaks to get at army cutworm moths hiding under talus in late summer. Black bears travel above treeline less often, but they won't hesitate to break altitude barriers to get at huckleberries and other sweets (I've seen nine of my brethren doing it above or near treeline in Olympic NP in a two-day period).

In short, if you're going above treeline in bear country, you should still bring a bear canister. Store it several hundred yards away from camp. If you can find additional obstacles (like a deep crevice or a rocky promontory that requires a little climbing), consider stowing it there, where I might have a tougher time getting at it. If no such obstacles are around, at least keep it far from camp and hidden if possible.

If you still refuse to take a canister, you're taking big chances. You can attempt to conceal your food in several layers of large, odor-blocking Ziploc bags and take the same precautions to hide it far from camp and in hard-to-get-to places. But even plastic bags allow for some odor permeation, meaning I could still find your food. In fact, grizzly bears in Denali have learned how to raid these types of food caches.

To be safe, bring the canister—plenty of new, lightweight options exist. Or camp in designated sites with bear lockers. Otherwise, you risk losing your food, habituating me to it, and getting me killed, and nobody wants that.


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Nov 28, 2011

I have seen squirrels chew their way thru bear proof containers. It is not bear proof then. Use the newer containers that are carbon fiber and metal. Or where OK the newer bear bags that are squirrel proof. The older ones are not.

Stuart O.
Nov 25, 2011

I have used Ursacks and a clean camp for years in black and grizzly bear country with no problems. I like the idea of the dry bag and a lake, though. My problem with canisters is not so much weight, but bulk.

Greg B
Aug 30, 2011

I've been using the Ursacks for years. Never had any issues.
But this is in black bear country, not grizzly.

Aug 29, 2011

Two high effort approaches that I've used are: 1) hang the food over a cliff face (though smart black bears might figure that one out), and 2) "Burying" the food in water. We did this in the N. Cal. redwoods on a short, overnight backpacking trip once. I had a waterproof stuff bag that I loaded with rocks and my food/etc. I got rid of as much air as I could, sealed it, tied a rope to it, and dropped it into a deep pool in the river. It takes a high rock to space ratio to make this work.

Ikan Mas
Jun 25, 2011

In California we have so many habituated bears that you need to be able deal with them. So don't come unless you have a bear canister or are renting one. Those of you who refuse to comply are making it much worse for the rest of us. Stay home.

Frank Watson
Jun 23, 2011

People, it is OUR responsibility to keep conflicts with animals to a minimum!
(A bear that likes human food = a soon to be dead bear.)
Quit worrying about a couple of extra pounds & take a bear can. I have backpacked a couple thousand miles in Olympic National Park (over a ten year period) & I just take my bear can wherever I go.
A couple of extra pounds is cheap insurance & eliminates a lot of "fretting". Yes, my typical load is around 40 pounds, but so what. If you choose to save 3 pounds to endanger the bears & yourself, I guess that's your deal.....

Rick in Grants
Jun 23, 2011

If a lake is near by take a swiftwater dry bag with you. Put your food in it and use enough rocks to overcome the floation, tie enough 550 cordage to it, a fishing bobber or piece of wood and submerge it as far away from shore as you can. Bears have Great scence of smell and water just might mask it enough. The dry bag also makes a good pillow and storage of valuables (Rx, camera, etc)for river crossings and rain and when not uase folds up small.

Steve C.
Jun 23, 2011

Good question for mountaineering trips. "Do I take the extra weight up Rainier, Hood, Adams, etc, on the chance of meeting a bear above treeline?" For me, my first reaction is all about counting ounces. In the Cascades, chipmunks (aka north american miniature tree tigers) are more likely to chew into your pack to get the goodies. There was the time I encountered a bear in his den while decending near treeline (That was a rush!)


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