I know I’m supposed to use a bear canister all the time in bear country but
they can be bulky. If I’m going on an overnight trip, do I really need
one? And if I do, is there a sealable bag option that might work?
Oh, bears. They sure can be pesky—whether it’s an overnight trip of a three-week one, they don’t discriminate. If they happen upon your campsite and your food is accessible (and yes, ziplock bags inside regular stuffsacks, even ones hung from trees, can still be accessible) they will go for it. The only “bearproof” bags I know of are Ursacks (ursack.comwww.ursack.com) They’re made from bullet proof material that has thwarted many a bear (read all about their testing on the Ursack website and check out the video below of a bear going to town on one of their sacks).
My colleagues and I have used Ursacks without incident for many years, and they certainly are less bulky (and easier to pack) than hard-sided canisters. They are not approved for use in some areas, though, so be sure to check with the land manager to find out about the legalities.
Here are some tips for using Ursacks:
- Invest in an odor-resistant liner, the OPsack that the company also sells. They ‘re made from a special film that is supposedly 17,000 times more odor resistant than other plastics. But more importantly, they keep your contents waterproof, which is one of the benefits of a sealed, hard-sided container.
- Hang them if you can and if it’s legal. It just makes sense. If a bear does find it, and plays soccer with it all night, your breakfast could be hard to locate by the time you wake up. If no trees are around, Ursack suggests hanging it from a rocky cliff (using climbing protection) if you can, because black bears, while good tree climbers, typically can’t handle more than 5.2 or 5.3 rock climbs. Note: Some areas in the Sierra do not allow Ursacks to be tied to any fixed object, because they’re concerned with the bears damaging the trees. If you can’t hang it, place it on the ground away from your campsite (about 100 feet should do it).
- Cinch and tie them. Be sure the cord lock is tightened to the max so there is no gap and tie with a tight overhand knot. The website has good visual descriptions on this technique.
On a sidenote, I recently caught wind of some “bearproof” coolers that are intended for campground use and fishermen. I haven’t used these coolers, but the key seems to be rugged construction with a bomber closing mechanism—many coolers have these features. Still, when I’m car camping in bear country, my precious cooler full of microbrews and bratwurst will be safely stored in my car. Ain’t that why they call it car camping? — Kristin