Adventure Travel

How to Hang a Bear Bag

Learn the easiest way to hang a bear bag and keep your camping snacks safe from rummaging paws.

Backpacking up the secluded Queets Valley on the sopping-wet west side of Olympic National Park treats you to views of 250-foot-tall Sitka spruce and western hemlocks, minus the legions of hikers in the nearby Hoh and Sol Duc Valleys. But don’t let the idyllic solitude fool you; before you enter the rainforest, you need to have your bear-bagging technique down cold–or the park’s 500-strong army of black bears will rob you blind. In the past, rangers recommended counterbalancing, but found that most people didn’t do it correctly. Here’s the easier (yet still effective) method the park now suggests. (Note: In some places, such as Yosemite, the Adirondacks, and the Smokies, black bears have become so crafty that hard-shell food containers are your only option. Call ahead if you’re not sure.)

  • Select a pair of branches 20 feet apart and at least 15 feet off the ground.
  • Attach one end of a 100-foot utility cord (3 mm) to a fist-sized rock that’s heavy enough to drag the line through dense boughs. Tie the other end to a tree trunk or any nearby sturdy anchor.
  • Throw the rock over both branches in succession.
  • Tie a knotted loop (bight) in the cord midway between the branches. Attach the food bag (the stuff sack for a tent works fine) to the loop using a simple overhand or slip knot, or a carabiner.
  • Pull on the unsecured end of the cord to lift the bag high enough up to be out of a bear’s reach from the ground (at least 10 feet) or in either tree (4 feet). Tie off.

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