How to Hang Your Bear Bag: Tips from Leave No Trace


Black bear at Phantom Lake, Yellowstone National Park (Image: NPS/Bryan Harry)

Bears are opportunistic omnivores who follow their nose to the next meal. This skill has kept them fed, but it has also resulted in "problem bears," or bears that associate humans with food.

Once this association has been made, a bear is generally doomed. Most land managers give a bear two chances to reform. After that it is destroyed if it comes into someone's camp looking for a handout.

Bears are not cuddly, harmless pets. They have killed and mauled humans, sometimes without an understandable cause. But often the hype surrounding a bear attack overshadows reality.

According to bear expert Steven Herrero, there were fewer than 200 grizzly-related injuries to humans between 1900 and 1980, with only 14 deaths.

Black bear attacks are more common, but of the 500 people attacked by black bears between 1960 and 1980, 90 percent of the injuries were considered minor.

The number of bears killed in those same time periods is unknown, but hundreds, if not thousands of bears have lost their lives over the years because they couldn't get along with their human neighbors.

How to Hang a Bear Bag

Bear bag hanging.
Hanging a bear bag using the two-tree hang. (Image: Ben Lawhon/Leave No Trace)

Hang food from tree limbs:

  • 12 feet off the ground,
  • 6 feet from the tree’s trunk, and
  • 6 feet below the supporting limb.

Or store food in specially designed bear-resistant canisters or on-site lockers. Bear canisters are available for rent and sale at sporting goods suppliers and some land management agencies, and are required in some areas. Check local regulations.

Hanging food can be tricky, so practice hanging techniques before venturing into the backcountry and allow yourself plenty of time before dark to get set up.

Equipment

In order to properly hang a bear bag, there are a few necessary pieces of equipment:

  • 100 feet of rope or parachute cord

  • 1 to 2 carabiners

  • a stuff sack large enough for all food, trash, and smellables (soap, bug spray, toothpaste, etc.)

Site

The ideal site for a bear bag hang is a minimum of 100 feet from your campsite (in grizzly country, consider placing your hang 300 feet from your camp to be safe).

Single-Tree Hang

Once far enough from camp, you’ll need to locate a suitable tree from which to hang your bag. Sometimes a single tree will have the perfect branch from which you can hang your bag (12 feet up and 6 feet out from the trunk or nearest branch).

In this case, you simply need to attach something weighted to the end of your rope or cord. A rock can work well, but you must be cautious when throwing rocks over tree branches, making sure to keep all group members at a safe distance and having a spotter to ensure no one (especially the thrower) gets hit by the flying rock.

Another option is to use an old sock filled with gravel, small stones, or a single rock. A sock can also be easier to attach to the end of the rope.

If you can locate a single tree branch to meet your needs, all you do is:

  1. Throw the rope over the branch.
  2. Ensure that it’s 12 feet up and 6 feet out.
  3. Attach your bag to the rope with a carabiner.
  4. Hoist your bag to the desired height. 
  5. Tie the bag off on the nearest suitable anchor (rock, tree, etc.).

Two-Tree Hang

Bear bags.
Hang all smellables (food, soap, bug spray, etc.) in bear bags.
(Image: Ben Lawhon/Leave No Trace)

In many areas finding the perfect tree for a single-branch hang is challenging. More often than not you’ll have to do a two-tree hang, meaning you’ll have to use two shorter branches on two different trees.

This is most easily accomplished by:

  1. Throwing the rope (weighted, of course) over one branch on one tree.
  2. Throwing the other end over the branch of another tree.
  3. Attaching your bag to the center of the line.
  4. Have a helper pull on one end of the rope while you pull on the other, raising the bag until it reaches the magic 12 feet and 6 feet.

You might have to dig deep into your eighth grade geometry knowledge to get the right proportions, but with a bit of forethought, you’ll eventually get it right.

Practice

Hanging a bear bag is far from an exact science and requires a lot of practice. Ideally, you’d try a few bear bag hangs in the backyard or at a local park before heading out into the woods. Learning how to hang a bear bag at the end of a long day, in the fading daylight, can be an exercise in frustration. Therefore, be sure to practice this skill so that you can do it right the first time when in the field.

Also, choosing a bear bag site and getting the ropes hung should be a priority when you first arrive at your campsite. By properly storing all of your food, trash, and smellables, you’ll ensure both a good night's sleep and a natural diet for bears.

Share your bear bag tip and techniques below.

 

About Leave No Trace

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is a nonprofit organization that teaches people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. It's also one of the outdoor and environmental nonprofits that Trailspace supports. For more on Leave No Trace, its seven principles, and programs, visit lnt.org.

Filed under: Outdoor Skills, People & Organizations

Related Content

Hiking and Camping Safely in Bear Country

Comments

andrew f. (leadbelly2550)
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October 15, 2012 at 12:50 p.m. (EDT)

i have generally had more success with the two tree method.  for throwing the rope over a branch, i discourage using a rock.  use what you have with you - tie a short loop in the end of your rope, attach a carabiner, and attach something else that has some weight - for me, it's often a chaco or a keen water shoe that has enough weight to be chucked over a  branch. 

provided you have enough utility line, i suggest securing each end to something other than the two trees on each end of the system.  reduces the risk that a bear will take down the system by biting or clawing through the rope. 

because some bears know and are not defeated by bear bags, bear cannisters are the safer option.  in my opinion.

 

XterroBrando
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October 15, 2012 at 1:43 p.m. (EDT)

Anyone know the highest elevations black bears will ascend to for food? I was bear-bagging in the San Gorgonio Wilderness in SoCal at 10,200 feet. Some guy told me that I didn't have to worry about bears at that elevation, that bears had only been reported in that region at up to 7500-8000 feet. I figured better to be safe than sorry...

Do bears venture about tree-line?

gonzan
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October 15, 2012 at 2:29 p.m. (EDT)

Here in the eastern mountains, there are usually lots of hardwoods with large, long branches that are perfect. It gets trickier with evergreens and tall, smooth bole trees like yellow poplar.

I have learned that a rock in a small nylon stuff sack works the best. Other objects tend to get hung up in the branches too easily. Sometimes it is necessary, or at least advantageous, to pull the weight back up and over one or more branches. The rock-in-a-stuffsack option works great, especially if you use a nice smooth stone. 

One thing that wasn't mentioned is how to handle heavy loads, as a line will saw and dig down into a limb, even so badly as to get stuck. If you are in a largish group, it is sometimes not practical for each member to hang their own line. to do this you use two lines: one to suspend a carabiner that acts as a pulley, and one to hoist the load. The fulcrum line is raised and secured without being loaded, which won't damage or bind on the limb, and carabiner "pulley" makes hoisting the loaded line a breeze. 

gonzan
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October 15, 2012 at 2:53 p.m. (EDT)

Xterro,

I do not know how high they will venture. But I would think they are likely to go as high as trees and shrubby vegetation will grow. If not using a canister, it would seem prudent to hang if there are trees to do so. 

While I was in the Tetons last year, I saw three blackies, at 9,500, 9,200, and 9,400ft, respectively. The first one was descending from a shelf a few hundred feet up, and the other two were ascending towards treeline. 

mtncwru
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October 15, 2012 at 11:30 p.m. (EDT)

Xterro,

While I can't comment on San Jacinto, I have some very nice pictures of bears in Sequoia/Kings Canyon at 10k+.  Even if bears won't go that high, other four-legged critters will, which makes me think that hanging food is a good idea.  Personally, I've moved to carrying a canister whenever I hike.  It's mouse-proof (something a bear bag isn't, as was demonstrated to me in the Smokies one year), and it means I don't have to worry about finding an acceptable pair of trees at dusk after hiking all day.  To me that's worth the extra two pounds.

Bill S
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October 16, 2012 at 1:05 p.m. (EDT)

XterroBrando said:

Anyone know the highest elevations black bears will ascend to for food? I was bear-bagging in the San Gorgonio Wilderness in SoCal at 10,200 feet. Some guy told me that I didn't have to worry about bears at that elevation, that bears had only been reported in that region at up to 7500-8000 feet. I figured better to be safe than sorry...

Do bears venture about tree-line?

 When I lived in SoCal and hiked, skied, and climbed a fair amount in the Greyback and SanJac areas, we did see bears from time to time crossing at the Dollar Lake Saddle (abt 10k) and around the stone hut on San Jac (back when we were allowed to stay at the hut, 10.5k or so, though that was before the tram). On the SanG side, that is above timberline, but treeline on SanJac goes up to the summit. We were told by the rangers at the time that there were several saddles that the bears would cross from N-S and reverse along the Greyback crestline, though the ones I recall were pretty much following the trail across Dollar Saddle. There seemed to be 2 or 3 that hung out around Dollar Lake (we could camp there at the time) and Dry Lake, maybe because they were popular campsites. And don't forget - Big Bear Lake got that name for a reason.

Not like on Denali, though, where we saw griz tracks on the upper Kahiltna Glacier. In the required pre-briefing, we were told that it was not unusual for the brownies to migrate over the pass between the northern and southern parts of the range (Peters Basin to the north, Kahiltna Glacier to the south) via Kahiltna Pass. There used to be a photo from a plane of one almost at the pass on the wall at the ranger office in Talkeetna. Big question I had was how the heck did they avoid the crevasses, especially on the lower parts of the glaciers. Problem on the Kahiltna was ravens digging down in the snow to get at the food caches, not the bears.

If you watch the programs on the NatGeo, Discovery, PBS, Nature channels on bears in the Canadian Rockies, you will see that they root around in talus fields to go after some variety of moth larvae, well above timberline.

But, yes, mice, marmots, and raccoons are very good at taking down bear bags or tearing into them. Canisters work well for them as well as bears.

XterroBrando
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October 17, 2012 at 3:09 a.m. (EDT)

As always, gentlemen, your wisdom and insight is most appreciated. I'm very glad I asked. A bear cannister purchase looms on the horizon...

Rick-Pittsburgh
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October 17, 2012 at 7:20 a.m. (EDT)

I like 20-25ft personally:

image.jpg

Ozarks Walkabout
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October 17, 2012 at 12:37 p.m. (EDT)

We've found that it is a good idea to use reflective paracord or tie some reflective tape to your bear-bag line.

I lost count of the number of times I struggled to find our line in the dark before we started doing this.

apeman
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October 17, 2012 at 2:26 p.m. (EDT)

XterroBrando said:

Anyone know the highest elevations black bears will ascend to for food? I was bear-bagging in the San Gorgonio Wilderness in SoCal at 10,200 feet. Some guy told me that I didn't have to worry about bears at that elevation, that bears had only been reported in that region at up to 7500-8000 feet. I figured better to be safe than sorry...

Do bears venture about tree-line?

 

 

 

Here is a aritical that states that both grizzlies and black bears will venture above tree line.  My guess is that if a bear is hungry it will go anywhere it can to get food.  Including your fridge if your house is not strong enough to keep it out.

"At these places of slide rock and sunshine, both grizzly and black bears gather each year, climbing high above timberline to feed on the moths."

Taken from the link below.

http://www.yellowstonepark.com/2011/06/yellowstone-grizzly-bears-eat-40000-moths-a-day-in-august/

 

Footage of an adult black bear in late-September 2010 above treeline in Québec, from Beyond Ktaadn's wolverine project. This was shot around 8 AM on 9/21/10:

http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10100247648307692

whomeworry
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October 17, 2012 at 3:34 p.m. (EDT)

This adaptation of the two tree method reduces damage to trees since a weighted rope is not dragged over bark, and is adaptable to other terrain objects.

Ed

Trailjester
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October 17, 2012 at 3:52 p.m. (EDT)

camped past bishop pass in the sierra about ten years ago. elevation over twelve thousand feet. there were two bears, one before the pass and one after. well above treeline, the bears were very active, even stealing the pack of one unfortunate hiker...they eventually got it back, minus some food with a few holes in the pack. definately invest in a bear can, go with a bearikade. we had bear cans and as soon as the bear saw them he went the other way. He knew he wasn't getting anything out of this group. 

JimDoss
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October 17, 2012 at 5:49 p.m. (EDT)

Bill S said:

 When I lived in SoCal and hiked, skied, and climbed a fair amount in the Greyback and SanJac areas, we did see bears from time to time crossing at the Dollar Lake Saddle (abt 10k) and around the stone hut on San Jac (back when we were allowed to stay at the hut, 10.5k or so, though that was before the tram).

Very interesting. I hike and camp up on San Jacinto every summer for a couple three days and never give bears a though. Last time I talked to a ranger (other than for getting a permit), I recall him saying there were no bears on the mountain. No one up there, that I've noticed, hangs food or uses canisters.

whomeworry
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October 19, 2012 at 12:38 p.m. (EDT)

JimDoss said:

Very interesting. I hike and camp up on San Jacinto every summer for a couple three days and never give bears a though. (sic)

I have see what I took to be bear scratchings on trees around both Big and Little Round Valleys, up there in recent years.  Do not recall if I saw such evidence decades ago, however.

Ed

JimDoss
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October 20, 2012 at 10:35 a.m. (EDT)

Interesting, Ed.  I have a friend whot works up there.  I'm going to ask him for the latest.

JimDoss
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October 20, 2012 at 7:08 p.m. (EDT)

I heard from my friend about bears on San Jacinto.  Here's what he said:

"As far as I know there are no bears. I have never seen or heard of any bears or evidence of bears at least near the tram or round valley. Mountain lions yes.

I did recently hear that there was black bear sighting near Idylwild, but that was from a guest.

A few years ago the State released a black bear at the Valley Tram station. They just let it go in the employee parking lot without asking us. It wasn't seen again.

Also a couple of years ago a black bear was seen in the desert around I-10, probably wandered out of whitewater canyon."

Interesting about the mountain lion and the black bear being released in the parking lot!

T.J.
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October 30, 2012 at 4:08 a.m. (EDT)

The first time I tried a two branch hang the rock flew over the branch and then swung right back at my head. Missed me by a foot. Learned my lesson quickly.

The article mentioned having a 'helper' to raise the bag. Obviously, if you're solo you can just tie off one end after you've thrown the rock over the first tree. Stretch it taught so you can get a better idea of where to make your loop for the bear bag. You'll want to position it so when you raise your bag it's right between the two trees.

ppine
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October 30, 2012 at 12:12 p.m. (EDT)

Bears travel where ever there is a food supply for them.  Learn to recognize bear habitat, then you won't have to wonder.  Sometimes there are available food items that are not so obvious like the whitebark pine seed harvest at treeline, or moth hatches above treeline in Yellowstone.

The best bear habitat always has cover, lots of shrubs, grass and grass-like plants and forbs like false-hellebore (skunk cabbage).  Open country and dense forest provides relatively little in the way of food for bears.  When  there is any doubt, hang your food.  Never sleep with it no matter what.  As time goes along bear cannisters will become required more and the old hanging techniques will fade from memory.

newfiebound
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November 25, 2012 at 9:37 a.m. (EST)

I hike in Canada and the northeastern United States (Maine and New Hampshire primarily). Hanging food to keep them from the Black Bear is effective using either of the methods. The bears seem to always go where there is plentiful easy food, so if they have to work for it usually not interested is what I find.

Looking for suggestions on the elusive relentless eastern red squirrel who will run down my rope and gnaw his way through the sacks and take up residence in the sacks til morning when he is chased out, leaving with a full belly. Looking for suggestions on how to make hime go somewhere else for a snack.

hotdogman
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November 25, 2012 at 12:19 p.m. (EST)

Carry an empty soup can with you poke a hole in it and put it on your rope that hangs down. Like in some of the at shelters. Ive seen people put the open end up or down both seem to work. If they get past that cut a 10 inch circle of sheet metal, poke the hole and do the same hanging thing. If the get past the metal, carry some birdseed, go back to the can, hang it open end up filled with the seed. Not the best ides to feed them but it could save your food and your sack.

Krumholz Kid
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November 25, 2012 at 2:20 p.m. (EST)

Unless you are competent enough to consistently employ the COUNTERBALANCE METHOD *effectively* I highly recommend getting a canister. Bears in many locations have figured out tie-off hanging to say the least.

I like the canister here in the GYE. We don't have a lot of deciduous trees in many desireable camping locations and as noted Evergreens present more challenges.

I will not use an ursack.   

GaryPalmer
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November 25, 2012 at 5:23 p.m. (EST)

What if the bear doesn't want his bag hung? :)

Erich
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November 26, 2012 at 3:18 p.m. (EST)

As others have noted, bears go where there is a good supply of food. This can come in many forms and at different times of the season. The most obvious is when the bears here in the NW move to the high alpine slopes in late summer and fall to eat the berries. I will add that food sources take a backseat to cover. Most of my PNW bear encounters are in more open country. Two months ago I encountered a young black bear foraging in slopes in the alpine above Chinook Pass. Prey animals will also attract bears, specifically grizzlies. In the Northern Rockies and elsewhere with grizzlies, dug up marmot and sik sik dens are a sign of bears. Overturned rotten logs can also be a sign of bears. Canisters have become the norm in high human/bear encounter areas. If there is less likelihood of an encounter, hanging works well. In areas where bears are not habituated to humans, hanging, or even simply using a plastic sealed container stuffed in a rock crevice will avoid a bear encounter. Understanding bear behavior is important to avoiding negative experiences with them. In my Barrens and Arctic trips, there is no place to hang and canisters would be impractical to carry a month's worth of food. The standard method is to put the food containers away from any game trails and shorelines, and in something like an alder thicket.

ppine
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November 27, 2012 at 12:35 p.m. (EST)

Erich,

We would love to hear more about your trips to the Barrens.

I have cached my food before with lots of pots and pans on top.  I usually camp with a pack of dogs which are the first line of defense.  Some people don't like this idea, but it has been very effective in chasing bears out of camp.

I have fond memories of glissading at Chinook Pass in the summer.

 

balzaccom
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November 28, 2012 at 11:17 a.m. (EST)

All of the National Parks in California require bear canisters...and since we bought one to use in those parks, we now use it everywhere.  It works.  i don't have to worry about taking along my dogs, bear bags left in trees, hoping bears don't smell buried caches, etc. 

Erich
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November 28, 2012 at 12:45 p.m. (EST)

ppine, Anywhere in the Far North is spectacular, and not what most people expect. Bugs CAN be a problem(forget the bug net Andrew Skurka, go for the original Bug Shirt), many areas and times of year are relatively bug free. What i find most intriguing, is the diversity of the landscape. I recently read a story about a journalist who was invited on a guided trip on the Mountain River. She is from Ontario and was surprised at the mountain ranges and deep canyons. Few people south of the US border, know that the Nahanni was the first Unesco World Heritage site in the Western Hemisphere, or that the Yukon was unglaciated in the last ice age. Flying over these areas, one wonders at the vastness of relatively untouched natural lands. But, unfortunately, much of it is under attack from mining and petroleum interests. The site at Tungsten in the YT, sits just outside the Nahanni Park, and the entire Peel drainage is unprotected. The great herds of Caribou in the western Barrens will likely disappear in the next twenty years because of impacts from development.

Dogs can certainly deter some bears. However, in grizzly country dogs will often attract bears.

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