We are going backpacking in Desolation Wilderness for the first time. It's black bear country. We will be using bear canisters to store all food and other scented items away from our tent, and make sure there's never direct contact between the items and the backpack.

I read that if we store our backpack outside the tent, rodents may get curious and chew on straps or make holes in our gear. And storing the gear in the tent is a no-go for the chance that crumbs from our food somehow found their way to the bottom of the backpack. What's the best practice for storing gear overnight assuming we do use a bear canister?

3 Answers 3


I would not be worried about black bears, essentially a non-threat with the proper use of a bear cannister. You are right to be worried about rodents. We did a two night trip there this spring and the cork handles of our hiking poles got chewed up because we left them on the ground a few feet from the tent. I've always had good luck keeping my pack under the rain cover but outside the mesh tent. Never had rodents get into my pack that way, but then again we are fairly careful to not get crumbs in the pack by keeping waste in zip lock bags and/or in the bear canister. The way I see it, I'd rather rodents try to chew my backpack than my tent, but that's a personal decision I suppose.


Assuming that you'll be keeping every food item in the bear cannister, your backpack may still have items that has some odor/smell that can attract a bear -- Such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, wrappers of chocolates, etc. In such a case, it would be slightly risky to have the backpack in the tent.

The other concern is about the rodents. I have had my backpack's top pouch completely damaged by gnawing. I could never figure that out in time as I was dead asleep and hadn't protected the backpack well enough even though it was just outside the tent but under the mesh.

I generally personally prefer having my backpack inside the tent unless, it is too smelly for whatever reason and/or too wet to have it in the tent. That definitely protects it from rodents and serpents.

If you can ziplock everything that even mildly smell (good or bad), such that there aren't strong smell to the backpack, and if you have enough room, prefer to keep the backpack inside.

I am not sure if the threat due to nocturnal serpents/snakes is a concern in the region you are venturing, I live in Western Ghats of India, I have seen cases where people have found a snake (looking for warmth) in the outer compartments of neatly packed backpack with an outer cover and shoes.

  • 2
    The key take away is that bear cannisters are not just for food.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 15:53

After properly storing all bear attractants (food/trash/cookware/toothpaste/...), I generally prefer hanging my pack overnight to prevent rodents and other small creatures from chewing up my pack (often attracted to the salty sweat in shoulder and hip straps). Needing to finish a backpacking trip without a shoulder strap or hip belt because a marmot/porcupine/squirrel/... chewed through a strap is an experience best avoided.

As we aren't hanging the pack for bear-safe storage, nearly any way of keeping it a few feet off the ground and away from tree trunks works well. Clip it to a sturdy branch, use a length of cord to suspend it on an overhanging side of a boulder, make a clothesline between several trees, etc. I have even seen frequented alpine camping areas with problematic marmots that are equipped with metal coat tree esque posts for this express purpose. I have also perched packs atop tripods built out of the group's trekking poles in alpine meadows.

I personally avoid having my backpack inside the tent or vestibule (unless there is a monster of a rainstorm) as I find it gets in the way in already small and cramped backpacking tents. Additionally, keeping a pack in the vestibule really only provides protection against rain---rodents can still easily get to your pack. Some ultralight purists do use their empty pack in conjunction with a 3/4 length pad as their ground insulation.

Trekking pole handles are another common target. They can either be hung as well, collapsed down and stored inside the empty pack, or securely stood upright. This also serves to avoid leaving trekking poles laying on the ground, where they can easily be stepped on and broken.

Finally, washing your pack and trekking poles between trips can help minimize the buildup of salty sweat and further reduce the risk of rodents munching on them.

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