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A page like this one, as well as a number of questions on this site, discuss how to pack food safely from bears. What about other animals?

This post advises a pretty sophisticated way to protect food against rodents. Is that really needed? This counterbalancing method appears pretty complicated, but a bear canister for the occasional rodent appears overkill.

Are there other ways in areas where meeting a bear is unlikely? The easiest way would be to just risk it and keep food deeply packed away in my backpack. Would that be very unwise?

It seems quite difficult to me to keep food at least 15 feet above the ground and 10 feet horizontally from a tree trunk. That's almost 5 metres!

Are the warnings exaggerated?

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    In short, this is how "unlikely" areas become "problem" areas. – Russell Steen Apr 22 '13 at 11:41
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You propose packing food deeply in your backpack. I'd specifically recommend against that. Bears (and other wild animals) have vastly more acute senses of smell than humans, and they won't hesitate to chew through your pack to get at anything buried there. Even if there aren't bears in an area, there are likely to be some kind of varmints (squirrels, chipmunks, opossums, raccoons, porcupines, marmots, mice, rats, etc) that are more than capable of chewing a hole in the side if your pack. Once a friend of mine found that a chipmunk had chewed a 2" hole in the side of his backpack in broad daylight to get a sandwich he'd left inside.

I'd recommend taking some level of precaution to protect your food, your gear, and yourselves. If the rangers in the area offer some recommendation, I'd probably take it. :)

Bear bags aren't as safe as bear canisters, either (I've known if raccoons that were able to eat food directly out of a hung bear bag), but they're still better than just leaving food in a pack or tent.

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The best recommendation is to take all necessary precautions for yourself, wildlife and the fauna.

What measures make sense depends on the area you are visiting. For example, in more remote parts of the east coast (Maine, New-Brunswick, etc.) you will only find black bears and they tend to be pretty shy. In these areas, many people rely on hanging their food, as the bears usually prefer to avoid people, and good trees are plentiful.

In more heavily-trafficked areas such as National Parks, bear encounters are more likely, and the bears tend to be less fearful of humans and savvier about how to get at your food. Some southern portions of the Appalachian Trail now require bear cans, either year round or at least during peak hiking season. The same is true in popular areas of the Adirondacks. In the western portion of North America, where you are more likely to encounter grizzlies, carrying a bear can is a very good idea. Grizzlies are larger and more aggressive than black bears, and in parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone the bears have food bags pretty well figured out. They recognize bear cans as well and will often knock them around in an effort to get at the good stuff inside. Note that in many Parks you will be fined if a Ranger catches you backpacking without an approved canister, and in these situations a bear can basically pays for itself!

However you decide to store your food, you may want to consider odor proof bags such as OPSAK or NyloBarrier. By keeping all your food in a sealed odor-proof container (along with any food scraps, wrappers, dirty dishes, and scented articles such as soap or chapstick), you will reduce the likelihood of attracting animals to you camp in the first place. Added bonus: keeps your snacks from getting soggy when it rains all night!

An important consideration with rodents is that if they get to your food, you should be wary of contracting diseases such as Hantavirus which can be fatal.

You may also want to consider a food bag made of Cuben Fiber:

On several occasions I've seen mice check out my Blast food bag and eventually give up. I let one persistent mouse chew on it for the entire night- by morning he had done some minor damage but did not get into my food.

as per Joe Valesko. My experience was similar but your millage may vary.

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    Nice post, +1, but: "This depends on how much risk you are willing to take and how high the risk is." It's not just hikers who suffer when bears get their food. Problem animals often end up having to be shot. This makes it not just a convenience/risk issue but an environmental/ethical one. – Ben Crowell Apr 21 '13 at 22:58
  • Good point! It was mainly intended as a 'do not try this at home' disclaimer. ;-) – ppl Apr 21 '13 at 23:30
  • I improved (hopefully) the first paragraph of the answer to reflect your input. Please feel free to edit the answer directly to improve it further. Thanks! – ppl Apr 25 '13 at 16:17
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"Unlikely" is not the same as "won't happen." You're going to the White Mountains in California, so call the ranger station in Bishop and ask them. They will probably tell you that bears do exist there, so the probability is not zero.

"It seems quite difficult to me to keep food at least 15 feet above the ground and 10 feet horizontally from a tree trunk. That's almost 5 metre!"

This is absolutely not exaggerated. I've had a mother bear keep me awake all night while she and her cubs worked on getting my food down from a tree. This is exactly the reason why bear canisters were invented, and are legally required in many areas. They're basically 100% effective, whereas bear-bagging often fails.

If you really don't like the extra weight of a hard-plastic canister such as a Garcia, you could buy something lighter like an Ursack. However, the Ursack is not legal in all areas. Ask the rangers before you go. The Ursack is actually supposed to be less effective against rodents than bears. It's made out of woven kevlar fibers, and the weave is rough, so small rodents' small teeth may be able to get in the gaps in the weave.

  • I'm more worried about the bulky volume than amout the weight, they seem very big... – gerrit Apr 21 '13 at 19:52
  • They come in a variety of sizes. The Garcia is 615 cubic inches, but the Bare Boxer canisters come in sizes as small as 275 in3. Brands to google include Bare Boxer, Bearvault, Garcia, and Bearikade. But typically all you can get as a rental is the standard-size Garcia. How many days are you going for, and how many people? E.g., if it's only a couple of days and there are two of you, maybe you could share one Garcia. – Ben Crowell Apr 21 '13 at 20:23
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Much depends on the region you are going to. Check with the local wildlife conservation authorities, park personnel. Jasper Park provides bear proof storage at all their sites, I think. Willmore wilderness provides nothing. Outfitter camps may or may not have a high bar for hanging food(or game) OTOH Willmore is entirely random camping, and has very low use rates. (I've done several trips without seeing a footprint once off the main access trail.)

I've been backpacking and canoeing for 35 years, averaging about 3-4 weeks a year in the bush. I've never bothered to even hang my food.

But: I don't use the national parks. I don't use campgrounds. My usual backpacking haunts are Willmore Wilderness, north of Jasper Park, and the Rocky Clearwater Recreational Area, east of Jasper Park. Both are hunted. Bears have enough respect for people that they keep out of our way.

On canoe trips I have had bear issues twice. Once on the Churchill we had one that wasn't afraid of people in the slightest. After trying to chase him off several times in the first half hour after landing, we packed up our camp and moved to the other side of the lake.

On the Mujatik, we had a bear saunter into camp after supper. That night we kept the fire going and someone up. That trip was the opposite. The bears are unaccustomed to seeing people at all, and are just curious, but haven't learned about the possibility of treats, or of rifles.

The Churchill, as canoe routes go is fairly popular. There are fire rings at most portage landings, and on many windswept points. (If you have experience the bugs there, you will know why windswept points are popular.) The Mujatik and most of the other trips I've done were much less traveled, frequently requiring as long to clear the moose trail as to portage the obstacle. (Once we found camp litter: A tobacco tin with a 1922 revenue stamp.)

I have had mice nibble the corner of a package of granola or oatmeal. Just rebag it as it happens.

For contrast:

I spent a summer on staff at Philmont Scout Ranch. At that time they had 12,000 scouts a summer. A group was 10 scouts. They would be there for 12 days total, but first day was orientation at base camp, and last day was turn in rental gear, and get cleaned up. So 10 days in country. So at any given time there were about 1500 campers spread out over the 25 x 50 mile ranch. Bear country was about 2/3 of that. The remainder open desert.

Bears were a constant problem. And the bears got clever.

There was one bear, the Pop Tart bear that would take carelessly hung bear bags, and rummage through them for the blueberry pop tarts that were part of one of the breakfasts. Everything else would be left alone, only incidentally damaged.

There was a young bear, the Kamikaze bear, that would climb one of the trees until he was well above the bag, leap out from the tree, grab the bag, and ride it down. The cord had enough stretch that he was only a few feet off the ground moving slowly when it broke.

Another bear was brazen enough to watch the campers hang their bag, and in the evening would come over, look at the bag, follow the cord to where it was tied off on a tree, and break the cord with his claw.

The ranch had two live traps, and working with Department of Natural Resources (DNR) would relocate the chronic offenders.

Curiously, the bears left our cabin alone.

  • Sounds like the bear wanted to teach you to eat a healthy breakfast by taking away something that looks quite horrible ;-) – gerrit Nov 14 at 14:27

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