A group of 4 plan on hiking across Michigan's UP's Ottawa National Forest. We are finishing up our plans and have one last issue with food that we aren't sure how to handle.

We know you are supposed to tie a bag with all food/cooking/smelly materials 12 feet above ground, as to not allow a bear to get a hold of it. What about raccoons and other, smaller animals that may be able to climb down the rope?

We may be being paranoid, I don't know, but will raccoons be a threat against our food hung in a tree 12ft above the ground?

Note: we plan on using a basic mesh bag for this trip. Is this a bad idea? Bear proof bags are probably not in for consideration, but I was told in the past they really weren't necessary to begin with unless in Grizzly Bear country.

  • One good option is an ursack: ursack.com . It's a lightweight kevlar bag that is bear-proof and also fairly good against rodents. Hanging bags up in trees is an outdated technique that doesn't work well in areas that have bears habituated to obtaining human food.
    – user2169
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 19:23
  • @BenCrowell The region I'm going to is isolated and will have had minimal contact with humans.
    – Ryan Welsh
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 13:14

5 Answers 5


I've backpacked in places that have raccoons but I've never had a problem with them. Squirrels and a number of birds can also chew/peck their way through a bag to get at your food. I don't know what kind of birds you have in Michigan, but here in Idaho, Clark's Nutcrackers and magpies can be a nuisance. A mesh bag will probably allow them access to your food.

When I hang my food, I've used a simple burlap bag with no problems whatsoever. One time, I forgot my bag and then got real lazy and hung my food in plastic grocery bags. Huge mistake. The nutcrackers and squirrels chewed/pecked through the top and ate everything they could reach. To be on the safe side, since squirrels sometimes carry contagious diseases, I threw out a good portion of what was left!

Another option is to just hang your food in a backpack. When I load my backpack, I try to group items into ziploc bags. It helps with compression and keeps things organized. It also makes it easy to empty what I need into my tent and then hang my backpack in a tree with the food and cooking/eating tools still inside.

  • Would you also have to hang any clothing items that you cooked in? If this was the case, each night we could just hang one of our (4) backpacks, filled with food and cooking clothes, making it much easier and, as you stated, leaves more room for organization. Thanks!
    – Ryan Welsh
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 13:16
  • You wouldn't need to hang any clothing that you cooked in unless you spilled food on it and it doesn't wash out easily (like bacon grease). If I know I'm going to be cooking directly in the coals of a fire, I'll sometimes bring a single leather glove for placing and removing food in the coals. Sometimes a little food gets on the fingertips. I always hang this glove with my food, but I've never worried about any other clothing unless I had a spill that I couldn't clean completely.
    – 243DRob
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 20:44
  • Great advice, I really appreciate it David!
    – Ryan Welsh
    Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 12:19

I've lived in Michigan for 20 years and have spent a lot of time backpacking in state, both in the UP and in lower MI. We've always followed the rules for storing food, hanging everything associated with cooking and eating along with all toiletries in a tree away from the trunk UNLESS we're at backcountry campsites that have bear poles or boxes, then we use those. We always store food and cook away from where we're sleeping.

We store food and toiletries in lightweight drysacks, the type that you roll down the top and then clip the ends together. They keep odors from traveling far and the loop makes them easy to attach to a cord for hauling aloft. We use regular 550 cord and have never had a problem with critters getting into our food.


There are animals out there capable of figuring out how to get into your cache, Wolverines (a cousin of the racoon) are notorious for cracking into even the most cleverly hung food caches, but you don't really have to worry about them if you're only hanging your food for one night. Animals are more ambitious when they know their reward is food, but mere curiosity about something new dangling in the trees isn't as powerful of a motivator.

A mesh bag won't do anything to keep your food dry or help mask any smells, if you use one, at least make sure that your food is in ziplock bags inside the mesh bag. If you hang your food like potpourri then you're just asking to have critters come investigate.

  • Would our backpacks suffice as a 'smell barrier' of sorts? I know most animals will be able to smell through it anyway, but if we keep our food in zip-lock containers and our bag secured with paracord, would we have any major issues?
    – Ryan Welsh
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 13:19
  • Yes, a back pack would be plenty sufficient for hanging a food cache. I often use the detachable lid to my backpack as my food cache bag.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 15:51
  • Most wild animals' sense of smell tremendously surpasses our own. That, combined with the difficulty of keeping a clean kitchen in the woods means that every animal within a few miles downwind of your camp will know exactly what you're having for dinner. The biggest deterrent is the Human smell. If an animal does investigate, having your food off the ground will actually make it difficult to locate, if there's any kind of breeze. If there's no breeze, the smell will sink directly to the forest floor, making it easy to find, but hard to get. Personally, I wouldn't worry about the smell.
    – 243DRob
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 21:00

Some parks require you to have a bear canister. Here in the Rocky Mountains if you camp up in the mountains(no trees to sling a bag) you're usually required to have a canister, not because of bears but marmots. Bear canisters might be a little much, but its a sure fire way to prevent animals from getting in your food.Once I bought one, I've always used it even when I could bring a food bag, simply because I have it. It's quite a bit heavier and a bit bulky. But it comes in handy if you end up camping far from a treeline.


I've done a good bit of backpacking in the south where raccoons/possums/rats can get bad. I usually will wrap all the food in the plastic bag and tie it tightly shut. Then put that into a stuff sack that is hung from a tree. Try to find a long branch and get it as far away from the trunk as possible.

Also, make sure not to put any food in any other bags that you won't be hanging. I made the mistake of temporarily putting some food in my clothes stuff sack...which was then ate to hell by rats in an AT shelter.

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