Bear Hangs and Canisters

Established backcountry campsites usually have bear poles or lockers. Steel cables with clips make it simple to hang food; as does stuffing your tucker into an animal-proof metal box. But what do you do when you are traveling off the beaten track?

Storing food properly in the backcountry. (Photo: M.Kopp)

Bear Hangs
It used to be considered enough to throw a rope over a tree branch and haul up your nylon sack of food. But bears – black bears in particular – are excellent climbers. The chance of losing your food supply with this method of storage is high.

In a proper bear hang, rope is strung between two trees, at least 12’ off the ground and 10’ feet out from the nearest tree trunk. Another rope is used in the centre to haul up food. We use metal pulleys that make it easier to raise and lower the food cache. 

Bear Canisters
Bear hangs don’t work in treeless areas – obviously – and even if there are trees, a good bear hang can be difficult to set up properly. More and more wilderness areas are making the use of bear canisters mandatory.

In Yosemite, for example, hanging food is illegal. It there is no food locker, the goods must be stored in an approved bear canister.

Bear canisters are basically tough, plastic or carbon fiber tubes with lids. They come in a variety of sizes and styles.

Once filled, the canisters should be stored at least 100 yards away from your campsite overnight. It’s a good idea to avoid storing the canister in areas where it can roll into streams or over cliffs. 

Side Benefits to Canisters
They can be used as little tables, water buckets and camp stools.

It’s Not Just Bears!
Proper food storage on overnight backcountry trips is not just for bears. Raccoons, rodents, and scavenging birds are among the wildlife that will get into human food if given the opportunity.

© 2011

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