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Bear Safe Camping and Bear Bags

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The first thing to keep in mind when planning your campsite, food prep, and overnight food storage, you should consider the "Bear"-muda triangle

The Bear-Muda Triangle

  • Your bag is 100 ft and downwind of your sleeping area.
  • Your kitchen area should also be 100 ft (60 m) from your sleeping site.


Everything that smells (e.g., food, garbage, hygiene items, food-soiled clothing, etc.) should be placed in the bear bag for safety.  Clean stoves, pots, water bottles, and utensils can be safely left in the kitchen area.



Hanging A Bear Bag—The PCT Method


Here's a great visual example for this method:

The PCT bear bag hanging method is so named because it was popularized by backpackers on the Pacific Crest Trail.  This method is easy to use and can be done with one person.  It's a no-fail method that gives the bear (or other critters) no chance of getting to your food bag if it's properly hung.  The PCT method hangs a single bag up in the air suspended from a tree branch.  The method ingeniously uses a small stick as a stopper to prevent the bag from coming back to the ground, so you end up with a bag hanging from a tree and a slack piece of rope hanging from it that has no tension on it and that will not drop the food bag if cut.

What is a bear bag?

Bears have an incredibly keen sense of smell.  They can smell a candy bar in an unopened wrapper inside a backpack in your tent.  They can be attracted by anything that has a smell that resembles food.  This includes tooth paste, deodorant, sun block, and of course food.  When you are in bear country, you need to take all your food and other SMELLABLES and put it somewhere far away from you that is out of a bear's reach.  The easiest way to do this is to put everything that smells like food into a bag and hang it high in a tree, where a bear can't reach it.


How high does a bear bag need to hang?

You need to hang your bag where a bear can't reach it.  For black bears, plan for about 10-12' off the ground, 4-6' away from any tree trunks, from a branch less than 4" in diameter.   For grizzlies - 15' high at a minimum.  Your bag needs to be high enough that a bear can't reach it, far enough from the tree trunk that he can't reach over and grab it, and hanging from a branch that is too small to support a bear's weight and body size.   The bear bag should be at least 100' from your campsite, so that if a bear smells your bear bag and goes after it, the bear doesn't accidentally discover you instead.  Black bear attacks are very rare, but if a bear is pursuing food and is suddenly surprised by a human, it might attack.


So what is the "PCT Method?"

Basically, the food bag is clipped onto a carabiner that the rope over the branch is also clipped to.  Before the bag is hoisted up, the free end of the rope is passed through the carabiner.  Then the bag is hoisted all the way to the branch, a simple clove hitch is tied around a stick and the rope is lowered.  The stick will hit the carabiner but won't be able to pass through it, so the bag will stop and hang about halfway between the ground and branch.  To lower the bag, you pull the rope until the bag raises to the branch, untie the clove hitch from around the stick, then lower the bag again.  Without the stick to jam in the carabiner the bag will come all the way to the ground.  Sound complicated?  It's not.

Step 1.  Gather the necessary stuff


You will need 50-75' of rope, a bag to hold your food, a baseball-sized rock, or stick to get the rope over the branch, and a pencil-sized stick to stop in the carabiner.


The troop will supply the bags.  If not, a dry sack (often used when canoeing), a a string bag, or a drawstring bag will work.  Remember that dew or rain could wick through stuff sacks and draw string bags, so plan ahead!

Step 2.  Find a tree with a usable branch


You need to hang your bear bag at least 10' off the ground, and higher is better.  This means you should find a branch that is less than 4" in diameter, 6' away from the tree trunk, and at least 20' off the ground.


The tree should be at least 100' from your tent, and farther is better.

Step 3.  Get the Rope Over the Branch


  1. Tie a bowline knot in one end of the rope.
  2. Clip the carabiner onto the bowline. Clip the drawstring from the stuff sack onto the carabiner.
  3. Heave the Put the rock into the stuff sack and throw the stuff sack over the branch.  You might have to throw it several times until you get it placed just right.  Remember that the rope needs to be 4-6' away from the trunk of the tree.
Tie a bowline in one end of the rope

Step 4.  Attach the carabiner to the rope and the bear bag


  1. Once the rope is over the branch, clip the rope and to the carabiner.  Clip the bear bag to it.  The example shows a stuff sack with a drawstring but no sliding lock or toggle.  Tie a slipknot in the drawstring as close to the bag as possble and clip the carabiner between the knot and bag.
  2. Then pass the free end of the rope through the carabiner.


4a.  Clip the carabiner to the bear bag.  There's more than one way to do this.  Your bag will depend a lot on how this should be done.
4b.  Pass the free end of the rope through the carabiner.

Step 5.  Hoist the bag all the way to the branch.


Pull on the free end of the rope until the bag raises all the way to the tree branch.

Step 6.  Tie a clove hitch around the stick


Reach up as far as you can on the rope and tie a clove hitch.


An easy method is to


  • Make two loops in the line.
  • Put the second loop behind the first one.  Slide the stick through both loops and tighten.

Step 7.  Lower the bear bag


Lower the bag down.  About halfway between you and the branch, the stick will meet the carabiner.  Since the stick can't pass through the 'biner it will jam and the bag won't come any lower to the ground.


Make sure the bag is 4-6' from nearby tree trunks and at least 10' off the ground.  The remainder of the rope hangs freely.  The bear can do what it wants with that end of the rope - it won't release the bag.

How do I get the bag back down?


To retrieve the bag, hoist it all the way up to the branch by pulling on the free end of the rope.  Reach up and pull the stick out of the clove hitch.  Remove the stick next to the knot, then lower the bag.  Without the stick in place the bag will come all the way to the ground.