Bear Safe Camping and Bear Bags
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.