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DTrain
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04/11/2024 01:42PM  
Oh boy, grab the popcorn right?

If you were to rank order different methods of food storage from most bear proof to least bear proof, how would you rank order the below choices? Let's assume we're talking BWCA/Quetico and not elsewhere and that no other criteria is being evaluated except for ability to be bear proof.

* Ursack
* Bear cannister (BearVault, Garcia, Counter Assault, etc)
* Blue barrel
* Hanging
* Other (please specify)

I thought I was in the market for an Ursack for their ability to be lightweight and compact especially in the 2nd half of a trip. But then I googled "ursack failure" and am having second thoughts after seeing many examples of failures.

On the other hand, isn't it easy to find examples of failures of all of the common storage methods?

What's everyone's opinions of how Ursack stacks up when compared to the others? How would you rank order the above list?
 
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andym
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04/11/2024 02:07PM  
I think it depends on the user. I'm not great on hanging and don't like doing it. I've watched a bear go from campsite to campsite checking out the standard hanging tree. I am happy to carry multiple Ursacks and spread them out in different directions from camp. I have thought about mixing in one bear canister to give further protection to some food.

So for me the list would be:
Bear Canister
Ursack
Blue Barrel (used one once when we had a 9 person group)
Hanging
 
04/11/2024 03:52PM  
I had a bear try, key word try, to get into my Ursack. It was a mom and cub about 10:00 at night. I'm not sure how long they were there before I woke up and startled them off.

There were a few holes in the bag from the claws, even a neat cub paw print pattern. The bag did not actually fail since they didn't get any food. After all remember the purpose of all these methods is to protect the bear from the food, not the other way around.

There was a hole over 1/4", so Ursack replace the bag no questions asked.

For me if I'm in an area where bears are likely, such as Agnes lake where the above took place, a canister like the Bear vault would be the only way to go. Otherwise it's the Ursack.

Hanging can be effective if, and only if, it's done properly. In my ten or so trips I've yet to see a bag hung properly or stay in a site where I thought I could have hung one properly without a great deal of work. If you don't do it right, you might as well leave the bag sitting on the ground.

Blue barrels are loved by many for a lot of reasons, but anything to do with bears should not be one of them.
 
04/11/2024 03:53PM  
My buddy and I bring an Ursack and a blue barrel. I don't know what is "safer" or more bear proof, but I can tell you that as we always empty the Ursack into the blue barrel as we eat our meals and clear up space.

Our theory is that the blue barrel seals scents better and since we use it as a table when we play cards, it ends up getting any food scent on the exterior covered up with cigar smoke and bug spray. We also pay attention to any reports of bear sightings and usually ask the local outfitter if they are aware of any bear issues. If there was a known bear in the area that had learned any "tricks", like breaking into blue barrels, we would adjust our strategy accordingly. Likely by using the Ursack more and hanging the blue barrel instead of stashing it.

If I had to rate them, my list would be:

Bear canister
Blue barrel
Ursack
Hang

Blue barrel and Ursack are very close, and the Ursack might be better, but I don't really believe the sales pitch where they claim that the Ursack doesn't reward the bear and teach it to become a problem. I think the Ursack is slightly more likely to have a bear find and chew on it, and I also think that the bear will get a substantial "reward" though the fabric.

Hanging done properly would have been right below the bear canister, but with bears learning to go to the same tree in each camp and 90% of hangs being lower and closer to the tree than is required, the average hang gets pushed to the bottom of the list.
 
04/11/2024 05:04PM  
I appreciate the ursack most for the ease of use. I bring way too much food for using a bear canister or 3, but know they're effective. I've seen the chewed up and torn blue barrels (ie-Clearwater Outfitters has a good one), and I've used hanging more than any other method before I got my Ursack and scent bags, but they're a lot of trouble and it's usually not a perfect hang.

Ursack
Bear Canister
Blue Barrel (used one once when we had a 9 person group)
Hanging
 
ockycamper
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04/11/2024 05:39PM  
Bear Canister
Ursack
Blue Barrel (used one once when we had a 9 person group)
Hanging

I don't see Blue Barrels as bear proof. Ursack may keep the bear from getting the food, but who wants to eat is after the bear has smashed everything inside and slobbered up the sack?
 
04/11/2024 05:41PM  
Guard Dog Cerberus...job done.
 
billconner
distinguished member(8613)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
  
04/11/2024 06:04PM  
Bear fences anyone?
 
04/12/2024 07:43AM  
As I've mentioned in the past, the people who have had bears try to get in Ursacks seem to like them a lot less than people who have not. I'm still thinking of one to supplement my BearVaults, but I understand the limitations. BearVaults aren't 100% either, but I take a small risk for the convenience compared to some other canisters. I think the argument that a blue barrel can be just as effective because it seals the odors in better than a Vault or Ursack could be valid too.

I used to do the Cliff method of just sealing and stashing food away from camp. Did it work? Or were there just not any bears around? I have no idea. And that's the problem with ranking methods. Unless you know there has been a hungry bear near camp you'll never know if it was effective or not. Just about anything can be reasonably effective, if done correctly. And just about anything can be defeated by a determined bear.

All that said, based on research and personal preference rather than experience and outright effectiveness, here is my list:

Bear Vault
Ursack
Blue Barrel
Stashing
Hanging

I'd probably like hanging better if I were better at it, or if it were easier to find good trees to do it in. Those two things are probably related some.
 
GeneH
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04/12/2024 09:58AM  
Yeah, it's a little bit of a conundrum. I bought an Ursack before I realized small varmints can chew into them. I backpack more short trips so picked up a small 3-day-max canister. Then I picked up a metal mesh varmint bag for desert hikes. I really should just go pick up a large bear canister.

My ranking now is:
Canister (cause I have that small one) so if a bear contaminates food in my Ursack I have enough to get home hungry.

Supplement with Ursack,with metal mesh varmint inside also. Tie it up to a tree crotch as recommended as high as I can it to keep out the mice.

The relatively few trips spanning a couple decades never had trouble with bears or mice and always hung my food as best I can, but for sure no matter what bears can get to the sacks.
 
04/12/2024 12:40PM  
ockycamper: "Bear Canister
Ursack
Blue Barrel (used one once when we had a 9 person group)
Hanging

I don't see Blue Barrels as bear proof. Ursack may keep the bear from getting the food, but who wants to eat is after the bear has smashed everything inside and slobbered up the sack?"


None of the options are bear "proof". Each one has failed in the field before so that isn't the question. The question is what order you would rank them in. It is nice to see that almost everyone agrees that blue barrels are better than hanging though.
 
andym
distinguished member(5354)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
  
04/12/2024 01:11PM  
GeneH: "I bought an Ursack before I realized small varmints can chew into them. "


What sort of small varmint did you have penetrate an Ursack? I've had a squirrel sit on top of one puzzled and give up and have been at sites with lots of mice but none have gotten into them.

Apparently they think raccoons can do it and I bought one of their raccoon/bear bags for California.
 
SouthernKevlar
senior member (85)senior membersenior member
  
04/12/2024 01:55PM  
Just a thought, and I have never tried this...

Has anyone ever tried anchoring a bear vault, maybe in a bright stuff sack, out in the lake near their campsite for overnight storage?

I can see some potential hazards such as wind, high waves or a bear pulling up the anchor, but I wonder if a bear would bother swimming out to check out the low intensity odor of a washed-off (by the lake) and sealed bear vault?
 
04/12/2024 02:12PM  
SouthernKevlar: "Just a thought, and I have never tried this...

Has anyone ever tried anchoring a bear vault, maybe in a bright stuff sack, out in the lake near their campsite for overnight storage?"


Bear Vaults are not waterproof. They might be water resistant, but are not designed to be submerged.
 
ockycamper
distinguished member(1396)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
  
04/12/2024 02:26PM  
For those of us that use Bearvaults we know there are easy solutions to making them waterproof. We have dropped up to four of them into a sealine pack and carried them all . . .making them waterproof. We have also used duct tape to wrap around the lid for when carrying them in a canoe. We are base campers, so we only have to do that until we get to camp.
 
04/12/2024 02:32PM  
I've also had a bear come into my site at 10pm and make an attempt at my Ursack. We woke up and scared the bear off after we heard him huffing and snorting near our Ursack. I'm confident that a bear will never be able to run off with my food as long as I am nearby to scare it off. That would prevent any reward to a bear. That's all that I am trying to accomplish. I'd NEVER tie my Ursack to a tree and then leave for a day trip. That would be asking for trouble. I always tie the Ursack to a tree nearby enough that I could hear any commotion but not too close to feel threatened by an intruder. The Ursack has it's limitations, but if used responsibly it will prevent a bear from running off with your food pack.
 
04/12/2024 02:50PM  
I'm more of a tough guy, so I bring a gun and will shoot any bear that is trying to steal my food. Problem solved.

 
04/12/2024 02:53PM  
I'm not actually a tough guy, I use a bear vault.
 
pleflar
senior member (59)senior membersenior member
  
04/12/2024 04:03PM  
I also use a bear vault and, while I'm unsure how exactly to measure the toughness of a guy, killing an animal in its own environment because I stored my meat sticks and cheesy crackers poorly seems like a weak move. Seems to me that, as visitors to a federally designated wilderness, we have a responsibility to behave in a manner that does not degrade the wilderness. Laziness in food protection and "tough guy" gunslinging do nothing to protect or enhance the wilderness.

Frankly, if you feel the need to shoot a bear over your candy bars you may not be up to it. Instead, go check out a local state park and leave the BWCAW to people who can handle a challenge.
 
04/12/2024 06:06PM  
YaMarVa: "I'm more of a tough guy, so I bring a gun and will shoot any bear that is trying to steal my food. Problem solved.


"


I deleted my response because I took the oath of dignity and respect

Edit: I actually see now that thankfully you may have been kidding?
 
stickbow21
member (40)member
  
04/12/2024 10:09PM  
For what it's worth, I worked for the Forest Service in the BWCA as a ranger for 2 summers in college. The head guy in charge taught us that hanging was for tourists. No one I worked with ever hung anything. All the FS crews in our district would bring two medium sized plastic coolers (the kind with the lids that friction fit on and off easily) on every trip that stacked one on top of the other and fit inside a pack custom made by CCS (approximately 85L).

The primary purpose of the coolers was both to keep things cool for the first 2-4 days but also for mice, not bears. At night the coolers would be stacked in the pack and left right next to the camp fire grill with all the metal cookware on top. The theory was that if a bear came into camp, they would knock off the metal cookware which would wake people up so they could scare the bear off. This did not happen when I worked up there but was told it was effective in the past.

I have now done this on 75+ trips and have never had a bear encounter so I have yet to be able to test this. However, instead of pots and pans on top, I now tie the pack to a tree or most of the time strap it to the canoe. I also put 2 bells made for falconry on the pack which are especially made to be heard at far distances. Theory being that the bells will wake someone up and/or I will be able to follow the bear where ever he goes to get it back. However, thankfully, I have still to test this theory...

If we leave camp for the day we stash the pack on an island or take it with us. Many of the bear encounters I hear about (and they are RARE) happen during the day as much as the night.
 
04/13/2024 08:12AM  
pleflar: "I also use a bear vault and, while I'm unsure how exactly to measure the toughness of a guy, killing an animal in its own environment because I stored my meat sticks and cheesy crackers poorly seems like a weak move. Seems to me that, as visitors to a federally designated wilderness, we have a responsibility to behave in a manner that does not degrade the wilderness. Laziness in food protection and "tough guy" gunslinging do nothing to protect or enhance the wilderness.


Frankly, if you feel the need to shoot a bear over your candy bars you may not be up to it. Instead, go check out a local state park and leave the BWCAW to people who can handle a challenge. "


Lighten up Francis, it was a joke based on a similar thread from a few days ago.
 
04/13/2024 08:14AM  
HangLoose: "
YaMarVa: "I'm more of a tough guy, so I bring a gun and will shoot any bear that is trying to steal my food. Problem solved.



"



I deleted my response because I took the oath of dignity and respect

Edit: I actually see now that thankfully you may have been kidding?"


Yeah I was kidding, it’s always a good idea to read the whole thread before impulse posting.
 
chessie
distinguished member (357)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
  
04/13/2024 08:38AM  
So far, I've had complete success with my hanging system, or bear vaults.
I use pulleys to make it easier on me and the trees. I had a bear strategically wait until I'd lowered the food pack to the ground one morning, before it came into camp :)
We switched to bear vaults. Always trade-offs. They are less hassle, less wear and tear on trees, and seem pretty effective. Downside is some awkwardness packing them in terms of comfort.
 
Wispaddler
member (48)member
  
04/13/2024 06:39PM  
My method using blue barrel-
#1 keep camp scrupulously trash free and scent free, and no dirty dishes or pots!
# 2 put anything with a scent in the barrel including trash bag, toothpaste, soaps, etc. , never prepare food on the barrel top.
#3 stash the barrel 50 (?) or more yards off the trail into the bush, I bike cable it to a small tree (this will keep Sasquatch or the world’s largest raccoon from carrying it away). Anyhow, it makes me feel better. Write the combination on the barrel.

BWCA and Quetico, never had a problem.

 
scottiebaldwin
distinguished member (203)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
  
04/13/2024 10:59PM  
Wispaddler: "My method using blue barrel-
#1 keep camp scrupulously trash free and scent free, and no dirty dishes or pots!
# 2 put anything with a scent in the barrel including trash bag, toothpaste, soaps, etc. , never prepare food on the barrel top.
#3 stash the barrel 50 (?) or more yards off the trail into the bush, I bike cable it to a small tree (this will keep Sasquatch or the world’s largest raccoon from carrying it away). Anyhow, it makes me feel better. Write the combination on the barrel.


BWCA and Quetico, never had a problem.


"


Swish! You nailed it!
 
04/14/2024 07:40AM  
Hang
Stash.

Hate hard sided containers. All food in sealine dry bags. Hang with two ropes and high quality pulleys. Started tripping in 76 and trip with great frequency. Never an issue.
 
04/14/2024 10:52AM  
YaMarVa: "
HangLoose: "
YaMarVa: "I'm more of a tough guy, so I bring a gun and will shoot any bear that is trying to steal my food. Problem solved.
"

I deleted my response because I took the oath of dignity and respect
Edit: I actually see now that thankfully you may have been kidding?"


Yeah I was kidding, it’s always a good idea to read the whole thread before impulse posting. "


Yeah, you should probably heed that advice. If you have something to say about a topic, be an adult and do so in the thread actually discussing it instead of taking snide pot shots elsewhere.
 
RodPortage
member (49)member
  
04/14/2024 05:21PM  
Wow, basically everyone answered this earnestly, giving of their knowledge and experience to benefit everyone.

I read that original post differently: as an invitation to aggressively state opinions without a lot of "factual basis" getting in the way. Here's my ranking:
1. Blue barrel (the way I now do things)
2. Ursack, Bear cannister (never tried, seem a bit small)
3. Other = getting hit by a 25hp motorboat driven by bears
99. Hanging (the way I used to do things)

I'm very skeptical that hanging keeps bears away from your food at more than one in ten sites, with the other nine in ten having no suitable location to really get the bag out of reach from all directions. I think I've never lost food to a bear for the same reason that most of us haven't - that there weren't bears around looking for my food. I'm not sure if my carefully stashed barrel will protect my food (though I started doing this after reading Jacobsen books, and he swore by it), but at least I'll get to skip the "toss the weighted rope" game and enjoy my evenings.
 
billconner
distinguished member(8613)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
  
04/14/2024 06:14PM  
I'm with you. Maybe someday a bear will get my ccs deluxe food back hanging. I don't ever leave it hanging when I'm not there.
 
04/15/2024 07:53AM  
plmn: Yeah, you should probably heed that advice. If you have something to say about a topic, be an adult and do so in the thread actually discussing it instead of taking snide pot shots elsewhere. "


Adults know how to take a joke.

 
04/15/2024 08:10AM  
YaMarVa: "
plmn: Yeah, you should probably heed that advice. If you have something to say about a topic, be an adult and do so in the thread actually discussing it instead of taking snide pot shots elsewhere. "


Adults know how to take a joke.
"


Good jokes don't need to be explained.
 
schweady
distinguished member(8082)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
  
04/15/2024 08:39AM  
Seems there is only one simple solution for eliminating folks' insistence on the obvious 'only' way to go, from guns to their perfect rope-and-pulley systems: don't bring food.
 
RTurner
distinguished member (152)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
  
04/15/2024 09:28AM  
schweady: "Seems there is only one simple solution for eliminating folks' insistence on the obvious 'only' way to go, from guns to their perfect rope-and-pulley systems: don't bring food.
"

I just bring my own cooking. Even a bear wouldn't eat that garbage
 
DTrain
distinguished member (200)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
  
04/15/2024 10:17AM  
Thank you all for your replies! It's given me additional confidence that purchasing the Ursack may be in my interest.

Since the motivation for my post was called into question I feel the need to address it. It was simply to hear all of your experiences and knowledge and to help me make an informed decision. The popcorn comment was just to poke fun of how this topic can be hot button. As far as I am aware, there isn't really objective data available for us to decide which approaches to use. For the most part, opinions and stories are all we have to go on. My own opinion is that I started hanging and then transitioned to the blue barrel. I had a bear shit in our camp once while we were out fishing, so I think the blue barrel has been tested.

I went through the thread and tallied up everyone's rankings using a point system. I assigned a point for each rank you all assigned. Your #1 gets 1 point, #2 2 points, etc. If you omitted an item, I assigned a 5.

Lower points is better.

Drumroll.... here are the results:

#1 Bear cannister - 9 points total (#1 or #2 by all respondents)
#2 Ursack - 14 points total
#3 Blue barrel - 20 points total
#4 Hanging - 29 points total

Honorable mention:
Stashing

Thank you and safe travels!
 
ockycamper
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04/15/2024 11:38AM  
You could always just bring a group of middle school boys. There won't be any food left for a bear to get!
 
DTrain
distinguished member (200)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
  
04/15/2024 12:06PM  
ockycamper: "You could always just bring a group of middle school boys. There won't be any food left for a bear to get!"


Been there done that! There must have been a snack sampling party because no package was spared on day 2, including the ahi jerky I had picked up on a vacation in Hawaii a few months earlier and was saving for the Q trip.
 
KarlK
member (46)member
  
04/15/2024 01:16PM  
I have also worked with Forest Service folks out west who never hang. I enclose scent items in dry bags or hard coolers if available, tie off and hope for the best. I am a Boundary Waters Journal reader and I recall an article where Stu weighs in on this topic. I don't think he hangs, but he has food for a large group, making a hang impractical.
 
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