|Cinnamon Black Bear
Wild bears are typically shy animals who want nothing to do with people. They are mostly active during daylight hours, are curious about their environment and react to threats based on the perceived danger just like people do. Black bears usually run away from people or climb up trees to get away from them. Brown bears usually avoid people if they have the option.
Most negative encounters between people and bears occur as a result of improper food/garbage storage. Bears are attracted by the smells of food; it only takes one successful food/garbage exposure to teach a bear that people can have tasty items around camp, making it likely that a bear will seek out people & camping areas again for something to eat. The majority of negative bear encounters occur when bears who have become habituated to looking for people’s food/garbage end up in close proximity to people and a person and/or bear is injured or killed as a result.
|Brown bear mother and cubs, Denali National Park
Being responsible in bear country by keeping your food and trash secure and away from wildlife could affect your safety, the safety of others, and could even save a bear’s life.
Some examples of bear habituation:
A woman in the Sierras leaves her backpack on a picnic table and goes to the restroom on the other side of the campground. The backpack has candy bars, jerky, and a sandwich inside along with a rain jacket and other items. When the woman comes back from the restroom she finds a black bear mom and her cub pulling items out of his pack and eating the food. She yells at the bears to try and make them leave but the bears keep going through her pack for another 10 minute before they leave the campground. The woman is mad that they ruined her pack and ripped her new rain jacket.
|Brown Bear, Tongass National Forest
A family in the Boundary Waters leave their kitchen bag at a portage while they carry two other bags and their canoe to the next lake. When they come back to get the kitchen bag they find it gone. After looking around they find it off trail in the bushes, most of the food has been eaten/damaged and there are wrappers and bags spread out over the area. The family picks up the mess and decides that they will have to head back out early the next morning as they don’t have enough food for their trip anymore.
A man in the Rocky Mountains brings frozen chicken on a camping trip to make for dinner. He decides to leave it out on the picnic table to thaw for half an hour while he works on getting his trailer set up. He hears a noise and comes out of his trailer to see a black bear eating the chicken, bag and all. He yells at the bear and chases it out of the campsite and is unhappy that he has to find something else to eat for dinner.
Tips for preventing problems with bears while camping:
- Check local regulations for bear safe food storage. Some agencies have specific instructions for how to hang food to keep it away from their bears.
- Keep your camp & cooking equipment clean.
- Keep food/toiletries, and other scented items out of sleeping areas & store them properly (in a bear hang/ in a bear box/ in a bear canister/ etc.
- Never leave packs more than a couple of steps away from you. If a bear comes around the corner will you be able to get your pack safely?
- Sleep at least 200 feet away from where you cook and cook at least 200 feet away from where you hang your food/garbage.
- Seal your wet trash in a designated roll top bag or ziplock to make your trash less smelly.
Equipment you’ll need to hang your food/garbage:
- 2 or 3 50ft-100ft lengths of cord appropriate for the weight you’ll be hanging (paracord will work for lightweight hangs, for heavier hangs be sure to get at least 3/8 inch or 10mm cord) From past experience paracord shouldn’t be used with bags weighing more than ~25 pounds, they can give you wicked rope burns due to minimal surface area & will snap with repeated use/heavier bags. Good rope is expensive but you won’t need to replace it nearly as often.
- Carabiners (the kind that have weight ratings printed on them, not the decorative kind; these will break and potentially drop heavy bags of food on your head)
- Optional: pulleys to help lift heavy bags
CLOTHESLINE HANG: (works well for larger/heavier bags)
|Working on a clothesline bear hang
- First find two large trees 12 or more feet apart with large branches 16 or more feet up.
- Take the center of the line you are using, tie a small loop and attach a carabiner (you can add multiple loops & carabiners as needed for your hang just make sure they are at least 6 feet away from the trees on either side)
- Loop your bag hang ropes through the carabiner(s)
- Tie a rock to the end of your hang rope and throw it over one of the branches you’ve selected
- Tie that end off securely on that tree
- Next tie a rock on the other end of the hang rope and throw it over the other branch you’ve selected
- Making sure you don’t loose your hang rope(s), pull the end tight and tie it off on the other tree making the top line as tight as possible.
- Attach your bag to the carabiner, pull on the bag rope until the bag is at least 12 feet up, making sure that the bag hangs down 4 feet from the topline), tie off your bag rope as high up as you can (you can use the same trees or different trees but try and keep the line high enough that a bear wouldn’t walk into it while walking by)
|Clothesline Hang (US Forest Service)
COUNTERBALANCE HANG: (works best with 2 small, equally-weighted bags)
- Find a tree with a live, down-sloping branch. When you are 10 feet away from the trunk, the branch should still be approximately 20 feet off the ground.
- Divide food/garbage into 2 equally weighted bags.
- Tie a rock to the end of your hang rope and throw the end over the branch 10 feet away from the trunk.
- Tie the rope to one food/garbage bag and pull the other end until the bag is up to the branch.
- Tie the second bag to the other end of the rope as high up as you can. Put the rest of the rope in the bag but leave out a loop and tie it to help get the bags back down later.
- push the lower bag up as far as you can, use a stick to push it up more if needed. Bags should be equal height and at least 12 feet off the ground.
- To get the bags back down again use a large stick or branch to reach up and grab the loop you made earlier. Pull down until you have the first bag then remove the extra rope and lower the second bag.
|Counterbalance Hang (National Park Service)
SINGLE TREE AND PULLEY HANG: (works better with smaller bags)
- Find a suitable tree with a branch 20 feet up
- Tie your pulley onto the end of your tree rope and thread a bag rope through the pulley.
- Tie a rock to your tree rope (non-pulley end) and throw it over the branch you picked out. Pull the rope until the pulley is hanging down about 7 feet.
- Secure your tree rope to the tree trunk.
- Tie one end of the bag rope (threaded through the pulley) to your food.
- Pull the other end of the bag rope at a diagonal away from the tree raising the food bag away from the tree.
- Secure the bag rope to another tree, a stump or a rock making sure that your food bag is twelve feet off the ground and six feet away from the main tree.
|Single Tree and Pulley (US Forest Service)
OVER A BRANCH HANG: (often difficult to find suitable tree):
- Find a tree with a LARGE branch at least 16 feet up that will hold the weight of your bag 6 feet out from the trunk. (hard to find)
- Tie a rock to the end of your rope.
- Throw the end over the large branch 6 feet away from the trunk.
- Tie the end to your pack, pull your pack up at least 12 feet off the ground while maintaining at least 4 feet down from the branch to your bag.
- Tie the rope off as high as you can to prevent a bear from finding/chewing on your rope.
|over a branch hang in use
- You can also use a pulley on the end of the rope to prevent damage to the branch and make taking down your bag easier.
|Over A Branch (US Forest Service)
REMEMBER: Whatever method you use, your lines will likely sag as you first put weight on them and again after the line has had time to stretch. You’ll need to tighten and re-tie them a few times to make sure you maintain the distance requirements for a successful bear hang.
Do you have any bear hang stories or techniques you’d like to share? We’d love to see them in the comments below.