My up coming Appalachian Trail Through Hike has got me thinking about the gear I am taking with me. One of the most important pieces will be my container I store my food in. I have the option of using a bear bag which is basically hanging a waterproof bag with all my food in it from a tree branch high off the ground. Or I can use a bear vault which is bear and other animal proof and water proof container that I put my food into and leave on the ground 100yrds from camp.
With a bear bag you need to look for a tree with the right branch to hang it from. In order to have the best chances at keeping the bag safe from animals you need to follow a few rules…
Rule 1: It must be on a sturdy branch.
Rule 2: It must hang at least 4-5 feet from the trunk of the tree.
Rule 3: It needs to hang at least 4 feet below the branch it is hanging from and 4 feet away from any nearby branches.
Rule 4: It must be at least 10-12 feet above the ground for black bear country and higher for grizzly country.
Rule 5: It must be 100yrds or greater from camp and water sources.
A bear vault doesn’t need to be hung from a tree. However you do need to follow these rules…
Rule 1: Keep outside of vault clean.
Rule 2: When done using, place 100yrds or greater from camp and water sources.
Rule 3: Place where it will be easy to find again and not fall off a cliff or into a non-accessible crevice etc… (some people tie it to a tree but this can give animals a handle to carry it off with)
PROS & CONS
Bear Bag PROS:
- Weighs less, 2. Generally holds more food, 3. Usually waterproof, 4. Can be scent proof, 5. Compresses as food decreases, 6. Can form fit to backpack
Bear Vault PROS:
- Waterproof, 2. Bear proof, 3. Use as a stool/seat, 4. Use as a sink, 5. Use to wash clothes in, 6. Saves time finding tree branches to hang from, 7. Less arguments in crowded campsites over precious tree branches, 8. Gives you more time for other things, 9. Generally floats, 10. Prevent injuries from trying to hang in trees, 11. Use in campsites with no trees, 12. No damage to trees, 13. Required in some places, 14. Easier to use in bad weather, 15. If animal finds vault your food should remain safe
Bear Bag CONS:
- Hard to find the right tree branch, 2. Bears/animals are getting smarter, 3. Not animal proof, 4. Takes lots of time to hang, 5. Frustrating, 6. Can cause injury, 7. Can damage tree, 8. Sucks using in rain/storms, 9. gets holes from animals or use then no longer water/scent proof, 10. Can cause arguments over placement in crowded areas, 11. If animal gets a hold of bag generally your food is lost even if you get bag back
Bear Vault CONS:
- Weighs more, 2. Doesn’t compress as food depletes, 3. Can get displaced/lost if animal kicks it around, 4. Holds less food generally, 5. Isn’t form fitting to backpack
So in conclusion:
I have decided to take my Bear Vault with me on my Appalachian Trail Through Hike Adventure this time. Hopefully I wont lose it due to bears wanting to play soccer with my food 🙂
I hope this blog helps other hikers and backpackers make their choice a bit easier as to which to carry. I have used Bear Bags for nearly 20yrs and never had an issue until 2015. A bear came into camp and stole several bear bags (not mine thankfully). My dog Kyle ran the bears off before they got mine and his bags and he rescued the other peoples bags. Animals (bears especially) are getting smarter. Most of my hiking over the last 20yrs was not in areas that were heavy with hikers except for my yearly spring section hikes on the Appalachian Trail. So the animals I encountered may not have had enough training opportunities to learn how to get a hold of my Bear Bag over those years. I will still use a Bear Bag in some occasions, on some trails, but as for use in heavily hiked areas I will now use the Bear Vault.
I love using my bear vaults… I think the extra weight will be justified by the ease of setting at night after a long day on the trail. One thing I did was to put a length of surveyor tape jammed in the lid. That way if it gets disturbed there may be a clue as to where it is or which way it went. If the bear manages to somehow get ahold of the tape it’ll tear off though rather than letting the bear drag the can. I can’t tell how well that works because mine have never been disturbed while I’ve done that. Just an idea though
Thanks for the tip. I think I will do that with hot pink tape at least while going through GA, NC, TN sections… I’m thinking it will make a great clothes washer 🙂 and a good seat.
My 2 cents. I tried a Garcia canister on my one and only A.T. hike, and for me it just seemed to take up to much room in my pack. I got another similar canister, slightly smaller than the Garcia but still, I can’t seem to make it fit. And I sure don’t want to go to a larger pack. I tried to come up with ways to strap it on the outside of my pack, but nothing seemed to work. This year I got a Ursack. Haven’t been on the trail with it yet but to be honest I love the way it fits in my pack. It holds more than I will carry. This will sound silly maybe but if I could find a lightweight crossbow pistol I think getting a rope over a limb would perhaps be a little easier. I have timber behind my home so I will be practicing throwing a weighted sock over some limbs. On a side note I heard it is possible to tie the bag to a tree without having to hang it. Doesn’t sound very safe too me. I will do it the way it was intended. Hanging.
You are right on all accounts lol… The Bear Vault is cumbersome in the backpack and difficult to fit in nicely. I am still working out a good way to pack around it as it is the heaviest item and should be set just at or a hair below the shoulder blades. I’ve got 2 more months to work out the carrying kinks though 🙂 Your pistol crossbow idea is funny and I happen to own one. Use a fishing adapter on it to shoot your line over.
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The fishing adapter sounds like good old Yankee ingenuity. I like it! If you ever run across an ol geezer in the woods with crossbow pistol hanging off his pack, you may have just found me :0
Drank one to many brewskis watching Seattle get there arse handed to them. Time to get some shut-eye.
To be continued.
(Have to brag before I leave. I have a full size Ten Point crossbow that was suppose to bring home a wild turkey the last couple of years. Never hunted anything so wary in my life 😦
LOL… I also have a full size crossbow. It is a Barnett 150lb draw that I’ve wanted to hunt with but the animals never seem to be anywhere around when it comes out to play… I got a 308 bolt action to hunt deer this year and the deer ran away 2 weeks before hunting season and just came back last week. I have a 9 point buck in my woods I am going to post a blog on here shortly that came out after hunting season was over. Got some trail cam pics of him. That bastard was supposed to stand in the field with a sign saying here I am this year. Guess he forgot.
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Wow, seems we have similar interest!! I picked up a Weatherby .308 about four years ago. But here in the People’s Republic of Illinois you can only hunt deer (legally)with a shotgun. They do have a special handgun season which would be a blast had I not lost sight in my left eye. Makes depth perception a real challenge.
I tried a trail cam several years back but when I went back to check it someone else decided they needed it worse than me. Two things I abhor- ticks and thieves. (I would mention politicians also but since they fall under the ticks & thieves blanket…..).
Deer can be funny like that, its like they have a 6th sense. But when you finally connect and have some deer sausage to gnaw on or venison chili to wolf down it makes it a little easier to forget the days they refuse to come out and play.
Currently,where I live, its in-between season, the slack period after hunting season ends and fishing/camping season starts. My wife is ready to throw me to the wolves, I have been driving her crazy with my cabin fever.
Coming here and finding people like you with similar interest helps me from losing what little mind I have left (and probably save my wife for going to jail for shooting me 🙂
Got more questions to ask, but I want to go back to your website and do some more reading. Got to tell you, from what I have read so far I wish we was neighbors!
PS-Can you tell from my name I am a natural Archer?!
LOL… I am planning a camping trip in lower PA next month. Got to get out. Got ticks taken care of and thieves haven’t been around for awhile. I hired a flock of chickens for the ticks and got some signs saying I shoot first and then actually did a few times. As for politicians well we haven’t found a solution yet. Though setting my property up off grid and tax exempt has hurt their pocket books I suspect 🙂
Good discussion. Just to add some flavor to this topic, which I have researched extensively and field tested for much but not all, I am providing some links below. It all boils down to bear and minibear (rodent) protection. If that bear cannister didn’t weigh so much, wasn’t so incompressible, and wasn’t so off-balance to carry, I would use it everywhere. Like you say, it is a great seat and makes a fantastic water / wash basin. BTW, to combat weight distribution problems, if you are not required to have a bear cannister, but elect to use one, there is no law that says you have to carry heavy food and toiletries in it while actually hiking … just saying that it is a viable option to carry lighter stuff in it, and pack your heavier food in the middle of your pack up against your back. Just make sure it is in an OpSak (and possibly also a DCF dry bag) inside your pack.
Andrew Skurka has a good discussion on choices, and leans away from bear hanging … https://andrewskurka.com/argument-against-hanging-bear-bag/ …
He also mentions a guy who is an expert at bear hanging, even in those areas that are difficult, like evergreen forests … https://backpackinglight.com/turbo_bear_bag_hanging/ …
It all boils down to individual preference for the topography. So many options, including rethinking your resupply strategy. Number of days between resupply, Ursack bags and proper use, requirements of bear cannister, OpSak bags, and even OutSak bags.
For my CDT through hike, I will vary my resupply and my bear/minibear protection, depending upon where I am at the time.
Hope this helps.
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thanks for commenting. i think it varies from person to person and on the type of trail and length of time you plan to be out. as long as you and your food are safe then thats all that matters.