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.


Bear Bag:

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.


Bear Vault:

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)



Bear Bag PROS:

  1. 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:

  1. 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:

  1. 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:

  1. 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.