Offensive Bears/Defensive Tactics

This article is reprinted with gracious permission from Inside Outings, the newsletter for Sierra Club leaders

What follows are two methods of protecting food from hungry bears in the back country. It should be noted that neither of these is a panacea, because both of them require trees (in short supply in tundra country.) Neither can leaders of, say, 10-day trips count on getting a couple of hundred pounds or more of food stashed in steel bear boxes or airborne out of the reach of Mr. or Mrs. Bear.

So accept the methods, both of which have been used in the field successfully, for what they're worth. Be aware that leaving food at ground level may be hazardous to your health and food supply, and plan ahead for contingencies. Remember especially that any food storage method that relies on trees and ropes is at best a delaying tactic. Left unattended, any food storage system will fail and provide food to the bears. It is your responsibility to keep your food away from bears.

Food Bagging using the Ridone Two Rope, Double Carabiner Method
By Jean Ridone, Eugene, Oregon

A week-long trip with a dozen backpackers makes it difficult and often frustrating to hang food for protection against bears. Most often, "ideal" trees with long, high, sturdy branches are unavailable. Check the text and illustration below and you'll see how this method works. It does not require long branches, and puts the weight of the food right up against the tree trunk, where the limb is strongest.

  1. Select two trees at least 30 feet apart.

  2. Stuff food into bags or stuff sacks. Tie sacks in pairs.

  3. Hang a rope from each tree over a limb on the far side side away from the other tree. Keep the rope close to the tree. To get the ropes over, first tie a fist-sized rock to the end of a nylon cord (throw line). When the throw has been made, tie the cord to the rope and use it to draw the rope over the limbs. Tie the ropes to the trees.

Rope #1 on the left, Rope #2 on the right

  1. Tie a carabiner or small pulley at the end of rope #1. Drape pairs of food bags on the rope above the carabiner/pulley.

  2. Tie a figure 8 knot on rope #2 and attach another carabiner or pulley. Hang food sacks in pairs as in step #4.

  3. Thread end of rope #2 through carabiner or pulley of rope #1 and then back through carabiner or pulley on rope #2.

  4. Pull on rope #2. The two ropes will swing up with their loads. Raise to 10 feet above the ground, minimum. This may take several people doing the pulling.

  1. Tie down rope #2, either to the first tree, or to a third tree off to the side. Add noise makers to alert campers in case a bear tests the tie-down rope, or tries to climb one of the trees. If a bear should wander into your site, campers should aggressively throw rocks and make loud noises to shoo away the bear. Repeat as needed.

[Your editor has used, and seen others use, Jean's method. And it works, albeit
with some difficulty. Jean also submits another technique which he calls...]

The San Diego One Rope, Small Quantity Food Hanging Method

  1. Load food in a bag.

  2. Tie a rock at the end of a nylon cord and toss it over a tree limb.

  3. Tie the bag to the end of the cord. Just above the bag, tie a loop. Pass the other end of the cord through the loop.

  4. Hoist the bag to the limb. Without lowering the bag, tie a slip knot as high up as you can on the rope in hand. Insert a stick in the slip knot and tighten. Lower the bag. It will stop when the stick reaches the loop.

  5. That's it. You can let the cord dangle. This method can also be used in a base camp situation when you want quick access to breakfast and lunch materials.

Note that any tugging on the loose end of the rope will simply hoist the food bag higher. Brother bear will quickly tire of this game and move on.

(Even as you read this, unusually well-informed minds in our organization are hard at work devising alternatives that offer more security with less hassle, and will pass muster with agencies in the field. Stay tuned. Any other bear experiences or comments on the method devised by Jean or "someone in San Diego" are welcome.)