Bear Hangs in the Backcountry

By Yve Bardwell

Bear hangs – we all know it- they can be a doozy.  But they can also be a fun way to test your creativity and backcountry acumen.  Getting something hoisted and up to snuff with pretty limited tools and a certain amount of luck and pluck can prove challenging to even the saltiest backcountry guru.  Feel good about your next bear hang challenge and brush up on the specs.

First off consult the food storage order for the area you will be traveling.  In the Bob Marshall the food storage order specifies that for hanging food you must position your parcel so that the bottom of the food bag is 10′ from the ground and at least 4 feet from any upward support, ie. the tree trunk.

To begin, here are some other food storage methods available if you don’t feel like messing with a hang or plan to be in an environment that makes hanging food to spec. pretty impossible.  I ran into this problem while working in the Sierra’s.  I was used to Montana’s pines, but when I got to California most of the trees were limbless till about 30′ up there and I had a hard time making an adequate hang.  It can also be difficult to make good bear hangs in alpine environments.

Bear resistant containers are a great solution to this problem.  Barrels have long been the standard and can often be rented from your local gear shop or ranger station. Ursa sacks are a little newer to the market, but also meet the requirements of bear resistant storage.

So back to the hang.  I like to carry parachute cord or something similar because it is both strong and light, relatively inexpensive and you don’t feel bad if you have to cut a chunk off if needed for something else.  I like to have about 30 – 50′ of the stuff.  I usually use an old stuff sack for my food bag.  It is a nice touch to have one that is water proof.  Make sure you have something you can close and that it has some type of cord or loop that will make it easy to attach to your rope.  Last bit is a small carabiner.  This makes it a lot easier to attach your food bag to the line and if you need to hang more than one bag of food, makes that simpler too.

I like to hang my food a ways from where I am camping.  Take your time, go on a little stroll about the place.  It can be pleasant to make this a leisurely exploration of your camping area.  Pick out a few different spots.  Ideally you will find a tall pine that has a beefy branch sticking out into space. Perfect.  Or maybe you will find a steady tree that is leaned over.  Or maybe your 6th grade geometry will kick in and you will find yourself securing one end of your rope to one tree and then wrapping it around another to span between two uprights.  Things may need to get creative.  But that’s not a problem.  That’s the fun part.

Getting it up there.  One of the reasons I like p-cord is because I think it makes the toss up easier than a heavier line.  Find yourself a baseball size rock, tie your line to it, then give it a few wraps.  Remember to hold onto the tail end of your rope, then give it a toss.  Gold star if you can get it in the first attempt.  Once you recover the hanging end, make sure the line is far enough away from the tree.  If it’s not, give it some waves and walk it further out.  Attach your food bag with the carbines and hoist’er up there.  Tie off your tail end to a low branch or trunk of a different tree. The illustration below shows a proper bear hang set up. 

Picture courtesy of NOLS Cookery (National Outdoor Leadership School) (NOLS Library) Kindle Edition by Claudia Pearson (Author, Editor), Mike Clelland (Illustrator), Stackpole Books; 5 Revised edition (January 1, 2004)

At higher elevations, where the trees are shorter you might find yourself having to do some climbing and having to run your bag on the span between the two trees.  If this is the case it is helpful to tie a loop in the middle of the span so you can more easily clip your carabiner to the middle of the line. The following illustration shows an example of the two tree bear hang: 

Illustration by Mike Clelland


Check out some of our silly bear hang antics here: treeclimbingincrocs

Recent Posts