Bear Bagging Practice

In order to keep the bear population from associating humans with food, thus limiting danger for both parties, hikers in the US must hang their food and other ‘smellables’ from a tree each night away from their camp. This Brit hiker needed to practice first…

Practicing this technique wasn’t a case of simply nipping out to the back garden and selecting which fine tree to use from my orchard. As a city apartment dweller the only outside space I can lay claim to is a small balcony and although I checked it carefully for large trees I had to conclude that a trip to a nearby park was called for. I used Google Maps to select one that seemed particularly tree-ey and headed down there on a sunny spring day in March.

Equipment needed: 1 x Zpacks rock bag, 50′ (15 metres) of Lawson GloWire with a small loop at one tied with a bowline knot, 2 x small carabiners, 1 x Zpacks cuben roll top “Blast” food bag, 1 x stick (found locally, they tend to be near trees), 3 x small stones (also found locally).

There are several methods for hanging a bear bag. I decided on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) method because it seemed like it was simple, effective and required less cord than others. One of its key strengths is that the trailing line plays no part in the security of the hang so even if the bear tries to interfere with it, nothing can happen.

So here is what you do: Attach the bear line’s loop to a small ‘rock bag’. This could be  zip lock bag or a dedicated bag. Into said bag add about 100g or 3oz of weight – stones (use round ones, sharp edges will rip your bag), earth, protein bars, etc. Throw bag over a tree limb at least 25 feet (8 metres) above the ground. Make sure the line is at least 6 feet (2 metres) from the tree trunk. Replace the rock bag with your food bag. Pull the bag up to the tree limb. Attach a stick above your head with a lark’s head knot and lower the food bag down. The stick will bump up against the food bag’s carabiner and stop the bag from travelling down any further. At that point the bag will be suspended about 10 feet above the ground. Job done.

Here are some pictures to illustrate (click on each for more detail):

Step 1. Throw rock bag over an appropriate tree limb. In the picture below that is the small white bag; the blue food bag is just photo-bombing.

Step 1. Throw rock bag and line over limb.

Throw rock bag over limb.

Step 2. Having swapped the food bag for the rock bag, thread the other side of the line through the carabiner and pull the food bag right up to the tree limb, then attach a stick to the line and lower the bag until it hits the stick whereupon it will stop. That part is the “secret sauce” to the PCT method.

Final position of the food bag

Final position of the food bag

Closeup of final position

Closeup of final position – see the stick just above the bag?

Step 3. There isn’t really a step 3. Step 3 is when you realize later you need a snack from the food bag and have to do it all over again. In the dark.

The practice went swimmingly except for two problems (so you could argue it didn’t actually go swimmingly). First, the Zpacks rock bag split after 3 throws. Now, it is ‘only’ a 0.51oz/sqyd weight of cuben fiber and not anything other than that. But it is sold specifically as a rock sack (here, go look for yourself) and it does cost $5. A ziplock would also do the job and doesn’t cost $5. So lesson learned there. A bit disappointing from Zpacks.

Second, on my final practice throw of about 10-12 I managed to throw the rock sack and line over the limb so smoothly that it went and wrapped itself back around the limb a total of three times, stranding the food bag against the limb with no way to dislodge it! Now, this was news to me. I hadn’t thought of this. No amount of brute force was going to dislodge that bag now and the problem was 25 feet above my head with no way to get near it. I had a think. Then I had a mild panic as people looked over at my predicament. Then I had another think. And then I decided to attach a new rock sack to the other end of the bear line and throw that in the same way as the original. I couldn’t really work out for myself whether it should be thrown in the opposite  direction to the first throw or the same direction. I plumped for the same way, and it worked. Two good throws in the exact same way and the three tight  loops became one and tugging down the larger food bag side of the line meant the smaller rock sack flipped up over the limb and back down towards my head. Problem solved.

I guess that’s why we practice.


This here is a very good video on the method. Note that the cat is an optional piece of equipment and I elected to go cat-less. Sadly.

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