#Gear,  Food!,  Hiking/Backpacking Safety

#Gear – Bear Etiquette (Food Storage)

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An example of the wrong way to hang your food…

I have been wanting to write this post for a while… After a pretty  shocking experience this past weekend I felt it needed to be written sooner rather than later (See picture to the right…)!
My hope with this post is to go over some general food storage and camp etiquette so you aren’t “those people” when you are on the trail/camping. In addition, all of these items are to help mitigate bear (and other critters) issues at campsites for yourself and others.
The other critters I refer might not be as scary as bears, squirrels, mice, raccoons etc., but they can still cause some pretty good damage to your gear and steal your stuff!  These little guys have been known to either rip/tear and even unzip their way into your tent to get any little crumbs or goodies that smell you might have left in there for the day! 
I want to help explain why we do certain things, why parks require some strange things and what different methods of protecting your food can be!
So the question is: WHY BEAR ETIQUETTE?!

Me at 6AM with a shirt that says "Go Outside - worst case scenario a bear kills you"
Tired face for a 5AM wake up, but wearing on of my favorite shirts!

First things first, no body REALLY wants to get eaten by a bear… It might be funny to have a shirt that says “go outside, worst thing that happens is a bear kills you…” but that isn’t really my goal, no matter how difficult my week was! (PS. I adore this shirt!)
Bear etiquette is for your safety, fellow hikers safety and the bear’s safety! (Yes, the bears safety!) Avoiding interaction with bears that rewards them for seeking out humans is key. Bears are highly intelligent animals… they remember if they got a good meal at a campsite and will return to the same spot to find out if they can get the same easy meal… So how do we keep the bears from getting our food and seeking out camps and people?
MAKE IT DIFFICULT TO ACCESS THE FOOD! – Many regions have different requirements on how this should be done… bear boxes, bear cans, bear bags, hanging etc… please before you go, check your park/region for their specific requirements and suggestions…
First things first… You should always put ALL scented items, including but not limited to… chap-stick, any medicine, toothpaste, deodorant, sunblock, hand-sanitizer, snacks, trash, etc. in the regions suggested method!!!
Various methods of food (& scented item) storage include:
Bear Boxes – These are typically a heavy metal box/container near a camping area that is open to all campers to store their scented items. Please, if you are using this, be considerate and keep your items contained and don’t sprawl out as if this is your own personal storage area!
Bear Cans – Think of these like individual bear boxes, you would load these up with your scented items and place your bear canister at least 200-300 feet away from your (and everyone else’s) campsite, away from the trail and away from water. We like to hide ours under some leaves and behind a tree, which probably does nothing but makes us feel better lol. You would NOT want to place these near a cliff, because if a bear does come looking for it and decided to try and open it, they could potentially toss all of your food off the cliff. You can google these and find a variety of different options, but check your parks requirements, some like the High Peaks region in the Adirondacks has even more specific requirements.


Bear Bags – Similar to the Bear Can, these are individual for hikers/groups. You again would load these up with your scented items and place your bear bag at least 200-300 feet away from your (and everyone else’s) campsite, away from the trail and away from water. These bags get tied to the base of a tree/large rock and can also be hung! You can google these and find a variety of different options, but again check your parks requirements and that you purchase and approved bag for that area.
Hanging Your Bag/Bear Bag – Again similar to the Bear Can and Bear Bag, you would be doing this on an individual/your groups level. Hanging, weather it be your pack, a stuff sack, or a bear bag should be done in a specific way. BEARS ARE INCREDIBLE CLIMBERS! You should be certain to hang your bag with your scented items at least 200-300 feet away from your (and everyone else’s) campsite, away from the trail and away from water. Then you should pick a sturdy branch, get a rope up and over it, using a carabiner is a good way to get some throwing weight (easier said than done!). This branch should be high enough that your bag will eventually hang AT LEAST 12 feet off the ground (so think a 15′ high branch). Then, your bag should be hanging at least 5-10 feet off of the tree trunk! Again, bears are incredible climbers, if you hang it right next to the trunk you are NOT challenging them, and they will be able to get it!
OTHER BEAR DETERRENT FOOD OPTIONS – I have not been everywhere nor do I know everything… If you have come across other bear proofing methods let me know in the comments below and I will happily add them!

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This photo sums up what NOT to do for hanging… When camping this past weekend the group that arrived after us decided to hang their cooler IN BETWEEN our two camp sites…  They hung it approximately 30′ from our tent, and maybe 35′ from their tent, and the lean-to. The bag is hung about 3 or 4 feet from the trunk of the tree and it hangs very low! Zack is just under 6′, and as you can see can EASILY reach their bag.

Please, never hang your bag like these people did! This was IN THE MIDDLE of the camping area, so if a bear had come around it would have been between our tent and theirs! …We did write them a note informing them that while their intentions were good, this was not the right place or way way to hang their food. I feel sharing you knowledge is part of being a good member of the hiking community, just be kind while you do it!

A few region specific’s I have come across in my travels:

NY – High Peaks Region – Requires a very specific type of bear can, which we discovered when we did our first overnight in that area. There are bears in that region that have figured out how to open certain containers, like the Bear Vault, hence this requirement for a different style of container. (The park does rent the appropriate bear canister at the ADK Loj should you not want to purchase one). The bears in this region figured out how to get the top off of the bear vault bear canisters, hence this specific requirement.

The black bear canister on the right of both photos is an APPROVED canister for the Adirondack High Peaks region. The clever bear was able to open the top of the blue canister, which opens like safety cap like a mouth wash or pill bottle.  

WY – Yellowstone National Park (Grizzly territory) – Requires an Inter-agency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) approved container, and requires that anything that does not fit in said container be hung or stored in a National Park Service (NPS) installed bear proof locker. (When we stayed in the back country at Yellowstone we hung our backpacks with our bear containers inside them, we were NOT about to mess around with some big grizzly!)
WY – Grand Tetons – Requires an Inter-agency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) approved container!

AGAIN ALL OF THIS IS USELESS IF YOU LEAVE YOUR FOOD/SCENTED ITEMS CLOSE TO CAMP/IN YOUR TENT!

Along with proper food/scented item storage… PLEASE… do not cook or eat next to your or anyone else’s camp site. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen people cooking their food right next to the lean-to in bear country. No matter how careful you are while your cooking and eating you are going to get some food on you and on the ground. Eating away from camp (200-300′) will keep those crumbs away from your tent, and help to keep the bears away from your tent while you sleep! I have even heard some recommendations to not cook/eat in your sleeping clothes, because then you will smell as delicious as whatever you cooked, but that was generally in grizzly territory.
In addition, many parks and region either require, or highly suggest carrying Bear Pepper Spray! If you have ready any of my other posts you will know I like to lean on the side of caution, and would prefer to carry Bear Pepper Spray in areas where bears are present instead of needing it and not having it with me!
For more information you can always research the area you are going to or check out the NPS website for some wonderful info!

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