Most animals have a far better sense of smell than humans. Bears and other wild creatures can catch a whiff of your dinner from miles away, even before you start cooking it. Besides tasty smelling snacks, even items that are considered ‘unscented’ to our nostrils — like chapstick, lotion and toothpaste — can be very attractive to animals.
That’s why it's important, when in the backcountry, to cook and eat far away from where you’re planning to camp; and to keep food and other scented items secure and out of the reach of critters at night. This avoids potentially dangerous human-wildlife encounters, and ensures bears and other creatures don’t become habituated to humans and their food!
A bear bag, or food bag as it's also sometimes called, is a great way to contain smelly items to one location. Doing so creates easy access to your food when you need it; keeps the rest of your gear odor free; and facilitates a bear hang, for when you’re away from camp and while you sleep.
When given the opportunity to test and review a bright yellow bear bag made by Hilltop Packs, I jumped on it.
Hilltop Packs is an ultralight cottage backpacking brand based in Pennsylvania. Before the pandemic, Founder Ben McMillen spent his time overseeing the 15 photographers who worked for his budding portrait studio and print shop. Then the pandemic hit. And it devastated business.
So, Ben pivoted. He went down to his basement and started sewing, going all in on his side ‘goof’ business. Through grit and serendipity, Hilltop Packs grew quickly, now employing several people and occupying a dedicated space of its own.
“It's kind of creepy how it all came together,” Ben laughed, who says he has the ‘perfect storm of knowledge’ to thank for some of the success of his startup. “I’ve done a lot of weird stuff in my life and I’ve always been self-employed. I feel like everything I’ve done came together at a time when I needed it most.”
Hilltop Bear Bag Specs
Cost: $50 to $55 USD
- Small: 7-8L (11" x 17" flat) - can carry 1 to 3 days food for one person
- Large: 12-13L (16" x 19" flat) - can carry 3 to 7 days food for one person
- 1.43 printed Dyneema or DTRS75 ECOPAK
- Various bright color options available, in both fabrics
- Small: 1oz (Dyneema)
- Large: 1.2oz (Dyneema)
Hilltop Packs Printed Dyneema (DCF) Food Bag Review
Hilltop Bear Bags are available in a variety of bright colors, as well as two size options, and two ultralight fabric options.
One of my favorite things about the fluorescent yellow Dyneema food bag from Hilltop Packs that I received is that the translucent material lets in a lot of light! It makes it so much easier to see inside the bag, helping locate smaller items that have fallen to the bottom, as well as read the labels on my dehydrated meals without having to pull them all the way out.
The big, roll-top opening and square shape of the bag also allows for efficient stacking of dehydrated meals and the ability to fill the empty crevices with smaller items like bars, nuts and nut butters.
The bear bag’s snap closure makes it easier to roll closed, as it stops the two sides from shifting around as you roll it down.
A small, top plastic buckle securely fastens the whole package closed and a bright red, reinforced loop gives you something to hang the bag from.
You can either run your bear bagging line through the loop, or attach a small, lightweight carabiner to the loop for easy connection.
The flat bottom helps the bag stand up by itself, which is very convenient when burrowing my hand to the bottom.
The large size bag with its squared off shape and rounded corners slides easily in and out of every 30L to 40L backpack I carried it around in and fills the width of the main compartment perfectly.
Dyneema is an inherently waterproof fabric, but micro holes from stitching can allow moisture to permeate the inside of the bear bag; so Hilltop Packs seals their seams for added water-resistance — keeping your crackers dry on those soggy nights outside. Plus, in the morning after a storm, I just give the bag a good couple of shakes and all the raindrops bead right off.
The seam tape also gives the bag some added durability, which is especially helpful when you want to jam a few extra goodies in the bag and end up hauling heavier weights.
The large bag size allows me to carry up to a week's worth of backpacking food, which can be 10+ pounds and the little loop has always held up.
- Highly water resistant
- Easy to load/ unload
- Brightly colored, easy to see inside!
- Attached loop for easy hanging
- Taped Seams
- USA Made
- Slightly more expensive than some other bear bag/ food bag options
- You have to leave enough room in the bag to be able to roll the top a couple of times in order to get a fully sealed closure; so you can’t jam pack it to the brim like others with a zippered closure or a velcro top seam. Noting, this isn’t much of a problem since Hilltop Bear Bags have such great carrying capacity, and you can always size up to the large bag if needed.
The Hilltop Packs Printed Dyneema Food Bag is well built, reliable and durable. It hauls heavy weights well and has a great shape for easy loading. Plus, the selection of bright colors makes dinner time more fun!
Ali Becker is a freelance adventure writer and narrative storyteller who shares compelling conversations about personal transformations, overcoming limitations, wellness education and adventurous situations. You can follow her rambling adventures on social at @thisisalibecker or at her blog thisisalibecker.com.