Have you ever been woken up in the middle of the night by mice trying to gnaw their way into your food bag … or a curious bear lurking outside of your tent? Are you sick of carrying around bulky and heavy bear canisters? Well lucky for you, there is another way to secure your food away from the insatiable appetites of nature’s critters.
Not only is hanging your food high in a tree away from wildlife a good way to keep your camping trip from being ruined, it’s proper Leave No Trace etiquette. A bear that becomes accustomed to sourcing its food from humans often becomes a problem bear and has to be trapped and relocated or euthanized.
What You Need to Set Up A Bear Hang
Any spare sack with something to clip to will do, such as a tent stake bag, stuff sack, etc. Something made of a tough fabric is a good idea since you’ll be putting rocks in it. You can purchase bear bag kits that come with everything you need including the rock sack.
Food Bag / Bear Bag
I highly recommend picking up a lightweight bear bag. Several cottage brands make quality ultralight bear bags. The photos in this article feature the UL Bear Bag made by Cloud Gear. They make storing and hanging your food so much easier because of their wide mouth, flat bottom, and watertight roll-top closure system. Cloud Gear will even print a custom image on it for you!
Select a cord that is lightweight, strong, and slippery, creating a tiny amount of friction, which makes hoisting your bear bag a lot easier. Examples include Lawson’s Ultraglide Bear Line and Dyneema Guy Line. You’ll need about 50ft of lightweight cordage to get the job done.
Smooth Stick or Rod
A smooth stick or rod is optional but very helpful for hoisting. Some kits include a tiny, ultralight version, or Apex Giant makes Bear Bag Toggles a la carte. I’ve found something at least 4” long works best. Tent pole splints are perfect for this.
Smaller is better.
How to Hang a Bear Bag
1. Choose Your Branch
This is an A+ limb. It’s high off the ground, extends horizontally, and is not quite thick enough to support the weight of a large bear.
At least 100 ft from your campsite, find a tree with a strong limb and plenty of clearance around it to toss a rock sack up and over. An ideal limb will be strong enough to support the weight of your food bag, but not the weight of an adult bear. The limb should be such that when your bag is hung, it will be at least 12 feet off the ground, 6 feet from the tree trunk, and (if your limb is strong enough to withstand the weight of a bear) 6 feet below the limb.
2. The Toss
Wind up that old pitcher’s shoulder, this is the hardest (and potentially most hilarious) part of the hang. Fill your rock sack with a few small stones, dirt, or anything you have to give it some weight. If you don’t put enough weight in your rock sack, you’re going to have a bad time. Tie or clip one end of your cord to the rock sack. Now, lob that sucker up and over your chosen tree limb. This may take a few tries, but keep at it. With practice, you’ll be perfecting the toss to where you can make it on the first or second try.
3. The Hoist
Now that you have your cord draped over your branch of choice, you can unclip the rock sack and clip your food bag to the carabiner. From here, there are three main methods to go about hoisting and securing your food bag:
Standard Bear Hang
Hoist your bag up into the tree until it is at least 12 feet off the ground (bears can be more than 8 feet tall when standing!). If your limb is thick enough for a bear to shimmy out to where your cord is, you’ll want it to be well out of reach for them (about 4-6 feet below the branch). Then, while keeping your bag at the proper height, take the extra line and tie it around a nearby tree trunk, or the trunk of the tree that your hang is in. Use a knot that is both secure, and easy to untie. I like to use a double overhand with a “bunny ear” sticking out. That way I can just yank on the end of the cord, pulling the bunny ear through, and the whole knot will come undone. Success!
Pros: Easy to hang, can be done in most trees
Cons: Not as secure, a bear could conceivably pull the extra cord loose and get your food bag down
The PCT hang is arguably the superior way to hang a bear bag. There is a learning curve to it, but once you get the hang of it (pun intended), it’s quicker, easier, and more secure. The line is secured right at the bag instead of on the tree trunk and the extra line hangs down to the ground. You actually have to pull on the slack end of the cord to remove the rod and get your food down, which requires thumbs. HA! Take that, bears!
First, clip a carabiner to both your food bag and the loose end of the cord. Then, with a smooth stick or rod ready, hoist your bag all the way up to the branch. Hold it there while you reach up to about eye level or higher on your cord and tie your stick to the cord with a hitch. A hitch is important, because the knot will fail as soon as you slide the stick out. Otherwise, you’re probably going to get your stick stuck in the line and you’re going to have a bad time. I like to make a loop in the cord, pass the bottom side under and through the loop creating a secondary loop, pass the stick through the secondary loop and then let go of the cord. The cord should tighten down on the stick, holding it in place. Now slowly release the hoisting strand and watch as the stick locks against the carabiner, and suspends the bag in mid air at the perfect height. Walk away, you’re done!
Pros: Very secure, easy once you get the hang of it
Cons: Can snag if you’re not careful, takes some getting used to
Double Tree Hang
Occasionally, it’s difficult or impossible to find a tree with a suitable limb, and instead you have to use two trees to create your own hanging point. This will require a bit more cord than the previous methods. Find two trees 15-20 ft apart. Use your rock sack to toss one end of your thick cord into a crevice on one of the trees about 20ft up, and secure that end. Walk the rest of your cord to the second tree, and then go back and tie a loop in the cord at the center point between the two trees. Attach your food bag to the loop. Then, throw the rest of your cord over a crevice in the second tree, hoist and secure it. Your food bag should now be hanging from the loop suspended somewhere in between the two trees.
Pros: Pretty secure
Cons: Difficult to hang perfectly
With our trails becoming more and more populated each year, it’s more important than ever to practice responsible LNT principles. This benefits not only the humans that use the trails, but the wildlife as well. Please do your best to keep critters away from your food and keep the wilderness wild!