Bear Bag Hanging Techniques
A brief review of bear bag hanging techniques with a focus on minimizing weight and maximizing simplicity.
The primary problem with conventional backcountry food storage systems is weight.
Bear canisters made with plastic (BearVault BV200 or Garcia Backpacker’s Cache) or carbon fiber (Wild Ideas Bearikade) generally weigh two to three pounds; as such, most lightweight backpackers consider taking them only in wilderness areas that require hard-sided food storage canisters. Reinforced fabric stow bags made of Spectra or Kevlar (such as the Ursack) weigh in the range of five to ten ounces. Even with the added weight of a hanging rope, the stow bag system weighs a lot less than a few pounds. We recommend products like the Ursack for climbers and alpine hikers who camp above the treeline and need to protect their food from aggressive rodents and the passing bear.
A Better Way: The PCT Method
(Photo: Bozeman Mountain Works UrsaLite Bear Bag Hanging System)
Affectionately known by the lightweight hiking underground as the “PCT Method” (presumably because it was first used by long distance hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail), a bear bag hanging method exists that is lighter, requires less rope, offers the benefits of counterbalancing, is easier to set up, and offers simple and quick hanging and retrieval of your food.
You can make your own system quite easily by assembling the following components:
- Food storage bag
- 40 feet of hanging rope
- Keychain carabiner
- Small stuff sack for a rock (“rock sack”)
- Pencil-sized twig about 4-6 inches long.
Using 1.4-oz silicone-coated nylon waterproof stuff sacks for the rock sack and food storage bag, 1/8″ parachute cord for the hanging rope, and a two-inch carabiner from Wal-Mart, you can achieve a system weight of about five or six ounces.
The system is used as follows:
- Tie one end of the rope to the drawcord of the rock sack.
- Tie a loop (e.g., bowline) into the other end of the rope and clip the carabiner through it.
- Insert a rock into the rock sack, cinch it closed, and throw it over a branch that is 15-20 feet high.
- Remove the rock from the rock sack.
- Attach the food sack drawcord to the carabiner.
- Clip the rock sack end of the rope through the carabiner so that it can run freely.
- Pull the rock sack end of the rope until the food bag is at the height of the branch.
- Take the twig and reach as far as possible up the rock sack end of the rope (for the average man, this is about six feet) and tie a clove hitch around the twig.
- Let the rock sack end of the rope go, until the twig catches on the carabiner and keeps the food sack in place, at least 10 feet above the ground.
This system leaves extra rope hanging freely below the food bag, and unlike conventional hanging systems where the spare end of the rope is tied to a tree trunk, eliminates the possibility of an animal untying or chewing the rope in efforts to bring the food bag down.
In addition, the PCT Method requires less skill, and thus, is faster to deploy than the counterbalance method. Finally, the PCT Method requires a system of equipment that is lighter than the counterbalance method because it uses less rope and only one food storage sack.
A bear bag system using the PCT Method can be easily assembled from readily available components: existing stuff sacks, rope, and a keychain carabiner. Using 1.4-oz silicone coated nylon stuff sacks (e.g., 600 cubic inches for the food storage bag and 50 cubic inches for the rock sack), combined with thirty five feet of cord such as paracord (3/16 inch minimum so as not to dig into the branches of softwood trees such as pine, spruce, or fir), and a typical keychain carabiner, the system can weigh as little as five ounces. Adding or subtracting weight from this system can be accomplished simply by altering the cost (which buys you higher strength materials for less weight) and durability of the materials used.
Table 1 compares the function and performance of the primary bear-resistant food storage systems using a subjective grading scale of A (most applicable) to C (least applicable). The information provided in the table is not intended to constitute a product review or an endorsement of a particular system for a particular application.
|Bear Resistant Fabric Sack||B||A||A||B||B|
References: Traditional and Counterbalance Bear Bag Hanging How-To
The Backpacker’s Field Manual: A Comprehensive Guide to Mastering Backcountry Skills, by Rick Curtis. Random House, 1998. ISBN 0-517-88783-5.
Links to Knots on the Web
“Bear Bag Hanging Techniques,” by Ryan Jordan. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/bear_bag_hanging_technique.html, 2004-05-30 03:00:00-06.
MYOG: Knotless PCT Bear Bag Hang
Perform an easier-yet-secure PCT Bear Bag Hang without using the traditional stick + clove hitch. This MYOG is simple, functional, and lightweight!
by Josh Taylor | 2010-04-27 00:05:00-06
First off, for those not familiar with the PCT Method of hanging a bear/food bag, this write-up will not cover that. If this is your first time hearing that terminology, I highly suggest searching “Hanging a Bear Bag PCT Method” on YouTube to get an excellent tutorial on what it entails.
The idea behind this MYOG is how to do a PCT hang without using the traditional stick + clove hitch knot. If you have used the PCT Method, you might find the clove hitch to be the most difficult part of this hang. Reaching over your head as high as you can while tying a clove hitch can be a daunting task. The weight of your food adds to the challenge. Feeding all your surplus line through the clove hitch only adds to the complexity. Additionally you have to hold the line tight during the whole process so that your bag stays up against the throw-over limb while you tie the knot. It’s a lot to try to do with two hands stretched out over your head.
The fun’s not over though, because the following morning the clove hitch will have tightened down to the point that it can be difficult to break the knot, especially when it’s only just in reach because you tied it off so high. Often people will use a stick that they can snap so they don’t have to untie the knot, but using a stick too small could lead to it breaking on its own in the middle of the night. Another common fix is something tapered, like chopsticks, where you can slide the knot off the stick to drop the bag – but even this doesn’t get you past the issue of tying the clove hitch to begin with.
After using the PCT Method just once, I started trying to figure out a way to abandon the stick and clove hitch. They just seemed to over-complicate what was otherwise a minimalist hang. After quite a few goofy “inventions” that were more complicated, heavy, and didn’t work well, I finally focused on simplicity. Ultimately I ended up devising a way to replace the stick and knot with nothing more than a piece of PVC with two holes drilled through it. This is about the simplest MYOG you’re going to come across and the end product is not only light, but very functional!
Making Your Knotless PCT-PVC Stick
- 15 minutes (max)
- 1” PVC (you only need a piece about 2 inches long but you’ll probably have to buy a 6 foot piece or longer unless you can find a scrap)
- Drill with drill bit(s)
- PVC cutters or a hacksaw
- Measuring tape
Making the Gear
Measure off a 2-inch length of PVC and cut it with PVC cutters or a hacksaw. You could make it shorter, but I find a 2-inch piece of PVC to be easiest to work with. You just need to make sure you don’t make it so small that it can pass through your carabiner (the PVC is replacing the use of a stick).
Drill a hole in the center of the PVC piece and straight through the other side. Make it big enough for your hang rope to easily pass through the holes. If you’re sadistic about weight, you could speed-drill the whole piece of PVC, putting many holes in it to lighten up. Seeing that weight is already negligible, I don’t find it necessary.
Use a file and/or sandpaper to smooth down any rough edges.
Implementation of the Knotless PCT-PVC
As you see, making this device is about as simple as it gets, using it is not much harder, and it’s worlds easier than tying a clove hitch around a stick. The PCT Method is no different than what you are already used to: get the line over the limb and attach your food bag.
Before hoisting your food to the limb, pass the open end of your line directly through the two holes in the PVC and bring it up to your hands. As you hoist the line taking your food up to the limb, keep the PVC in your hand, allowing the line to pass through it. Once you have the bag to the limb, it’s time to “tie” your knotless knot using the following steps:
Pull the PVC as high up the line as you can reach, just like you would a stick in a traditional PCT hang.
Take the line from the bottom PVC hole, pull it straight up and wrap it behind the top line, bringing the bottom line back over the PVC. It should look like this photo, with two lines of cord in front.
Get some slack into the left line of cord, and pull that slack loop over the right line and around to the backside of the PVC as shown.
You now have line running on both the front and back side of the PVC. Pull back and forth on the line, giving it a few tugs, and it will cinch up tightly even though there are no knots!
Untying to bring the bag back down is just as easy. Viewing from the bottom of the PVC just pull the rope that passed closest to the PVC around to the other side of the PVC (in the same direction it’s pointing), then yank the hanging line and the whole system will release.
Some of the descriptions in the implementation section are difficult to communicate, and I’m sure difficult to follow, so hopefully the pictures and videos will supplement. It’s a lot simpler in person than it is on paper. I hope you enjoy and find it as useful as I do. Good luck and here’s to an easier hang!
“MYOG: Knotless PCT Bear Bag Hang,” by Josh Taylor. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/myog_knotless_pct_bear_bag_hang.html, 2010-04-27 00:05:00-06.