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Bear Bags and Bear Resistant Containers - why are they necessary?

Hello,

I am going on a week-long backpacking trip with some friends. We are going to be in "bear country" but it is populated by black bears and very few, if any, brown bears. I have a Bear Vault and informed my friends that they also need a bear bag or a bear-resistant container. They do not want to spend $70-120 on Bear Vault or Ursack and they asked me why they were so expensive. I told them it was because they had to be bear-resistant material and not allow scent to travel outside of the bag. They brought up a good point that, if we are suspending the bag from a tree or bear pole, why does it have to be bear-resistant or scent locked if they bear cannot get to it? 

So my question is: Can they buy 50' of paracord and a cheap waterproof dry bag and hang it from a tree out of reach? Or does it have to be sent free or made from a tough, bear-resistant material? 

I do not see any issue with it, however, I want to make sure that I am not missing or overlooking something. 

Re: Bear Bags and Bear Resistant Containers - why are they necessary?

In areas where bear bags are required, rentals are often available.  Where precisely are you going?  It would be worthwhile to check out requirements beforehand.  Some places get very serious about bear bags and levy significant fines if regs are not followed.

just as important as a suitable bear bag is a scrupulously clean camp, with all odorous items tucked away in a properly secured bear bag.

I am not an REI employee.... 

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Re: Bear Bags and Bear Resistant Containers - why are they necessary?

Pretty much the same answer as @hikermor. Some National Parks in the west, Shenandoah National Park in the east, and Adirondack State Park in New York require certified products and usually list those products on their web sites. Check with authorities related to the location you are heading. If specific products are not required, a bear hang would not get you in trouble with authorities. Bears are another story.

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Re: Bear Bags and Bear Resistant Containers - why are they necessary?

Good morning, @HoughtonLikeTheLake

Without knowing where you're going, it's hard to say whether a regular stuff sack will work. I have personally used a simple 13L dry sack in GSMNP because they have bear cables that everyone must use, but does the area that you're going in require a "bear canister" or just a "bear proof container"? I ask because in some places, an Ursack does not substitute for a bear can, and if bear cans are required and the ranger catches you with an Ursack, you can be fined. The reason behind this is that the Ursack has to be tied/secured in a very specific way, and people weren't reading instructions and it rendered the Ursack basically useless, which is no good for the wildlife.

@hikermor has it right in that you can oftentimes rent a bear can from a local outfitter in the area where a can is required. Call around to ask beforehand. Some places have shut down rental programs due to COVID. 

At REI, we believe a life outdoors is a life well-lived.
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Re: Bear Bags and Bear Resistant Containers - why are they necessary?

So we are going up to the UP of Michigan, the DNR didn’t specify if we needed one or another. In some parts their are bear poles and in other parts we will be stay there won’t be. 

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Re: Bear Bags and Bear Resistant Containers - why are they necessary?

That sounds like an awesome trip! 

If the DNR does not specify what type of container or bag is needed, then your friends should be able to use a regular, waterproof stuff sack. I love that you are already educating them as to wildlife protection! Please make sure they know how to hang a bear bag correctly before y'all go; YouTube has a handful of good videos if you search "How to hang bear bag PCT method." 

A lot of the times, though, I will carry my bear can even if it's not required by the local agencies because it doubles as a camp stool, it's a super easy/quick system that you don't have to worry about, and it protects my food from mice. While I've been lucky enough that it hasn't happened to me, I've seen mice chew through other hikers' food bags that were hanging on the cables. Nothing like sharing your Pop Tarts with the field mice! 

I hope y'all have a great trip! Update the community with photos and/or a trip report once you're back! 

At REI, we believe a life outdoors is a life well-lived.
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Re: Bear Bags and Bear Resistant Containers - why are they necessary?

I am glad to know that someone besides me also uses their bear vault as a stool. I have also used mine as a water collector, sink, and washing machine for sweaty, grimy trail clothes.

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Re: Bear Bags and Bear Resistant Containers - why are they necessary?

This is why I love communities; I've used a Nalgene as a washing machine, but you just gave me the industrial load option! 

At REI, we believe a life outdoors is a life well-lived.
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Re: Bear Bags and Bear Resistant Containers - why are they necessary?

@HoughtonLikeTheLake Thanks for reaching out!

You've gotten some good advice here from @HoughtonLikeTheLake @John @hikermor and @REI-AngieH , and we wanted to add in some thoughts about your question around why it has to be a bear-resistant canister. The short answer is that requiring a bear resistant canister is one of the only ways rangers and land agencies can ensure that consistent and safe practices are practiced by people enjoying trails, parks, and campsites. Bear resistant canisters also protect your food (and gear) from other animals like chipmunks, squirrels, and raccoons as well. Additionally, even in a wooded area, you are not guaranteed to find an appropriate branch for a bear hang. You may find that you need to stash your food far from your campsite where a bear or other animal might find it even though you are following appropriate bear safety techniques.

Lastly, most of us tend to think about bear resistant canisters as protecting us from bears, but it is important to remember that bear resistant canisters are also for the safety and protection of the bears. Bears are highly intelligent, curious, and resourceful animals, who will learn how and where to find food if trail users aren't consistent in using bear resistant canisters. If they are repeatedly frustrated by bear canisters and can't access food, they will learn that and eventually move on. That helps keep them safe and in the wild (preventing them from becoming overly aggressive or a 'nuisance') and it also helps prevent future trail users from having a negative encounter with a bear.

Thanks for the question, this is a great topic! We hope you all have a great trip!

At REI, we believe a life outdoors is a life well lived.
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Re: Bear Bags and Bear Resistant Containers - why are they necessary?

Thanks for this @REI-JohnJ. I have read so many comments elsewhere about haphazard storage, and how people aren't worried about bear attacks, without ever acknowledging what happens to a bear when it becomes conditioned to getting food. I would die myself if I knew my actions in part caused a bear to be put down.

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