Assembling an Ultralight Bear Bag System

 Ultralight Bear Bag

I've bought a few commercial bear bags in my time and found them lacking in various ways. So I assembled the following bear bag system that I've been using very successfully over the past 2 years. It has 5 components: a ultralight stuff sack capable of holding 4-5 days of food, 40 feet of reflective guy line, a mesh throw sack, a mini-biner, and an OPSACK. All in, it weighs 4.0 oz, just 1 oz more than Backpackinglight's Ursalite system, but it is higher capacity and far more sturdy.

Separate Hang Look and Cinch Cord

The exterior bag is a XL Spinntex EXP Stuff Sack manufactured by Mountain Laurel Designs that weighs 0.5 oz and holds up to 4 days of food. It is made using the lightest and strongest fully waterproof conventional woven spinnaker fabric available and can withstand hard rain. It has a separate hang loop and cinch cord. Not having to use the cinch cord as the hang loop extends the life of the bag and the hang loop is bar tacked to a vertical seam for extra strength. These stuff sacks are a little noisy when new they but get less crinkly and quiet as you use them.

Throw Bag and Biner

Next up, is the throw bag that you put a rock into and throw over a tree branch. (When I can't find a good size rock, I often use a can of tuna fish.) I've found that a small mesh sack lasts far longer than silnylon throw bags which shred on impact in rocky New England. A small mesh sack is also far easier to repair with small bits of string.

Mini-biner and throw rope for bear bag

The next step is to tie the cord that your bear bag will hang from to the throw bag. There are lighter cords that you can use for this, but I like Kelty Triptease Lightline because it is easy to unknot and it has embedded reflective elements in it that will catch your flashlight at night. It's easy to forget exactly where your bag is hanging in the woods and the reflectors make it much easier to find if you need to access it after dark.

When you tie the cord to the throw bag, add an extra loop for a mini wire-gate carbiner, as shown above, that will clip to the hang loop of the bear bag. These mini-biners just weigh a few grams and are perfect for this application. You can get them from backpackinglight.com and lots of other places. I also use them for hanging little things off my backpack that I use frequently like a swiss army knife, thermometer, and emergency LED.

Bear Bag Components Assembled

In the absence of a tree, here's what the biner, cord, and hang loop look like in full deployment. After you've found the perfect tree branch and thrown the line over it, attach the biner to the stuff sack's hang loop as shown. Pull the bag 10-15 feet off the ground and secure the other end of the line to a different tree above head height.

What about the OPSACK? I use this to line the inside of my bear bag and then put all of my food in it. It is 17,000 times less breathable than a normal ziploc and reduces the chance that a bear can smell your food. Bears have a very good sense of smell.

There you have it. What do you use for your bear bag system?

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29 Responses to Assembling an Ultralight Bear Bag System

  1. Chris @ TheGearHouse July 16, 2009 at 4:50 am #

    Looks like a great system you'd developed. I really like the Kelty line but haven't utilized it for much. I've also never been a big bear bag hanger, although should be. This gives me some ideas for putting my own together! Great post.

  2. DaniLou July 16, 2009 at 8:24 am #

    Great description! I use essentially the same set-up, but instead of tying the rope to a tree, I use a clove-hitch knot to basically tie it to itself (I believe there is a diagram covering this on the BPL website also). It is anchored through the biner with a small stick. It takes a couple of practice ties to get it right, but avoids the line tied to the tree being swiped at or chewed by a critter. I'm pretty short, so to get the finished hang high enough I push the food bag up with my hiking pole as high as I can so that once the bag is lowered, it is still about 10 feet overhead. Easy and works great!

  3. Earlylite July 16, 2009 at 9:45 am #

    For some reason my brain is not wired to remember knots or I'd tie it up that way too. I think you've described the PCT method, btw. There's also another method that I'll be using in about a week on a 9 day hike where I need to carry two food bags and they counterbalance each other on a tree branch. Got to practice that hang this weekend.

  4. Chris @ TheGearHouse July 16, 2009 at 10:07 am #

    The two bag counter balance is a good method and one that I've used once and see others use. Took a couple tries to get it right.

  5. Heber Farnsworth July 17, 2009 at 3:21 pm #

    I've been reluctant to use Kelty Triptease for bear-bagging because it's got a rough surface that I'm afraid might cut into the bark of the tree I'm hanging in. I've heard of bear bags getting stuck in trees when the cord got stuck in a groove it had cut in the branch. I use Mason twine instead. Do you think these concerns are overblown?

  6. Earlylite July 17, 2009 at 4:46 pm #

    That's a valid concern, but it hasn't been an issue for me. Triptease is pretty thick stuff. What is Mason twine?

  7. Desert Dog July 18, 2009 at 1:38 am #

    Nice looking system. Unfortunately, in my part of Arizona our trees aren't high enough to keep things out of reach. We are pretty much stuck with hard canisters. I recently bought an Ursack which I like. Haven't had a live "bear test" on it yet, but it looks like it should hold up and it's a lot easier to carry than the canisters.

  8. Earlylite July 18, 2009 at 4:18 am #

    I have an Ursack too. Much better/lighter than a canister if you're hiking in a place where they aren't mandated by local regulations. Our readers in the UK and Europe are scratching their heads wondering what we are jabbering about. Apparently there are no undomesticated animals there that can threaten your life over a food bag.

  9. Heber Farnsworth July 18, 2009 at 7:50 am #

    Mason twine is a nylon twine you can buy in rolls at the hardware store. It's pretty strong and really cheap. It's not as abrasion resistant as triptease so after being used for bear bagging for a dozen trips or so it gets a little ragged. But since it's so cheap I just replace it.

  10. Ryan August 4, 2009 at 11:56 am #

    I understand the importance of bear bagging, and I do it religiously. Unfortunately, I find that a bigger problem is the ability of rodents and other small mammals to chew their way into my hanging bag. You mentioned the Ursak. I have also seen a couple cheaper alternatives such as the GrubPack and Outsak. My question is if you have ever considered hanging any of these items instead of using a nylon bag. Are they too heavy for the PCT method? I might be willing to add the weight if it means I don't lose some food. I get hungry on the trail!

  11. Earlylite August 4, 2009 at 12:11 pm #

    I would just get an Ursack if it's a problem. You don't have to hang them and they keep out rodents extremely well too. I've been thinking about using mine again simply for convenience sake. Hanging near sunset is such a pain.

  12. Bill August 7, 2009 at 8:53 am #

    The outsak works well for hanging. As long as its out of the reach of the bigger animals, I'd challenge anyhting to get into a properly hung Outsak. It will work better than a nylon bag. A little extra prevention goes a long way.

    Google Outsak, you'll find a retailer, or the manufacturer.

  13. Ryan August 7, 2009 at 5:14 pm #

    Thanks! Given the cost, I might just try an Outsak. Honestly, the darn small mammals seem like more trouble than the bears.

  14. Lars August 31, 2009 at 3:07 pm #

    You are so right! The small critters are such a nuisance. I've used my outsak as a bear hang, with no issues.

  15. Tony B September 17, 2009 at 12:39 pm #

    I've used a GrubPack. It's another stainless steel mesh food bag like the old Ratsack and Outsak. I bought it on-line because it cost less. I've done 2 multi-day hikes with it now. It's been doing a great job for me. Here it is: http://www.grubpack.com. It's definately NOT a bear bag, but does have a grommet for tree hanging. It works well against the little mammals and birds.

  16. joe September 18, 2009 at 2:13 pm #

    Thanks tony

    I looked at it-seemed very home made. The pictures on the site don't do the product any favors. I'm not a big fan of home made gear.

    Do you know if they sell a do it yourself kit?

    I can't remember the name of the place, but they offer kits to make your own gear. I read one about a backpack cooler that was under a pound and homemade.

    I like to use gear other people have tried, I don't like to be the first to try a new companies product. IU'd rather see it in use, then go for it.

  17. Tony B September 21, 2009 at 3:17 pm #

    Joe,

    I had to go back to the grubpack website to see the pictures again. You're right, the pics aren't too professional, but they do show what the bag really looks like. The steel mesh actually is kind of stretchy and an empty bag doesn't lay flat and square. Maybe that's what gives you the idea that it's home made. I don't know if the average guy could make one of these. You would have to find the steel mesh the flat belt material and wide velcro. You would also need a machine that can sew through it all when it's layered. I'm real happy with my bag.

    TB

  18. joe September 23, 2009 at 12:22 pm #

    you seem to know a lot about these bags. any chance you work for one of the manufacturers.

    I like how you point out that the "average man" might not be able to do it.

    I bet an "average man" is doing it. If the guy in the pics is the grubpak man, then I'd say he looks about "average"

    Looks like all but the mesh could be bought at a local sewing store. I bet the mesh could be found on ebay.

    I'm going to look into it. I bet these bags don't cost that much to make.

  19. Tom Murphy September 24, 2009 at 6:42 am #

    Joe,

    I applauded your frugality and wish you luck sewing two sheets of metal mesh rings together. You wrote, “I’m not a big fan of home made gear”, so I am sure you will be your own worse critic.

    I do think your response to Tony’s second post is out of line. I am surprised Phil allowed your personal attack to be posted here.

    If Tony is the maker of the Grubpak then more power to him for an interesting way of marketing the product. We should always take a third party recommendation with a grain of salt.

    TJM

  20. Earlylite September 24, 2009 at 9:46 am #

    Tom – I didn't parse Joe's comment as a personal attack. I normally delete comments from manufacturers who are desperate enough to post a comment on my blog without just contacting me, but couldn't decide if Tony was the mfg, so I've kind of let this thread continue unabated.

  21. joe September 24, 2009 at 12:14 pm #

    I guess what I should have said is that i don't like to pay for what looks like home-made gear. if its homemade, it should be my homemade creation or alteration

    What i see inspires me to make my own

    gotta save any way you can these days

  22. Sandy Jo November 8, 2009 at 5:48 am #

    For what it's worth, I've had a Grubpack since spring.  I bought it for a 6 day Grand Canyon trip we did in May.  It worked great. 

  23. Damien Tougas June 9, 2010 at 5:56 pm #

    I took your advice, but rather than purchasing a stuff sack, I made my own. I posted the instructions on my blog here: http://www.adventureinprogress.com/make-your-own-ultralight-bear-bag-or-stuff-sack and linked back to you to finish off the project. Thanks for the great info!

  24. Earlylite June 9, 2010 at 7:56 pm #

    Good lesson for the kids Damien.

  25. Backpack Cooler January 5, 2011 at 9:01 am #

    That's a very ingenious way of keeping your food safe so the bears don't eat them.

  26. Zoooma February 16, 2011 at 10:27 pm #

    Hi,

    I was wanting to follow your instructions for this setup but unfortunately, apparently, Mountain Laurel no longer makes the Spinntex EXP Stuff Sack. They have one called Cuben Fiber which might be almost the same but no mention or view of a separate hang loop.

  27. Earlylite February 17, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    You should contact MLD and ask. I bet they have something.

  28. Mike July 10, 2011 at 6:50 am #

    Hey, Phil – not sure why you gave up on the Ursack idea? Specifically what did you find lacking in that system for use in the NE? I'm going to try this system (including not hanging it, just securing it to a tree) over the next five days. Do you currently use your custom light setup? Why? Thanks!

  29. Earlylite July 10, 2011 at 7:12 am #

    I still use this system and the Ursack. I mainly use the Ursack when I'm feeling lazy or daylight is short. I use the lighter system when I use a smaller pack. They're both A-OK.

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