The PVC Method of Hanging a Bear Bag

If you backpack in bear country, you need to learn how to hang a bear bagĀ  (unless a bear canister is required by the local authorities.) No one ever formally taught me how to do it so I developed my own techniques, which I am continuously refining.

But whatever your level of experience, hanging a bear bag can be an exasperating experience on any given night and chew up far more time than expected. To this day, it’s not unusual for me to have problems finding a good tree, for my rope to snag, or for my throwing accuracy to be amazingly pathetic. I’ve even self-inflicted damage to myself during the process. This is surprisingly common.

Bear Bag Hanging can be Dangerous

The PCT Method

One common technique used by many backpackers is called the PCT or Pacific Crest Trail Method. The main benefit of this technique is that your extra rope hangs freely and is not tied to a tree where it’d be vulnerable to a bear

I’ve never used it myself because I find it awkward, and I can never remember how to tie the required clove hitch…on my tiptoes..with my arms above my head. Here’s a good video from TheBackpacker.TV that illustrates the technique and one of it’s variants. It looks a lot easier than it is.

Note, how the demonstrator feeds his down line through the carabiner that is attached to the bear bag – that’s important for understanding how to use the bear bag hanging method in the next video.

A Knot-less Method

This video improves on the classic PCT Method by eliminating the need to use a stick and a clove hitch.

I dub it the PVC Method because it uses a small section of PVC tubing instead of a stick and eliminates the need for any knots. This is perfect for me because I can only ever remember how to tie a bowline.

What’s your secret for hanging a bear bag?

Written June 2010. Revised March 2013.

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16 Responses to The PVC Method of Hanging a Bear Bag

  1. OutHikingAgain June 30, 2010 at 4:48 am #

    Oh, I like it…that's a great McGuyver!

    The clove hitch is such a pain sometimes…

    PVC method for me from now on, thanks for the link!

    I use the PCT method with mixed results; sometimes it's necessary to just stash the bag at least 200 yds away from camp, but on the side of the trail so I can find it again (I'll just leave a pine bough in the middle of the trail as a marker). Most people would say 100 yds min, but hey, whatever you're comfortable with.

  2. J June 30, 2010 at 8:27 pm #

    I must be tying the clove hitch all wrong because I never have to pull extra rope through my knot. As a matter of fact, I never have to really pull anything through a knot. I make a loop of rope around the stick. Then another loop (the opposite way) in the rope and loop it around the other side of the stick. And bob's your uncle.

    I'm only saying this to offer an alternative to those who are tying the clove hitch the "official" way. There is another, easier, one handed friendly way to tie the same knot.

  3. Helen W July 1, 2010 at 2:06 pm #

    The video has nice production values, but if Josh would just learn how to tie a clove hitch, his method and the plastic dunnage would be completely unnecessary. There is no reason to pull the entire length of rope through to finish a clove hitch. That's why it's called a "hitch." It is designed to be easily tied in the middle of a line.

    ~ But I digress. Could someone please tell me why there is any need for extra knots, sticks, carabiners, or the PCT method at all? Doesn't this method just put extra wear on the tree, the rope, and the hiker? What am I missing? Doesn't the hanging rope give Yogi something obvious to chomp onto, easily defeating the entire contrivance? Are bears really that dumb?

    ~ Assuming there is a perfect limb, why not simply throw the rope over it, pull up the food, tie the rope to a tree well away from the food, and walk away?

    ~ And if there is less than a perfect limb, why not simply attach both ends of the rope to the bag (after looping over the limb) so that it can be both lifted and shifted sideways by tying a bowline on a bite to another tree?

    Seriously, I've never done this before and the PCT complication makes no sense to me.

  4. KC July 2, 2010 at 7:44 am #

    Helen,

    As I understand it, the PCT method is more secure than simply tossing a line over a limb and tying to a neighboring tree. This would allow "yogi" to pull down the line by putting pressure on it, and pulling the food bag over the limb; or chomping through it, causing the food bag to fall.

    With the PCT method, pulling on the line makes the food rise higher, away from the puller. The somewhat more complex methods of knotting means that only a person is able to get it down. Try the PCT method in the backyard sometimes…I just learned it recently, and have yet to use it on the trail, but I plan to soon. Having tried both methods, the PCT is obviously better.

  5. DripDry July 3, 2010 at 9:42 am #

    A friend and I did Springer to Harpers Ferry this year on the AT. We are Scoutmasters and use Bear Bags all the time, but few other hikers do outside of GA (great steel cable hang systems there).

    I typically use the PCT method but be careful not to let the line "spin" above the bag, which can cause it to jam. We also used a homemade version of the Ursack, which we made from exploded car airbags ($2 at a salvage yard). We put the ultralight waterproof sack in the chew-proof liner, and didn't have a single issue with mice or other creatures (no bear tests to date thank goodness).

    The chew-proof sacks like Ursacks are also an advantage when the bag is on the ground or in a shelter BEFORE you hang it as well (shelter mice are not shy!).

  6. Helen W July 3, 2010 at 4:40 pm #

    "pulling on the line makes the food rise higher, away from the puller."

    Thanks, KC. That is the most lucent explanation of the PCT method I've seen. Clearly it has merit.

    I did try hanging a bear bag last night. For the past 24 hours, I've been zigzagging Vermont and burying my food caches. It was after dark when I arrived at the trailhead in Stratton, so I decided to walk into the woods and camp. With my little LED, I found a spot, pitched the tent, lost a stake on my 1st try, made supper, and hung the bag. All in total darkness.

    So I used the Vermont method. Tied on a stick as the pitching weight, because it lets you get a lot more fling. Caught a high limb, but it was too close to the tree trunk. Clipped the line back through the biner and drew the bag sideways toward another tree. It wasn't too hard to pull up and I got the right distances.

    ~ In the morning, it looked pretty good. I found the tent stake too.

    http://idisk.mac.com/helenwells/Public/Summer10/l

    http://idisk.mac.com/helenwells/Public/Summer10/l

  7. George Phoenix July 7, 2010 at 6:01 pm #

    This looks cool. I can't wait to try it.

  8. Timothy July 9, 2010 at 1:07 pm #

    Used the PCT method for my 2010 AT section hike. I use a spare aluminum tent stake instead of a stick as the stake slides out of the knot easier. Should I lose a stake, I have a spare and can then switch to a stick.

    Don't much care for the PVC method as the PVC is extra weight and serves no secondary purpose. Now, if the PVC doubles as an alcohol stove or something useful, we'd give the PVC version a second look.

    -BigHodag

  9. Earlylite July 10, 2010 at 12:36 pm #

    True – a stake would do.

  10. Hikingshoes April 17, 2011 at 6:53 pm #

    I use the PCT method when there isn't any bear cable's. The only thing i changed was the knot. I use the marlinspike hitch it's easily tied, and untie.

    • Sean October 1, 2013 at 3:04 am #

      If you look carefully, I think the knot that Josh tied IS a marlinspike hitch – he just doesn’t seem to be aware that it is. Also, there’s no need to drill the hole in the PVC, just tie the marlinspike around it – or use a stick – it won’t jam the way a clove hitch can.

      • Josh October 1, 2013 at 7:41 am #

        No that’s right Sean….I’ve figured that out now. I need to remake my video explaining it as just another option of a device to use (plus the video is horrible). I still prefer it though and the holes thru the PVC does make the process of tying while holding a hang much easier..especially a heavy hang. Also my current PVC is about 1/4 as long as the one I used in the video making it tiny, much more compact and really smaller then you could use without the holes there to force the line to stay centered while tying the marlin spike.

  11. Josh July 22, 2011 at 6:48 am #

    Hey I'm the guy that made the video. Since then I have learned more efficient ways to tie the hitch knot than I was doing before making the video. With that in mind I still like my PVC method more (maybe just because it's mine). It is still simpler to tie, simpler when bringing down in the morning, and the PVC takes up no extra space in my pack and the weight is beyond minimal. But I am admitting bias. ;)

  12. Brian April 10, 2012 at 1:58 am #

    Like any good backcountry demonstration of methods, this is all well and good, at least hypothetically. In reality, bear bagging by any method is fairly pointless in black bear country. Why? Because a problem bear in camp is always a reason to break camp right away and move on, whether or not your food is secure. Problem bears won’t give up trying to get your food until you leave. This means no sleep for you until then. Quite simply, no bear bagging method gives you impunity to camp – and to expect a restful night of sleep – in places that problem bears hang out. A better method by far is to avoid known and likely problem bear haunts such as established campgrounds and long-hardened campsites, in favor of stealth camping some significant distance away from where you cook, and to sleep with your food by your side. If a black bear still happens to find you, you’ll wake up before you’re actually face to fang with the beastie, you’ll make noise to discourage him away long enough to pack up, and then you’ll move on to another stealth camp a mile or so away and in all likelihood will then sleep in peace for the remainder of the night. Meanwhile, your bear bagging buddies will still be lying wide-eyed in their tents cringing at every crack and shuffle of bruin in the night, hoping to heaven their food is still safe up there and not already in his clutches, or fussing over the lines by headlamp at 2am in a protracted effort to break camp and join you at your bear-free stealth camp.

  13. Grandpa April 10, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    …or, you can stealth camp away from established beargasbord sites and still hang, which may keep you from having to break camp in the middle of the night to move.

  14. A. P. Ryason July 17, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    I have some experience with Yosemite bears. Hoo, boy, a test of nerves sometimes. In 1976 some friends and I hiked from White Wolf to Tuolumne Meadows along the Tuolumne River. We were visited by bears every night. It was a hot summer so we were sleeping out in the open. We hung our food between two trees at each campsite. One night, as we grabbed our flashlights and pots & pans to scare them off, The first thing we saw in the flashlight beam was one bear climbing onto the back of another, trying to reach our food bags. We made a bunch of noise and they ran off. We didn’t lose a thing to the bears, fortunately. One day we were followed by a juvenile bear, who acted like a puppy wanting a hand-out. We took some pictures and shooed it away.

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