Home / Gear Reviews / Ursack Bear-Proof Bear Bags now sold by REI

Ursack Bear-Proof Bear Bags now sold by REI

manufactured by:
Philip Werner
Version:
1
Price:
69.95

Reviewed by:
Rating:
5
On November 11, 2015
Last modified:January 26, 2016

Summary:

The advantage of the Ursack over conventional bear bags is that you don’t have to suspend it in the air. Instead it can be tied to a stout tree branch or a fallen tree, which is helpful if you’ve ever tried to hang a bear bag late at night, in the dark, only to be hit in the head with your rock!

Ursack bear-proof Bear Bags are now sold by REI
Ursack bear-proof Bear Bags are now sold by REI

If you hate hanging a bear bag at night to protect your backpacking food and prevent a bear from visiting your tent at night, and local backcountry regulations don’t require the use of a hard sided bear canister, I recommend getting yourself an Ursack bear-proof bear bag. I’ve been using one since 2008 and it’s proven to be a fast, no hassle way to store my backpacking food at night without having to spend 45 minutes trying to hang it from a tree.

As a long-time advocate of this product, I’m excited to see that the Ursack is being sold by REI since the increased exposure means that more people will learn about this excellent product. Face it. Most people are terrible at hanging bear bags, and an easy-to-use product like the Ursack can help reduce bear incidents if adopted en masse by backpackers and campers.

While you can leave an Ursack on the ground at night, I like to tie mine to a tree so a bear doesn't carry it off.
While you can leave an Ursack on the ground at night, I like to tie mine to a tree so a bear doesn’t carry it off.

Ursack bear-proof bear bags are made out of a material called Spectra (similar to bullet-proof kevlar) that can’t be chewed or ripped open by bears. To use it, you put your food and smellables inside, knot it shut, walk it out from your campsite about 75 steps, and tie it directly to a tree trunk, branch, or stump so a bear can’t drag it away at night. There’s no need to throw a rope over a tree which is a huge time and hassle saver, especially when you get to camp near dark.

Measuring 24 in. in circumference x 14 in. tall (650 cu. in), you can get about 5 days of food into an Ursack, making it perfect for most backpacking trips and thru-hikes. And while an Ursack weighs 7.8 ounces, or a few ounces more than a traditional bear bag, 50 feet of hanging line, and a rock sack, I’ve always found those extra ounces well worth carrying to avoid getting hit in the head with a rock when hanging a bear bag at dusk.

The S29 All-White Ursack
The S29 All-White Ursack

The Ursack has also been approved by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) and was placed on it’s bear-resistant products list on July 31, 2014, so it can be used to store food in many places that only permitted much heavier bear canisters in the past. If you have a bear canister and you want a lighter weight alternative, here’s a comparison of bear canister weights vs the Ursack AllWhite. There’s a significant weight reduction, as you can see.

     
Mfg.ModelWeight in oz.Cubic In.Liters
UrsackS29 AllWhite7.865010.7
Bare BoxerContender Model 10126.32754.5
Wild IdeasThe Scout275008.2
Lighter1Lil Sami283004.9
Wild IdeasThe Weekender3164010.5
BearVaultBV450334407.2
Wild IdeasThe Expedition3690014.75
Backpacker's CacheGarcia Container43.561410
BearVaultBV5003970011.5
UDAPNo-Fed-Bear394557.5
Lighter1Big Daddy4365010.7
Counter AssaultBear Keg5871611.7

I’m excited to see the Ursack being sold by REI and hope that the product takes off with backpackers and campers. I think the Ursack is a great bearproof food storage product for anyone getting into backpacking or camping, and would encourage you to try it out. Made out of Spectra, this product is virtually indestructible and will last a lifetime, no matter how much you use it!

Disclosure: The author bought this product with his own funds.

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49 comments

  1. Interesting. I wonder if certification by the Grizzly Interagency Committee led to this? I hope people check before they buy; they’re still not authorized in the Sierra Nevada national parks, an extremely popular destination (think JMT and PCT).

    • There are relatively few places in the continental US where hard sided canisters are required. This product is excellent for **everywhere else**. For example, If people used it on the Appalachian Trail corridor, that would be a HUGE improvement, although other regions could benefit also.

      Who knows, maybe in time the parks out west will approve it for local use. I don’t hike out west…

      The Ursacks biggest benefit isn’t replacing bear canisters, it’s eliminating bad bear hangs using a rock, bag, and rope.

  2. I don’t hike much where bears are a problem, but I usually hang my food because of smaller animals like skunks, raccoons, and mice – and I do take the occasional excursion into bear country (which seems to be moving toward me a little more each year.) I’m assuming that if a bear can’t chew into it, neither will any of the smaller pests. Would an Ursack be overkill for such use?

    I’d also amend your statement about “the biggest benefit..eliminating bad bear hangs…” Those hangs usually involve a rock, bag, rope, and a dope (me.) :)

  3. My GF and I use an Ursack for our food, mostly for the rodents, but we do hike in bear country, although we’ve never seen a bear. If a bear ever does find us and hungry enough to try out our food, we want to make it as difficult as possible for it to associate people with food. A fed bear is a dead bear. Seems to work.

  4. Phil , do you use the OPSak odor barrier bag or the Ursack aluminum liner along with the Ursack bear bag?

    • I use an Opsack odor barrier bag in mine but skip the aluminum liner. That liner is optional and only needed if you’re worried about a grizzly crushing your food and there are no grizzlies where I hike.

      I don’t really believe that the Opsack is odor proof but it’s a good, strong plastic bag and helps keep damp things from messing up the inside of the bag.

      You can wash an Ursack in a washing machine btw. Comes out clean!

      • Couldn’t a black bear, chewing on the Ursack bag, also crush its contents?

      • I guess. I don’t think it’;s a requirement. I’ve never needed one and I’ve probably used my Ursack upwards of 500 nights in black bear country.

      • Have any bears ever bothered with your Ursack tied to a tree trunk during those 500 nights? And, if so, were they successful at all in removing it from the tree trunk or doing anything else to the bag?

      • Never – I’ve never even detected the slightest interest in my bear bag by a bear or other animal.

      • The ‘rope” that you tie the Ursack closed and to a tree with is also made out of Spectra and is as bear proof as the bag.

      • Hi Mr. Werner:
        Thank you for the Ursack review – coming from MT to hike the AT in 2016 it is going to be hard to not hang a bear bag. A couple of questions – when it rains on the Ursack, where do you put that bag? Do you move your food in their Opsak bag into another plastic bag to be carried inside your backpack? Finally, how far up a tree do you tie the Ursack – what are good knots to use? (Sorry about these lame questions, just trying to figure out food storage.) THANKS FOR YOUR TIME.

      • As a fellow MTanan and having worked in a number of the large MT and WY wilderness during my career, I’d suggest you simply follow the IGBC/FS guidelines for hanging food, i.e. 10 ft up and 4ft out like your are accustomed to doing here in MT. To avoid a wet ursack either put it in a suitable sized plastic bag prior to hanging, or before putting in your pack, or during the day put the food in an alternate bag in your pack until the ursack dries out.

      • You can leave your ursack in the rain. It won’t melt. I’ve found that rain seldom drips inside. I just put the damp bag in my pack, on top of the plastic bag I use to line the inside of my pack and it’s fine.

        There’s no need to hang an ursack from a tree like you would a traditional bear bag. I just tie mine to the trunk of a medium sized tree (so a bear can’t knock it over) using a figure eight knot.

  5. I am sure everyone knows this already, but just as a reminder…The rules for and about bear proof storage devises are designed to protect the bear, not your food. Ursack has really “hung” in there all these years to get their product validated, congratulations to them!

  6. I decided to get an Ursack for 2 reasons: I’m terrible at hanging a bear bag, and I don’t want my food taken by critters. Truthfully, I’m more worried about critters stealing my food in the backcountry than I am about bears.

    Too many people don’t hang bear bags properly. A good percentage of those people are ultralight hikers, or people trying to push into ultralight, who are too worried about counting grams than worrying about properly hanging the bear bag. Drives me bonkers.

    The Ursack is stupidly simple to use, and very effective. I find it worth the 7-8 oz.

  7. Earlier Ursacks have repeatly failed In the most bear infested areas of the High Sierras. Based on personal experience I’d never rely on one there again, whether tentatively approved or not. Ursack has a history of getting tentative approval of new versions based on tame zoo bear tests. But the savvy and aggessive wild bears just keep digging at the bag until a hole is made then drag out all the contents. Watching this happen, I was convinced that no fabric, however space age, could ever resist. Most likely bears that have learned how to get hung food will apply those skills to the conveniently lower hung Ursacks. Hours of assault with razor sharp claws eventually succeeds.

    Took me nearly an hour to hand pick the confetti left from shredded food wrappers. Had to bail out middle of a complex, long planned backpacking trip because of it.

    For rodents Ursack is fine. I have one for areas without bears but use ONLY my carbon fiber Bearicade elsewhere, especially in Sierra.

  8. I own two. I love them.

  9. Older Ursacks are made out of materials that didn’t pass muster and are not IGBC approved. Check the Ursack website for the specific ones that are fully approved. Some only need to be upgraded. My two (one for me, one for my late dog) were bought so long ago (2006) that they’re obviously not up to snuff. They do keep out birds and rodents, though.

    BTW, the Bearikade is not IGBC approved, so don’t plan to use it where IGBC-approved containers are specifically required. Bearikade claims it’s because their primary market is California, but others state that it didn’t pass the grizzly test. I’ve seen photos showing big holes. in a Bearikade. I wish I’d known that before I bought one!

    • The new S29 is fully approved. The old ones are not available for sale anymore.

      • No, but a lot of us have older model Ursacks around, and I’ve seen some listed for sale! (Not by me!)

      • I picked up a couple of the old bags at a local thrift store for $4 apiece. I was thinking that at one time the idea was to double bag chow. I figured on using these for hanging and they would be great for keeping birds, i.e. ravens, and rodents at bay. If all else fails, they will make a great bag for storing SOMETHING in.

  10. Oh, and I’ve gotten 10 days’ food into an Ursack–minus the first day’s lunch and dinner, of course.

  11. In the past, I’ve actually enjoyed working on the bear hang until I got it right (my mother said I fell on my head quite often as a child). To me, it was part of the wilderness experience, although it did get REAL old no later than the third night. It also limits campsites because you have to scout for an accessible tree as well. I bought this model Ursack a couple years ago and haven’t looked back. I can certainly find other things to occupy my mind in camp than messing with a bear hang. If I ever get to backpack the Sierras, I’ll just rent a canister.

  12. I wonder if these will ever be allowed in the ADK high peaks region. I’m thinking that because the bears here have figured out some of the bear vaults maybe a bag no matter how secure is not the best idea. Are bear kegs not required in the whites?

    • Depends your reading of the ADK regulations, which are sloppily documented by DEC on ths web page http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7225.html. The implication is that anything on the IGBC list is approved.

      No canisters required in the Whites.

      • The NY Department of Environmental Conservation website says: “Non-rigid containers or sacks are not considered bear resistant canisters under the regulation.” However, they have a link to IGBC approved bear resistant products and Ursack is included toward the top of page 2 of the list.

        I emailed Ursack about this and they feel the Ursack with aluminum insert would meet the definition. Even with the insert, it will only weigh about 18 oz., which is still quite a bit less than anything on your list here.

  13. I have an older model Urasck.

    One night I was camped just off the AT in NY about 40 miles from NYC. I had hung my Ursack 6′ high, a good ways from my camp.

    My hiking partner pitched his tent closer to the Ursack.

    A pack of coyotes had found the Ursack in the middle of the night and proceeded to spend a good amount of time jumping and trying to rip a hole in it.

    My hiking partner was terrified because the sound they were making wasn’t like anything he had ever heard before and definitely not something you’d expect to hear that close to the city.

    He eventually got the nerve to get out of his tent to see what was going on. The coyotes spotted him and ran off.

    The Ursack was fine the next morning and nothing was damaged except maybe some teeth marks. The tree was quite torn up though.

    I still use that Ursack when I’m not in bear problem areas.

  14. This should work well in high “Alpine” country above the tree line where my camp site selection has previously been constrained by the proximity of rock over-hangs to tie a food bag off.
    A Question Phil: do you still use odour proof food bags inside as a back up measure?

  15. OK Sorry. you’ve already answered that one. Being from the UK I’m always on edge camped in Grizzly country!

  16. I picked up one of the s29 bags last spring because I live/work/play where Grizzly Bear food storage is mandatory and the s29 is IGBC approved. Better yet, a couple of weeks ago I scored two of the older model ursacks at a thrift store for $4 apiece. I plan on using these for hanging in accord with food storage here and using in areas where bears aren’t a challenge to keep rodents and ravens at bay.

  17. What kind of clutz would take 45 minutes to hang a bear bag! I use a Zpacks food bag and 50 feet of Lash-It, total weight 2.5 ounces. It takes me, at most, 10 minutes to hang the bag and, using the PCT method, it is virtually impossible for a bear to defeat. I see the Ursack as another piece of useless gear that only serves to clutter ones pack. The real problem with food storage is camping near people who either don’t hang their food properly or store the food in their tent. You can bring a cast iron food canister and still be subject to an attack, guilt by association!

    • I really can’t comment on how much time it takes and individual to hang or properly store their food or their personal physical clutziness . I guess that is largely a function of available quality hang sites, i.,e. some can be more challenging than others, the experience, and the physical skills of the individual hanging the food. Personally I’ve spent decades working and playing in MT, WY, and ID where food storage was mandatory, and simply a great idea to lessen the opportunity for an unhappy encounter. I have hung my food, used bear resistant panniers and bear cannisters when stock packing, or both containers and hanging. For me the ursack offers another option to throw in the mix where food storage is mandatory. However, the main impetus for making the purchase was when I heard they would be approved on the PCT where cannisters were required. I simply do not like the constraints offered by cannisters especially when backpacking. Although I’m not sure if the PCT park sections have finally approved the s29, I thought that I would purchase it for two main reasons 1) it is approved and useful at home in the continental divide ecosystem and 2) I figured if it was approved on the PCT the supply + demand = price increase would happen.

      In addition, I was personally victimized by a wise raven in Canada’s Robson Provincial Park who pecked through the nylon hang sack hung on their “maypole” hangers and feasted on granola during the night. Over the decadesI have also seen multiple times where rodents in backcountry patrol cabins have helped themselves to our victuals. Not even the price tag of an inordinately expensive cuben fiber bag would have prevented these circumstances. I say, to each their own, a less spray on the hoi polloi from the holier than thous, and consider it just another tool in the arsenal of camping options, eh? Hike on.

    • While living in Michigan it was easy to find the right sized tree branch at around the correct height to sling my zpacks bear bag over. After spending a year hiking around the cumberland plateau area in eastern Tennessee I have had it with bushwhacking around looking for a good tree. The ursack was already on my christmas list and now I will get a member dividend for getting one, score!

    • I’ve found that, with enough cold, rain, fatigue, and darkness, almost any of us can qualify as a klutz.

  18. My question is the rope used on the bag in the picture. Maybe a bear can’t easily or quickly chew through the bag but it looks like the rope could be chewed through in seconds.

  19. I’ll be using the latest REI 20% off coupon to order one this weekend (free shipping, too!).

  20. I bought one online last year and paid full price. I’ll have to use my REI coupon for something else. Oh well, I’m sure if I try hard enough, I can find SOMETHING at REI to spend my money on…

  21. Ursack’s website has some interesting bear videos. On the one where the bear was trying to get into a Bearikade, I was impressed with how much dexterity he had in his paws. He curled three claws back and used the two remaining to try to pick the lid off. I didn’t know bears could do that, although I probably should have been cognizant of the fact. I’d always thought of them as paws with claws but didn’t realize they could control each “finger” so well. More reason to respect them.

  22. Bearicade failures have been due to incompletely fastened lids. All 3 twist locks must be engaged.

    The new “white” Ursack will be legal in parts of SEKI until it fails–typically within one season.

    I think Ursack in Sierra is fine, while still legal: 1.For weekend or short backpacks within a day’s hike of entry trailhead 2. For light and occaissional users 3. For those on a tight budget as the cheapest option. When it’s failed and banned again, it’s still good against rodents e.g. on the PCT and other long trails. I have one just for that, but carry ONLY Bearikade in High Sierra. Once severely scortched was enough for me.

  23. I am the guy that won the Ursack All White S29 earlier this year from Section Hiker. Thanks Mr. Werner. The Ursack has worked really well. I hike in Northern California where there is a very high density of black bears and other critters. The Ursack, plus a scent proof bag has not been bothered by any animals yet. I just tie it to a tree away from my camp and my work is done. It’s a quality product and quite functional. Always keep it clean and you won’t have any problems either. Highly recommended! I also own a bear canister and use it where required.

  24. Mr. Werner, I considered the Ursack but settled on the BearVault BV500 when Ursack’s website said the S29 would not prevent rodents. So, I am glad to hear from your readers that they have not had problems from rodents when using Ursack. There are plenty of places in the East where chipmunks are a worse threat (and way worse then mice!) to your otherwise properly-hung food. I have been pleased with the BV500, except for its weight. I use the Odor Proof zip bags inside. I just lash the BV500 to a tree trunk to help reduce the potential for a bear rolling it away. But, your reader’s comment about his Zpack food bag with Lash-it and its super light weight might get me back to hanging my food! Meanwhile, I think REI is still offering the 20% sale (it is early December, now), so I am tempted to go with a new Ursack S29. Can’t have too many options!

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