The Ursack is a bear-proof bear bag made out of bulletproof Spectra fabric that is lighter weight than hard-sided bear canisters and requires no training to use, making it a convenient and more reliable alternative to hanging a bear bag from a high tree branch or bear cable. The Ursack S29.3 AllWhite Bear Bag is approved for use in most US National Parks, National Forests, and State Parks and was certified by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) in 2014. The current exceptions (as of May 2016) are Yosemite and parts of Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park (SEKI) where hard-sided bear canisters are still required. If in doubt, contact the land manager and ask.
REI started carrying two models of the Ursack, the Ursack Major S23.3 AllWhite Bear Bag, which weighs 8.7 ounces and can hold 15 liters/925 cubic inches and the slightly smaller Ursack 29.3 AllWhite, which weighs 7.8 ounces and can hold 10.7 liters / 650 cubic inches. The smaller model can hold approximately five days of food for one person. Note: MEC also sells the Ursack in Canada.
As a longtime advocate of the Ursack, I wanted to measure how widespread awareness and use of the product is today. Given its light weight, effectiveness, and ease of use, I feel that it provides an excellent way to conserve the natural habitat and behavior of wildlife while providing all visitors, regardless of their skill or experience, with a safe way to protect their food in the wilderness.
There were 409 participants in this survey. Of these, 338 reported that they camp or backpack in areas that require protecting food from bears. Within that population:
- 58 respondents (17%) already own and use a Ursack;
- 65 respondents (19.2%) have definite plans to acquire a Ursack;
- 101 respondents (29.9%) are considering a Ursack;
- 140 respondents (41.4%) have used a bear canister in the past, when required;
I was surprised that 17% of the people who participated in this survey already own an Ursack and use it to protect their food from bears. These individuals reported being very satisfied with the product which is light weight, reliable, and easy to use. While the Ursack has been available for many years (SectionHiker.com first reviewed the Ursack in 2008) – it was only certified by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) in 2014, enabling broader national adoption.
Results: The fact that 17% of our respondents already own an Ursack, is a strong sign of robust adoption within the portion of the backpacking community that needs to protect their food from bears.
A further 19.2% of this survey’s respondents expressed plans to purchase an Ursack, an indication that the Ursack adoption rate remains strong. The fact that an additional 29.9% of respondents are considering the purchase of an Ursack indicates an strong awareness of the product and its claimed benefits.
While our survey did not directly measure the geographic distribution of respondents, many provided this information, leading us to conclude that respondents have backpacked and camped both in areas where hard-sided bear canisters are required and where they are not. For example, 41.4% of respondents own or have used bear canisters in the past, an indication that our survey population has experience with the full range of bear/food protection methods available and is not skewed by bear bag hangers alone.
About this Survey
This survey was conducted on the SectionHiker.com website which has over 300,000 unique readers per month, so a large pool of potential respondents. Readers were incented to participate in the survey in exchange for a chance to win a raffle for a piece of backpacking gear.
While I’m confident that the results are fairly representative of the general backpacking population based on the size of the survey results where n=409 people, we can’t claim that the results are statistically significant.
There are also a number of ways in which the results could be biased including: backpackers who read SectionHiker.com might not be representative of all backpackers, backpackers who read Internet content might not be representative of all backpackers, backpackers who respond to raffle incentives might not be representative of all backpackers, our methods for recording responses might have been unconsciously biased, and so on.
The author is an expert in statistical analysis, survey, and experimental design and is sensitive to these issues. However, given the size of the respondent pool and the very strong consensus among user responses, we believe that the survey results published here will be useful to backpackers who are interested in learning about bear bags and food protection techniques that are lighter weight than hard-sided bear canisters and more effective than traditional bear bag hanging techniques.
Written 2017.SectionHiker is reader-supported. We independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.
If REI started selling URSacks in stores, I believe sales would really take off. The last store I was in, staff didn’t know what I was talking about.
REI is a clothing store….you’d never find actual gear there. REI has been selling Ursacks online for one year now. I’m sure their guarantee has helped adoption.
“REI is a clothing store”. Lol.
Sad but true.
Nice write up on the survey.
plenty of equipment in my local store
I remember when it was a gear store and you could spend hours poking though just the plastic buckles section.
I have seen Ursacks for sale at the Seattle flag ship REI
I have also seen Ursacks in REI
They have them in the REI store in Olympia, Washington. Saw them on them on the shelf last week sitting next to the bear cans.
I bought mine at REI in Colorado. Some outdoor stores were unaware of them. I love mine.
Canisters are still required in Olympic National Park.
Bought mt Ursack at an REI store.
But apparently NOT everywhere. Read the regs.
1. Do you know if Ursack is allowed for use in the Adirondacks? They’re pretty strict about bear safety.
2. Do you think, and do experts think, that it would be possible for bears to learn how to get into these bags at some point in the future? Or are they completely bear-proof?
1. Call them and ask. I’m pretty sure they are.
2. Do you think bears will learn how to fly planes. It could happen. LOL
1. I think not b/c I read this: “Non-rigid containers or sacks are not considered bear resistant canisters under the regulation.”
Just spoke to the park – here are the regs – you need a hard canister in the eastern high peaks wilderness area as defined by this link, but only from 4/1 to 11/30. Everywhere else in the park (which is vast) an Ursack is legal.
Subparagraph 190.13(f)(3)(xiv) of Title 6 of the New York Code, Rule and Regulation (6 NYCRR) (effected August 24, 2005) states that no person “during the period April 1 through November 30, no overnight camper in the Eastern High Peaks Zone shall fail to use bear-resistant canisters for the storage of all food, food containers, garbage, and toiletries.”
6 NYCRR Paragraph 190.13(b)(2) defines a bear-resistant canister as “a commercially made container constructed of solid, non-pliable material manufactured for the specific purpose of resisting entry by bears.”
6 NYCRR Paragraph 190.13(b)(6) defines an overnight camper as “a person who stays or intends to stay in the Eastern High Peaks Zone during the night.”
6 NYCRR Paragraph 190.13(b)(4) defines the Eastern High Peaks Zone as “that portion of the High Peaks Wilderness Area located to the east of the ridge line immediately west of the Indian Pass Trail.”
Excellent. Thanks. It is as I expected – they are pretty strict about the High Peaks region. With good reason, too. It is in that area where a mother bear learned how to open a certain type of bear canister and taught her cubs how to do it. So they are even strict about what type of bear canister you use – the kind Mama Bear taught her kiddos how to open isn’t allowed either.
Actually no – there’s nothing in their regulations that mandates the use of any brand of canister. The person of authority I spoke with said they specifically did NOT develop a list of approved canisters or devices. So if you get a ticket for using a particular brand which still fulfills the stated regulations, I’d protest it.
Ah, okay. I misunderstood. No plans to hike in the Daks anytime soon anyway, but filing this away for the future….
It’s also important to understand the regulation and the way it’s worded. They prohibit soft sided bags because the contents might be crushed, not because bears can get at the contents….I’m not sure why they care, but that’s what it says.
“It is against park regulations to have crushed food.”
Yeah, that is a weird thing for them to care about.
Yes that is my understanding of the ruling. They don’t want our Raman noodles crushed. I am gearing up for the PCT this summer and hate the thought of carrying a bear can.
I crush my noodles before cooking so they all fit in my cook pot. Maybe I should hire a bear to do it for me.
Any self-respecting bear will offer to crush your food for free. :)
Just an FYI: like ALL bear canisters/containers, Ursack is bear-resistant, not bear proof.
Olympic NP has told me no Ursacks, unless they are hung at campsites where there are bear wires. They are also gradually removing bear wires and eventually plan to require hard-sided canisters everywhere. There are other areas that insist on hard-sided canisters. Unless the jurisdiction’s policy states specifically that it accepts bear-resistant containers approved by the IGBC, it may not accept the Ursack. It’s best to check before you go!
Interestingly, the Bearikade is not approved by the IGBC, something I didn’t find out until after I bought one.
If you wonder why I like east coast hiking so much, it’s because we have no big predators and so few national parks.
I’m a long time Ursack user and I feel it is important to point out that Ursack is a system which relies on the use of the inner, smell proof bag to keep animals away in the first place.
The bag itself is only meant to not give an animal a reward if the food is discovered. Too many people discard the inner bag and rely on the Ursack only. This is wrong and will lead/ leads to animal encounters.
However, having ca. 70 bag nights using an Ursack system, I can attest to the fact that use of the whole system has lead to no animal encounters of any kind in my case. This includes heavily visited regions as well, such as Yosemite.
Use the inner bag.
The inner smell proof bag is a separate purchase. I use 2 ziplock freezer bags, one for food and one for trash. I have never had a problem with bears or other critters.
Oh good to know. I bought mine ages ago when it still came with one inner smell proof bag
Is there a chart somewhere listing which parks, areas, and trails allow the UrSack?… or maybe the converse: parks, areas, and trails that don’t allow it? (That might be a shorter list.)
I’d be much more likely to get one if I knew where all I could use it, especially if it was allowed on the trails nearest me.
Nope. Not a big problem though if you live east of the Mississippi.
I’m curious as to why you ask people to respond in narrative form instead of providing a multiple choice survey.
Because its easier for me to set up. It was a structured questionnaire by the way.
“The author is an expert in statistical analysis, survey, and experimental design and is sensitive to these issues.”
My first stat professor, on the first day, stated that” there are born liars, damn liars and statisticians!” Not to take anything away from the survey, job well done.
Your Prof lifted that quote from Mark Twain. It’s one of my favorites!
my first stat prof told us that umbrellas cause motor vehicle accidents :-) then he proved it…
Fortunately, most of our backpacking territory out here in the West is National Forest, not National Parks. IMHO, most of the best scenery is in National Forest land, too. While rules vary according to the jurisdiction, generally it’s on the order of either hang your food or use IGBC-approved containers. It’s in places where the bears (or in the case of the Olympic NP wilderness coast, the raccoons) have become really aggressive that special rules come into play. In National Forest land, bears are hunted, and are generally very shy unless some idiot doesn’t secure his food. A few years ago one area in the Washington Cascades. was made off limits for overnight camping because someone had left a slab of bacon–unwrapped–in their tent. Talk about an open invitation to the local bears!
It is important to research before you go, because rules change and even a small part of an individual ranger district may have special rules (as mentioned above).
I also bought my latest Ursack (the S29) at REI, taking advantage of a 20% off coupon and free shipping to get it at considerably less than I’d have paid to get it from Ursack.
I still stand by my statement from the last survey that Ursacks are not a viable long term solution in places where bears can be expected to come into contact with campsites. *IF* very careful Ursack placement is followed as one would for hanging their food, *IF* the odor-proof inner bag is not compromised (just try to keep the outside of the OPSak truly free of any scents of food by the end of a long trip, I dare you), *IF* the masses actually learn to tie it properly, *IF* bears don’t learn that chewing on an Ursack near popular campsites = tasty slobber, then Ursacks can be a viable option. I have seen all of the ifs compromised by well meaning, experienced backpackers who simply do not appreciate the intelligence and tenacity of bears. Bear canisters work great because they’re much tougher for your careless/ignorant REI-geared up backpacker to screw up. You cannot legitimately care about bears and claim that your benefit of 2lb of weight savings is worth the future harm to come from advocating for Ursacks instead of a proper canister. Properly hung bear bags and bear canisters keep bears from tasting human food. Ursacks don’t.
Ed – thought you were dead, but you’ve come back as a bear bag troll.
I’m from NJ. I hiked the JMT in August and used the BV 500 for the first time. After 3 weeks of hiking with it I’ll never go back to hanging a food bag. Was so much easier to use and not worry about the critters getting my food. Plus it’s a multipurpose tools, seat, washing machine… it’s also good to know that I won’t be endangering a bears life. Don’t leave home without one.
This Ursack might be a useful solution in areas with non-aggressive bears in low numbers (Ozarks). MO still doesn’t require / specify bear containers. Raccoons are more numerous and more of a threat to foodstuffs – they only manage to kill trash cans though ;)
All regs aside, how much better is an Ursack or canister than a well placed bear bag?
Some of the generate a fine more effectively than others.
We’ve had no bear encounters in about 25 years of backpacking, perhaps because we generally go to places that don’t get that much human traffic. Over the years, hanging the bear bags has served as both a teamwork-building exercise and a source of much hilarity – eventually. However, the process is pretty much guaranteed to chew up 30 – 60 minutes, and sometimes the resulting hang relies on luck a bit more than I’d like. Using an Ursack would remove the need for proper trees from the equation, and the rest of the setup seems reasonably straightforward.
Has anyone actually had their Ursack tested by a bear? While a bear can’t bite through the sack, seems like it could pretty much maul the contents. I don’t mind crushed ramen noodles, but not as keen on oatmeal cookie crumbs. And could the bear bite hard enough to burst a plastic bottle of olive oil, bend a lightweight pan, etc? Just curious..
In 10 years o fusing an Ursack, I’ve never found any evidence of a bear having even inspected one.
And I crush my ramen noodles before cooking them.