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What Should You Put in a Bear Bag?

What should you put in a bear bag?

Bear bags are intended to protect your food on backpacking trips and to prevent bears from becoming accustomed to eating human food. “A fed bear is a dead bear”, as the saying goes, and no one wants to see a bear killed because someone was careless and didn’t hang their food in a bear bag or some other bear-proof container, like a bear canister, a Ursack, or a bear-proof cooler.

What should you put in a bear bag or bear-proof storage? Is it limited to food or are there other things that you should store as well? The answer is yes.

Here are the items, I’d recommended hanging in a bear bag or storing in an IGBC approved bear-resistant container.

  • All of your food
  • Olive or cooking oil
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrush
  • Deodorant
  • Mouthwash
  • Perfume
  • Soap
  • Sun tan lotion
  • Chapstick or lip balm
  • Bug dope
  • First-aid creams
  • Condiments
  • Gum
  • Scented tobacco
  • Trash

Here are some other items, you might consider storing at a distance from your tent even if they have no food value.There’s no point in encouraging a close inspection by an alpha predator at night.

  • Pots, pans, and utensils
  • Cooking grills
  • Water bottles or hydration reservoirs that have had flavorings added to them
  • Clothes that you have cooked in

Why take these precautions? Bears have an extremely good sense of smell that’s 100 times more sensitive than humans and 7 times more sensitive than a bloodhound’s. In other words, they can smell things that you’re not even aware have a smell.

Recommended Bear-Proof Containers

The following is a list of the popular bear canisters and Ursack bear-proof bear bags that backpackers and campers use where bear-resistant containers are required.

Make / ModelWeight in oz.Cubic InDays Food
Bare Boxer26.3 oz2753
BearVault BV42528 oz3053
BearVault BV45033 oz4404
BearVault BV47536 oz5656
BearVault BV50041 oz7007
Garcia Backpackers Cache43.5 oz6146
Frontiersman Insider Bear Safe48 oz7357
Wild Ideas Scout28 oz5005
Wild Ideas Weekender31 oz6506-7
Wild Ideas Blazer33 oz7507-8
Wild Ideas Expedition36 oz9009
Lighter1 Big Daddy43 oz6503
Lighter1 Lil Sami28 oz3003
UDAP No-Fed Bear38.4 oz4554-5
Counter Assault Bear Keg58 oz7167
Ursack Major Bear Bag (10L)7.6 oz6506-7
Ursack AllMitey Bear and Critter (10L)13 oz6506-7
Ursack Major XL (15L)8.8 oz9259
Ursack Major 2XL (30L)15.7 oz183018
Ursack AllMitey Grizzly Bear and Critter (20L)13.8 oz122112
Ursack AllMitey Kodiak Bear and Critter (20L)15.3 oz185018-19
Ursack AllMitey Bear and Critter (30L)15.3 oz185018-19

See Also: 

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  1. Does hand sanitizer fall into the soap category?

    • IMO Yes. When a bear raided our camp while we were eating dinner near our bear hang, about 100 meters away, teeth marks were left in the toilet kit which was on a rock outside the tent. The kit contained toilet paper, hand sanitizer and a shovel. Only 1 of the empty backpacks was searched by the bear, we surmised the bear was attracted to that pack because of a nonscented plastic garbage bag used as a packliner which was still inside the backpack. The scent of plastic garbage bags may also equate to food for a bear.

  2. Geez,

    It is so hard convincing people of doing this. I really think it takes a bear coming on thier space. Unfortunately when this happens. It gets reported, they are the ones at fault, and then we have a cannister mandated. It makes it hard for everyone.

  3. I will never understand why people don’t hang their “smellables”. Unless you are above tree line, it should be standard operating procedure. Here in the south bears can sometimes be a problem but usually I hang my food more because of the other smaller varmits.

  4. What about a snoring hiking partner?

    …Or should I just stuff a ham sandwich in his pocket and boot him out of the tent for the bear to scare? That should cure the snoring!

  5. I wonder if bears like “Esbit” fuel smell….

  6. On a recent trip to Yosemite a ranger told us, ” if it goes in your mouth or on your skin it needs to go in your bear canister.” That seems like a pretty easy way to remember.

  7. Do bear bags need to be completely sealable? I’m thinking of making my own. Roll down top with buckles.

    • Not technically although a closed bag will cut down on the amount of food odor detectable and the contents (trash) won’t leak into the rest of your gear.

    • You can get odor-proof liners (Opsack) that seal in odors. They aren’t very durable so not often used alone.

    • You can also get Nylofume bags from various suppliers quite reasonably. They are supposed to be odor proof and are large enough and tough enough to be used as a pack liner. One person we met on the trail uses three of them for his food storage. The smellables go in the first bag, the second bag goes the other way over the top of the smellable bag, and that combo goes into the third bag. That hiker hadn’t been eaten by a bear up to the point he showed us his system.

      My gripe about Opsaks is that the sealing part is very weak, fails and tears loose very easily. For the high amount they charge for their glorified Ziplocs, they can certainly improve the quality. I’ve quit buying them because every one I get comes apart prematurely.

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