When wilderness camping,  you will be sharing the backwoods with countless hungry, curious critters. We are guests in their home, and they find the delicious scents you bring with you at a minimum interesting… and possibly even hard to resist as a meal of opportunity.

I’m well aware I share the forest with countless creatures and have been dutifully hanging my food bag out of reach of bears and other mid-size animals for years.  When I first started backwoods camping in the early ’80s this was frankly the only option.

Despite all my good efforts, and even when my “hangs” were well beyond the prescribed parameters… I have lost 2 bags to Mensa smart athletic bears and countless sacks have been ripped open by bloodhound-ish red squirrels.

ursack no hang trees
I often found myself with few places to hang my food. Either no trees or trees with not available hanging branches

I hate red squirrels! Well, that’s a tad strong… they were frankly just hungry.  Those pesky athletic rodents have been able to target the location of my gorp within my hang bag behind 2 layers of zip lock bags and one layer of nylon. Then chew through all the layers and chow down all while acrobatically hanging precariously 20 feet off the ground.

bare boxer contender and the Bear Keg by Counter Assault
Canisters – The small Bare Boxer Contender and the super tough Bear Keg by Counter Assault

What other choices did I have? This went on for 2 decades, then came hard shell canisters.  They were heavy, bulky and expensive, but they worked. I did try a couple of models for a few years. On one trip a bear came into camp, bullied me and my camping mate away from our open canister and proceeded to munch on all the edible goodies in the canister smorgasbord.

Recap – So I hung my food for years and then dabbled with canisters, yet nothing was 100%.  The canisters were a pain, and I was getting a pretty large collection of stuff sacks with squirrel holes!

Then about 10 years ago I became aware of a fancy “new” alternative. It was a soft bear-proof bag that only weighed in at 6 oz., and it didn’t need to be hung. So considering you didn’t need a nylon food bag, nor a throw rope or a rock bag… it weighed in less than my original hanging kit.

Ursack hanging in tree
The Ursack Major (new models are black replacing the previous white version) simply secures to a tree at eye level – easy peasy

This URSACK brand magic bag was made of spectra fabric and designed to be secured to a tree at eye level by the attached bear “proof” rope.  For the next 10 years, it was my exclusive food bag and I never had an issue with big or small critters.

Fast forward to this spring. I was thinking of lighting my base weight for my 2020 Appalachian Trail thru-hike and thought I could shave a few grams by once again hanging my food and retiring my tried and true old URSACK.  With the introduction of improved lighter fabrics and rope, I thought it would be a good choice… or would it?

LiteAF food and bear hanging kit
LiteAF bear bag hang kit is as good as it gets, but you still have to find a place to hang it at night.

Two experiences in 2019 changed my mind back to URSACK. During a spring hiking trip in the Adirondacks, I would spend over 30 minutes every night trying to find an appropriate “hanging branch”.  The forest trees were such, that there were no branches reachable with my 50 feet of rope and limited human strength pitching arm. So frustrating after a long day on the trail. At one campsite the ground was so sandy I couldn’t even find a throw rock.


The second incident was also in the Adirondack State Park, this time in the high peaks region which incidentally has a compulsory canister rule. No problem, we brought a canister.  The first night we scored a spot in a lean-to shelter and a good thing, it started to rain just as the sun was setting. Two other campers showed up minutes before the sunset behind the peaks. These rebels didn’t have canisters and needed to hang their food bag before bunk time. My hiking buddy Chris, because he is a great guy, offered to help. Well, they hunted for 45 minutes with headlamps in the rain for an appropriate branch without any luck. Eventually, they settled for a low-hanging branch and prayed.

These 2 experiences reminded me of why I started to use my URSACK a decade ago… tie to a tree and then roll into your tent for the night. Easy, safe and secure.

The URSACK has been a game-changer for me, and that’s why I no longer hang my food. I should have never doubted her, and after briefly dabbling with other alternatives, I’m now committed to my URSACK for the AT in 2020.

Hanging food 6
The Ursack Major is attached to a tree by the included “bear-proof” rope. After 10 years of use and abuse, I never had any problems with critters.


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