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Bear Bags and Bear Resistant Containers - why are they necessary?


I am going on a week-long backpacking trip with some friends. We are going to be in "bear country" but it is populated by black bears and very few, if any, brown bears. I have a Bear Vault and informed my friends that they also need a bear bag or a bear-resistant container. They do not want to spend $70-120 on Bear Vault or Ursack and they asked me why they were so expensive. I told them it was because they had to be bear-resistant material and not allow scent to travel outside of the bag. They brought up a good point that, if we are suspending the bag from a tree or bear pole, why does it have to be bear-resistant or scent locked if they bear cannot get to it? 

So my question is: Can they buy 50' of paracord and a cheap waterproof dry bag and hang it from a tree out of reach? Or does it have to be sent free or made from a tough, bear-resistant material? 

I do not see any issue with it, however, I want to make sure that I am not missing or overlooking something. 

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31 Replies

@REI-JohnJ Thank you for reaching out! I my self love my bear vault and urged them to get one but since they are not frequent hikers or campers they do not see it as a good investment.

I have another question: I know that if a bear pole is not available, then the bag needs to be hung between two trees or off a branch at least 5 feet from the trunk and 12 feet from the ground. Have you ever had an instance where a raccoon, or other small animals have been able to get to the bag even on a rope between two trees?

If this is a common instance, I think I can persuade them to invest in a bear vault or bag, or even sharing one as well as the cost. I will also look into renting one locally.

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.


To just answer the questions:

If not required to have a BV, then just hang it.  On 1 tree or between 2 trees, try to achieve the distances you mentioned.

It must be extremely rare for a critter to get food out of a properly hung bag, I've never had it happen or heard of it....not saying it doesn't happen, just that I've never heard of it.  It does happen quite frequently inside of shelters however.

If not required, I leave my BV at home and take the ursack and tie it to a tree.  It's a matter of 2 1/2lbs vs a few ounces.  Sometimes that can make a huge difference.

Up on the 'yoop' I'd be also concerned about mosquitoes!

good luck


REI Member Since 1979

They are only necessary when legally required. Bears will not go after your food--awake or sleeping- as long as you are with it. You will not find an incident where a bear attacked someone for their food. Yes, there are incidents of bears attacking people but aways defending young a kill, surprised, or a famished/crazy bear that would have attacked anyway. Back in "the day" backpackers just kept in their tent when sleeping and no problem then came the bear canister industry and instilled the "bear fear" and here we are. "State of Fear".

Soon, we will all be wear space suits for virus protection.

@cmbarf a bear came right into my camp in the UP while were eating. Bluff charged, roar etc. You are giving incorrect advice.

Think about your statement. I assume you're saying the Bear came up and only bluff charged because he knew your food was in a bear container otherwise he would have attacked. Could it, might have been for some other reason?

If bears were going to attack you for your food then no backpacking/camping would be allowed in any place that was inhabited by bears.

Do you work for the bear container/fear industry?


As a friendly reminder, we are posting this reference to our user guidelines (emphasis added), which state:

“Remember that you assume all risk associated with engaging in any activities or using any equipment discussed in this community. Some advice you find here may even be wrong…Apply the same good judgment here that you would apply to information and advice you find anywhere on the internet or through your in-person interactions.”

To be clear, we disagree with the above comment by @cmbarf and do not support the advice given.

In contrast, we support taking the appropriate steps to reduce negative encounters with bears. Bears can be attracted to a camp for a broad range of reasons, from looking for food to just plain curiosity. When you use a bear canister or follow the proper food storage guidelines set by land agencies, rangers, and wildlife biologists, you are taking steps towards preventing a bear (or other animal) from becoming habituated with people and food. That not only protects future users from encountering a ‘nuisance’ bear with negative results, but also ensures that a bear stays wild and doesn’t need to be forcibly relocated or worse, euthanized.

It is for these same reasons travelers in bear country are encouraged to make their presence known by making noise and travel in groups. These are easy preventative steps to make sure there is a healthy amount of distance between people and bears for the safety of both.

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

It's a bummer I have to spell this out. I did not say leave food out so bears can eat it. I said bear canisters do nothing to stop bears from sniffing around and looking for a free meal.  Canisters are not odor-free. Keep your food near you. Yes, even while sleeping which means in the tent and if they come looking yell and bang pots and they will leave. I'm sure if you've spent time in the backcountry or camping, even if food is secured bears still come looking but they will not attack you unless --as stated in the previous post-they are famished, deranged, protecting their young or a kill. In which case, bear canisters will serve no purpose. (they are good for sitting on)

REI sells bear canisters so they might have vested interest in disagreeing with this post.


So, I didn’t mean to start a debate here and I’m not try to discredit anyone. Everyone has their own experience with bears. I my self worked/lived in Shenandoah National Park for 7 months and have had plenty of encounters with Bears. So I was not asking the question as a concern for a bear encounter, I have bear spray, we make noise when we walk, and I have dealt with numerous bear encounters on the trails. I was asking in regards for protection of the Bears and Keeping the food from other animals. Since it is also required by the DNR that we have some form of keeping food from the wildlife, I was asking if others have used just a dry bag and a rope. I also want to avoid fines. 

I feel as though your opinion on REI as people that are pushing products that they sell, is not true for everyone. I have not been a member that long but I have been going to and buying products from REI for about 5-6 years. I have never felt like they were pushing me towards a product that they sell and they have even given me advice in store about the best deals from other places. They are also an amazing resource for information as they have first hand experience. So, myself, as someone with moderate experience in the back country, disagree with your post. And I would go as far to say that your actions may be impacting wildlife and other hikers negatively so I would ask that you rethink them. I really mean this with the upmost respect and, again, not trying to start a fight.

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

I keep my food with me at all times. I don't leave it out for the bears or any other wildlife. No one here has explained exactly how (if they do as I just said) bear canisters protect wildlife. You should rethink how your actions protect wildlife any more than mine. Please detail for me.


That’s a fair question and I would love to answer it for you! Working in the national park, we had rangers speak with us about protecting ourselves and wildlife. Something that resonated with me was that feeding bears means that they now associate you, with food. So the next time they hear, see, or locate a human, they will be more interested in approaching that human as it has associate it with food in the past. Like it was said before, bears are smart and resourceful animals. If you keep your food in your tent or on your person, a bear may approach you knowing you have food. They may run away, but what’s to say that next time that bear happens upon a child or a careless person and the bear ends up harming them or it has to now be relocated miles away from its current dwelling which can actually be devastating to that bear. 

by no means am I an expert, but I take the appropriate precautions when I am camping and hiking to keep wildlife and others safe. I know it may seem annoying to take such precautions and I get it, if the bear is scared off no big deal right? Expect it may be a big deal to the next person that bear approaches. If you tie your bag correctly, then you don’t have to worry about it getting your food. And if it’s away from your camp, the bear won’t associate campers with a place they can get food. 

Happy Trails! 

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.