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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

@HoughtonLikeTheLake You wrote "I feel as though your opinion on REI as people that are pushing products that they sell, is not true for everyone."

I once went to an REI for a bike part or repair and they were not able to help me, so they referred me to the nearby Trek store. That is why I trust REI.

In terms of our current discussion, REI also sells various bags and stuff sacks, carabiners, and rope and cord that could be used for a bear bag hang, in addition to Bear Vaults. I have never sensed that anyone here is pushing products available only at REI, so you are right on and I agree with you.

aka "Boonerelli"

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

I've posted this a couple of time, but might be ok here,  happy viewing! (and please subscribe!)


REI Member Since 1979


Great video, thanks for sharing!

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

Nice video but not sure how it supports the "theory" that bear canisters are necessary.


It’s just....a video

REI Member Since 1979

btw, canisters are ‘necessary’ because SEKI NP  says they are, if you want a permit

REI Member Since 1979

Lots of rules and laws. Lots of bull**bleep**s.

”signs, signs, everywhere signs!”


I think you will find the following discussion of managing bear-human interactions, and the need to keep bears away from human foods helpful:


In many naturally managed areas with significant visitation, keeping the wild populations away from human food sources can be a tricky problem.  I am personally acquainted with the island fox (a smaller version of its mainland ancestor) and the campgrounds at Channel islands National Park    Here the NPS has installed fox proof metal storage lockers at each campground site to keep the foxes on their natural feed.

That isn't the only natural population which poses potential interactions with humans with potential negative consequences.  There is a substantial shark population in park waters, due to extensive pinniped   populations.  It is a good idea to avoid feeding them, as well.....

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

To the best of my knowledge, bear resistant containers do allow scents outside the container.  I always store mine at least 150 yards downwind.  Any scented materials should be put into the container, e.g. toothpaste, snacks, etc...  Using a bear canister keeps the bears safe in that they are less likely to associate food and humans.  If you don't want to purchase bear resistant container, rent one.

The concern with bear-bagging is that it's very difficult to do correctly, in that a) the trees may not cooperate and provide a good hanging location and b) bears are getting smarter about bear hangs all the time.

This article from Andrew Skurka changed my mind and made me an advocate of bear canisters.  I'm kinda surprised it hasn't been linked yet 😃