This "Trails Gear" page is devoted to ANY gear used on the trail, be it home made, custom, or store bought.

This issue of "Trails Gear" is devoted to a basic but very important "home made" item, the bear line for "bear bagging". Please keep in mind this is primarily for the use of protecting your food from black bears, but should be proof against most all furry critters who have their eyes on your food. Just make sure you hang your food with the animal most likely to get your food in mind. For example, if you are hanging your food to be out of reach of grizzlies, just be sure to hang it some distance from camp, you choose a VERY strong tree, and be sure you hang it high! Take precautions appropriate for what area you are in.

Bear Bagging!

Securing your food by the counterbalance method, especially when alone, can be a frustrating experience. For me, it was a problem begging for a solution, and I believe I have a method to make the process a whole lot easier. My backpacking partner and I between us have hiked thousands of trail miles, and despite numerous bear encounters, we have never lost our food to bears. (Knock on wood!)

I have one sure way to counterbalance bear bags when I am alone. Naturally, two people doing this job is better, but it is when you are doing it alone is when you usually run into problems, especially using the old conventional method. Usually, things get frustrating when you are attempting to hold a line with 10+ pounds of food dangling on the end of the line and you are trying to tie in a loop knot on the stiff line. Well, there is a better way.

First of all, a few basics.

When I refer to a loop knot, it is thus: (see the illustration) double the line back on itself to make a loop, and tie a simple single turn over and through knot near the loop end where the line was bent for a loop. There you have it, a loop knot.

I am finicky about what kind of line I use. I go to climbing and mountaineering stores and get at least 70 feet of 3mm 500 pound test "climbing rope". Also, I also have another additional 40 or so feet of quality line of some kind. Most camping stores usually sell a small spool of clothes-line quality line that will serve you well, but more of the good climbing rope will also do the job. This will be your "Pulley Line" (AND clothes line!). Both lines together add very little to your backpacking load.

Two stuff-bags are required for your food for this technique. Divide your trip food into two piles and put the food into your two bags. In addition, get two of the smallest (about two inch) carabiners. Clip one of these 'biners to ONE of your two food bags (bag #2), and permanently attach the other 'biner to the end of your new bear line.

OK. How is your visualization? Pay close attention to what particular item is being referred to:

Pick out your ideal limb of your ideal bear bag hanging tree, and throw your bear line over the limb like you usually do. Unwind about 20 or so feet of the Pulley Line, and pull about half of the Pulley Line through the bear line 'biner (or simply clip into the middle of the Pulley Line). Pull the biner all the way to the branch, but unless the branch is especially low, avoid pulling the 'biner over the branch.* So, you now have a loop of the Pulley Line dangling off the raised 'biner. Now, simply reach up and tie in a loop knot on the bear line.
Because the line is slack, this will be easy to do. Pull the Pulley Line and bring down the 'biner equipped end of the bear line. Attach food bag #1. Hoist up bag #1 (with the Pulley Line attached) all the way up to the top, or until the loop knot is within reach. Attach food bag #2 (the one with the 'biner) to the loop knot. Stuff the excess line into bag #2, but leave a "snag loop" outside in case you have to use a branch or something to pull down your food. Pull on the dangling Pulley Line until the two bags are in place side by side. You now have the Pulley Line to bring down your food when you need to get to your food. If it worries you, pull down enough Pulley Line (still looped through the 'biner on bag #1) until the end of the Pulley Line is 6 or so feet off the ground (but still within reach!), so if any ursine Einstein pulls on the Pulley Line it will pull through without pulling down your food! An if that happens (the Pulley line is no longer attached), you can get a tree branch to pull down the food using the "snag loop".


There is also an art to taking your food off the bear line. 1) Pull bag 1 down with the Pulley Line, and take the food bag off the line. 2) Keep the Pulley Line on the bear line 'biner. 3) Lower Bag 2 slowly to the ground and take it off the line. 4) Untie the loop knot. 5) Pull the Pulley Line until you can take it off the bear line. 6) Slowly pull the bear line over the branch. All this song and dance avoids food bags crashing to the ground and/or snagging your lines.

*If the tree branch is especially high, you may not want to pull the 'biner all the way to the branch. In that case, pull the bear line (pulling the Pulley Line with it) until the 'biner is at the spot it will be when the bags are in their final positions when your are done hanging your food. This is guesswork, because you have to imagine the bag hanging from the line, and make sure it is high enough off the ground. So, you now have a loop of the Pulley Line dangling off the raised 'biner. Eyeball and memorize the spot on the bear line you want to make your loop knot to attach your second bag. Keeping your eye on the spot, pull it down to within reach, and tie in your loop. (The bear line end may have passed over the tree limb, BUT, the Pulley Line is still attached!) Continue the process as above from the point that says "Because the line is slack,...".

Save bears by keeping your food safe!

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