OK am I an old timer and hanging onto old way, yes I use a wood paddle still but I did switch to a Kevlar canoe. So here is my question, what is everyone’s experience and/or opinions with hanging your food verse a bear barrels.
I use a technique from the book Roughing It Elegantly: A Practical Guide to Canoe Camping by P. Bell. this last trip were she described an easy way of hanging your food bag using two ropes one to create a 45 angel between two trees the other to hall it up. (see picture below)
On the other hand my experience with barrels is limited and I am interested in finding out more. Unfortunately I can’t get the image of caring a beer keg through the woods.
In 2005 a fello teacher here picked up several blue barrels for five bucks each. I bought one from him for five bucks to use as a canoe pack. There are no handles on the side of the barrel like the expensive models but there are built in carrying handles so to speak. In 2005 I used the barrel in conjunction with an external backpack frame I rigged up. I had about 65 pounds of stuff in it (way too much stuff) and portaged the long portage to get to Entry Point 84 Snake River and up the hill and down to Gull Lake from Bald Eagle and all the short portages in between.
This year I found a barrel harness at Rutabaga in Madison, WI made by NRS and bought it for fifty bucks. It is superb and the barrel worked superbly as our food pack in June of 2006 on Insula and Alice and then on Lake Three for the final night. We kept the barrel sealed and stored it away from camp. We had no bear issues but I'm not sure there were any bear working around The Rock, Williamson Island, the Falls site on Insula etc.
Just about everyone I saw at Portages commented about the barrel with most saying they liked the look and ease of the unit.
Still hang some on longer trips until everything can fit in the barrel. Switched to barrel as finding a tree and hanging took time and energy that I wanted to use on other activiites. Now the barrel gets stashed back in the woods off the main trail. I hide it at night when I go for my last latrine visit. (I hide it well away from the latrine and not on the latrine trail.)
I use a Garcia Bear barrel.
"When a man is part of his canoe, he is part of all that canoes have ever known."
Sigurd F. Olson
I think either method can work. Notice I said "can". Both methods can fail, too. The thing is there are precautions you need to take and do.
I have seen people who think their food is safe beause they hung it -- 8 feet off the ground right next to the trunk of the tree. They can't reach it so they figure a bear can't either. I guess they don't know that bears climb trees. If the pack is hung 10 - 12 feet off the ground and 6 feet from the trunk of the tree and 6 feet below an over hanging branch, then I think the food is secure. (The Forest Service has the changed the recommendation from 4 feet to six).
Barrels can be secure, too. But with them you need a thick liner. Also, you can't clean fish on them or use them for a cutting board, or slop food on them. If a bear thinks there's food in one of those blue barrels, he'll get it open.
The Garcia Barrels are bear proof, that is they can't open it. But they can knock it around, turn your macaroni to powder, or move it somewhere that you'll never find it.
I feel folks should do what they're comfortable with, but try to do it right. Take precautions.
We have wrapped our food pack in a blue tarp for 20 years. Wrapped tightly and wedged between two rocks. No scent to attract bears. Can even put under canoe if needed. The one time I hung to food, mice got into pack in the tree.
Leave on Saturday can't wait.
Okay, am I strange if I say I hung my olive barrel? I have done both hand and use barrels... I prefer to use barrels! This last trip being solo I hung my 10 lb food barrel, it was easy to do so not a problem... Why? you might ask? I don't know, unless I just did not want to take the chance! As many squirrels as there were around camp and the way they chewed my plastic coffee cup up... I did not trust the little red devils!!! I still prefer blue barrels over hanging though!
Good Paddling, Great Fishing, and God Bless All...
Wow, on the ground wrapped in a blue tarp? My brother and I watched a bear clean up 2 guys' food on Crooked a few years back and when we went over to check out their camp (they went on a day trip) they had stowed their food in a similar manner. We thought about taking what was left of their food over to our campsite so they'd have something left. We watched that bear come back about 4 times during the day. We've got good video of him from about 40 feet away. We were down wind of him aand he was so into their food he didn't notice us for about 10 minutes.
I've been using a barrel pack and harness for close to 10 years now and have yet to have a problem.I use a bicycle cable and padlock to secure it to a smaller tree. We leave it right in camp with us.A few years ago we were on Agnes and we saw a bear 100 feet from our campsite twice in one day. If he came into our camp at night he didn't mess with my barrel.
I also like the fact that you don't have to take your pack down to grab a snack. Just open the locking band and grab something.
I have hung my pack and stored it under a canoe at night. Usually if it is left on the ground I have set the alarm (placing pots and pans on top of the over turned aluminum canoe)
I have never had a bear problem either way. Usually the best method is to take extra care keeping a clean camp site.
Here is a picture of a Duncan Lake campsite before the blow down. It had excellent trees for hanging. I've heard they are gone now :-(
Old habits die hard. I bought a 60L Blue with harness this spring, and fel in love , came home and sold my GG food pack. Now I am looking at geting a 30L w/harness for solo trips. To my point, I still hang it. I like the barrel because it is waterproof, can sit on it and it floats and smell proof if you dont get anything on it. I will probably never buy another pack(already have 6) other than a barrel. Also the little bears (mice,squirels)cant get in to it. Dont get me wrong I have set packs out in the woods in the past if I couldnt find a good set of trees. I guess I call my method HIding it High.
Thanks so much for the great advice; I am looking into the blue barrels and the Bearvault. Both have advantages and disadvantages.
The Bearvault is easy to open and see thing inside (its clear) but it also allows the mice, squires, chipmunks and bear see inside as well. Visions of a Bear jumping up and down pointing at a power bar come to mind. I have not found many reviews of the Blue barrels, just that they don’t like them because you need a tool to open them.
I have had my food taken once while backpacking in the Porcupine Mountains in MI. Wilber, as the ranger called him, climbed the tree and bashed it like a punching bag as I watch. It fell down and he dragged in into the woods as I banged pots together. Unless we wanted to loss weight our trip was ended.
Even with the bear vault I would probably place a garbage bag liner inside of it that I could put all the food in and roll up sealing the bag and the smells inside of it. That kind of defeats the purpose of seeing inside the barrel I know, unless the liner is clear as well. Of course it does solve the problem of the bear deciding which flavor CLIF bar they are going to try to get into.
FYI-They recently redesigned the bear vault lid as grizzlies in the western states had figured out how to get into them. They have a newer lid on the full size vault. Be sure to get model BV-350 solo version or BV-400 full size version it should have a red decal on the lid. It should have the newer more bear resistant lid.
I have the bear barrel as I have yet to see a bear with a multi tool on its belt and I really don't need to see inside the barrel. It is proven for years as an effective bear prrof cannister in the harshest conditions.
"When a man is part of his canoe, he is part of all that canoes have ever known."
Sigurd F. Olson
I personnally hang my pack and will do so even if switch to the barrels. I've had a bear in camp and had the opportunity to watch him in action from the canoe to try to get that pack ,impressive!, needless to say he was unsuccessful but came back in to camp that night. we decided to move camp the next day. Can those barrels sitting on the ground with stand the abuse of a bear if senses something in there? those guys are pretty strong.
Thanks for posting that great photo of your work from the book Roughing it Elegantly. I printed it and have been looking at it and believe I have the just of it.
After further reading, I have investigated the barrels and the bear vault. Looks like I'm heading to REI to check them out. Might head to Cabella's in Rogers, (amazing store!)
I've never seen a bear while traveling in the BW, and realize its not a matter of if, rather more like when....and those little critters did a number one night to a Dulth pack we were using. One night we forgot to hang our pack, (too much fun going on on our layover night) and palced it under the canoes with pots on top...I didn't sleep much that night and we made sure to get it hung earlier the next night.
6 days and counting...started getting some staples of food today due to a busy week ahead...I'm really looking forward to this solo trip!
Try this method have used it for fifteen years and have had two bear encounters watched successfully with no problem. I use Cooke custom sewing food packs, and line them with plastic liner. Then when I'm not using them mostly at night I place another plastic liner Over the entire outside of the pack, I have it up off the ground six inches sitting on logs to avoid getting bottom wet secure the bag tightly, then I spray bag liner with Bear repellent, tree it probably is nesting up next to, and five feet around food bag on the ground. On two occasions witnessed Bear in camp in both day and night, on both occasions I saw them approach and sniff around bag then leave never touching the bag at all. Bag was right there for the taking too! The plastic liner I use Gets all greased up on the trip so when I take it off I stick it in another bag liner when not being used. Haven't hung food from tree ever since, when trip is over I wash liner in gentle cycle in washer. I suspect that after all these years my food pack probably has plenty of bear repellent on it that adds additional help to.
We you say "bear repellant", what do you mean? Not "bear spray" right? Research has been done, and there are warnings on the label, that once used (fired/sprayed) you should leave the area immediately. The residue of the spray is actually a bear attractant. The spray apparently is a spice that bears enjoy. It's like pepper for us. We don't like it blown into our face, but enjoy it on our food.
A wiff of it in the air will bring a bear in from miles away. I wonder if you hadn't sprayed the bag if a bear would have shown up at all?
I think in summary after reviewing all the methods the important element to keeping your food is to contain the smell. To a bear and other critters the scent is the biggest factor to attracting them.
Hanging will be OK but the food should be double bagged and then placed into another bag to contain the smell. The Hanging method will keep it away from critters such as chipmunks or mice who might attempt to chew the bag to get a treat.
The Barrel is basically the same principle and food should be also double zip locked and then placed into the barrel to contain the smell.
If the bear and or other critters can’t smell the items they will not be interested.
The only problem I see is if we, as visitors to their home, leave items out or do not contain the smell then the critters will now know that the barrel or bag hanging from the tree is food. We all need to make sure we do not encourage this with the bears and smaller critters that make this their home.
I have been an avid BWCA canoe tripper for the last 45 years. (Just got home last night from a Lake One... trip with the grandkids.) Hanging a pack was the way to do it in the old days. But, for the last three years we have been using the barrels with great success. I, too, didn't like the look of "blue barrels". So, I took my least expensive and simply constructed old #3 envelop packs and took them in to fit the barrels.(I am good at sewing as well as paddling.) We slip one of the closed cell foam pads along with the barrel in the newly reduced "barrel pack" and it is a comfortable portage. Full, the barrels weigh about 35-40 pounds which isn't bad either. I found a wide price difference in the barrels. (Same barrel-many prices) Shop around before you buy. Try Northwest Canoe in St. Paul. I love my barrels and wouldn't go back to hanging packs for anything. Best of all, we haven't had any bear trouble with the barrels. I believe in working smarter not harder. Besides, I am getting too old and arthritic to hoist that heavy pack up in a tree when technology has given us such a simpler way to solve the problem.