First Time Backpacking - What About Food and Bears?
by Josh Walton
Don't invite bears to dinner!
Hey Guys! Finally a site where you can ask questions.
I love going to the stores larger than most continents like REI and Gander Mountain to look at all the great stuff. But I hate asking the kid working in the "tent" section a question about backpacking when the only experience he has carrying a pack is getting off the bus to go to high school.
Anyway, my friend and I wanted to get into backpacking so we did our research on all the products, pros and cons, etc... In that area I think we are pretty solid but we have some really really basic (dumb) questions that I know you would be able to answer. Here we go
QUESTION 1) What do you do with your food at night? Tie it in a tree? Bear container? Place it like 700 miles away from your camp site? So many different ways and no real answer...What works and what is the proper way?
ANSWER: Yes, your food needs to go into a container of some sort and be put up off the ground high enough that a bear cannot reach it. Most people use a bear bag, which can be bought from a store or can be just a strong, sturdy bag like a plastic / tyvek type of feed sack from a seed and feed store.
Whatever type of bag you use, you should hang it at night (or in daytime if you're going away from the campsite for a side hike or other activites). For this you'll need a strong rope that is 50-75 feet long (it can be lightweight, but must be sturdy enough to handle the weight and the friction of pulling the bag up with the rope over a tree limb.
You'll throw the rope over a high tree limb (or bear line wire in some trail camps), pull the bag up, then tie off the rope around a nearby tree.
QUESTION 2) What do you do with your pack at night? Same as food? Some people say leave all the zippers open so if animals do get in they wont rip holes in your pack? I have no clue...the way some guys talk about food and your pack its like no matter what you do bears are either a) going to get your pack regardless if you do tie it 900 feet off the ground b) get your food no matter what even if you leave it at home and c) they will find you.
ANSWER: Your pack doesn't need to go up in the air. Just lean it up against a tree (with a pack rain cover on it) about 50 feet from your tent if possible.
BUT be sure you don't have anything inside the backpack that has a smell of any kind. All of your toiletries (deodorant, toothpaste, etc) must go into the bear bag, along with any candy, chewing gum, snack bar wrappers, and so forth. Don't leave anything with a non-human smell at ground level. If you have spilled food on your pants, they go up in the bear bag at night, too.
As for opening the pack zippers so the animals won't try to chew their way inside... Stop and think for a moment. If you don't leave anything inside the pack that has a smell, the animals won't have any reason to get into the packs. So clear out everything with a smell (don't forget to check for loose peanuts or raisins from trail mix, etc -- best to keep all food items inside ziplok bags when carrying them in your pack to avoid spills).
QUESTION 3) Cooking is another question. From readings on the internet it appears you also have to cook your food over 200 feet from camp? Is this true? Watching Discovery Channel, we see these guys with no fear of animals because they are cooking a steak right in their tent.
ANSWER: Don't cook in your tent. Don't cook anywhere close to your tent. And don't eat close to your tent.
If you are in bear country, they WILL pick up the food scent (or any other scent like deodorant or cologne you put on right before bed) and they will come into your tent looking for it. Keep your tent a food-free zone.
One helpful tip we learned at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico is to set up your campsite using the "bear-muda triangle" pattern: A triangle formed by the location of your fire ring cooking area, your dish cleanup area, and your bear bag area. Keep yourself, your pack and your tent OUTSIDE that triangle and as far as possible from the cleanup area which might have some food smells.
Oh yes, about that cleanup area -- don't wash the dishes and just dump the water with food scraps onto the ground. Put ALL food scraps no matter how small into a trash bag that you will pack out to the nearest trash container the next day. That trash bag, of course, goes into the bear bag at night. Try to avoid big batches of leftover food by eating everything you cook (no matter how it tastes) and then licking the plate and cooking utensils and pots. You'll then need to use less water for cleanup.
SUMMARY: Anyways these are the basic questions we have so far. we just don't want to get up there and have "lumber Jack Dave" see us cooking food on our camp site and throw us a beating. Any other advice you have send it my way!!! Thanks for your time and advice in advance!!
ANSWER: We hope you have a great time backpacking, Josh. Please drop back by here afterwards and add a comment to this article to let us know how it went and what you learned on the trail.