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Home » Bear hangs: what are they, and should you use one?

Bear hangs: what are they, and should you use one?

Backpacking is a gateway to many adventures, including encountering bears, which can be a thrilling and awe-inspiring experience, but also a potentially dangerous one. Bear safety is crucial for both humans and the well-being of bears and their habitat. One common method of bear safety is the “bear hang”, used to store food and other scented items out of a bear’s reach. In this article, we will explore the importance of bear safety, the concept of bear hangs, and how to properly execute a successful bear hang.

Understanding the bear hang

Bear in the woods

A bear hang is a method used to store food and other scented items in a way that keeps them out of reach of bears. The idea behind a bear hang is to suspend a bag of food high above the ground and away from the trunk of a tree, making it difficult for bears to access. This technique is based on the fact that bears are excellent climbers but have difficulty reaching objects that are suspended in the air.

Bear hangs are done with a specific type of bag: a bear bag. (If you hadn’t noticed, most bear safety products are named this way – bear spray, bear bell, bear canister, etc). Bear bags are made from incredibly tough fabric, making it near impossible for a bear to get into a properly hung bag.

To execute a bear hang, one must first find a suitable location. This should be at least 100 yards away from your sleeping area and cooking area, as bears have an incredible sense of smell and can be attracted to the scent of food from far distances. Once a location is chosen, a sturdy tree with a branch at least 15 feet off the ground should be selected. The food bag is then secured to the branch using a rope or cord, making sure it is at least 10 feet away from the trunk of the tree.

There is a lot of debate about the value of bear bags and bear hangs, with the general consensus being that they are simply too prone to human error to be fully useful. While bear bags are still certified as effective by the IGBC, better options exist.

The importance of bear safety

Not properly storing food in bear country can have serious consequences. Bears have an incredible sense of smell and can detect scents from miles away. When food is left unsecured, it can attract bears to campsites, increasing the risk of dangerous encounters. Bears that become accustomed to human food can lose their natural fear of humans and may become aggressive in their pursuit of food. This can lead to property damage, injuries, and even fatalities.

Furthermore, the negative impact on bears and their habitat cannot be ignored. When bears are attracted to human food sources, they may become dependent on them, leading to a disruption in their natural foraging behaviors. This can result in malnutrition and a decrease in reproductive success. Additionally, bears that are habituated to human food often have to be relocated or euthanized, which is a tragic outcome for these magnificent creatures.

As outdoor enthusiasts, it is our responsibility to practice bear safety and minimize our impact on wildlife. By properly storing food and scented items, we can reduce the risk of attracting bears to our campsites and help preserve their natural behaviors and habitats.

How to properly hang your food: tips and techniques for a successful bear hang

Bear hangs are solid, but only if they are used correctly. Here’s a few principles for a successful bear hang:

1. Choosing the right location: When selecting a location for your bear hang, it is important to choose an area that is at least 100 yards away from your sleeping area and cooking area. This distance helps minimize the risk of bears being attracted to your campsite. Look for a spot that has sturdy trees with branches at least 15 feet off the ground.

2. Selecting a tree: The tree you choose should be strong enough to support the weight of your food bag and resistant to bears climbing it. Avoid trees with low-hanging branches that could provide easy access for bears. The branch you select should be at least 15 feet off the ground and strong enough to support the weight of your food bag.

3. Hanging your food bag: Use a rope or cord to secure your food bag to the branch. Make sure the bag is at least 10 feet away from the trunk of the tree to prevent bears from reaching it. Tie a secure knot to ensure that the bag does not come loose during the night.

4. Have the right gear: To make sure you’re using a bear hang properly, build out your bear hang kit, which typically includes a rope, carabiner, and bag for storing your food. The Ursack Major is the most popular bear bag around, made of fabric so tough a bear can’t rip through it. Additionally, practice hanging your food before your trip to ensure that you are comfortable with the process and can do it effectively.

Ursack major bear bag

Are bear hangs effective?

  • Increased Intelligence of Bears: Bears have learned to recognize the hanging method and have even developed strategies to overcome it. Some bears have become adept at navigating ropes, manipulating the hanging system, or even simply knocking down the entire setup.
  • Human Error: Bear hangs require precision and proper execution. If the food is not hung at the correct height or distance from the trunk, or if the rope is not adequately secured, bears can still gain access to the food. One small mistake can compromise the effectiveness of the bear hang.
  • Persistence of Bears: Bears are great climbers, and incredibly determined when it comes to obtaining food. If they detect the scent of food, they can spend a considerable amount of time and effort attempting to reach it. Even if the initial bear hang is successful, a persistent bear may keep trying until it succeeds in obtaining the food.
  • Limited Applicability: Bear hangs are dependent on the availability of suitable trees. In some regions, there may be a scarcity of appropriate trees for hanging food, making bear hangs impractical or even impossible. This limitation restricts the widespread applicability of bear hangs as a reliable method.
  • Better alternatives: In recent years, the development of bear-resistant containers has provided a more effective solution for storing food in bear country. Bear canisters are designed to outlast the strength and intelligence of bears, significantly reducing the risk of food being accessed. They have proven to be a more reliable and efficient choice compared to bear hangs.

While bear hangs can still be used as a method of food storage, proper use is everything. Exploring bear-resistant containers and other bear safety techniques can provide hikers and backpackers with a more secure and reliable solution for protecting their food and ensuring the safety of themselves and the bears.

Bear hangs vs bear canisters

For many years, bear hangs were considered the best method of food storage in the backcountry. Recently, however, bear canisters have been growing in popularity, valued for the simplicity and near-total effectiveness they deliver.

Bear canisters are hard-sided containers with locking mechanisms that prevent bears from getting inside. They don’t require you to know how to tie rope or hang anything; you simply put your food inside it and keep it far away from your tent. Because of this, more and more people are leaving bear hangs in the past, opting for the simplicity of bear canisters.

The debate between bear hangs and bear canisters really comes down to just one topic: bear hangs are easy to screw up, while bear canisters are pretty much idiot-proof. Bear hangs require a bit of skill and practice to execute properly, and there is a real risk of bears getting into your food if the hang is not done correctly.

Bear canisters, on the other hand, provide a more foolproof method of storing food. They are designed to be bear-resistant and have been tested and approved by wildlife agencies. Bear canisters are also easier to use and require less skill and practice than bear hangs. However, they can be bulky and heavy to carry, especially on longer trips, and may not be suitable for areas with limited space or where trees are scarce.

Pros and cons of bear hangs


  • Minimal equipment required
  • Accessible to a wide range of outdoor enthusiasts
  • Versatile, can be done in areas with abundant trees
  • Does not require bulky containers, can save space in your pack


  • Vulnerable to human error; requires skill and practice to execute properly
  • Increased risk of bears accessing the food if not done correctly
  • Can be time-consuming and frustrating, especially for the inexperienced
  • Not viable in areas with limited trees or unsuitable trees for hanging food

Wrapping up

Bear safety is of utmost importance when venturing into bear country. Bears are magnificent creatures that deserve our respect and protection. By properly storing food and scented items, we can reduce the risk of attracting bears to our campsites and help preserve their natural behaviors and habitats. While bear hangs might not be as simple or effective as bear canisters, they are still a legitimate method of food storage. If you choose to use a bear hang, you simply need to make sure you do it right. Personally, I choose a bear canister every time, because I don’t want my safety to be left up to my hanging skills or the availability of suitable trees.

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