Bear Bagging Methods

Over the last few years, backpacking has grown greatly in popularity. As a result of Hollywood blockbuster films, long distance trails like the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail have been highlighted as the place to be to experience the outdoors in a real way. Unfortunately, the more people there are coming out into the wilderness, the less wild it gets. It is important to treat our wilderness areas and the rightful inhabitants of those areas with the respect we would give a stranger’s well kept home. One way to do this is by bear bagging.

Benefits Include:

  1. Bears do not learn to associate human presence with food
  2. Your expensive gear doesn’t get ripped up
  3. You don’t soil yourself in the midst of an up close bear encounter and smell truly wretched for the rest of your hike
  4. The bear is left to be a bear out in the wild like it was intended to be
  5. Mice, Squirrels and Racoons (the real terrorists of the forest) are unable to get your food

Down Sides Are:

  1. You have to exercise a tiny amount of consciousness and care for the beautiful land you are standing on and offer up 10 minutes of your day to ensure that you and anyone else who may want to can keep coming back


Here are several ways to hang a food bag. (Skip to the third one if you don’t want to waste your time. Continue reading if you’re trying to kill time or want to know what not to do.)

The Traditional Method

The traditional method of bear bagging calls for tying your food bag to a length of cordage about 50ft long. Then, using a rock or stick tied to the other end of the cord, hurl the cord up and over a study branch, approximately 6 ft away from the trunk of a tree. Hoist the food bag into the air and tie off the excess cordage around the trunk of a nearby tree. If you are lucky, only the rodents will have gotten to your food by morning. If you are camped in the prowling grounds of a smart bear, it will likely chew through your cord and eat all your food. You can blame your laziness for this one.

The Counterbalance Method

In the event that there are two  of you on your hiking trip, you can use the counterbalance method. Once again, tie your food bag to your cord, throw your cord over a high branch using a stone or stick, hoist the food bag to the very top of the branch. Now, tie the second food bag has high up onto the cord hanging from the branch as you can. Use a large stick or trekking pole to push the lower of the two bags up and let the high bag fall until the two are even. Make sure that your bags are well over 6ft away from the tree and at least 15ft off the ground. Sleep soundly knowing that no bear will get them but that you will spend a hour the next morning batting around your food bag like a piñata trying to untwist the two lines and off set the counterbalanced bags.

The PCT Bear Bagging Method

The PCT Method is the most commonly used because it is the most successful. It’s success has to do with the quality of the method. It is a more complex way to hang that requires a bit more time and even a bit of practice but because you are not cutting corners and being lazy, you are granted the mental security of it working very well. This method begins with securely tying a small carabiner to the end of your cordage (it can be one you carry just for this purpose or something that you use as dual purpose, switching out its day and night functions). Clip the carabiner to your food bag and proceed to throw your cordage up and over the highest and strongest looking branch within your throwing capabilities. Find a study little stick near by that is about 6″ long and hoist the food bag up to the branch. Securely tie the sturdy stick as high up on to the cord as possible. As you ease your food bag down, the stick will catch the carabiner, suspending your food bag in mid air.


Derek Hansen of has a great illustration of the PCT Method. Click to enlarge.

Bear Bagging Tips

  • Always choose a strong branch that can hold the weight of your food bag
  • Choose a tree that is far enough away from camp as to no attract any bear who may try to get to your food
  • Always hang your food about 15ft above the ground
  • Always hang your food at least 6ft away from the trunk of the tree
  • 50ft of cordage is typically an amount that will be enough in any bear bagging situation
  • 550 Paracord is both light and strong making great for bear bagging

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