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|Top Pick: Ursack Major|
|Best Value: Sea to Summit eVAC Dry Sack|
|Budget Buy: Liberty Mountain Stuff Sack|
|Best for Lightweight Hikers: Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Sack|
|Best for Paddlers: KastKing Dry Bag Waterproof Roll Top Sack|
If you’re headed out on a hiking, camping, or backpacking trip in any areas where scavenging animals might be a threat to yourself or your food, you’ll need a receptacle for storing your food and keeping it safe.
You have a couple options for achieving this goal. Bear bags are lighter and less bulky while bear canisters provide a more rugged and robust amount of protection and are required in some areas. Since we’ve already written about bear canisters and bear sprays, in this article we’ll be focusing on the five best bear bags for holding and organizing your food on your next trip.
Unlike bear canisters, bear bags must be hung from trees using the appropriate methods in order to be effective at warding off animals from bears to mice and chipmunks. See this video on the PCT Bear Hang Method for how to do just that.
Even when using the most effective bear bag hanging methods, though, it is still possible to lose your food to an intelligent or persistent animal. Be prepared.
Top Pick: Ursack Major
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Lightweight, flexible, and made of absurdly strong Spectra fabric, this bag is as close to “bear proof” as you’ll get.
While the other bear bags on our list are simply meant to provide a bag to hang your food in, this bag is actually proven to be bear resistant. In fact, it’s so resistant that the manufacturer, Ursack, recommends that you just tie it to a tree trunk rather than bother hanging it from a branch.
Personally, I would use this bag when hiking in areas that require the use of bear-resistant containers. Ursack products are now listed on the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s list of bear-resistant products. Just to be sure, however, make certain to check with the park rangers wherever you’ll be going to ensure that the Ursack is an accepted option.
And, while not strictly necessary, I would still suggest that you hang the Ursack using a well-constructed bear hang.
Even if bears can’t get to your food, they can still crush it, stomp it, and even carry it away if they manage to get to it. All of which leave you about as poor off as if the bear had gotten access to the food in the first place. Overall, Ursack earns our Top Pick for its lightness and insane strength and for being the only bag that’s actually approved as “bear-resistant.”
Best Value: Sea to Summit eVAC Dry Sack
I’ve been using Sea to Summit products for years and I love their eVAC Dry Sack series. Offered in a handful of sizes from 3L to 65L, they’re great for everything from personal essentials to pack liners.
I picked the eVAC Dry Sack as our Best Value pick because it’s durable, high-quality, and uses some of the best waterproof breathable fabric on the market today, eVent fabric.
eVent fabric is extremely breathable when compared to contemporary alternatives. Why do we care about breathable fabric on a bear bag? It helps to keep your contents dry while also allowing the stuff sack to be compressed down to the exact shape of its contents. If you’ve used regular roll-top dry bags, you know how hard it can be to get all the air out.
The eVAC Dry Sack performs great both inside the pack during daily carry and as a bear bag during a hang. I personally use these dry bags for many applications in my own backpacking and encourage you to give them a shot!
Note: this bag and all of the remaining ones on this list are NOT “bear proof” and can be easily torn, chewed, or ripped apart by bears.
Budget Buy: Liberty Mountain Stuff Sack
I’ve personally used the Liberty Mountain Stuff Sack before and seen it after years of institutional group camping use. It can take a beating and keep on truckin’!
That’s not to say that this bag is bear resistant, because it’s certainly not. However, it makes a perfect stuff sack for your food when making a bear hang for the night. That’s exactly what we used it for in one expedition program.
Why did the Liberty Mountain Stuff Sack make our list?
It’s inexpensive and reliable, and it gets the job done. Its simple nylon and drawstring closure is nearly bombproof for regular use and — with any repair and sewing skills — you can probably get one of these stuff sacks to last your whole hiking lifetime. It’s not waterproof at all and will quickly soak through, but you’ll be keeping your food in trash compactor bags or Ziplocs if you’re going to go this route.
One last tip: after cinching down the drawstring, wrap it around the fabric at the top of the bag several times before passing it back through itself. Then use this as your attachment point for hanging the bag. This distributes the weight of the contents across the entire fabric in a more even manner instead of stressing the stitching.
Best for Lightweight Hikers: Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Sack
Among commonly available bear bag options, Sea to Summit’s reliable line of lightweight Cordura makes the cut for out top lightweight pick. Using an extremely lightweight but durable Cordura fabric, they’ve combined a polyurethane coated siliconized application to the fabric to achieve lightweight waterproofness.
I’ve known many hikers who love these bags and their thin fabric makes them easy to see through. You’ll be able to tell where the snickers bars are without even opening the bag!
I would advise caution with how much weight you suspend in these, however, as they are made from less durable material. You may need to split your food into two different bags to distribute the weight if you’re carrying a particularly heavy load of food.
Best for Paddlers: KastKing Dry Bag Waterproof Roll Top Sack
If you’re spending some time traveling the backcountry by boat, you know how indispensable a dry bag can be. KastKing’s bag makes our cut as a great choice for paddlers to store food in during their trips and at night when hanging a bear bag.
Again, it’s not bear resistant but it makes for a perfect storage bag for any well-constructed bear hang.
I love that this bag comes in at an affordable price with durable 500D PVC impregnated nylon. It’s waterproof and nearly indestructible under normal use conditions. It’s even got an optional shoulder strap which is great for lashing the bag down when paddling or carrying the food as you walk to your bear hang site. (Remember to always hang your bear bags at least 100 yards from your campsite!)
With 10L, 20L, and 30L sizes there’s a choice for everyone. 10L will most likely be too small for any bear bag and 20-30L should be great for anything from 2-6 days of food depending on your food choices and packing style. Remember to leave room to roll the dry bag at least three times to ensure a watertight seal.
How to Choose the Best Bear Bag for Your Needs
On our list, only the Ursack is a bear-resistant bag. Many manufacturers avoid using the term “bear proof” just in case a bear does manage to get into your bear bag. To the extent of my knowledge, Ursack is the only manufacturer of bear resistant bags at this moment.
In order to find a sturdier and more robust container for your food, you’ll have to start considering hard-sided bear canisters. These are heavier and bulkier, though, and can add lots of weight to your pack.
Besides weight and bulk, many parks require the use of certified bear-resistant containers in certain locations. This might determine which type of bear bag or canister you buy. Check your destination’s guidelines before buying.
Depending on your exact needs, you’ll want to experiment a bit with the size of your bear bag. For example, for my own solo personal use, I have found that stuff sacks up to 20L are enough for my food for up to five days.
If you’re carrying bulkier food, you may need to consider a 20-30L bag. Exceeding 20L usually makes the contents too heavy for the bag to be hung, though. You’ll want to consider splitting into two 20-30L bags at that point.
Another consideration is that most backpackers carry around a 50-60L backpack. Make sure that your backpack is big enough for both your food bag and other camping gear.
If you’re planning to hang your bear bag from a tree each night, you’ll want to be sure it’s plenty robust. Bear bags eventually fail after prolonged use from the stress of hanging heavy weights from their attachment points. Look for a stuff sack or dry bag built with durable seams and closures for a long-lasting bear bag.
If you’re planning to just store the bag inside a bear-proof box (sometimes available in certain park locations) or other man-made bear storage, you may not need a highly robust bag.