The sun was setting over the Idaho mountains, the ham and spuds were warming up, and the whisky was on the rocks. Then two black round ears appeared over the Coleman stove.
In 20 minutes of mayhem, the bear licked the frypan clean and emptied the grub box. Clanging pots and pans, barking dog, pistol shots, and hurled axes and shovels did nothing to deter the feast. What wasn’t eaten was covered in bear slobber. It turned into a very short camping trip.
Since then, I’ve had everything from mice to moose explore my camps, looking for an easy meal. I’m dead set against giving them one. The good news is, there are more tools than ever for protecting your food in the backcountry. Here’s a sample:
Stringing your food from a tree branch is the tried-and-true method of securing your groceries. The goal is to dangle your grub 10 feet above the ground (the height of a basketball rim) four feet out from the trunk. This method is cheap and light and provides hours of entertainment as you seek a suitable tree and attempt to lob the rope over the limb without entanglement. Done right, this method deters nearly any forest creature, except persistent flying squirrels. BUY IT NOW
Bear-resistant panniers and coolers
Your run-of-the-mill cooler is no match for Yogi and Boo-Boo. But if you are willing to pay a premium, the market is full of coolers and horse-packs that are proven to at least slow down a hungry grizzly bear. And if they’ll resist a grizzly, you’re probably safe against a raccoon. These are great for horse-packing and river trips. You can visit the website of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and download the list of government-approved, grizzly-tested grub boxes.
Sometimes, stringing your food from a tree is not a practical option (like when you’re above treeline). Some tree species, such as subalpine fir, dominate entire mountainsides and don’t offer a suitable limb for hanging a food pack. Consider a bear keg—small, hard plastic barrels with locking lids. They are somewhat bulky, but they’re light enough for backpacking if you are motivated. BUY IT NOW.
One recent innovation is Kevlar food bags, like those made by Ursack. These bags are designed to be tied very tight and then secured to (not necessarily from) a tree or rock. Military grade zip-top bags keep the scent in. Although expensive, this system is light and packable. It worked like a charm on a recent float trip, when an unexpected portage forced us to camp on a small bench that had no large trees. BUY IT NOW.
On the farm, hot fences keep livestock in. In camp, they keep snoopy animals out. Portable electric fences aren’t cheap, but they can be effective and worth the weight. You can encircle your food cache, livestock feed, or your tent. Just be careful when you pee at night. Also, while electric fences may deter larger animals, they don’t deter rodents that slip under the wire.