When it comes to hanging a bear bag, the PCT method is considered the most bear-proof. It gets its name because it was popularized by backpackers on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Why does the PCT bear hang beat other methods? Consider this true story.
When I was around 10 years old, my dad went off on a backpacking trip. We expected him to be gone at least a week. So, when he returned 3 days later, we were really confused.
Us: “What happened?”
Him: “A bear ate all my food.”
My dad actually had hung his food in a bear bag. However, he had underestimated how smart bears are. In areas where there are lots of campers and backpackers, bears have learned to associate people with food. They’ve gotten really clever at figuring out how to get bear bags down from trees.
With the simplest method of hanging a bear bag, the bear just has to slice through the diagonal rope and the food comes crashing down.
By contrast, with the PCT method of hanging a bear bag, there are no ropes that can be cut – you have to pull the dangling rope to get to the food. Other advantages of the PCT bear hang are that it requires less rope and is easier than the counterweight option.
Below are the PCT bear bag hang steps. Just know that real life conditions aren’t always ideal for hanging a bear bag.
- Finding the perfect tree is tough
- Branches and leaves will get in the way
- It will take longer than you think
Don’t get discouraged. Practice makes perfect! Just give yourself plenty of time to hang the bear bag before night falls so you can keep your campsite bear-proof and don’t have to cut your trip short – or end up with a bad encounter with a bear! 😮
- 50 to 60 feet of rope or cordage
- A carabiner (I find it easier to use two carabiners, but one will suffice)
- A throw bag (a tent stake bag filled with a couple rocks works well)
- A weatherproof bag for holding your food, toothpaste, and other items that attract bears
- A twig at least as wide as your finger to serve as a jam stick
Before Your Start
Find a tree which is:
- At least 200 feet from your sleeping area. (Some say just 100 feet, but let’s play it safe!)
- Downwind from the campsite so the delicious smell of your food isn’t blowing towards your tent.
- Has a branch at least 15 feet high*
When on all fours, a brown bear is about 3 ½ feet. But, when standing on their hind legs, brown bears can be 6 to 7 feet tall. Alaskan Kodiak bears can stand even higher – up to 10 feet!
There is a lot of debate as to how high you need to hang a bear bag so bears can’t reach it. 10 feet seems to be a good consensus. Because the food bag will drop a bit with the PCT method, your branch needs to be at least 15 feet high but 20 feet is even better.
PCT Hang Step 1
Tie the end of your rope around a throw bag.
Now throw your rope over a tree branch. Bears are very good climbers, rope needs to be at least 6 feet from the trunk (so they can’t reach the food from the trunk).
The branch should also be thin enough that it won’t hold the weight of a bear, yet still strong enough to hold the weight of your food bag.
Yep – finding the perfect tree is tough, so scout one out early! Never wait until dusk to start planning your bear bag!
PCT Hang Step 2
Remove the throw bag. Tie a carabiner to the dangling end of the rope. Feed the other end of the rope through the carabiner.
Now put the second carabiner through the loop you made. You can use just one carabiner tied to the end of the rope, but it is easier to slide the rope up/down over the tree branch if you use two carabiners.
PCT Hang Step 3
Attach your food bag to the second carabiner.
PCT Hang Step 4
Pull the rope down, causing your food bag to go all the way up to the branch.
While still holding the rope, use a clove hitch to tie your twig as high up into the rope as you can. If you are backpacking with friends, don’t hesitate to ask for help! This step is tough (especially if you are a super-short girl like I am).
PCT Hang Step 5
Slowly release the dangling end of the rope. As you do, the food bag will lower and the twig will go upwards, jamming in the carabiner.
If you’ve done the PCT bear hang correctly, your food bag should be at least 10 feet off the ground and 5 feet down from the branch.
To retrieve your food from the bear bag, just pull on the dangling rope and remove the jam stick (hence why you used a clove hitch). Then slowly release the rope so your food bag comes down to the ground.
A Simpler Alternative to a Bear Bag?
If you really suck at throwing (as I do), you might want to skip the bear bag completely. Instead, use a bear canister.
Bear canisters are bulky and quite heavy. But, in many US National Parks, bear canisters are required. If you want a good bear canister, I can recommend this one. It holds 11.5 liters (about 1 week’s worth of food) and weighs 2 lbs 9 ounces (which is pretty light for its size). It is also nice that it is see-through so you can easily find your food.
You can buy it here.
And don’t forget your bear spray either!
Do you use a bear bag or a bear canister? Let’s hear your experiences in the comments!