I've backpacked and paddled into a lot of backcountry areas that were home to bears -- both blacks and grizzlies -- but I've never had to use one of those plastic canisters designed to keep the bruins away from your food. I struggle a bit when I think of stuffing one of those into my backpack, as they're not exactly form-fitting and they add nearly 3 pounds to your load.
Fortunately, a company in California has come up with a wonderful alternative -- a bear-proof sack that you'll never feel poking into your back as you hike along.
I met Tom Cohen in Salt Lake City at the winter 2006 Outdoor Retailers Show, the ultimate toy store for backcountry travelers. His small booth was tucked in a long line of ubiquitous booths, and I might have overlooked it had I glanced the other way as I roamed about looking for unusual products.
As soon as I saw the Ursack -- Ursa for bear, sack for bag -- I knew I had stumbled across something worthwhile. Made from Vectran, a space-age fabric used for the airbags of the Mars Rover, these collapsible bags have frustrated the most determined bears. As you can see from the picture, the bags are pretty tough.
In fact, testing by forest rangers has led the Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group to conditionally approve the Ursack Hybrid -- which utilizes an aluminum liner to keep the contents from being mashed -- for backcountry use in bear country. While the bags have performed well in zoo tests -- a 500-pound black bear by the name of Fisher played with one-- and field testing by backcountry rangers, SIBBG officials want to see how they perform through the summer of 2006 before lifting the "conditionally" from its rating.
So for now, Ursack has been conditionally approved for use in the backcountry of Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon national parks, as well as in the Inyo and Stanislaus national forests and Devil's Postpile National Monument.
While the bags are not waterproof, you can buy an odor-proof, and waterproof, bag when you order an Ursack and solve that problem.
To learn more about these storage bags, visit Ursack's web page. There you'll find information on the product, pricing, and testimonials from backpackers who swear to it.
(Photo courtesy of Ursack.)