When heading into bear country, it’s vital to follow bear safety protocols. Not only could this save your life or the life of someone you love, but it would also save officials from labeling a bear as a “trouble bear” and potentially euthanizing it. But did you know there’s an alternative to the clunky, hard-sided Bear Cans most people use to store their food? Ursack Bear Bags are soft-sided options for hikers and campers to keep their food in a minimal, convenient way.
How do you use an Ursack Bear Bag, and do they work? We’ll provide an honest review of the Ursack Bear bag and uncover whether they’re safe to use in Bear Country. Let’s dive in.
What Is an Ursack Bear Bag?
An Ursack Bear Bag is a drawstring-like sack to keep bears out of its contents. It has a rugged ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene fabric, which many compare to Kevlar’s strength. It’s a gel-spun material made of long chains of polyethylene. The fabric is soft and durable, making it resistant to cuts and abrasions. The fabric is also waterproof, so it won’t absorb smells or gain weight. This makes it ideal for storing food, even in wet or humid conditions.
How Do You Use an Ursack the Right Way?
When using your Ursack, fill your bag with the contents you wish to store. Then, using a tight double overhand knot, tie the bag securely so there’s no opening at the top. It’s essential to avoid overfilling the bag. Ensure there’s plenty of space left at the top to close it.
Next, make sure to attach your Ursack to a secure item far away from camp. If you’re using two Ursack bags, separate them by at least 25 yards, and if there are trees around, it’s best to tie the Ursack to a branch with a figure eight knot or another knot that resists clinching. You can also use a secure knot and counterbalance over a 10-foot tree branch.
Pro Tip: If you’re planning on heading out into nature, read this guide on Bear Spray 101: How to Stay Safe in Bear Country before you go.
The Inspiration Behind the Ursack
Tom Cohen founded the Ursack company over 20 years ago. He got the idea for the Ursack Bear Bag because he was tired of carrying around the hard-sided, bear-resistant food containers on his hikes. When the National Parks Service began mandating that all hikers have their food in bear-resistant containers, the Ursack idea took off. Hard-sided bear canisters were cumbersome and inconvenient, and hikers needed something lightweight and flexible. Ursack has remained the only IGBC-certified lightweight, soft-sided container for food storage.
Benefits of Ursacks Over Bear Canisters
Ursacks are perfect for hikers, backpackers, and minimal campers. Because they’re collapsable and lightweight, this method of safe food storage is no different than using wet or dry sacks, with more safety. Campers can stuff them into their packs, hang them from trees, and easily store them when not used. Not only that, but hikers won’t have to worry about the extra weight that comes from hard-sided bear canisters.
Drawbacks of Ursack Bags vs. Bear Canisters
For protecting your food and the bears while traveling anywhere your heart desires, hard-sided bear canisters are still your best bet. For example, even if a bear doesn’t tear open your bag, it can still squish and puncture the contents. Depending on what you have for food, the bear’s actions can easily make your food inedible.
More significantly, Ursacks may reward the bears for their hard work more than bear canisters. The point of safely containing your food is to protect the bears. We want to prevent them from tasting human food and venturing into civilization. Once they crush the content, it might squeeze or leak out, giving the bear a tasty reward.
The Ursack is also not an airproof container making the scent of your food stronger. While most bear-proof containers are not designed to be smell-proof, some are air-tight and significantly help with smell resistance. Food smell is the most common reason a bear will wander into your camp.
While they are IGBC certified, that doesn’t mean you can take them everywhere. Consulting this map, you’ll find that there are still National Parks in Alaska, California, Washington, and elsewhere where you cannot use Ursacks.
Pro Tip: We took a closer look at how to use a bear canister and why you really need one!
Ursack Bags and Sizes
There are many Ursack bags and sizes, depending on your needs and how much food you need to store. These include the AllMitey (10.65 liters), AllMitey Grizzly (20 liters), AllMitey Kodiak (30 liters), Major (10.65 liters), Major XL (15 liters), Major 2XL (30 liters), the Ursack Minor Critter Bag (made of Kevlar, 10.65 liters), and the puncture-proof, Kevlar OPSAK bags.
- CRITTER PROTECTION: The Major is critter resistant; the updated...
- LIGHTWEIGHT & SPACIOUS: The Major weighs 7. 6 oz. with the...
- STRENGTH & DURABILITY: 6 foot, 2, 500 pound high tensile strength...
Does It Really Work? Live Bear Testing & Approvals
If you’re interested in purchasing a Ursack bag, you can rest easy knowing that experts vigorously tested these sacks using live bears. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) is a facility outside of Yellowstone National Park where they rescue and rehabilitate injured and trouble bears. Each product has gone through at least one full hour of contact with a bear trying to pull food out. They send back any soft-sided container with a hole that exceeds 0.25 inches for redesign, so you can feel good knowing that your Ursack will hold up even if the hungriest bear finds it.
What Does IGBC-Certified Mean?
IGBC-Certified means that your canister or Ursack has undergone rigorous live bear testing at the IGBC facility and emerged victorious. This means that your container likely had a prototype that they tested, failed, and then made so robust that the bears didn’t stand a chance.
Where Are Ursacks Allowed?
You can use Ursacks at 32 national parks throughout the United States, including Glacier National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Crater Lake National Park, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are also nine US National Parks that allow Ursacks with certain restrictions. These include Acadia National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Redwood National Park, and Glacier Bay National Park.
Pro Tip: It’s never ok to feed the wildlife in national parks or to break these other 11 National Park Etiquette Rules.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Are you looking for some quick answers? Here are some frequently asked questions about Ursacks.
Is the Ursack Waterproof?
The UHMWPE material is waterproof. However, with its tie knot design, some moisture might get inside. If you’re looking for extra protection, you might want to consider the OPSAK.
Do You Hang an Ursack?
Ursack recommends tying it to a strong tree branch. However, if there are no trees, you can hide it under a pile of rocks.
Can Mice Chew Through Ursack?
According to Ursack’s FAQ page, the Minor, Grizzly, Allmitey, and Kodiak bags are all resistant to smaller critters like mice, raccoons, and rodents. However, they caution that the Ursack is not a wolf or dog resistant.
How Long Can Food in an Ursack Last?
Because the Ursack bags are not airtight, you can expect your food to last as long as it would if you stored it on a shelf or in a cupboard. Therefore, it’s best to fill it with non-perishable food like canned goods or freeze-dried food.
Make Way for a New Breed of Bear Container
Ursacks provide a safe, bear-tested way of storing your food that doesn’t involve bulky, hard-sided bear canisters. With flexible, soft, and durable fabric, they’re perfect for avid lightweight backpackers, minimalist campers, and even day hikers. However, Ursacks can’t replace a hard-sided bear canister in every circumstance.
There are still eleven National Parks in the US that don’t allow Ursacks, and if you are among a heavy bear population, you should probably use an approved hard-sided method. Nevertheless, they ingeniously solve a common problem: How does one safely store food when a canister isn’t a feasible option? Thanks to Tom Cohen, we have the answer.
Feeding wildlife can be dangerous to you and them. Here are 5 Reasons Not to Feed the Wildlife While Camping.
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