Food Storage on the PNT

Proper food storage is very important on the Pacific Northwest Trail. The PNT travels through some of our wildest public lands; these special places are home to animals iconic of wilderness, and a few species found nowhere else.

Learn more about the regulations of our National Parks and National Forests by reading this guide. By cooperating with regulations and fulfilling your responsibilities under Leave No Trace ethics, you can do your part to keep wildlife wild and the backcountry safe on the PNT. Animals that become habituated to human food can become very dangerous and often need to be destroyed for public safety. Always put wildlife first while visiting the Pacific Northwest Trail.

food storage
food storage
Two models of Ursack have been certified by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee

Grizzly and Black Bear Habitat

All but 70 miles of the Pacific Northwest Trail falls within black bear habitat. When visiting these areas, proper food storage is very important— it protects bears and the safety of human visitors alike.

From the eastern terminus in Montana through Eastern Washington, approximately 400 miles of the PNT travels through grizzly bear habitat (PNT Sections 1 – 3). It is also possible, but not likely, to encounter grizzlies in the North Cascades Ecosystem.  In these special areas, additional precautions are needed to help ensure a safe and responsible visit.

You can learn more about precautions in grizzly bear habitat by reading Glacier National Park’s Bear Safety Page.

Why is Food Storage So Important in Bear Habitat?

Proper food storage methods protect both campers and bears. Over the last fifty years, the number of hazardous bear encounters on our public lands has been greatly reduced. This is due to the cooperation of backcountry campers who use the modern food storage methods developed in our National Parks and Forests after tragic accidents in the late 1960s.

Please do your part to keep the backcountry safe for everyone by learning the regulations of the local land manager, before your visit.

Grizzly bears have faced local extinction in much of the contiguous United States, and the remaining habitat for this important species lies in but a few small areas in the western states.

You can do your part to keep recovering grizzly populations healthy by avoiding bear-human interactions. All too often, the saying, “a fed bear, is a dead bear,” is unfortunately true. Put bears first on the Pacific Northwest Trail by following the principles of Leave No Trace on our public lands and “respect wildlife.”

Campers who fail to follow regulations endanger themselves, other campers, and bears. Do not risk having a bear encounter your camp, or the confines of your shelter, by sleeping with your food, garbage or scented items. If you do encounter a bear, never let the animal get your food.

Put bears first on the Pacific Northwest Trail

Approved Food Storage on the Pacific Northwest Trail

Bear Wire or Box along PNT Bear Canister Bear-Hang Hanging Requirements Ursack Hang Recommended  Distance from Camp
Glacier NP all locations  N/A N/A use bear wires where provided N/A N/A
Flathead NF N Y Y 10′ x 4′ – or – Y 300′
Kootenai NF N Y Y 10′ x 4′ – or – Y 300′
Idaho Panhandle NF N Y Y 10′ x 4′ – or – Y 300′
Colville NF N Y Y 10′ x 4′ – or – Y 300′
Okanogan-Wenatchee NF N Y Y 10′ x 4′ N 200′
North Cascades NP N Y Y 10′ x 4′ N 200′
Mt Baker-Snoqualmie NF N Y Y 10′ x 4′ N 200′
Olympic NF N Y Y 10′ x 4′ N 200′
Olympic NP some locations Y varies 12′ X 10′ N 200′

Using an Ursack on the PNT

 

The Ursack has a number of advantages over other food storage methods:

An Ursack is an IGBC-approved bear-resistant food storage container that is approved for use in three National Forests on the PNT.

The Ursack strikes the right balance between protection and weight and is easy to use. Although it is heavier than a nylon stuff sack, it is much lighter and less bulky than a bear canister. Because it can be used in two different ways, it is highly versatile, and is legal to use along most of the Pacific Northwest Trail.

The technique for hanging an Ursack is much faster and easier to do correctly than a traditional bear bag method is. It can be tied directly to a strong branch using special knots. No extra rope is used to suspend the bag from a branch, with an “Ursack Hang.”

In areas where an “Ursack Hang” is not allowed by the land manager, the Ursack can be hung using approved bear-hang methods (10-12′ high and 4-10′ from a trunk). When used in this way, the Ursack provides two levels of protection.

Odor-proof Storage Bags

Resealable, odor-proof storage bags, like the OpSak, are also highly recommended in bear habitat; bears have a hyper-developed sense of smell, and can detect food and other strong-smelling items, from great distances.

Bear-proof bags are also rodent-proof. These and other small animals can also become habituated to human food, destroy food caches, and spread disease.

Recommended equipment:

  • Ursack bear-resistant bag:
    Model S29 AllWhite – IGBC Certification No. 3738
    Model AllMitey – IGBC Certification No. 5135
  • OpSak, resealable odor-proof bag (recommended)
  • 75-100’ of cordage to “bear-hang” (when required)
  • One stuff sack, nylon or equivalent (for surplus trash and food items)
  • One carabiner is useful, but not required

Using a Bear Canister

IGBC-approved, hard-sided bear canisters offer the best protection and versatility in food storage because they can be used in areas where there are no trees to hang bear bags from. They are the only food storage method that is legal to use across the entire trail corridor.

On the PNT, bear canisters are required in Olympic National Park in the Seven Lake Basin and Wilderness Coast areas.

You can rent a bear canister from the Park and some outfitters nearby.

These containers are very easy to use correctly. They are also effective at keeping human food from smaller animals that can become habituated to human food, spread disease, and become nuisances by destroying food caches and gear, like mice, raccoons, jays, and others.

bear canister
A BV500 model bear-resistant container
A BV500 model bear-resistant container

Traditional Food Hanging

The traditional food hanging method (generally known as “bear bagging”) is approved for use along most of the trail corridor with varying requirements (see the chart below). In terms of equipment needed, “bear bagging” also has the benefit of being the most lightweight and inexpensive of the three methods described in this guide.

 

CAUTION

Be sure to allow for the time and energy to store your food correctly after a long day of hardy PNW hiking. Finding a suitable tree and hoisting and securing your food bag can make “bear bagging” the most time-consuming of all food storage methods.

Be aware that suitable trees which have branches at the required height do not grow in some areas along the PNT. At higher elevations, it can be difficult or impossible to find a tree that is tall enough to use. This will affect campsite selection, limiting backpackers to campsites below tree line, or to lower elevations, where taller tree species tend to grow.

Resealable, odor-proof storage bags, like the OpSak, are also highly recommended in bear habitat;  bears have a hyper-developed sense of smell, and can detect food and other strong-smelling items, from great distances.

Recommended Equipment

  • 75-100′ of cordage to “bear-hang”
  • One or more stuff sacks, nylon or equivalent
  • OpSak, resealable odor-proof bag (recommended)
  • A carabiner is recommended, but not required

Food Preparation and Storage In Grizzly Bear Habitat

 

  • While hiking in bear habitat, never leave food or your pack unattended, even for a short period of time.
  • If you are cooking a meal, do it 100 yards from camp. Some long-distance backpackers find it easier to alter their routine in grizzly habitat by cooking in the afternoon, and then hiking on to a camping spot later.
  • Do not eat in or near your tent.
  • Follow the instructions of the local land manager or Leave No Trace principles.
  • In Glacier NP, “bear wires” or food lockers are provided in most campsites. In sites with “bear wires,” you will need to bring rope to hang your food, even if you plan to use an Ursack.
  • Hang your food bag using either a traditional bear-hang method, or if you have an Ursack, follow the recommendations of the manufacturer.
  • Keep a clean camp! Never improperly store or leave food unattended.
  • Store all edibles and trash (including feminine hygiene products) in a bear-proof bag or hang them when not in use, day or night.
  • Do not throw any food or garbage into the pit toilets.
  • Inspect your campsite for bear sign.

Be aware of other careless campers nearby. Notify a ranger of any potential problems.

Grizzly Bear Sow and Cubs
A grizzly bear and cubs in Glacier National Park. NPS photo by Andrew Englehorn.
A grizzly bear mother with two cubs in Glacier National Park. NPS photo by Andrew Englehorn.

Food Preparation and Storage In Black Bear Habitat

 

  • While hiking, never leave food or your pack unattended, even for a short period of time
  • Follow the instructions of the local land manager or Leave No Trace principles
  • In Olympic National Park, park rules require bear canisters in the Seven Lakes Basin and the Wilderness Coast
  • Keep a clean camp! Never improperly store or leave food unattended, even for a short time
  • Hang your food bag using either a traditional bear-hang method, or if you have an Ursack, follow the recommendations of the manufacturer (see chart below)
  • Store all edibles and trash (including feminine hygiene products) in a bear-proof bag or hang them when not in use, day or night.
  • Inspect your campsite for bear sign
Black bears are common along the Pacific Northwest Trail.
Black bears are the smallest and most common species of bear in North America

About the IGBC

 

The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) was formed in 1983 to help ensure recovery of viable grizzly bear populations and their habitat in the lower 48 states through interagency coordination of policy, planning, management, and research. For over three decades, the IGBC has proven to be a successful model for agencies by working cooperatively together and coordinating recovery efforts over multiple jurisdictions.

You can find other IGBC certified products and methods, here.

Explore this interactive map to learn more about food storage regulations.

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