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Ursack: A Welcome Alternative to Food Canisters


    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.Ursack
    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.)


I dislike carrying the traditional cylindrical bear cannister, and would be thrilled to be able to use an Ursack instead, but last time I was in Sequoia-Kings Canyon, at one ranger station (I can't remember which one) they had posted pictures of more than one Ursack ripped up by bears. Hence I'm surprised to read they were approved for the Sierras...perhaps the Hybrid is a new design? Any further detail you have on this would be appreciated.

As the inventor of Ursack, I am not familiar with the specific photos referred to by Kit at Sequoia, but I have several comments. 1. The Hybrid is a new design, and there is no record of a bear anywhere getting into one. 2. The original Ursacks, starting in 2000, were made of Kevlar, which like Vectran is yellow. There were some failures of the Kevlar bag. 3. In about 2002 or 2003, we switched to Spectra fabric, which we coated green. The original Spectra had white ripstop. Later, we switched to a heavier denier and later still modified the design to eliminate the bottom seam. The latter versions were tested extensively by SIBBG in the summer of 2004. There were more than 20 documented bear attacks in the wilderness--mostly in Sequoia. Not a single Ursack was torn in that test. More complete test results are on our website. 4. Although we think that the Ursack Hybrid and even the Ursack without the aluminum is an excellent product, no bear canister is perfect. Sierra rangers have confirmed that the Garcia canister has been broken by bears and that the Bear Vault has been opened on occasion. Both of these are excellent products, and you should consider them if you want a hard sided canister. Just don't expect perfection from any bear canister or bag. Also, note that each Ursack comes with a free odor barrier bag, which is also waterproof. Replacements are availbale for sale.

Kit - Thanks for your info and links you've sent to Annette. I'm one of the "possibles" for the July backpack trip on the JMT. I grew up in California and have hiked Mt. Whitney, and now I live in Colorado Springs and have hiked Pikes Peak several times. Also I hiked up St. Patrick's mountain near Westport Ireland last May! What a journey. No bears any of those places yet. But I do appreciate the warnings. No point in being careless. THanks. Barbara Graham

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