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Essential Gear: Ursacks

Over the years I have bought so much outdoor gear, often hoping I will like it but more often than not it is sold or given away later. Let us not talk of how many sleeping bags, pack and tents I have had.

Yet, of all that gear there is an item I use faithfully and would feel lost without.

What is it? Our two Ursack bags.

It was back in 2002 that I bought my first one. I had seen the ads in Backpacker Magazine for a long time but never realized why I should have one…till I tried to hang my food in a ‘bear bag’ (a nylon sack hanging from a tree). I am short, cannot throw a rock tied to cord over a tree decently and my final hanging of the food left little to be desired. Sadly most hikers blow at bear hanging. The bag is to low or to close to other trees/branches. You might get lucky and not have a bear but…you might also have Mr. Squirell visiting later that night. A nylon sack is no match for them or mice. Or birds.

It was after a trip to a scenic alpine lake in the Olympics with no bear wires (pre hung by the park, that allows easy hanging of food bags). My friend had hung our bags and we went to bed. But I woke up way earlier and was starving. I couldn’t get the bags down till she got up and helped me. That Monday I went online and bought my first Ursack.

And that started what has been called the “Ursack Mafia” by some. Those of us who love our Ursacks, well, we REALLY love them. You can’t use one without someone asking “what is that?!” Almost everyone I hike with has one now. They see it, they want one. Our hiking group has an example of nearly every version made over the years (including my buddy Marzsit who has one of the off shaped ones made at the start of the Iraq War when the company couldn’t get the fabric for awhile. We called it the Silly Sack.)

A whole mess of Ursacks, ready to be packed up in our packs:


Our friend and hiking partner Hoosierdaddy sitting with his, on the PCT in Oregon, near Mt. Hood:


Loading up our two Ursacks for a trip last year – Ford has the yellow, me the green:


An old school Ursack, belonging to Rainrunner, cross country at Mt. Rainier. Rainy bought hers after we met, back in 2003. She fell in love with how simple it was. I am shipping her and her husband’s two Ursacks to them this summer, after they clear the Sierras (where canisters are required).


An Ursack posing at an alpine lake:


My old REI Sololite tent on the PCT in Washington State with an Ursack in front of it:


In camp on the Eagle Creek Trail, there is an Ursack visible:


Sitting at Packwood Lake, Washington with my yellow Ursack back in 2004:


Sitting in my Anti Gravity Gear tarp, along the Lillian River, WA with my green Ursack:


In camp on a cold evening, on the PCT in Washington with our Ursacks:


I do love my bags – they have gone on so many of our trips. The only time I take my canister is if it is required (for example, on the Olympic Coastal strip). The Ursack is light and used according to directions will fair well. Is it perfect? No. There have been failures that have occurred. One should not use it in Grizzly territory or where highly habituated bears roam. For your typical backpacking though they are excellent protection from both black bears and many small animals. No method besides not eating is bear proof (canisters are bear resistant and have had failures as well). You can though have protection and have a UL way of doing it – and the bag will get smaller as your trip goes on.


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