Note: URSack provided a sample to us at no cost in order to review. All thoughts and opinions are our own.
Bear canisters can be bulky and heavy. I had never imagined a bag could be a good substitute. But URSack seems to be proving me wrong. Ambassador Nikki and our very fearless leader Rebecca reviewed the bear-proof bag. Below are their thoughts.
Nobody likes lugging a big bear canister into the backcountry. They are awkward in the backpack and add extra weight. For someone like me, that is always trying to cut weight the idea of a lighter weight option was very enticing. I had read some of the Colorado Trail thru hikers discussing the Ursacks. The Ursack Major costs $79.95. People seemed to like them. I was pretty excited to get the opportunity to try one out in the backcountry and write a review on it.
When you first look at the Ursack Major, it seems surprising that it can go up against a bear. It just looks like a bag. They are made from a bulletproof fabric called Spectra. I was surprised how lightweight the bag was. 7.6 oz. I did a little online research and learned how to tie the top and that I needed to put my food in a Loksak first, to diminish smell. Luckily, I had several around from our last trip.
The bag is pretty roomy. Their website says you can fit 37 freeze dried meals into it. I do not know that I could cram that many in, but I had no trouble fitting in everything we needed for a 5 day backcountry adventure.
When I cinched the top shut I really had to put some muscle into it to get it to close all the way. I am not sure if they are all like that, or it was just my bag. There was still a tiny gap in the top even with my husband and I yanking on it as hard as we could. A mouse could easily fit through the gap. I have never had a bear go after my food, but I have had lots of mice do their best to get at it.
Before we retired to our tent we found a good tree and tied up the Ursack. We spent some time trying to find the right tree. It took 2 of us to get it tied up correctly. After a few minutes we were satisfied with our work and went to bed.
When we woke up in the morning, our food had been untouched. That remained the case each morning for the remainder of our trip. We got faster at tying up the bag each day. By the end we were able to get it done in about two and a half minutes with one person holding the bag against the tree and the other tying it.
We did not encounter any bears on our trip, so I cannot speak to how this would hold up if a bear actually went after it. I think the food would be damaged at the very least. I really like the fact that the bag is lightweight, but other than that I feel more comfortable with a bear canister. The Ursack was more time consuming and kind of a pain to tie up. There were several times we tied it up and then took it down again for a snack. It took both my husband and I yanking on it to get it mostly closed. I do not think this would work for me on a solo trip due to that.
A few years ago I saw this amazing video on YouTube, of a grizzly bear going up against a URSack. It was a fantastic video.
At the time I was tired of the bulk of carrying a bear canister into the backcountry, storing a bear canister when I wasn’t backpacking (at the time my family was crammed into a teensy, tiny house with minimal storage) and surely I can’t be the only one who gets tired of trying to open and close bear canisters (especially when you’re crazy tired and exhausted at the end of the day). I’d also been researching bear canister failures, reading stories about bears opening bear canisters and people having bear canisters roll of cliffs etc and losing all their food because of the shape of the canister.
So it seemed logical to purchase a URSack and put it to the test.
After 3 years of backpacking with a URSack here’s what I’ve learned.
First, many places require a hard-sided bear canister or locker for food storage. So there are locations when that bear canister is inevitable. I always use a bear canister (I actually rent one now since I don’t own one anymore) when I’m in the Tetons or Yellowstone.
But if you’re not backpacking in a place where a bear canister is required here are a few benefits of using the URSack.
First, the URSack is lightweight without the bulk of a bear canister. I hate a heavy pack so I try to go as light as possible. I also like a streamlined pack and hate unnecessary bulk.
Next, the URSack is simple to tie and to hang, all you need to know how to do is tie a double overhand knot and a figure 8.
Finally, the URSack is affordable and it’s easy to store when you aren’t using it. The URSack Major, which I use, retails for $79.95 while most bear canisters retail for $70-$90 so it’s on the lower end as far as affordable food storage. But where the URSack really shines is that it’s easy to fold or roll up when you aren’t using it and takes up a lot less room in the gear closet or storage room than a bear canister.
I like the URSack so much that I now own 6 of them, all purchased at full retail price.
I use my URSacks when I’m guiding and leading trips in the backcountry, including our HLAW trip along the Continental Divide Trail last year because I like it and I don’t have room to store 6 bear canisters but I can sure store 6 URSacks and they’ve never let me down.
Like most gear, there is a learning curve to using the URSack.
A few tips that I’ve discovered are to not fill the sack too full, to practice tying knots at home before you head into the backcountry so you are comfortable with them, to practice hanging your URSack at a local park or in your backyard when it’s full of your food so you know how to do it and to know that if you backpacking with a sleeve full of Ritz crackers they will all get squished should an animal actually try to investigate your URSack. I keep food that’s in my URSack separated in various drybags during the day so I have easy access to snacks (I’ve got a thing about snacks…) and really only tie it up along with my toiletries at night.
To show you how much I love my URSacks here’s a short video that I made showing how to tie it up and how I store my food in the backcountry.
So yep, I totally recommend the URSack but I realize that it will not work for everyone in every situation.