Hiking in the backcountry requires the implementation of several different tactics, especially when you find yourself in bear country. When visiting bear-populated regions, you’ll need to be smarter about how you handle, dispose of, and store your food. While some parks and trails will have bear poles available to use, there will be times when you’ll have to put some work in yourself to ensure your food doesn’t attract bears. One way you can store your food at night involves using a counter-balance hanging rig, which you’ll learn more about below.

As a general rule, your food should be hung at least 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet away from the tree trunk, but you’ll want to check with the local rangers or DNR to check for specific instructions. The counter-balance rig—which is great if you’re by yourself—will keep your food at least 10 feet above the ground and 10 feet away from the tree trunk, if rigged correctly.

With a counter-balance rig, the idea is to hang two food sacks of equal weight way out on a tree branch where bears can’t reach them. The only issue that many people have with the counter-balance technique is finding the right tree with the right branch. Start by finding a tree with a live branch at least 15 feet above the ground. The branch must be strong enough to support the weight of your food but not sturdy enough for a bear cub to walk on, so look for a branch about 4 to 5 inches in diameter at the base and only 1 inch in diameter at the point where you hang our food.

Place a rock or weight in a sock, tie a rope to it, and throw it over the branch. Move the rope as far out toward the end of the branch as possible. Thick ropes are a good idea, since they won’t tangle as easily, and wearing gloves will help prevent rope burn.

Your food should be in two sacks or containers of equal weight, and shouldn’t weigh more than 10 pounds each so that they don’t break the branch. Tie one end of the rope around the neck of one sack, securing it firmly. Be sure to tie a loop in the rope near your sack for retrieving it later, then hoist the sack all the way up to the branch by pulling on the free end of the rope. Next, reach up and tie your second food sack as high up on the rope as you can, putting any excess rope into the sack.

You can try to toss the sack into position, or simply push it up with a long stick so that both food sacks are balanced over the branch. Keep in mind that you will need a long stick to hook the loop on the food sacks when it’s time to retrieve them.

When done right, the counter-balance rig will foil most bears, raccoons, and other late night thieves. However, in regions where bears have interacted with humans for decades, it may only delay them. If this happens, and if you’re lucky, you’ll hear the commotion and will have time to take action before your food is gone. Be sure to use plastic bags for open food, so that the wind doesn’t disperse the scent all over the place, as well. If you find yourself in bear country, this rig will be a great help in keeping bears and other animals from stealing your food. 

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