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How To Hang Food When Backpacking


by Gillian Klein



When it comes to backpacking and camping in the wilderness, one of the most important considerations is how to properly store and hang your food. Proper food storage is crucial to ensure your safety and prevent unwanted encounters with wildlife.


While many campsites have designated food storage facilities, there are times when you find yourself in remote areas where these amenities are not available. In such situations, it becomes imperative to know how to hang your food properly to keep it away from hungry critters.


By hanging your food, you not only protect your provisions from animals like bears, raccoons, and squirrels but also help to minimize their temptation to approach your campsite. In addition, hanging your food can help to preserve the delicate ecosystem by discouraging animals from becoming dependent on human food sources.


In this article, we will discuss the essential steps to hang food when backpacking. We will cover everything from choosing the right location and hanging method to securing the food bag properly and ensuring safety. By following these guidelines, you can enjoy a worry-free camping experience while minimizing your impact on the environment.


Selecting the Right Location

When it comes to hanging your food while backpacking, selecting the right location is crucial. The goal is to choose a spot that is both safe and practical for hanging your food bag. Here are some factors to consider when selecting the right location:

  1. Distance from Campsite: Ideally, the food hanging location should be at least 100 yards away from your sleeping area. This distance helps to minimize the chances of animals approaching your campsite in search of food.
  2. Accessibility: Look for a location that is easily accessible for hanging your food bag. It should have sturdy branches and be free from any potential hazards, such as dead branches or rocks, that could compromise the stability of the hanging setup.
  3. Tree Selection: Opt for strong, healthy trees that are at least 12-15 feet high. Avoid trees with low branches that can aid animals in reaching your food bag.
  4. Clear Area: Ensure that there are no obstacles or overhanging branches that could make it difficult to throw the rope or hang the food bag.
  5. Away from Water Sources: Keep the food hanging location at least 200 feet away from any water sources, such as rivers or lakes. This distance helps prevent contamination and discourages animals from congregating near the water source.
  6. Consider the Terrain: Take into account the terrain and elevation of the area. Look for a location that is relatively level, making it easier to hang the food bag and preventing it from swinging or hitting against rocks or trees.
  7. Visibility: Choose a location that allows you to easily monitor the food bag from your campsite. This visibility will serve as an added deterrent to animals attempting to reach the hanging food bag.

By carefully considering these factors, you can select a suitable location to hang your food bag. Remember, the goal is to keep your food secure and inaccessible to wildlife, while also minimizing the chances of any negative encounters during your backpacking adventure.


Choosing the Appropriate Hanging Method

Choosing the right hanging method is crucial to ensure the safety of your food and prevent animals from accessing it. There are several methods you can use to hang your food while backpacking. Here are some popular options:

  1. Bear Bag Hanging: This is one of the most common methods used to hang food in the backcountry. It involves using a bear-resistant bag, often made of durable nylon, and suspending it from a tree branch. The bag is typically attached to a rope or cord and lifted high enough to be out of reach for animals.
  2. Counterbalance Method: The counterbalance method is a technique in which the weight of the food bag is balanced with a heavy object, such as a rock or a backpack, on the opposite end of the rope. This method helps to keep the food bag at a safe distance from the ground.
  3. Canister Method: Another effective method is using a bear-resistant canister. These canisters are specially designed to keep food safe from animals, and they are secured by locking the lid tightly. Canisters are particularly useful in areas where hanging food is not possible or allowed.
  4. Pulley System: For heavier food bags or when hanging food in areas with tall trees, a pulley system can be employed. This method allows you to hoist the food bag up and down with greater ease by utilizing a mechanical advantage.

When choosing the appropriate hanging method, consider the weight and bulkiness of your food, the accessibility of your chosen location, and the regulations of the area you are in. Some places have specific requirements for hanging food, so it’s important to be aware of and abide by these guidelines to ensure the safety of both you and the wildlife.


Remember, the purpose of the hanging method is to keep your food secure and inaccessible to animals. Whichever method you choose, make sure it is reliable and properly executed to avoid any issues during your backpacking trip.


Gathering the Necessary Supplies

Before heading out on your backpacking trip, it’s essential to gather the necessary supplies for hanging your food. Having the right equipment will make the process easier and more efficient. Here are the essential supplies you’ll need:

  1. Food Bag: Choose a durable, waterproof bag specifically designed for storing food while camping. Look for bags made of tear-resistant material and equipped with a reliable closure system like a roll-top or zipper.
  2. Rope or Cord: Select a strong and lightweight rope or cord that is long enough to reach the desired height for hanging your food. Paracord or nylon ropes are popular choices due to their durability and versatility.
  3. Carabiners: Carabiners are essential for attaching the rope to the food bag and suspending it from the tree branch. Opt for sturdy, locking carabiners that can securely hold the weight of the food bag.
  4. Small Pouch or Sack: It’s helpful to have a small pouch or sack to store your rope, carabiners, and other smaller items. This will keep everything organized and easily accessible when you need to hang your food.
  5. Gloves: Wearing gloves can protect your hands while handling the rope and food bag. Choose gloves that provide a good grip and are suitable for outdoor activities.
  6. Marker or Duct Tape: Having a marker or duct tape can be useful for labeling your food bag with your name or any other identifying information. This can come in handy if there are multiple campers in the area who are also hanging their food.
  7. Optional: Bear Canister: If you are backpacking in bear country or in an area where hanging food is not feasible, consider using a bear-resistant canister to store your food. These canisters are designed to keep your food safe from wildlife.

Prior to your trip, ensure that all your supplies are in good condition and in proper working order. Test the durability of your rope, check the functionality of your carabiners, and inspect the integrity of your food bag. It’s always better to address any issues beforehand to avoid any challenges while in the wilderness.


Gathering the necessary supplies ensures that you are prepared to hang your food securely, protecting it from wildlife and making your backpacking experience safer and more enjoyable.


Preparing the Food for Hanging

Properly preparing your food for hanging is essential to prevent smells and attractants that may lure wildlife to your campsite. Taking the necessary steps to prepare and pack your food will help ensure its freshness and minimize the risk of any unwanted animal encounters. Here are some key tips for preparing your food for hanging:

  1. Separate perishables and non-perishables: Divide your food supplies into perishable and non-perishable items. Non-perishable items can be packed separately and do not need to be hung. This helps to reduce the amount of food that needs to be hung and minimizes the risk of spoilage.
  2. Wrap food securely: Properly wrap your perishable food items in airtight containers or sealed plastic bags to prevent odors from attracting animals. This also helps to maintain the freshness of the food and prevents cross-contamination.
  3. Avoid strong-smelling foods: Try to avoid packing strongly scented foods, such as cured meats or heavily spiced items, as these can attract animals. Opt for less aromatic options to minimize the risk of wildlife being lured to your campsite.
  4. Double bagging: Consider double bagging your food to provide an extra layer of protection against leaks or odors. This can be particularly useful for liquids or items with strong smells.
  5. Keep food organized: Arrange your food items neatly within the food bag to optimize space and make it easier to hang. Group similar items together, and keep fragile or crushable items well padded to prevent damage.
  6. Label your food: Use a marker or duct tape to label your food bag with your name or initials. This helps to differentiate your bag from others and ensures that you can easily identify it when it’s time to retrieve your food.
  7. Pack a separate trash bag: Remember to pack a separate bag for your trash and any food waste. This will help keep your campsite clean and prevent odor and attractant buildup near your food hanging location.

By taking the time to properly prepare your food for hanging, you can reduce the chances of wildlife being enticed by smells and keep your food secure during your backpacking adventure. Plan and pack your food thoughtfully to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip in the great outdoors.


Securing the Food Bag Properly

Securing the food bag properly is crucial to ensure that it remains out of reach of wildlife while you are camping. Even the most robust hanging method will be ineffective if the food bag is not properly secured. Here are some important steps to follow to secure your food bag:

  1. Attach the carabiner: Begin by attaching a sturdy carabiner to the loop or handle of your food bag. Make sure the carabiner is securely fastened and can support the weight of the bag.
  2. Double-check the closure: Verify that the closure of your food bag is tightly sealed to prevent any leaks, spills, or odors. If necessary, use additional clips or fasteners to ensure a secure closure.
  3. Thread the rope through the carabiner: Thread the rope or cord through the carabiner attached to your food bag. Ensure that the rope is securely threaded and tightly knotted to prevent any slippage.
  4. Choose an appropriate throwing weight: Select a throwing weight, such as a small rock or a bag filled with pebbles, to assist in throwing the rope over the chosen tree branch. The throwing weight should be heavy enough to carry the rope to the desired height.
  5. Throw the rope over the branch: Using an underhand swing, throw the throwing weight with the attached rope over the branch. Ensure that the rope clears any obstacles or branches on its way up.
  6. Secure the rope: Once the rope is over the branch, retrieve it and securely tie the other end to a nearby tree trunk or stable object. This will prevent animals from pulling down the food bag and accessing it.
  7. Hoist the food bag: With the rope securely tied, use the other end to hoist the food bag up to the desired height. Make sure to lift the bag high enough that it cannot be reached by wildlife.
  8. Double-check the hanging setup: Once the food bag is hoisted, carefully inspect the hanging setup to ensure that everything is secure. Verify that the bag is suspended at a safe distance from the ground and that there are no visible vulnerabilities.

It’s important to note that the exact method and technique for securing the food bag may vary depending on the chosen hanging method and the specific equipment you are using. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and seek guidance from experienced backpackers if needed.


By properly securing the food bag, you can minimize the risk of wildlife accessing your provisions and help protect the wilderness for both the animals and future campers.


Hanging the Food in the Designated Area

Once you have selected a suitable location and secured your food bag, it’s time to hang the bag in the designated area. Hanging your food properly is essential to deter animals and ensure the safety of your provisions. Here are the steps to follow when hanging the food:

  1. Locate the hanging point: Identify the branch or support system that will be used to hang the food bag. Make sure it is strong enough to hold the weight of the bag and high enough to keep it out of reach of wildlife.
  2. Prepare the rope: Make sure that the rope is untangled and free from any knots or obstructions. This will make it easier to throw the rope over the desired hanging point.
  3. Throw the rope: Using an underhand swing, throw the rope with the attached carabiner over the designated branch or support system. Aim for a spot that allows the food bag to be hoisted to a safe height.
  4. Retrieve the rope: Once the rope is over the branch, carefully retrieve it from the other end. Make sure it is securely anchored to prevent any slippage.
  5. Attach the food bag: Take the carabiner attached to the food bag and hook it onto the rope. Ensure that it is securely fastened to prevent the bag from shifting or falling.
  6. Hoist the food bag: Using the other end of the rope, hoist the food bag up to the desired height. Make sure it is lifted high enough that animals cannot reach it, yet within reach for retrieval when needed.
  7. Ensure stability: Double-check that the food bag is stable and secure in its hanging position. Ensure that the rope is taut and does not have any slack that animals could exploit.
  8. Observe from a distance: Once the food bag is hanging, step back and observe it from a distance. Check that it is not swaying excessively and that there are no other vulnerabilities in the setup.

Remember, always follow any guidelines or regulations specific to the area you are camping in. Some campsites may have designated food hanging areas or specific rules regarding hanging methods. It’s essential to respect these guidelines to preserve the natural balance and protect both wildlife and fellow campers.


By hanging your food in the designated area, you minimize the risk of wildlife encounters and contribute to the overall safety of your camping experience. Enjoy your outdoor adventure knowing that your food is secure and animals are deterred from accessing it.


Ensuring Safety and Preventing Animal Intrusion

Ensuring safety and preventing animal intrusion is paramount when hanging food while backpacking. By following these guidelines, you can minimize the risk of wildlife encounters and protect both yourself and the animals in their natural habitat:

  1. Clean your cooking area: Always keep your cooking area clean and free of food scraps and leftovers. Dispose of any food waste properly, preferably in a separate trash bag or bear-resistant container.
  2. Practice proper camp hygiene: Maintain good hygiene practices at your campsite. Avoid cooking and eating inside your tent, as this can leave behind odors that attract animals. Clean dishes and utensils thoroughly after use to eliminate food smells.
  3. Minimize strong odors: Keep strong-smelling items such as toiletries, sunscreen, and bug repellent in airtight containers. Store them alongside your food bag to prevent animals from being attracted to the scents.
  4. Be mindful of noise and light: Avoid making excessive noise or using bright lights at night, as this can attract wildlife. Keep your campsite quiet and use minimal lighting to blend in with the natural surroundings.
  5. Avoid feeding wildlife: Never intentionally feed wildlife, as it can lead to habituation and dependency on human food sources. Feeding wildlife can potentially endanger both humans and animals.
  6. Stay alert and aware: Be vigilant and aware of your surroundings. Monitor any signs of wildlife activity in the area while camping, and react accordingly to avoid potential conflicts.
  7. Respect wildlife: Keep a respectful distance from wildlife and observe from a safe and responsible distance. Do not approach or attempt to interact with animals in their natural habitat.
  8. Leave no trace: Practice Leave No Trace principles by minimizing your impact on the environment. Pack out all trash and leave your campsite as you found it, so as not to attract animals with litter or food remnants.

Remember, the goal of hanging food is not only to protect your provisions but also to ensure the preservation of the wilderness and the natural behaviors of wildlife. By taking these precautions and respecting the ecosystem, you can enjoy a safer and more harmonious backpacking experience.


It’s important to educate yourself about the specific wildlife and regulations of the area you are visiting. Understand the recommended food storage practices and any local guidelines provided by park authorities or experienced outdoors enthusiasts. By being well-informed and conscientious, you help maintain the balance between your adventure and the well-being of the wildlife around you.



Properly hanging your food while backpacking is crucial for ensuring your safety and minimizing the impact on wildlife. By selecting the right location, choosing the appropriate hanging method, and securing the food bag properly, you can prevent animals from accessing your provisions and reduce the risk of wildlife encounters.


When selecting a location, consider the distance from your campsite, the accessibility of the area, and the suitability of the trees or support structure. Choose a hanging method that suits your needs, whether it’s the bear bag method, counterbalance method, canister method, or using a pulley system.


Gathering the necessary supplies, such as a food bag, rope, carabiners, and gloves, ensures you have the tools needed for a successful food hanging setup. Properly preparing your food by separating perishables and non-perishables, wrapping securely, and avoiding strong smells further deters wildlife and keeps your food fresh.


When it’s time to hang the food, carefully throw the rope over the chosen branch, attach the food bag to the carabiner, and hoist it up to a safe height. Be sure to double-check the setup for stability and observe it from a distance to ensure its security.


Additionally, prioritize safety and prevent animal intrusion by practicing proper camp hygiene, minimizing strong odors, and respecting wildlife. Be aware of your surroundings, avoid feeding wildlife, and always leave no trace to reduce your impact on the environment.


By following these steps and guidelines, you can have a worry-free backpacking experience, knowing that your food is secure, wildlife is respected, and the natural balance of the wilderness is preserved.