PCT Bear Canister Requirements

Determining where bear canisters are required is confusing and hotly debated on social media. Everyone has an opinion, but how do you know who/what to believe? Figuring this out requires detailed investigation of multiple websites from the USFS and National Parks. Different pages from the same website often have conflicting information. To make it even more confusing, the SEKI National Park website clearly states: “Information is subject to rapid and unannounced change.”

Sheesh. What do you do?  Best option: Carry a bear canister from Kennedy Meadows to Sonora Pass.

It is important to understand that bear canisters are all about protecting bears from humans. Bears are attracted to improperly stored human food.  Bears who become habituated to human food often end up being (1) relocated hundreds of miles away from the only home they’ve known, or (2) worst case – killed.

Proper Food Storage

To protect both humans and bears, “proper food storage” is required for 315 miles from Kennedy Meadows to Sonora Pass. “Proper food storage” is open to interpretation by individual agencies and at times by individual Rangers (whom you will probably encounter along the trail). Some areas allow counter-balance hanging. Some areas specifically prohibit counter-balance hanging. Some areas require bear canisters. Some areas have permanent bear boxes. Sleeping with your food, defending your food, posting a guard for your food are all NOT proper food storage methods, and these practices violate the food storage requirements.

You could be in an area where you *think* canisters are not required, yet the Ranger you encounter tells you canisters *are* required.  Hikers who violate regulations can be fined and/or escorted off the trail.

Counter-Balance Hanging

Click for counter-balance hang diagram.  Counter-balance requirements:

  • Carry at least 40 feet of rope (per Inyo NF Rangers)
  • Place your food in two equally-weighted bags
  • Hang the two bags 15 feet off the ground, 10 feet from any tree, with no rope hanging down

Besides being a very ineffective way to protect food, counter-balancing is extremely difficult to execute properly. Finding appropriate trees near a flat camping spot is not easy. Throwing rope over branches without getting the rope stuck is not easy. Hoisting food bags 15 feet in the air, 10 feet from trees using the small rope thru-hikers are willing to carry is not easy. Retrieving food bags which have no rope hanging down is not easy.   ALL.  THIS.  TAKES.  TIME.  The last thing thru-hikers want to do at the end of a long day in the Sierra is spend an hour *attempting* to properly counter-balance hang their food.

Interestingly, National Forests and National Parks allow counter-balance hanging in some areas while at the same time making these statements:

  • SEKI NATIONAL PARK: “It’s a common misperception that the counter-balance method is a good way to protect food from bears. Because bears are so adaptable, many have learned to obtain counter-balanced food. This method generally does not work in these parks.”
  • INYO NATIONAL FOREST: “It is extremely difficult to find an adequate tree and properly counter-balance the bags. Counter-balancing is not as effective as it once was. Even when it is hung properly, bears may figure out a way to get your food. Some bears will chew the branches off trees to get the food. The counter-balance method is only a delaying tactic. Be prepared to actively defend your food. You may need to repeatedly scare bears away from your camp.”
  • SIERRA NATIONAL FOREST: “If you choose to store your food using this technique, consider it only a delaying tactic. Be prepared to actively defend your food and repeatedly scare bears out of your camp through the night. Without this negative reinforcement, bears will figure out a way to get your counter-balanced food. Some bears will go so far as to literally chew the branch off the tree to get at food bags.”

If counter-balancing doesn’t work, why is it allowed?  Sheesh.

National Park and National Forest Recommendations

Although counter-balancing is allowed in some areas, the National Parks and National Forests strongly encourage the use of bear canisters, even in areas where canisters are not currently required. Following are a few snippets from the relevant websites.

INYO NATIONAL FOREST

  • “Bear-resistant containers and panniers are the most effective method of food storage for wilderness travelers. In all wilderness areas of Inyo National Forest, use of bear-resistant containers is strongly recommended.”
  • “Counter-balance hanging technique may be used to store food where portable containers are not mandatory. However, where trees are not adequate for hanging food you must use a portable food storage container. No other methods of food storage are allowed.”

SEQUOIA-KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK (SEKI)

  • “Portable animal-resistant food storage containers (i.e. bear canisters) are highly recommended throughout Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.”
  • “In areas where food storage containers are not required, you may use a food storage box (i.e. bear box) if available.”
  • “Counter-balance Method . . . . Only use this option if the others are not available.”

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

  • “Food storage regulations have the force and effect of federal law: Failure to store your food properly may result in impoundment of your food and/or a fine of up to $5,000 and/or revocation of your camping permit.”
  • “Allowed bear canisters are required throughout Yosemite National Park.”
  • “Hanging food is not permitted anywhere in Yosemite.”
  • “There are no exceptions for Pacific Crest Trail through-hikers.”  Wow.

SIERRA NATIONAL FOREST

  • “Bear-resistant canisters are the only effective way for backpackers to store food in wilderness.”
  • “Backcountry and wilderness users are required to store food or refuse in a manner designed to keep bears from gaining access to it. Visitors are encouraged to use bear-resistant food canisters to safeguard food. If a bear canister is not available, the counter-balance method of storing food is also an acceptable method.”

HUMBOLT-TOIYABE NATIONAL FOREST

  • “Though bear canisters are not required in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest . . . . the most effective method of food storage for backpackers is a bear-resistant canister.”
  • “You must have your food stored unless it is within arm’s reach (so, don’t go for a swim or take a nap while leaving food out).”

STANISLAUS NATIONAL FOREST

  • Website directs users to SierraWild, which encourages the use of bear canisters.

Canister-Required Areas in the Sierra

Sierra Food Storage Northbounders
Sierra Food Storage Southbounders

The charts on the above links show canister-required areas between Kennedy Meadows and Sonora Pass. Unfortunately, these areas do not coincide with exits to towns. So, effectively, hikers are required to carry canisters at a minimum between Cottonwood Pass and Sonora Pass. HOWEVER, that’s only if you can properly counter-balance hang your food in the Inyo National Forest for 48 miles between Kennedy Meadows and Cottonwood Pass. It is VERY DIFFICULT to counter-balance hang in this area.

Inyo National Forest Rangers are on the PCT for the 48 miles between Kennedy Meadows and Cottonwood Pass. Hikers who do not have a canister or cannot properly counter-balance hang are sent back to Kennedy Meadows. Therefore, it is best to have a bear canister from Kennedy Meadows to Sonora Pass.

Bear Canister Rental

Triple Crown Outfitters (in Kennedy Meadows south, northbound mile 702) has partnered with Kennedy Meadows Resort and Pack Station (near Sonora Pass, northbound mile 1016) to provide easy canister rental for both northbounders and southbounders.

Northbounders pick up at Triple Crown Outfitters in Kennedy Meadows south, drop off at Kennedy Meadows Resort (known to PCT hikers as “Kennedy Meadows north”) or mail back to Triple Crown Outfitters.

Southbounders pick up at Kennedy Meadows Resort (KM North), drop off at Triple Crown Outfitters in Kennedy Meadows south.  The fine folks at Kennedy Meadow Resort distribute TCO’s rental canisters to southbounders.  For a smooth southbound rental, it is best to place your rental order through Triple Crown Outfitters website.

Whether you are northbound or southbound, you can keep the canister for as long as it takes you to hike between Kennedy Meadows south and Sonora Pass.  Click to reserve now.  Canister rentals are on sale in December.  

Lassen National Park

In Lassen National Park, overnight backcountry users must carry a bear canister or use the bear boxes at Warner Valley Campground. This means you cannot disperse camp unless you have a canister. PCT hikers typically hike through Lassen (19.2 miles) during the day or camp overnight at Warner Valley Campground.

Northbound mile points:

1346.3 Enter Lassen National Park
1350.3 Warner Valley Campground
1365.5 Exit Lassen National Park

Southbound mile points:

1287.6 Enter Lassen National Park
1302.8 Warner Valley Campground
1306.8 Exit Lassen National Park

DISCLAIMER

[ DISCLAIMER: This post contains Jackie McDonnell’s personal interpretation of food storage requirements on the Pacific Crest Trail. Every attempt has been made to ensure this information is accurate. The only way to be sure *YOU* are following current regulations is for *YOU* to contact the appropriate agencies. Jackie McDonnell and Triple Crown Outfitters are not responsible for changed/inaccurate information or for any fines or trouble experienced by anyone. *YOU* are responsible for your own actions. ]

 

No-risk solution for PCT Sierra gear

There have been a lot of questions on social media lately regarding Sierra gear:  ice axes, crampons and spikes, bear canisters.

Do you need snow gear?

What if you buy snow gear and a bear canister and you don’t make it to Kennedy Meadows?
What if you do make it to Kennedy Meadows, but there isn’t enough snow to warrant snow gear?
What if you need your snow gear in southern California (San Jacinto and/or Baden-Powell)?
What do you do?

Triple Crown Outfitters has the perfect solution!

  • Order now from Triple Crown Outfitters.  TCO holds your gear for you in Kennedy Meadows. You save the postage of mailing it to yourself in KM. (TCO is located in Kennedy Meadows at PCT northbound mile 702.)
  • If you don’t need the gear you ordered, you can either get a refund or store credit.
  • If you need the gear further south (if there is snow in southern California like there was in 2019), we will mail your gear to whatever trail address you want.
  • If you prefer to have the gear before your hike, we can ship it to your home.
  • How about that?! You can’t lose. If you need the gear, it will be waiting for you in Kennedy Meadows or shipped to you. If you don’t need it, you can get a refund or store credit (your choice).

But even more important, WHY BUY FROM US? We offer:

  • Over 50,000 miles of hiking experience.  Worldwide is a Triple Crowner.  Yogi is a Double Triple Crowner.  You can confidently trust our advice.
  • We will not sell you gear you do not need.  Seriously.  We will talk you out of spending money unnecessarily (our friends think we are crazy).
  • Proper sizing and fitting advice.
  • Easy exchanges (size, brand, style).
  • Easy refunds (you may not need it).
  • If you order the wrong size from someone else it will take days of waiting to get the proper size shipped.
  • If you order from someone else, you have to pay postage to get your gear to Kennedy Meadows.

That’s not all! We have lots of gear and clothing on sale and also closeouts (discontinued items or colors).
This is a great opportunity to gear up for your hike at low prices.

Questions?  Email or give us a call!  

jackie@triplecrownoutfitters.com

matt@triplecrownoutfitters.com

559-850-4453, please call only between 7am and 7pm Pacific time

Must have item for the PCT…

Earlier today a Facebook user asked what is everyone’s must-have item for the PCT.  I didn’t have to think one moment.  The answer was simple, a wind jacket.  Oddly enough very few people today carry them.   The PCT is just as windy as ever.  What changed?

A few years back Yogi, Eric D, and I were sitting at Grumpy Bear’s catching up.  The bar was packed and we were in a room to the side.  All the current year hikers were 3 deep at the bar getting something to eat and drink.  One of us commented that everyone at the bar was wearing a down jacket.  The three of us sat there in our decade-old Marmot DriClime jackets wondering what these guys wear on the trail when it is windy.

It seems the current trend is hikers use rainwear as a wind barrier.  Not something we would recommend.  The frequency of windy days on the PCT one will want wind protection 50 – 100 days on a thru-hike.   Rainwear isn’t meant to be worn that often without cleaning, washing, and retreating.  The DWR coatings eventually wear off and that is expedited with constant use, sandy shoulder straps, and hip belts.  I’ve found that wearing a rain jacket every day without care will cause it to fail prematurely.  In my experience, it isn’t worth carrying a rain jacket if it won’t keep me dry.

The companies that make rain jackets also make wind jackets.  We recommend hikers carry both.

Thankfully Marmot still makes the DriClime jacket. In fact, Marmot introduced the Ether DriClime Hoody it has a hood and pockets plus Marmot made it much lighter.

These fleece lined wind jackets are incredible and last forever.

It may be a bit heavy for some people or not work with their layering ensemble.  In that case, a lightweight shell may work better.  Black Diamond has a few really impressive light wind shells.

 

 

 

 

 

New to the market is the 48g Deploy Wind Shell it packs down to the size of a golf ball plus it has a DWR treatment.  We just received these recently and haven’t taken them in the field yet.  However, the folks at BD have yet to disappoint us.  The amount of high-quality new apparel they are bringing to market is unreal.

Black Diamond also has the updated Alpine Start Hoody

The Alpine Start Hoody plays right in the middle of a wind shell and a lined wind jacket.  This is a Schoeller stretch-woven fabric jacket that is perfect for the Sierra.  Highly breathable, weather resistant, and lightweight.

Rab offers a really inspiring item the Kinetic Plus Jacket.

Rab positions this as both a soft shell and a rain shell.  This may prove to be a good hybrid everyday wind and rain jacket.  It has a stretch fabric that has the feel of a softshell jacket.  Plus taped seams and a waterproof membrane.  It boasts an exceptional breathability rating and waterproof measure.  The Kinetic Plus features the nicest hood I have ever tried on.  It has a unique stretch panel on the front of the hood.  Truly a nice touch.

I’ve been using Rab rainwear for most of my trips since 2010.  They are a UK based brand so the zipper is reversed.  However, that is a small price to pay for their quality.

All the above jackets are great to wear over a fleece or a t-shirt.  They work well during strenuous activity or sitting on a ridge taking in the views.  We highly recommend a wind jacket of some sort.  Some may last for a decade or more, our Marmot DriClimes have.  We wear our DriClimes every day, and someday I will be buried wearing one.

I’ve included care instructions from the manufacturers for the more popular fabrics below.  The reality is on a long hike one won’t necessarily have access to Nik Wax products for proper care.

Pertex Care Instructions

eVent Fabric Care Instructions

Our new favorite gloves

Cooler temperatures are here.  I love the weather but my fingertips tend to get cold.  Over 40 years ago I became a pet rabbit attack survivor.  The attack left me needing to get a few fingertips stitched up and reattached.  While I no longer harbor animosity towards rabbits my fingers get cold easily.  Additionally, most days I start hiking before sunrise and add a few hours after dark.  Hopefully, some of my insight will help you keep your hands warm.

On any hike, one should carry gloves every month of the year.  The fabric weight and or the number of layers will be what changes.  Remember that a day hike can turn into an overnight hike with a twist of an ankle.  I believe any time I walk into the woods I should be able to spend the night.  Including day hikes.

For over ten years I layered my gloves just like the rest of my body.  Typically using a glove liner in conjunction with a more durable shell and or a rain/wind shell.  When it rained no combination seemed to work well enough at keeping me warm and dry.  Nothing was exactly right.  The wind cut right through liners and wearing a liner and a shell was overkill on most mornings.  When it rained none of the rain shells kept me dry enough.  Unless I went with a Marmot PreCip and they were just too bulky feeling and overkill for most situations.  Complicating matters trekking poles tend to wear out liners really fast around the thumb and palm.  So, if one uses trekking poles the glove they wear should have a reinforced palm.

Last year, we found that CAMP had some great gloves incorporating all the features Yogi and I wanted in one glove.  We wanted something that was not too bulky, shed wind well, kept us warm at reasonable temps for a 3 season hike. We finally saw the CAMP G Comp Wind and CAMP G Comp Warm.  They are light at 3.5 oz and 4.1 oz respectively and are priced at what one would pay for liners and a shell glove.   The stowaway mitten isn’t obtrusive or feel weird at all when stowed.  We live at 6,200′ in the Southern Sierra and love these gloves.  These two gloves will be my go-to gloves going forward for any 3 season hikes, and stretching into winter with the CAMP G Comp Warm.

~Worldwide

 

My take on rain jackets

Fall is in the air.  FB related hiking groups are forming, people are joining, questions and answers are flying.  It happens every year.  Someone posts a gear related question.  They get fifty knee jerk reaction responses on what someone uses, but rarely if ever how they use it.  Time for my knee jerk commentary I guess.  Rain wear can be expensive, it is also necessary.  There is so much variation between the products it can take forever to figure out which one is appropriate for the trip at hand.  It isn’t as simple as, “Does it have pit zips”? or “Is it hook and loop wrist closure”?  What follows is my best initial effort to try to help demystify the purchase of rain jackets.

I find there are three types of rain wear users.  One type of user puts on a rain jacket to find the first flat spot and set up camp.  The second type is the person that will hike towards the daily mileage objective until the weather gets crazy.  The third type of user is the person that is going to push through every bad weather situation they face.  Rarely do these people like the same rain wear.  In addition, all the technical differences between products make it very confusing.

Rain jackets typically fall into three price categories; $99-$149 not so breathable, $150-$250ish lightweight breathable, and the $250+ performance fabric products.  They all have different breathability, water repellent ratings, features, and durability.

If one tends to set up camp at the first drop of rain don’t spend a ton of money.  The $99 – $149 price tier is fine, and all are virtually the same.  They tend to not vent enough under movement.  However, they are very waterproof.  So, if one is standing around camp during a rain storm they are fine.  It is hard to stay dry hiking in these because they trap so much water vapor from perspiration.  Look for features you require; pit zips, adjustable hood, wrist closures.

If one decides to push through their fair share of rain storms they tend to spend a bit more on their rain shell.  The products in this price range are the most popular choice and tend to perform well on the PCT, JMT.  These fit into a $150-$249 price category in the 6-8 ounce weight class.  Make sure that these still have the features and fabric performance desired.  I find that most of the products in this class wet out after a few hours in heavy rain.  Nothing is perfect, but the OR Helium II is as close as I can currently find.  Things may change come January, Black Diamond is shipping us their new rain wear.  It is a little less expensive than the OR Helium II.  The Black Diamond product does have a stretch fabric and great features.  I believe it will prove the best weight (around 8-9 oz), feature, and priced jacket for 2018.  I’m really stoked to get mine.

The most expensive price tier of $250+ is a serious financial commitment, and may not be worth the investment.  Things you find in this category are mostly comprised of Goretex or eVent fabrics. These aren’t necessarily the lightest items either.  I use these more for alpine mountaineering or ice climbing.  I used a Rab Alpine Latok on the CDT in summer and fall, and CT during the fall.  I used it mostly for the CDT because my lightweight jacket was wrecked.  Also, I didn’t feel like buying another jacket when I had a fine but heavier jacket in my gear closet.  We had some massive thunderstorms on the divide and the jacket was great.  Using the Latok Alpine on the CT in September it was perfect.  The Latok shell has worked great in many alpine environments too.

Things I’ve noticed;

  • Breathable fabrics tend to not perform as intended in humid environments.
  • Not using my rain gear as a wind shell extends the life of my jackets.
  • You will eventually get wet wearing a rain jacket in an extended storm.
  • Go up one size from your normal jacket to fit a midweight down jacket underneath.
  • It rains everywhere, even the desert
  • Make sure to follow the care instructions from the manufacturer

Hope this helps,

Matt
Triple Crown Outfitters

Outdoor Retail Wrap Up

Over the last few days, Yogi and I went on a road trip to Salt Lake City, UT  in order to see the new products for 2018.  After making several laps around the Salt Palace Convention Center and dozens of meetings we decided on quite a few new products for the store.  We are also receiving a few things we weren’t sure of but merit giving them a try.  Please check back as we test and review the new products.

Matt