Hanging up your food to avoid bears and other critters is tantamount to keeping these animals away from you and your campsite. It’s also nice to have food for the rest of your trip! Using a rock sack to counterbalance your food is a common technique in the PCT hang method (the name coined from a popular food-hanging method used on the Pacific Coast Trail).
What can be used as a rock sack? The following are different materials that can be used as rock sacks:
- Hang Kits with Rock Bag
- Mesh produce bags
- DIY lightweight cloth bags
- Lightweight drawstring bags
- Tent Stake Bag
- Sleeping Bag Stuff Sack
- The Food Bag
Rock Sack Options
You don’t need to have the most technologically advanced fabric in order to make an effective rock sack. You just want to have a lightweight bag that can sustain the weight of a couple rocks to allow you to throw the bag over a tree branch.
Bear Bagging Kits with Rock Sack
There is not a ton of gear that you need to hang a bear bag. The convenient bear hanging system includes:
- A dry bag that can hold all your food and smelly toiletries that can be rained on without soaking your food
- A Carabiner to clip on to your dry bag and loop the rope through
- A rock sack
If you don’t want to worry about packing these, you can opt to get a bear bagging system with everything included.
Selkirk puts together one and sells it on Amazon,for a reasonable price. Check it out here.
Mesh Produce Bags
We just purchased some of these bags to try and avoid using so many plastic bags for our produce. These are made from a very fine mesh that is strong enough to hold a few pounds of tomatoes, so these will work well for holding a few rocks.
The mesh is fine enough where it won’t catch on large twigs, and because it’s mesh, this is one of the more lightweight options.
I would say, though, that these bags are so lightweight, that I’d worry that they are a little fragile and may eventually tear from the experience of being thrown several times with rocks in them. (I’m talking about someone else, you’ll get it over that branch on the first try, right?)
Mesh Gear Carrying Bags
Our lives are surrounded by containers. I’m sure you’ve purchased something that came in a bag that you weren’t expecting! What happens to all these bags?
Well, they all end up in your garage somewhere or in landfills. But, you can put these bags to good use!
If you bought a small item that came in a lightweight, durable bag, you can use this as a rock sack.
DIY Lightweight Cloth Bags
Another popular option is to make your own small rock sack. You don’t have to make a very big bag at all. In fact, a piece of fabric 3 x 3 inches is all you need to create a big enough rock sack to use.
Since I am not actually very good at crafts, I’m just going to share a video:
She uses Muslin to make her bag, but you can use any kind of fabric you have handy even though some may be easier to work with than others.
This is probably the coolest way to make a rock bag since you can apply your own personal brand to the bag.
Lightweight Drawstring Bags
Remember that free drawstring bag that you got as free swag from that booth you got at a career fair a dozen years ago?
I keep all of those.
These versatile bags are lightweight (usually the free ones aren’t ultralight) and can be used in dozens of ways. Putting a few rocks in them for throwing over a tree branch is just one of the options.
Tent Stake Bag
You may not think of it, but you have bags that come with your tent that are not being used when your tent is in use. Usually you are trying to hang up your food when your tent is pitched, so this may be an easy and viable option.
One downside to using this method is that rocks can damage your bag–if you want your tent stake bag pristine, you might want to try something else. If you don’t care, then this works great!
Sleeping Bag Stuff Sack
Again, since your tent is pitched you probably have your sleeping bag unpacked as well–you can use this sack that will be unused throughout the night as a rock sack as well.
The downside to this option is that these stuff sacks sometimes have straps made for compressing the bag which can catch on twigs on the way down.
The Food Bag
If you don’t have a nice dry bag to hang your food in and instead have another type of bag or sack, and if you don’t mind putting your food in the same bag that you just put a few rocks in, then you may be able to skip using another bag for your rock sack altogether.
No Rock Sack At All
I’ve done this method a couple times with… really not very impressive results. Tying a rope to a rock seems like a great idea, and if you’re good with your knots this can work. But rocks fall a lot less predictably than a rock sack, so it really is worth your time and effort to use some sort of sack to help you in this process.
How Heavy Does a Rock Sack Need to Be?
Your rock sack doesn’t need to hold much. In fact, 1 lb of rock will do just fine for what you need. I wouldn’t throw anything more than 1.5 lbs of rock.
Although it depends on the type of rock, 1 lb of rock roughly translates to about the size of your fist.
What Kind of Knots do I Need to Know to Use a Rock Sack?
When tying your rope that you will be using to hang your food, you can use a myriad of knots, but all you really need to use is a simple slip knot.
With a slip knot, you can put the loop that slip not creates on the top of the bag if it doesn’t have a drawstring, or you can loop the slip knot through the drawstrings if you do have them.
The PCT Method
The PCT method is one of the many methods used for “bear bagging”, or hanging up your food in such a way to be difficult to be reached by bears.
From my research of the topic, I learned that the PCT method has had criticism, and some national parks disallow it. Always check the rules of the park you are visiting so you can abide by its rules. The rules are there for a reason and they will list the safest known methods of storing your food for that particular park.
The PCT method is as follows:
- Tie the standing end of your rope to a tree trunk so you don’t lose your length of rope when you throw your rock sack
- Tie your rope to your rock sack using a slip knot.
- Put 1 lb of rock into your rock sack
- Throw the rock sack over a tree branch, you are trying to maximize the distance from the food to the tree trunk. (Some charts will show 10 feet as a minimum to the tree trunk, and 20 above the ground)
- Repeat as necessary since you probably won’t toss it perfectly the first time
- Once the rock sack is over the branch, allow the rock sack to come back to the ground
- Untie the rope from the rock sack
- Tie the rope to a carabiner
- Attach the carabiner to the food bag, and put the standing end of the rope through the carabiner
- Pull the rope so the food bag is pulled up adjacent to the tree branch
- Tie a toggle (a thumb-width stick will do) to the rope. Allow the food bag to come back until it hits the toggle.
You should now have a food bag that is suspended in the air.
Alternatives to the PCT method
As I mentioned, the PCT method has been criticized for not being effective, especially deep in bear country.
If you’d like to learn about more methods for keeping out bears such as about bear lockers and more info about the below, check out our article about keeping bears away from your campsite, your car, and your food.
Bear canisters are like safes made relatively easy for humans to open but very difficult for bears to crack open. These are proven effective in 99% of cases, although there are rumors of bears getting into these.
Another option is an odor-proof bag. These essentially prevent odors from escaping which is the primary reason for moving your food away from you and your campsite. This isn’t exactly an alternative, and is actually a good idea to use if you are planning on hanging your food (to prevent the smell of food from attracting the bears at all)