Food Storage

Those camping along The Colorado Trail – and elsewhere in Colorado’s backcountry – need to take adequate steps to store their food so that it’s inaccessible to bears and other critters. It’s not only a matter of safety for Trail users, but also for the safety of the wild animals along the Trail. Not to mention the consequences of losing your food supply to a hungry intruder.

Stuff bags on rope in trees

Bear problems along the Trail are on the rise as the black bear population rises (there are no grizzlies in Colorado) and the popularity of the Trail increases. Fortunately, few Trail users report adverse bear encounters, but those that do occur can wreak havoc on the Trail experience. Smaller critters – raccoons, porcupines, skunks, etc. – can do surprising damage to a food supply as well.

Bears that score human food morph into “food bears.” They begin revisiting the same campsites looking for more easy pickings. Bears that are normally spooked by humans become more aggressive and menacing. Bear-human clashes become inevitable.

Man stringing food bags on storage line.
Your plans for a CT trip should include a food storage strategy. Options range from hanging your food bag out of reach of a bear to bear-proof canisters and bags. In no case should you sleep with your food. Hanging your food is the lightest option, but it requires practice, patience and extra time to do it properly. Many CT travelers use a bear-proof bag such as an “Ursack” along with an odor proof plastic bag like an “Opsak” as a liner.

One example of the recent-year bear problems along The Colorado Trail is nuisance bear activity in the heavily used Segment 1, including the Bear Creek and West Bear Creek campsites. Several hikers have lost food and equipment, their trips upended or ruined. This has happened in this area over and over. Colorado Division of Wildlife has periodically put up signs warning: “CAUTION, BEAR ACTIVITY. Exercise proper camping and food storage! Be bear aware!”

Forest Service authorities have added some stricter regulations. The CT now has some corridor pass-throughs, for example in San Isabel and Pike National Forests, where there’s stricter rules in effect along popular car camping roads. The regulation requires that food be stored in hard canisters or hung 10 feet above ground 4 feet from the trunk of the tree. No consideration is given for Ursacks, so within the described zones, even Ursacks likely need to be hung. The zones are 1/2 mile wide, 1/4 mile on each side of the roads. Roads included are Halfmoon (Segs 10 & 11), Winfield (Segs 11, 12, CW01 & CW02), Hancock (Seg CW04), Cottonwood (Seg 13, CW02 & CW03), Mt. Princeton / Chalk Creek (Segs 13 & 14), and Buffalo Creek / Little Scraggy (Seg 3). More information on these road corridor food storage regulations appears here:

For more, general information on food storage, here are some helpful links:

Article suggesting hanging is ineffective (Outside Magazine)

Bear-proof “Ursack” bags

Odor proof bags (OPSAK via Amazon)

Bear behavior and tips (Bear Smart Durango)

TWO TREE METHOD (best) for Hanging your food (YouTube)

Bear-proof canisters (REI)

Forest Service site page, “Be Bear Aware”

Black Bears and Thru-Hiking, Common Questions Answered via The Trek