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Desert Touring - what to do with food?

Old 09-28-10, 09:34 PM
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Desert Touring - what to do with food?

Quick question for all you SW US desert tourers...What should I do with my food during the night? I know in bear country it needs to be hung, but what about coyote country? I suspect that they will be few and far between, but I would prefer not to wake up to a coyote in my tent eating all my delicious snacks. So...what to do?

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Old 09-28-10, 10:52 PM
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I've had more trouble with raccoons than anything else. I've never heard of a coyote bothering food, especially in a tent. We've toured the high desert of OR, WA, ID, and WY without trouble. My wife and I have been backpacking and climbing for a long-time, and have encountered pesky bears, squirrels, raccoons, ravens, camp robbers (Clark's nut crackers and gray jays), but no coyotes.
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Old 09-28-10, 10:55 PM
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Well, you could do what I've done for 40 years with never a problem. Carry an ordinary garbage bag with you. In the evening, take every bit of food you have with you and put it in the bag and wind up the neck tightly. That includes everything in every bag on your bike. You should also include any toiletries with an odor - or better yet, leave that stuff home. Then put the garbage bag into your sleeping bag or tent stuff sack. Put the sack in the tent. Even rodents can't smell it. This means it's a PITA to have a snack in the middle of the night, but it's worth it. Be sure to keep the garbage bag with the inside always in. For extra insurance, try to find a box of those recycled garbage bags with the perfumy smell. I've tried all manner of schemes but this is the only one that's always worked.

Otherwise, use good camp discipline. Wash your dishes with soap and hot water. Discard all wash and draining water at a distance from your tent. Etc.
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Old 09-29-10, 05:03 AM
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I subscribe to the no food in the tent, ever, approach. In the desert and elsewhere food stays in the panniers and on the bike in places where I judge the risk minimal, in a bear box where they are provided, and in a plastic bag inside a stuff sack and hung when possible where I judge there is risk, but no bear box is available.

I have improvised in various other ways... In a campground in Colorado I put our food in a vanity inside the bathroom. A couple times I put food inside a power box. Sometimes I have asked to put our food in someone's car.

Raccoons are the most likely raiders other than bears, although I have also had mice get into my food once. Funny thing is that the time the mice got in was one of the few times I bothered to hang the food on that trip.

Actually I have never had critters of any sort get into my food in the desert though. The few places I ever had a problem were all in the forest, the exception being a crow who persistently, but unsuccessfully kept trying to open a pannier that had food in it.
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Old 09-29-10, 07:21 AM
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I've had problems in the desert with mice. But in 15 years of desert camping, I have never, never had a coyote come calling. I would not bother hanging food, and just leave it on the bike in a sealed container.
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Old 09-29-10, 08:28 AM
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No food in tent is sound practice.

Even without food in tent, mice at campsites can be pernicious to your sleep while they run up and over the canopy of the tent all night long as if it were a mouse roller coaster.

Bag food and hang it or leave it on the bike.
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Old 09-29-10, 07:40 PM
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My UR sack has kept critters with large and small teeth out of my food while touring by bike or kayak. I have an older model without the aluminum insert but it has been fine even on the Divide Ride in bear country in BC and Montana. https://www.ursack.com
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Old 09-29-10, 09:08 PM
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How much food? When in 'critter' country, with no bears, I use an empty 1-gal paint can to store up to 2 days worth of food. Empty cans can be bought at larger home improvement stores (Lowes, Home Depot) or specialty paint stores for $5-$6. Its metal, so mice, foxes, racoons, coyotes can't get into it. Use a lock to hook it to a fixed object (even your bike) to prevent a critter from carrying or dragging it off.

A paint can won't work with a bear (common small-ish black bears); they'll just smash it open.
 
Old 09-29-10, 11:05 PM
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I had a bear vault on my tour in the SoCal deserts this winter. Didn't meet any bears but there were lots of hungry raccoons and ground squirrels especially nearer the coast.

The Bear vault is great for sitting on if the ground is wet or cold (or your knees are getting old :/ and for washing clothes in.
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Old 09-29-10, 11:33 PM
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Originally Posted by Bekologist
No food in tent is sound practice.

Even without food in tent, mice at campsites can be pernicious to your sleep while they run up and over the canopy of the tent all night long as if it were a mouse roller coaster.

Bag food and hang it or leave it on the bike.
Used to do that 40 years ago. Strings attached to food sacks are just asking rodents to come and dine. They know what strings are. And they just love to chew right through anything that's between them and food. I've never camped anywhere where one could hang a bag with the approved geometry: at least 12 feet above ground and 10' from the nearest tree trunk. Try it sometime. I even went to the trouble of bringing mountaineering rescue pulleys, but never could manage it. Even if you could, the chipmunks, etc., run right down those strings and eat into your bag. Between the rodents and the bears, it's become such a problem that it's illegal to hang food in Yosemite National Park. Leaving your food on the bike is really asking for it.

For those wishing a quick review of food hanging techniques, there's this:
https://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-...technique.html
but note that even with the PCT system all the bear has to do is climb the tree. Black bears are very good climbers, though not as good a chipmunks.

For the standard published idiocy, there's this:
https://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/safety/bears.htm
You may wish to do a quick vector analysis of the hang as drawn, not forgetting that the hauling force will be between 4 and 10 times the tension necessary to support the bag, due to friction over the tree limb. Hence the Yosemite regulation. You may also have fun remembering the last time you camped anywhere that the trees looked like this, i.e. were this tall with big branches this low.

I haven't tried an Ursack. Seems like a very good idea. Of course if a bear gets it, it's bye-bye sack and food both, whether or not the bear ever actually gets the food reward. Sure wouldn't leave it in a pannier, though. Rodents eat through panniers easy. They've banned Ursacks in Yosemite because bears were having too much fun with them.
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Old 09-29-10, 11:57 PM
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The Ursack has kevlar closing lines that are used to tie it to a solid object on the ground to prevent dragging away by critters large and small.
When no solid object is available i pound in a long tent stake as a tie off for the Ursack.
I never would put it in a pannier where a critter would destroy the pannier in attempting to reach the Ursack and the food inside.
In my ten years of using the Ursack in Alaska, BC, Alberta and western US locations I have had no food losses or destruction. Maybe i was lucky.
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Old 09-30-10, 05:20 AM
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How much food do you plan on carrying? Small (12" long) food canisters can be made from 4" or 6" PVC pipe with screw top plugs. I have heard that if you place it near your sweaty clothes which are hanging to dry that the human smell keeps most critters away. When backpacking I have never had an isuue with large animals if I stay away from developed sites. It's the campgrounds and parking lots where animals become accustomed to being fed and lose their fear. Most of the food I carry is dried and if not it is in a doubled ziploc bag.
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Old 09-30-10, 05:25 AM
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I lived in the desert for 5 years in Tucson. Coyotes are pretty skittish, but there are also bobcats and javelinas that came around very frequently. Javelinas are notorious for knocking over garbage cans and they can be very dangerous, but usually are not aggressive towards humans. Pack rats can also be a big problem because they just love to chew on electrical wiring (a big problem for those who don't put their cars in a garage at night), but they shouldn't bother a bike. Of course, watch out for rattlesnakes, especially in the fall and spring when the temperature changes and the snakes seek warmer places that are more out in the open.

Also, if you're going to go off road at all, I would strongly suggest slime in your tubes (or slime with tubeless) - lots of pointy sharp things on desert trails.
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Old 09-30-10, 06:23 AM
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As far as taking food into the tent... I don't see that as worth the risk even where the risk is small. The reason I feel that way is that bears, raccoons, or whatever ripping out the side of the tent is a big deal. Losing your food on the other hand would be a minor setback on most bike tours. I try very hard to avoid that more because I don't want to train the bears to associate people and food than because I am worried about losing my food.

Hanging food... I don't use this method when there are other options like a bear box or a neighbor in a campground's car (don't do the car thing in Yosemite or Sequoia though).

That said, I have used one or another of the various methods for hanging food quite a bit for the last 40+ years of canoeing, kayaking, backpacking, and bicycling in places like Great Smokey Mountains, Yellowstone, the North Maine woods, and the Adirondacks. It is difficult at times but usually do able. I have probably been lucky, but I have never had a bear get my food. I have had raccoons get in to my food once when I didn't bother to hang it, and rodents a couple times, once when it was hung and once when it wasn't.

There have been times when I have not had a place to adequately hang food, but I just did the best I could. A few times that meant putting it in as odor-proof of a bag as I had and leaving it on the ground well away from the tent. I have only done this where there was no other option and no specific applicable regulations.

In places like Sequoia and Yosemite I have always stayed in campgrounds and used the bear boxes.
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Old 09-30-10, 10:33 AM
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Originally Posted by carbonfiberboy
Used to do that 40 years ago. Strings attached to food sacks are just asking rodents to come and dine. They know what strings are. And they just love to chew right through anything that's between them and food. I've never camped anywhere where one could hang a bag with the approved geometry: at least 12 feet above ground and 10' from the nearest tree trunk. Try it sometime.
i'm sorry, your story wholly lacks credibility. you used to hang food 40 years ago, but have never been able to effectively hang food? so you choose to put your food in a garbage bag in your tent.

hmm. I've never met such a chronic greenhorn, no offense.

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Old 09-30-10, 11:33 AM
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as an easterner who has camped, canoe camped etc all my life, the big rule out here (vis a vis bears, racoons) is to never, never have food in your tent. Period.

in your sleeping bag-----??

The only reason I am responding to this is to put out another opinion of never storing food in a tent. This goes against a lifetime of being taught never to do it--and not just for the Headline incidents of BEARS, but for even little stuff like mice chewing a hole in your tent to get to some food or food smells.

I would not want someone to read this suggestion of keeping ones food in your tent and/or in ones sleeping bag and to think it was alright.
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Old 09-30-10, 11:42 AM
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I will join the chorus about not putting food in your tent.

In the last five years I have been using the URSack with aluminum insert with great success. I put a plastic plate that just fits the circumference at the top and even squirrels and racoons can't get around into the food. Usually tie it to the picnic table.

Having put all food, toiletries and other smelly things in the sack, I leave my panniers and other bags unzipped and unsnapped (but loosely shut if it's raining) so that critters can explore at will without gnawing through to get in.
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Old 09-30-10, 12:43 PM
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Originally Posted by Bekologist
i'm sorry, your story wholly lacks credibility. you used to hang food 40 years ago, but have never been able to effectively hang food? so you choose to put your food in a garbage bag in your tent.

hmm. I've never met such a chronic greenhorn, no offense.
Hundreds and hundreds of nights camping in the wilderness over a hiking/biking life that started 50 years ago. Heh. If you think this is a "story," you are the greenhorn. Please try the food hanging method of your choice in your next campground and report back, because you evidently haven't even tried it. I haven't had even a mouse run on my tent for decades. No smell to attract critters = no critters. Interesting that the rangers in Yosemite agree with me about food hanging, but not you. Huh. I guess they lack credibility.

An interesting sidelight: Though I've done a lot of camping and biking in the PNW, NE, and Sierras, I hadn't camped in the redwoods before our recent tour. I was extremely surprised not see or hear a single rodent during the whole trip. I'm more accustomed to having them run around my feet when I'm trying to cook. Lots of scavenger birds being a PITA, but no rodents. Don't know why. Heard coyotes, saw deer, elk, and bunnies, and there were bear and bobcats reported in the vicinity of one of our campgrounds.

Yeah, I used to hang food and it usually was a failure. I kept trying different equipment and techniques though, because people like you and the linked folks in Alaska, who are supposed to know what they are talking about, told me that was the thing to do. Took me a decade to figure out that it was all BS and that the thing to do was to eliminate attractors, like food odors and visible bags, strings, and containers. I do use bear boxes or metal pipe hanging contraptions when provided, and they have always worked well.

So do whatever you like. Just thought I'd introduce another opinion and get people thinking about what best to do with their food. Next time one of you have rodent, bear, or raccoon damage, maybe you'll remember what I said, even though some can't even remember it long enough to reply, so probably not much chance.

Recycled garbage bag, the perfumy kind. 7th Generation work well. Put all food in bag. Leave nothing out, not even crumbs. Wring the neck of the bag and fold. Put bag into ordinary stuff or compression sack and seal it, too. Put sack in tent. Don't snack during the night. Bring a couple extra garbage bags. They don't weigh much. Lay one in the vestibule in front of your tent door. Keeps the tent cleaner. Keep the other for backup.

Yep, a lifetime of being told not to do it. I guess kids get a lot of that. It's a complicated world. Kids are information-soaking machines. So they get told never to go with strangers, until they get lost in the mall and won't let an employee take them to the office. But we tell them that because it will often keep them safe. So don't put food in your tent, because most folks don't know enough to do it right, and it's just safer to let it be eaten by whatever animal happens to come by. Sometimes though, some adults feel strong enough to make their own choices.
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Old 09-30-10, 01:09 PM
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the bizarro, alternate universe world of the carbon fiber touring rider, garbage bag food in the tent storing cyclist!~

carbonfiberboy thinks his food doesn't smell because he's put it in a perfumey garbage bag. an interesting perspective.

Glad you've figured out a system for you despite it being so far afield from reality i have no option other than to consider it a sign of a chronic greenhorn.

You seem proud to be such a contrarian. no offense intended, i simply find your food storage method downright wacky.

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Old 09-30-10, 01:19 PM
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hi carbon, Ive read posts from you before, you're pretty even handed and have put down very useful stuff.

I guess we shall just have to agree to disagree on this one. Out here in the NE we have bears, on canoe camping trips we've had them come around cmapsites, but mostly though, racoons and such are the pesky guys. I've been out camping since I was knee high to a grasshopper and for as long as I can remember, so about 40 years, the consensus with the outdoor people my family have been with has never to bring food into a tent.

I can see what you are saying partly, but for me its really down to due to the incredible sense of smell of animals in general, I dont want to take the chance of a bag not being totally sealed, or has a hole we dont see etc etc.
For me its not worth worryng about, so we have always treed our food (yes, a pain, but not a big deal) or if in a cove, rope a canoe out mid cove etc.
I just see the "no food in tent" rule as a good basic rule that keeps it simple, and follow it all the time means you wont have food smells in your tent that critters can smell even if we cant.
People can be sloppy, or as I mentioned, holes in bags etc, or as you said, especially for folks who dont have outdoor experience (not you, I know)

For me, figuring out how to rig up food somewhere isnt really a big deal or time spent for me. And yes, raccoons are especially smart for going up or down ropes etc, so you cant always win, but I dont mind sticking to the "no food in tent" adage.

Oh, canoeing we use those big pickle/olive barrels with the metal ring closey clip thingee a lot, obviously not biking. Actually when I think about it, with the bike touring I have done, I dont usually have that much food with me anyway. Supper stuff is all gone, and I have always just had some breakfast stuff to deal with (not particularly smelly) like some bread, closed yogurt, etc. My experiences with more food has always been hiking or canoeing, so for the amount I would have biking, the multiple plastic bag idea does make a lot of sense, along with a compression sack would do a dandy job of sealing it off.

cheers
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Old 09-30-10, 10:50 PM
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I do come at this more from a backpacking perspective, where if you lose your food, you are roundly screwed. Bike touring isn't so problematical, food-wise as djb points out. There's always more within 2-3 hours ride and you can always use something else instead of the ruined stuff sack. However, like I keep saying, mice don't run on my tent, much less chew holes, i.e. they don't smell anything. If they can't find it, neither can anyone else. I'm not relying on my sense of smell, which I admit is not very good. I've never had a large animal issue, either. But even Grizzly Man got et.

I'm just a scientist, I can't help it. I reason out a hypothesis and test it. If I get a consistent positive result, it's a theory. I first do what others say they do, just in case they're right. But if the hypothesis they're pushing doesn't get a positive result in my experimenting, I don't just keep banging my thumb. I try a different hypothesis and test that.
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Old 10-01-10, 09:33 AM
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Animals can DEFINITELY smell through a garbage bag. Even sealed mylar packaging (such as chip bags or powerbar wrappers) will transmit odor. Low Density Polyethylene LDPE is signifigantly more porous than mylar - to an animal's nose, it might as well not be there.

Hanging food in a tree is not difficult, as attested to by the thousands of backcountry enthusiasts who use this technique. In fact I did it less than a month ago on the Colorado trail.

Finally, having grown up and lived in the desert of southern Arizona, and having extensive experience in the wilds all over the desert states, there are very few critters that will pose a problem in practice outside of bears, coons and peccaries (javelina). you should be fine leaving your food in a bag in your pannier on your bike. This is what I have always done without a problem outside of bear areas. Your most likely annoyance will be javelina who will root through anything smelly, but are easily scared off.
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Old 10-01-10, 11:01 AM
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Originally Posted by positron
Animals can DEFINITELY smell through a garbage bag. Even sealed mylar packaging (such as chip bags or powerbar wrappers) will transmit odor. Low Density Polyethylene LDPE is signifigantly more porous than mylar - to an animal's nose, it might as well not be there.
My experience with dogs would seem to bear that out. I used to have one that would when walking by, not only know which garbage bag had a chicken carcass or ham bone in it, but could plunge her face in at just the right spot to retrieve it without having to root for it. If I didn't keep her on a tight leash she would do this regularly.

My understanding is that bears have much better noses than dogs do, so I personally wouldn't trust Carbonfiberboy's method, especially the part about taking it in the tent. If they really can't smell it through the bag (which I doubt), then taking it in the tent should be unnecessary.
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Old 10-01-10, 06:38 PM
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...and in the desert shake your clothes and shoes to get any scorpions out.
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Old 10-01-10, 11:16 PM
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thats a good point, my step mother got stung by a scorpion in Costa Rica earlier this year, was like a wasp sting in its severity, so not a big danger, but you always hear of them going into shoes etc.
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