Bears like food, in fact, they like your food, a lot. Having a rock sack when out on overnight hikes, camping or hunting will allow you to hang your food high up out of a bear’s reach.
What is a Rock Sack?
The term “rock sack” was coined by hikers who trekked along the Pacific Crest Trail. Often on this hike, hikers would encounter bears and these hikers needed a way to keep their food off the ground and away from bears.
You will often hear these referred to as “bear bags” as well.
While you don’t need anything special to hang a bag of food, the rock sack contraption makes life much easier to put the food up and get the food back down.
I mean, sure, you could climb a tree yourself and hang the food, but, uhh…..I’m not much of a climber and once I’ve been out all day hiking, camping, or hunting, the last thing I want to do is find and claim a tree to hang food. I’ll just keep a rock sack handy.
t’s called a rock sack because there is a small “sack” that is made of various lightweight materials designed to hold several small rocks. A person can use this to act as a counterbalance and toss the rock sack over a high tree limb and pull up their food items out of a bear’s reach, making your outdoor adventure safer for you, and the bears.
How to Make Your Own DIY Rock Sack?
Let’s start with the pieces that make this a rock sack:
- A small bag on one end (that’s the rock sack) around the size of your hand or even smaller.
- A string, small rope, or cordage that is affixed to the rock sack (or can be affixed) and is generally around 50ft long, give or take.
- Sometimes, there is a small anchor piece attached to the rope to assist in tie-off options.
And that’s really it when it comes to a rack sack! They are pretty simple as a design and when not being used, the rope can be wound up and stuffed back inside the rock sack for the next use.
To Make your own rock sack, just find a small cloth or cheesecloth style baggie. You want to keep this around 4”x5” and maybe even smaller. At the mouth of the sack, you need a way to close the top so the rocks don’t fall out when tossed, but can be reopened as closed as needed when using the rock sack each time.
To do this, just create a drawstring-styled mouth or use the existing string to tie it off. Then take a 50ft piece of paracord or similarly durable cordage to affix to the rock sack.
And that’s really it! Rock Sacks are admired because of their simplicity and effectiveness, there is really no need to overthink this.
As stated earlier, you don’t specifically need a rock sack purchased from a store, remember, like all things, you can make your own if you’re crafty. If not, just grab one from Amazon or other places, they are cheap, easy, and very lightweight.
How to Anchor or Tie Off a Rock Sack
Once you have tossed your rock sack over a tree limb that can support your food bag’s weight and you have pulled the food up to an acceptable height, you need to tie that string off on something otherwise you will meet your bear at 2am still holding the string.
Let’s avoid that and use the following methods to anchor the rope:
Option 1: The Limb Tie Off
Tie the rope off on an existing tree limb nearby. This option is easy and requires no other equipment. However, depending on where you are at, some aspens and other mountain trees do not have any limbs at lower levels so keep this in mind.
Option 2: Tent Stake Tie Off
You most likely have a tent if you are using a rock sack. In this case, take an extra tent stake and tie the rock sack string off on the tent stake and then drive the tent stake into the ground at an angle where the stent stake is angled back at the string. This creates enough in-ground leverage
Option 3: The Heavy Rock Anchor
This isn’t the best option by any means, but if you’re in a pinch and don’t have any tent stakes and don’t have any tree limbs, find a heavy rock and tie off the string on a nearby rock for a good anchor to secure your rock sack.
Option 4: The built-in Rock Sack Anchor
Some pre-made purchased rock sacks come with a little metallic or plastic “keychain” looking device that is meant to be used as a built-in anchor point. Depending on the brand or style you bought, just refer to the included instructions on how it will anchor the rock sack.
Who Needs a Rock Sack?
Here is a quick checklist to help you determine if you need a rock sack:
- Will you be staying in a wilderness area for more than a few hours where you need to have food unattended?
- Are there bears or other predatory animals who may want that tasty food?
- Are you able to fight off the bear or scare it away with your early morning bed head?
If you answered yes to all of those (well, not the last one) then the answer is simple, yes, you will likely need a rock sack….or fight, you do you.
How To Use a Rock Sack?
So, you’ve got your rock sack, you’ve been booking all day, and it’s time for bedtime. But first, you need to secure that food!
You noticed at the trailhead the signs saying “Be Bear Aware” and well, your bear fighting skills are not quite polished enough to take on the local Yogi, so this time, you’ll spare the bear a battle and just hang the food to avoid the confrontation altogether….Wise choice, partner.
Once you’re at your camp for the evening, you finished chow, and it’s time to start getting ready for bed, now is the time to go find a tree that can support the food bag you have. Keep in mind the weight of your bag and the ability of the tree you pick. Don’t toss a 40lb food bag on the limb of a small tree, seems obvious but you know, here we are.
Where To Use The Rock Sack?
I recommend finding a tree that’s not directly located next to camp. Think about it, if the smell of food attracted a bear, although he can’t access your food (thanks to this sweet article) he will still start sniffing around your camp, not the best guest, I know. Find a tree just a little way outside of your camp and that should be just fine.
The Perfect Tree Rock Sack Placement
Once you find your tree a bit off of camp, it’s time to figure out where on the tree to toss the rock sack.
Don’t throw the rock sack over a limb where the food will be close to the truck of the tree. You want to throw the sack over the limb but a few feet away from the trunk. You see, bears can climb and climb well, but they don’t have the ability to climb up and reach 4 or 5ft away to grab the food bag.
If you toss the rock sack over the limb and the food is hanging 12 inches from the tree trunk, the bear will say thanks, climb up and grab your food. If that same food is hanging further away, they bear might come to check it out, but won’t be able to reach it.
Additionally, the height of the food should be around 15ft off the ground. Any lower and you risk the chances of a taller bear reaching up and snagging the base of your food bag. Think of it as a bears birthday party and your food in the pinata.
Attached to the sack on one end is a length of durable string or thin rope (think paracord in thickness), this allows the person to swing and toss the rock sack over a high hanging tree branch while holding onto the string. On the other end of the string, the camper will affix a bag of their food items.
Once you’re ready to use it, just find a few small stones or rocks and place them inside the sack so that there is enough weight for you to effectively toss the sack over a tree limb. If it’s too light, it won’t go anywhere and if it’s too heavy, you will get tired trying to heave a bag of rocks up into the air. This is another area we won’t overthink.
Once the rock sack has been tossed over the tree branch, this allows the camper to then pull the food items up off the ground and out of a bear’s reach. Once the food is high enough, the camper can then tie the string off at a lower branch or use the supplied anchor.
What Are Rock Sacks Made Of?
Generally, they are just a fabric sack made of various cloths like cheesecloth styled fabric and in some cases a more weather resistant cloth. Some are cheap and some are fancy, just depends on what you end up making or buying.
Let’s not get too deep into this area, It’s a small sack that holds little rocks, okay?
Where To Buy a Rock Sack?
Rock Sacks can generally be found at hiker and camping supply stores…but not all. If you have a trip coming up in bear country, I recommend just grabbing one beforehand. Not all stores carry these items like they would a headlamp or sleeping bag, rock sacks are a bit more specific and not always available.
These few below are popular, highly rated, and very affordable Rock Sacks on Amazon:
- Selkirk Waterproof Bear Bag Rock Sack
- Liberty Mountain Bear Bag
- Ursak Allmighty Bear Bag
- Ursak Major Bear Bag
Also, while in bear country, don’t forget your bear spray! It will run your over $50 at the local quick stops where they prey on people who forgot essentials, save yourself a lot by grabbing it before you go, these are some really good bear spray options:
- Sabre Frontiersman Bear Spray with Holder
- Guard Alaska Bear Spray with Holder
- Counter Assault EPA Certified Bear Spray
- UDAP Bear Spray 2-Pack
If you’re not sure what else to bring in the backcountry, check out our Essentials For Backcountry Camping.
Conclusion on Rock Sacks
Well, folks, that’s it! You have been schooled in the world of Rock sacks. Now you know what they are, how to use them, and where to get them. While bear encounters are rare, its best to be prepared when, or if, it does occur!
Now, you know the drill, go GET OUTSIDE!