Yosemite and Sequoia Kings Canyon

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Yosemite and Sequoia Kings Canyon are currently reviewing the current version of the Ursack S29 AllWhite for use in those Parks. I do not know when they will make their decision or what that decision will be. In a recent letter to them, I pointed out that the recent release of the movie Wild and the upcoming release of the movie A Walk in the Woods are very likely to lead to an increase in long distance backpacking, and that thru-hikers are already making equipment choices for this year. Hopefully, these Parks (and others) will acknowledge that IGBC certification and the 2014 Ursack’s perfect record against wilderness bears warrants approval.

Happy New Year!

Book & Film Recommendations

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A few book and movie recommendations. All consider themes of man in nature:

“Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. “Wild” the movie starring Reese Witherspoon.

An absorbing account of the author’s 1000 mile solo trek on the PCT. The book has received deservedly high praise and continues to be a best seller. The movie is a worthy adaptation.

“A Walk in the Woods”

by Bill Bryson. Published in 1999, this is a highly readable tale of the author’s attempt to rediscover America on the Appalachian Trail.

“The River Why”

Screenplay by Ursack’s founder/CEO (Tom Cohen) and produced by Mrs. Ursack (Kristi Denton Cohen) is available at www.theriverwhy.com (and everywhere else). Sick of living in a home shrouded with secrets, lies and a smothering sense of competition, Gus (Zach Gilford, Friday Night Lights) runs away from home and the shadow of his famous fly-fishing father (William Hurt). Determined to live life like on his own terms, Gus makes his new home in a secluded cabin on the banks of a river where he plans to fish all day. Instead, he is propelled into a quest for self-discovery. An assortment of eccentric characters, including a free-spirited girl (Amber Heard, Zombieland) who shares his fondness for fishing, helps him find his way toward adulthood. Based on a book that has become a cult classic and set in the breathtaking wilds of Oregon.

“Vertical Frontier”

Narrated by Tom Brokaw, produced and directed by Kristi Denton Cohen, this is the award winning documentary of the history of Yosemite rock climbing. From John Muir in the 1860s to the super athletes of today, “Vertical Frontier” is the character-driven story of the art, sport and philosophy of climbing the legendary big walls of Yosemite. Illustrated by spectacular old and new footage shot on those granite walls, the story is told by the climbers. Available at verticalfrontier.org.


Randy and Scott

Awaiting the official certification letter

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We are still awaiting the official certification letter and number from the IGBC, but can share some of the details. At IGBC insistence, we baited an Ursack S29 AllWhite, knotted it securely and placed it on the ground with no aluminum liner and not tied to a tree. The first two grizzlies went at it for an active 57 minutes. One of the bears was nick-named “The Destroyer,” but neither he nor his sister were able to compromise the Ursack. The Grizzly Wolf and Discovery Center rotates bears in and out at approximately one hour intervals. So the Destroyer went back to his quarters and five, count ‘em, five more grizzlies came out to work on the same Ursack. The IGBC testing protocol requires a total of 60 minutes of active bear encounters, so even though we needed just a few minutes more to pass the test, there was no way to get the Ursack out until the five bears finished their shift. Not to worry. Ursack made if for another hour. A total of seven grizzly bears and two hours of active clawing, biting and scratching–yet Ursack survived. After washing the Ursack one could barely (bearly?) tell that it had been attacked.

Here is a picture of Randy Gravatt of the Wolf and Grizzly Discovery Center in West Yellowstone (left) and Scott Jackson of IGBC (right) after the test.


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Ursack was tested in two configurations by the IGBC at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone on May 30, 2013. I was there for both tests. Check out a video excerpt on our Bear Test Videos page. This is a slightly newer version (since April 2013) of the Ursack S29 AllWhite which is sewn with Spectra thread. Ursack did extremely well. The IGBC test protocol requires that a product must survive 60 minutes of bear contact, which is defined as: “biting, clawing, pounding, rolling, compressing, licking or scratching.” More than one Grizzly worked on the Ursacks, but the clock only runs while a bear is actively engaged. In one test, at least three (possibly four) bears attacked a baited unlined Ursack tied about five feet up a tree trunk. At the end of 60 minutes, the Ursack was fully intact with no punctures or tears. I easily untied it from the tree and opened it without the use of tools. The current IGBC published protocol states that: “If the product is not breached within the required 60 minutes of bear contact time, it will be considered to have “passed” the captive bear test.”

In the other test, an Ursack with an aluminum liner was placed on the ground and not tied to anything. Sam and Illie–a brother sister tag team (Sam weighs 950 pounds)–attacked the Ursack. This bag was torn after approximately forty three minutes of contact. My interpretation is that the grizzlies were able to use their massive shoulder strength and claws to compromise the Ursack. Black bears are very different. They do not have the shoulder strength (no hump) or size of grizzlies and their claws are different. We have tested lined Ursacks on the ground with captive black bears and the Ursacks have easily survived. In the thirteen years we have been in business selling across North America (including Alaska and Canada), I have never heard of a grizzly compromising an Ursack.

It is my very strong belief that Ursack, whether lined with aluminum or not, tied up a tree or not, would pass a captive bear test with black bears. I suspect that an Ursack (aluminum lined or not) tied up a tree to minimize claw and shoulder advantage would survive a captive grizzly test.

The IGBC has not issued its official evaluation yet. We hope to receive approval within a couple of weeks. Stay tuned. I will post video excerpts of the IGBC test soon.

Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon (SEKI)

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Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon (SEKI) responded to our December letter (below). Those Parks have, until further notice, turned over the testing of Ursack to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC). If the IGBC certifies Ursack as “bear resistant,” it will be allowed in Yosemite and SEKI. However, IGBC has no authority to formally approve containers such as Ursack. Such approval will be periodically reviewed.

Ursack has contacted the IGBC, which informed us that the testing protocol for fabric containers is not finalized and therefore IGBC is not yet ready to accept Ursack for testing. Ursack is, of course, eager to get testing underway. We cannot predict when that will happen.

There is some reason for optimism. Part of the IGBC test for hard sided containers has for years involved giving containers to grizzlies at the Wolf and Grizzly Discovery Center in West Yellowstone. Ursack informally provided a S29 AllWhite Hybrid (i.e. with aluminum liner) to the Grizzly Discovery Center in September 2011, and it survived a two hour bout with a grizzly. We assume that, generally smaller, black bears are less able to compromise bear resistant containers.

For now,we hope that the IGBC can promptly come up with a fair test for Ursack, and arrange for testing well before this summer.

Dear Superintendents

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Here is the letter we sent today to the Superintendents of Yosemite, Sequoia-Kings Canyon, Devils Postpile and Olympic National Parks:

Dear Superintendents:

It is my understanding that your agencies have, since as early as 2008, stopped accepting bear-resistant food storage containers for evaluation. As you may know, Ursack manufactures bear resistant food bags made for backpackers from bullet proof fabric, and has done so since 2000. Many backpackers prefer to use Ursack over the much heavier hard-sided canisters (e.g. Garcia, BearVault). Since you no longer evaluate canisters, and because previous models of Ursack are not approved, we—along with other innovators and our customers–have been locked out of your Parks. In effect, the government has granted a monopoly to existing manufacturers.

This letter is to ask for one of two solutions.

1. Adopt the policy that has been in effect in Inyo National Forest since 2008. That policy requires that: “visitors must use bear-resistant containers, designed specifically to protect food from bears.” Inyo does not maintain a list of approved containers; OR

2. Promptly institute an evaluation protocol that fairly tests all new products that are submitted. Before final adoption, any protocol should take into account comments from the industry and users.

Of the two options, Ursack greatly prefers the first. There is abundant evidence that the Inyo model works. Here is what our evidence shows.

Ursack began selling the S29 AllWhite in 2009. It is made of the same Spectra material that we used in the (green) S29s in 2008 and earlier. There are two differences: because campers had a hard time tightly cinching the older S29s with aluminum liner—the “S29 Hybrid”—we eliminated the fabric coating and improved the closure mechanism on the AllWhite. The field results over the last three years have been excellent.

With thousands of Ursacks in use around the world, there has not been a single failure of an S29 AllWhite Hybrid ever. Not one.

Even when the S29 AllWhite has been used without the aluminum liner (which is how most campers prefer it), the number of bears that have gotten food rewards in the last three years is miniscule. In 2011 a bear tore a seam at 1000 Island Lake. There was one instance of seam failure in Colorado and another at South Lake Tahoe. In 2010, there was a seam torn by a bear in the Desolation Wilderness, and a minor tear at Mammoth. In 2009, a bear tore a seam at Lake Ediza in Inyo and another bear ripped into an Ursack at Kearsarge Lake. In short, other than the seam failures, even unlined Ursacks have performed well over the last three years. As you know, no bear canisters are perfect. All have failed on occasion.

The seam issue has now been resolved. This fall, while testing the S29 AllWhite Hybrid at the Grizzly Discovery Center in West Yellowstone (where the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee tests bear canisters), we discovered that coating the seams with SeamGrip was highly effective. A very large grizzly worked on Ursack for 2 hours without success, which contrasted with an earlier test of a bag with an uncoated seam. As a result, since October, all new Ursacks come with SeamGrip.

In addition to our own successful testing at the Grizzly Discovery Center and the Folsom Zoo, there have been two recent independent successful zoo tests. Wired Magazine tested with a grizzly (and Orangutans) at the Fresno Zoo and wrote about it (comparing it to BearVault) in the March 2010 issue. Patti Sowka, who has worked closely on bear testing with the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and others, tested the AllWhite with Arizona bears.

Ultimately, canisters, including Ursack, are not the problem. According to Humboldt State/Kate McCurdy’s comprehensive study of canister use non-compliance (overflow)—the inability or unwillingness of campers to pack all their food into a single canister—is the problem. Backpackers overwhelmingly (87%+) want to comply with the rules, but simply cannot reasonably carry more than one hard-sided canister. The study, commissioned by Yosemite, shows that campers are “sixty times more likely to lose food to a bear if one were to enter their camp while they are out of compliance.”

In short, three years of wilderness experience by actual campers proves that the AllWhite works exceptionally well, and no aluminum lined Ursack S29 AllWhites have ever failed. There is no rational basis to deny campers the right to use Ursack in your Parks.

Please either adopt the Inyo policy or develop a fair testing protocol.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you so that we can address this issue before the 2012 camping season.

If you have any questions feel free to Email Us