This content was last updated on 2023 May 25th

Rules and practices for food storage in Washington

The rules for food storage in Washington are dictated by the three National Forests and two National Parks the PCT runs through.

Between Oregon and Mt Rainier National Park the PCT is in Gifford Pinchot National Forest (GPNF), on the west side of the crest. GPNF has no requirements for food storage.

The PCT is in Mt Rainier National Park (MRNP) for 4.25 non-consecutive miles between Crag Lake and Chinook Pass. Bear cans are not required in MRNP. This is mostly because the designated campsites on the Wonderland Trail have bear poles.

The PCT is in North Cascades National Park (NCNP) for about 17.5 miles, from a point 1.67 miles south of the Agnes Creek bridge to a point 3.22 miles south of Rainy Pass, due west of Stiletto Peak. Every campsite on the PCT within NCNP has a bear box.

Between MRNP and Suiattle Pass the PCT weaves in and out of two National Forests, one on the west side of the crest, and the other on the east side of the crest. Mt Baker-Snoqualmie NF (west) and Okanogan-Wenatchee NF (east). Effective April 15th 2023 the MBSNF issued an order (#6-05-23-02) that food must be either hung 10' x 4', or in IGBC approved containers, or other means not relevant to hikers. The OWNF has not issued any requirements.

North of Suiattle Pass the PCT never re-enters MBSNF. It's all OWNF to Canada (aside from the NCNP part described above).

A list of products approved by the IGBC can be found here.

Because its the lightest one on the list, the Ursak is by far the most popular food storage solution. I personally have doubts about its ability to protect your food if discovered by a bear, but hey, its certified so... It's critical to prevent a bear from discovering it in the first place, so an odor suppressing liner bag, like an Opsack is a good idea. Some people like the heavier hard cans - they make good camp stools, and if you are hiking in a large group the big cans do offer an economy of scale for weight ratio, and they keep food from getting crushed in your pack.

There is one popular product, the carbon fiber Berikade can, that is not IGBC approved but is explicitly approved by the National Park Service. I asked the MBSNF about this product specifically and they confirmed that product is NOT considered acceptable because of the lack of certification. The makers of the Berikade were asked about this and they confirmed that they are NOT seeking IGBC certification because they already have the NPS approval. So I would encourage hikers to either pressure them to seek certification or make a similar product and get it certified - because a carbon fiber can is a no-brainer in 2023.

Note that Ranger Districts and Wilderness Areas are inside of NF space.

My Two Cents On Food Storage

Properly hanging food in Washington is next to impossible in my experience. Either there are no trees, the trees are dead and break or snag your rope, or they are evergreens with droopy J shaped limbs that will not hold your rope 4' from the trunk and 10' off the ground. Even cross hanging between two trees is near impossible and requires more rope than I want to carry. So I have totally given up on hanging food on the PCT.

Proactive bear prevention means doing everything you can to reduce food odors, which ultimately just means use an Opsack or a rubber seal on your bear can. Those containers are only needed reactively if you fail to prevent the bear from detecting your food. But no matter what precautions you take, I promise you that a bear can still smell your food from some distance, in some direction. So personally, I think its crazy to sleep with food in your tent, especially in Section L where there are some grizzly bears.

If you have a bear can then you can simply leave it a few yards *down wind* from your tent. If a bear finds your food it will be because they smelled it on the wind. It's best if your tent is not between the bear and the food it smells. If you have an Ursack then tie it to a tree to prevent a bear from running away with it (bears can't really carry cans). Hang it just high enough to keep rodents from gnawing at it.

Put absolutely anything and everything with a yummy smell in the can or sack; garbage, lip balm, skin lotion, sunscreen, toothpaste, your toothbrush, scented wipes, anything you clean pots with, etc.

Personally, I like to cook food at about 3:00 PM in the peak heat of the day, then continue hiking after I eat. Perferably near a water source. This has these advantages: 1). It keeps cooking smells away from my campsite. 2). It lets me hike right up until sunset because I do not need cook time at camp. 3). I do not need to carry extra water to camp to cook dinner with. 4). If I have leftovers, I just eat them before I camp or at camp.

Try to keep your body upwind of your stove and food as much as possible so your clothes do not smell yummy.