The Ursack Major is the best-known bear bag on the market, the top choice for campers looking to protect their food from animals without the added weight and bulk of a canister. The Ursack Major gets the job done, but it’s not approved for use in all areas with bear safety regulations.
Ursack Major Bear-Resistant Bag
✅ Lighter and more packable than a bear canister
✅ Easy to use
✅ Doesn’t have to be hung high like other bear bags
✅ Quality materials
❌ Not approved for use everywhere in the US
❌ Not critter-proof
❌ Requires additional purchases to be odor and crush-proof
❌ Resists some water, but is not waterproof
- Weight: 7.6 oz
- Capacity: 10.65 liters
- Material: Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWP)
- Dimensions: 12.5 in x 18 in
- IGBC Certified?: Yes
The Ursack Major is an impressive, durable bear bag that can take a beating. In fact, this is one of the only real “bear bags” on the market, in that it’s designed to actually withstand the claws and enterprising spirit of our ursine friends. The rest are just stuff sacks that you can tie up out of the reach of critters.
While buying a quality bear canister provides a greater guarantee that your food and toiletries will stay safe from all animal incursions, the Ursack Major comes close, at a fraction of the weight. Before testing the Major, replacing my canister with a bear bag had never crossed my mind, but I would feel very comfortable taking this one out into the backcountry.
If you’re looking to get the greatest degree of outdoor food protection at the lowest possible weight and don’t like dealing with the rigidity of a canister or the hassle of hanging a bag with cords and carabiners every night, I would enthusiastically recommend the Ursack Major for your kit.
It requires nothing but an easy double overhand knot to be completely sealed, meaning that it’s incredibly easy to use--the packaging even includes a diagram for how to tie that knot.
However, even this IGBC-certified bear bag is not considered adequate food security in several popular backcountry destinations in the United States. As a result, I would not recommend relying solely on the Ursack Major if you plan to do a lot of backpacking in Alaska, Washington, parts of Colorado and California, and along the Pacific Crest Trail.
If you want complete peace of mind about your food (and the health of the local bears) and don’t want to do any research to avoid being ticketed by a ranger, I recommend sticking with a canister.
For other bear bag/bear canister reviews, read our post on the best bear canisters.
Performance Test Results
What We Tested:
How We Tested:
I tested the Ursack Major in southern Michigan during the late winter and early spring. The weather was mostly mild, with temperatures in the high 40s and low 50s. I tested this bag in a bare, deciduous forest in the presence of some birds and small critters. I did not encounter any actual bears during my tests.
The Ursack Major weighs 7.6 ounces, which is heavier than most of its competitors. But the tradeoff is apparent: it’s designed to maximize the amount of protection your food and toiletries get from animals, while most other “bear” bags offer little protection and are just a lightweight system for hauling your food up into a tree.
To wit, the Liberty Mountain Ultralight Bear Bag weighs just 2.2 ounces (without the rope or cord you’ll need to hang it), the Selkirk Design Ultralight Food Hanging System weighs 6.5 ounces (with all cords), the ULA Bear Bag weighs 4.8 ounces (with all cords), and the Hilltop Packs ECOPAK Food Bag weighs either 1.6 or 3.1 ounces (without cords), depending on which fabric you choose.
All of these options, including the Ursack Major, are dramatically lighter than any functional bear canister. At 10.65 liters, the Bearikade weekender has an identical capacity to the Ursack Major but weighs 1 pound, 15 ounces. The BearVault BV500 (11.5 liters) weighs 2 pounds, 8 ounces, while the BV475 (9.3 liters) weighs 2 pounds, 4 ounces. The ~12-liter UDAP No-Fed-Bear canister comes in at 2 pounds, 6 ounces.
Since all of these bags and canisters differ slightly in capacity, it can be helpful to compare their weight-to-volume ratios when choosing a food security system. It’s important to note that some of these weights are for solo bags, and others define a full hanging system of a bag, cords, and carabiners.
Based on the information these brands make available, here’s how they break down:
- Liberty Mountain Ultralight Bear Bag (2.2 oz without cord, 21 liters): 0.13 oz/liter
- Hilltop Packs ECOPAK Food Bag (3.1 oz without cord, 13 liters): 0.24 oz/liter
- ULA Equipment Bear Bag (4.8 oz, 9 liters): 0.53 oz/liter
- Ursack Major (7.6 oz, 10.65 liters): 0.71 oz/liter
- Selkirk Design Food Hanging System (6.5 oz, 9 liters): 0.72 oz/liter
And here’s the breakdown of comparable bear canisters:
- Bearikade Weekender (31 oz, 10.65 liters): 2.91 oz/liter
- UDAP No-Fed-Bear (38 oz, 12 liters): 3.17 oz/liter
- BearVault BV500 (40 oz, 11.5 liters): 3.48 oz/liter
- BearVault BV475 (36 oz, 9.3 liters): 3.87 oz/liter
While using the Ursack Major I couldn’t help but wonder if they could have shaved some ounces from it with a different choice of cinching rope. The bag itself isn’t ultralight for good reason, but the cord itself is a little bulky, and that felt like a place where the weight-to-size ratio could have been improved.
Your choice between the Ursack Major, an ultralight food hanging system, or a bear canister ultimately comes down to how you view the tradeoffs. A bear canister, while significantly heavier than the Ursack or other food bags, provides the greatest degree of security from animals and weather with basically no hassle.
If you’re a hiker who religiously counts ounces--or pounds, in this case--and don’t mind the nightly exercise of rigging up your system, one of the ultralight options is going to be the easy choice. And if you’re aiming for the intersection of low weight/decent security/low hassle, the Ursack is probably your best bet. Just make sure you’re taking it into an area where it’s approved for use.
As someone who cares more about avoiding extra hassle than avoiding extra weight, and likes a container that can double as a camp seat, I still prefer my trusty bear canister. But hey--hike your own hike.
The Ursack Major weighs 7.6 ounces.
Retailing for a cool $109.95, the Ursack Major has the second biggest price tag of all the backcountry food security options we compared. But there’s some logic to that cost: the Major occupies a unique market niche, as Ursack bags are designed to be able to withstand a bear’s attempts to get to their contents with none of the heaviness and rigidity of a canister.
There’s also something to be said for the peace of mind that comes with an Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee certification and an accompanying limited lifetime warranty that guarantees a replacement for any properly-used bag that gets a puncture larger than a quarter inch from a bear. If you’ve seen what bear claws can do to a tree trunk or animal carcass, you know it’s no small thing to guarantee your fabric against them.
That said, using the Major, you do get the sense that you’re partially paying for the brand name. The design and construction are very simple, and if you don’t get your knot right you may need to work a little bit to seal off the contents from enterprising critters of all sizes.
Still, these are small quibbles. Major bear canister brands are also simply designed and pretty pricey, with a new Bearikade Weekender retailing for a whopping $359.00. A new BV500 goes for a more modest $94.95 and a BV475 for $89.95. The No-Fed-Bear from UDAP is a little cheaper, at $79.99.
From there it’s a sharp dropoff to the cost of any of the other bags we compared, a pleasant surprise given the typical price tags for boutique ultralight gear. The ULA Bear Bag and Hilltop ECOPAK Food Bag will both run you about $54.00, while the Liberty Mountain Bear Bag costs $38.99 (when it’s in stock) and the Selkirk Design system is just $32.95.
Again, the difference between the Ursack Major and these other bags is that the Major is the only one explicitly designed to prevent animals from getting to its contents, which is what accounts for its significantly higher cost. In the event of an actual bear encounter in the backcountry, that would probably seem like a small price to pay.
The Ursack Major is priced at $109.95.
I’ll confess: one of the things I like best about long backpacking trips is that I get to eat like there’s no tomorrow. My wife and friends still love to tell the story of the time they visited me on the Pacific Crest Trail and I pulled a gallon bag out of my pack filled with nothing but candy bars. I’ve grown up a little since then, but I would guess my daily backpacking food intake is still on the high side.
With all that in mind, I measured the Ursack Major as having the capacity for approximately four days of food, plus my small toiletry bag. It’s billed as having the capacity for five days or more.
If you’re not a compulsive snacker, or you limit yourself to mostly dehydrated and calorie-dense meals, five days’ worth of your food and toiletries would likely fit in the Major. But if you do like to eat on the trail, or like to carry inefficient foods like potato chips or a jar of peanut butter with you between towns, you might want to consider either a separate rig for toiletries or an upgrade to the Ursack Major XL.
Size-wise, the Ursack Major is right in the middle of the pack among comparable products on the market. There are many options in the nine-liter range, and a handful of choices more voluminous than the 10.65 liters of space in the Major. (You can look back at the “weight” section of this review for a full breakdown of the differing sizes).
The capacity of the Ursack Major is 10.65 liters, which can last you 4-5 days.
Ease of Opening: 9/10
Even when knotted securely, I had no trouble quickly getting the bag open. While I had quibbles with the overall bulk and quality of the cinching rope, its thickness made getting the knot undone a breeze.
If you’ve ever tried to get a knot out of paracord when your hands are cold and wet or had to chip frost off a BearVault to find the right place to push down on the locking mechanism, you’ll appreciate the difference here.
The way that the bag is threaded to close securely does mean that the rope does run straight across the opening in two places, so you may need to undo the rope completely to get larger items out of the bag or if you have to go digging for something specific.
But in general, even when partially opened and obstructed by the rope, it was very easy to get my stuff out. And if you do unthread the rope by mistake it takes about two seconds to put it back in place.
The other bags we’re looking at are all closed with either a simple drawstring or by rolling down and clipping the top like a dry bag. Getting those open is slightly easier than the Ursack, but that’s a matter of degree, and all the bags are going to be easier to get open than the bear canisters listed here, though that means all of them but the Ursack are commensurately easier for critters to open, too.
I carry a 50L pack on most trips, and it was very easy for me to find multiple packing arrangements that accommodated the Ursack Major. When completely full, it fits both vertically and horizontally in my pack with plenty of room to spare for the rest of my kit.
It also fits nicely in the main outer mesh pocket, provided I didn’t completely overload the main body of the pack, which was easy to avoid since I didn’t also need to pack a hard-sided canister.
The Ursack Major was able to fit into the outside mesh pocket of my pack.
That flexibility in packing was one aspect of the Major that I really enjoyed. Rather than needing to pack my BV500 to bursting because of the high percentage of overall space it takes up, I was able to play around with my packing order and weight distribution quite a bit.
Other than the 21L Liberty Mountain bag, this would broadly hold true for all the other bags on our list if you decided to carry them packed full. Their shape and nature mean that you have a degree of wiggle room when putting your kit together that you don’t have when carrying a canister.
The Ursack Major vertically placed inside my pack. It can also be packed horizontally with plenty of room to spare.
As you’ll see with every other category on this list, the Ursack Major falls between the food hanging systems and the bear canisters in terms of its durability. On the whole, this is a rugged and durable bag, one that can certainly take a beating. The seams are strong and tight, and the UHMWP fabric is extremely tear-resistant. The body of the bag is of good quality throughout.
My only durability concern is with the eyelets that the tie rope threads through. These have no grommets or other fortifications and are simply bare fabric without seams. If the bag were to tear (or be torn open) anywhere, it would likely be here.
The bag is also not waterproof, although exposure to water won’t damage the bag itself in any way. The synthetic cord won’t swell when wet or shrink when drying, so your knots should stay in place.
Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWP) is the material used for the Ursack Major.
The Ursack Major and the Ursack AllMitey have the distinction of being certified by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC). That means they’re produced to meet or exceed the food storage requirements in areas that contain grizzly bears, which says a lot about the quality of these bear bags.
As a result, the Major is suitable for use in many wilderness areas and national parks in the United States. However, it’s probably more helpful to note the places where the Ursack, despite its qualities, is not sufficient to meet local bear prevention requirements.
In general, it’s more common that you’ll need to use a hard-sided canister or stationary bear locker in the west and Alaska than in the east, although Shenandoah National Park also has these requirements. Ursack helpfully publishes a list of national parks where their products do and do not qualify as sufficient bear protection, which you can find here.
Some wilderness areas, sections of the Pacific Crest Trail, and other scenic trails also require hard-sided canisters, and you can be ticketed and fined for not carrying one as a backpacker in those areas. (I have personally had rangers check my pack to prove I was carrying a bear canister in Olympic National Park, one of the handfuls where these bags don’t qualify.)
In general, you should check local rules before any trip, as the requirements in some areas change depending on the time of year. If that research feels like a hassle, it might make sense for you to choose a canister as your food security system.
Odor Protection: 5/10
Unfortunately, the Ursack Major is not at all odor-proof. The company recommends inserting one of their waterproof, odor-proof OPSaks (two for $13.49, ~1 oz each) to achieve that result.
These OPSaks are widely described as having a tough, odor-proof body but a weak seal that can give out within a few weeks or even days. Creative hacks for fixing the OPSak or substituting a cheaper bag abound, so the whole system isn’t compromised by a weak seal, but water- and odor-proofing aren’t guaranteed after the first rip or breach.
Put bluntly: a bear is going to smell the food particles everywhere from your hands to the outside of the food bag that you’ve been touching, so even a perfect internal barrier isn’t going to make your whole presence invisible to a creature with a nose seven times better than a bloodhound’s. But there’s nothing wrong with doing what you can to add deterrents and manage risk where possible.
Still, none of the other bear bags and food hanging systems compared here are odor-proof, either. Most aren’t even odor-minimizing; again, the goal of these systems is getting the food safely up and away from the trunk of a tree, making too much work for the bear to get to your goods.
The BearVault, UDAP, and Bearikade canisters, if properly sealed, do limit the amount of odor that gets out, but they don’t eliminate it completely, depending instead on their durable construction to outwit and outlast these enterprising animals.
Bears/Critter Protection: 9/10
When tied correctly, I was pleasantly surprised by how completely the Ursack Major was sealed off. There was no room for anything, even a mouse, to get in and tear my food apart.
I should note that this perfect seal was much easier to achieve when the bag was mostly full; when I tried it with just a few items in the bag it took me several tries to get the knot adjusted in such a way as to close the bag off completely. Something to pay attention to if you’re down to your last day or two of food on the trail.
Ursack is confident that if used properly their products will keep out any kind of critter who comes looking for your food, including bears. That’s one of the major selling points of this bag: you can tie it off to a tree trunk or bury it under heavy debris to prevent it from being carried off, but you don’t need to find a perfect branch to execute a rope throw over so you can hang it the traditional way.
It’s the only bag like that on this list, and it probably wouldn’t be so popular if people were constantly getting their tied-chest-high Ursacks ripped apart by bears or raccoons.
Given what the force of a bear’s paws might do to the food inside the bag even if it doesn’t gain entry, there are crush-proof aluminum bag liners on the market, but those will add almost 11 ounces to your kit, plus the additional cost.
Several of the other bear bags on our list--the ULA, Selkirk, and Hilltop bags--note that their fabric resists tearing, and it very well could be enough to keep out smaller animals. None of them are guaranteed against bears, however.
If security is your top priority, the BearVault, UDAP, and Bearikade canisters are on the other end of the spectrum from these lightweight rigging systems and are designed to protect against animal incursions of all kinds.