One thing we can all agree on: it’s bad news for everyone when wild animals develop a taste for ramen and Snickers. Whether it’s an aggressive grizzly bear or an annoying little mouse, properly storing our food away from animals is one of our biggest wilderness responsibilities.
Ursacks are a popular food storage option for their sweet spot between a hard-sided canister and a flimsy stuff sack. Their bear-resistant model is the best-known, but they actually offer three different models (plus some size and color variations): Ursack Major, Ursack Minor, and Ursack Allmitey.
Which Ursack should you get? The biggest difference is the type of animal they’re designed to keep out: bears, critters, or both. There are subtler differences too though, the kind that become apparent only after days or weeks on the trail.
I recently had the pleasure of thru hiking the Arizona Trail with my husband. He carried our Ursack Major (overkill for that mostly bear-free trail, but it was what we had) and I carried an Ursack Minor. Using our two bags side-by-side, day after day (53 days!) inspired me to write this post about the Ursack Major vs. Minor. If you’re not sure which one to get, this comparison and review should help you decide.
If you’re in a hurry, here are the most important differences between the Ursack Major and Minor:
- Designed to protect food from bears.
- Ideally would be hung in bear territory, but doesn’t have to be.
- Small critters can potentially get in, though not easily. Should be hung in campsites with rodent problems.
- Comes in multiple sizes.
- Weighs a few ounces more than Minor.
- Holds a bit less food than Minor.
- Drawstring closure harder to use in my opinion, and worse fit for Opsak.
- A bit less expensive than Minor.
- To buy: REI or Amazon
- Designed to protect food from critters (mice, squirrels, etc.)
- Must be properly hung in bear territory.
- Critter resistant, no need to hang for rodent protection.
- Comes in one size, 10 liters.
- Weighs a few ounces less than Major.
- Holds a bit more food than Major.
- Velcro closure easier to use in my opinion, and fits Opsak better.
- A bit more expensive than Major.
- To buy: REI
If you’re still wondering whether the Major or Minor is right for you, read on for detailed descriptions and reviews of each.
Ursack Major Overview
The Major is the bag Ursack is best known for, the original bear-resistant soft-sided food container. Its claim to fame: lighter and easier to carry than a hard-sided bear canister, but far more bear-resistant than a regular stuff sack (which, to be clear, isn’t bear-resistant at all unless you hang it properly).
How to Use an Ursack Major
Technically you don’t even need to hang an Ursack Major. Simply close and tie it properly at ground level and sleep peacefully. This is key when camping in places without a tree in sight, or when you’re thoroughly exhausted after a long day. I’ve tied mine to the base of bushes, low scraggly tree branches, and fence posts.
If you do hang your food, an Ursack Major provides extra protection. Let’s be honest, on failing to achieve a proper bear hang, many of us have settled for a “bear piñata” and hoped for the best. An Ursack makes this a much less irresponsible thing to do.
In practice, I’ve seen reports of Ursacks being breached by bears. Perhaps they weren’t closed or tied properly; we’ll never know. To be safe, I adjust my Ursack Major usage based on how risky I think a given camping area is.
Grizzly territory in Montana? I’m hanging it, far from camp! High alpine backcountry in Colorado? I’ll tie it securely to the base of a scrubby tree or bush. 100% bear-free Sonoran desert in Arizona? It’s in my tarp so I can have coffee in bed in the morning. It’s nice to have so many options. So far, I’ve never had a bear get into my Ursack Major, but I’ve also never seen one try.
Note: Ursacks aren’t approved for use in all places that require bear canisters, so check their approval map before you buy.
Usability on the Trail
Compared to the Ursack Minor, I find the Major slightly harder to use. The drawstring closure can be fiddly especially when the bag is full. The rounded shape doesn’t fit the flat-lying 12×20″ Opsak liners as well, causing them to wrinkle and wear out faster.
Though Ursack says both the Major and Minor have a capacity of around 10 liters, I find the Major holds less. I think this is due to the closure system, since securely closing the Major requires wrapping cord below the closure which cuts into the usable space. The more rounded shape of the bag might also contribute, depending on how food is packed.
Does the Ursack Major really not work for critters?
Before we go on to the Ursack Minor, there’s one important point to clear up.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that if the Major is bear-resistant, it’s also critter-resistant. What kind of material could possibly resist a bear but be defeated by a mouse?
Technically, the answer to that is “ultra high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWP),” the material from which the Ursack Major is woven. It’s designed to be hard for bears to claw or bite through, but the small sharp teeth of mice and other critters can pierce the weave and make headway. The drawstring closure is also more vulnerable to small critters wriggling their way in if you don’t tie it off correctly. This is why the Ursack Minor (which I’ll get to below) is made from Kevlar and has a hook-and-loop (velcro) closure.
But in practice, really, can critters get into an Ursack Major? As with most things in life, there isn’t one clear answer (frustrating right?). Here’s what I know:
- My own experience: I’ve watched plenty of mice chew on my Ursack Major without success. They always give up. And yet, there is one small gap in the weave, no doubt from an especially persistent overnight visitor. Still, he didn’t make it all the way through.
- A large majority of Ursack users, both online and those I’ve met while thru hiking, say rodents have never gotten into their Ursack Major.
- But it can happen: one thru hiker I met on the Arizona Trail said his Ursack Major was destroyed by a squirrel on the AT!
So there you have it, everyone’s favorite answer: it depends! If you want to use your Ursack Major for critters too, here are some tips:
- Cinch the drawstring top very tightly. Ideally, wrap and tie the cord around the top of the bag below the closure in order to make sure no hole is left at the top. Mice can squeeze themselves through tiny holes!
- In high-use campsites, which is where rodents tend to be a problem, hang your Ursack Major a couple feet off the ground to make it harder for rodents to access.
Who The Major is Best For
Given the slightly less convenient design (in my opinion) and the extra few ounces of weight, I’d say the Ursack Major is a good choice for people who:
- Hike mostly in bear territory where the Ursack is approved
- Want the convenience of not having to always hang food
- Need a larger bag for long or remote trips (the Major comes in XL and 2XL sizes)
- Camp mostly in the backcountry away from high-use campsite (which tend to have more critter problems)
One last tip: The Major comes in both white or black. I have white and would guess it absorbs less heat than black. If you do a lot of hiking in hot weather, I’d recommend white to keep your food a bit cooler. Otherwise, black is nice purely for cosmetic reasons since the white gets very dirty.
Ursack Minor Overview
At first glance you might expect that the Minor offers just a subset of the Major’s functionality: the same critter protection without bear protection. But as discussed above, the Minor is made from Kevlar and designed specifically to resist sharp small teeth even better than the Major.
How to Use an Ursack Minor
The Minor works best in bear-free areas, where you can confidently leave it on the ground or do a low rodent hang and sleep in peace. In bear territory it can still be hung just like any food bag, but there’s more pressure to get your hang right (which is harder than you might think) compared to the bear-resistant Ursack Major.
Usability on the Trail
Compared to the Ursack Major, I find the Minor easier to use. The velcro opening is easier to deal with than the Major’s drawstring closure. The Minor’s flat shape is a much better fit for the 12×20″ Opsak bag, and it’s easier to get things in and out through the opening. Though Ursack says both the Major and Minor have the same capacity, I find the Minor holds more, especially when the Major is closed most securely by wrapping the cord below the top.
Who the Minor is Best For
Because of the usability advantages and slightly lighter weight, I recommend the Minor to anyone who doesn’t need the bear-resistance of the Major, especially people who:
- Rarely camp in bear territory, or are willing / able to properly hang food when you do
- Camp often in high-use areas where rodents and other critters are especially aggressive
- Need to carry small or moderate amounts of food (there’s only one size of Minor, and it holds ~5 days of food)
Ursack Allmitey: Best of both worlds?
No doubt in response to the critter vs. bear conundrum, Ursack launched the Allmitey. Essentially it’s a Major and Minor combined, with both UHWPE and Kevlar fabrics and a drawstring closure.
Is the Allmitey the best of both worlds? I haven’t personally tested it, but I’ve read enough about it to understand the tradeoffs. Many folks find it too heavy and cumbersome (and expensive) to be worthwhile, given that the Major already provides some protection from critters.
However, if you tend to camp in high-use (i.e. rodent-infested) sites in bear territory, dislike hanging food, and don’t mind some extra weight, the Allmitey could be worth it. It also comes in larger sizes, unlike the Minor, for those extra-long trips and remote expeditions.
Whatever Ursack or other food storage method you choose, remember to use common sense. No food storage method is magic. I appreciate these posts from Andrew Skurka on hanging food and sleeping with food for their acknowledgment of the actual conditions we deal with in the wilderness, and the nuance of assessing risk.
More Backpacking Resources
If you’re into backpacking, you might also like these:
- Bear Canisters: How to Choose, Pack, and Carry Your Bear Can
- Lightweight Backpacking: Tips for Reducing Pack Weight
- Thru Hiking: 36 FAQs About The Colorado Trail
- Trail Hygiene: What’s in my Trail Toiletries Kit
- Tents: Best Lightweight Solo Tents by Price and Weight (visual guide)
You can find even more in the backpacking and hiking section.
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