Remember the things your dad taught you while you were growing up? Maybe he taught you how to build a table, fix a car, use a pocket knife, skin a deer, play a harmonica or make a mean pancake breakfast. Of all the skills passed down to me, the one I find myself doing exactly the way my dad showed me, is hanging the food bag in the backcountry. Every evening we were out on a backpacking trip, after dinner was eaten and the dishes were washed up, he would go out and hang our food bag for the night. I would watch him select the right tree with a good branch a little ways away from camp, and then cheer him on as he threw a rock or stick with the rope tied on to get it up over the branch. It was great fun.
For those who are used to cooking in their kitchen at home, and maybe the occasional campground, food hanging may not cross your mind while out on a backpacking trip. The lack of wild animals to contend with in our kitchens has made us soft. But, let me tell you, there are a lot of critters out there in the woods who would love nothing more than a tasty meal of people food. I bring this up not to plant a fear of forest creatures in anyone's mind (they're sneaky, they'll move in on your food at night without ever bothering you), but to make you aware of preserving your food and backpacking gear. I had one friend keep a bag of trailmix in his tent, where he was soon joined by a little squirrel friend who chewed his way through to get at those tantalizing treats. I once had a mongoose gnaw a hole in my pack to get at some dried fruit while backpacking on Maui. The story that really takes the cake, is when I was backpacking in the Tetons as a child, we were huddled in the tent during a rainstorm after hastily hanging the food up too low, and a bear came along and ate it. All we had left was some hot cocoa and pancake mix, and my parents had to ration out chocolate pancakes to two young children for the ten mile hike out. We thought it was great, with proper nutrition going out the window and all, but I'm sure my parents were more than a little worried about having hungry children to deal with.
Before you set off into the hills, you will need a food bag. Those nylon stuff sacks from outdoor gear stores work well for this. You can also use and old sleeping bag sack. Then get a good piece of rope that is lightweight but sturdy and about 30-40 feet long. It's a good policy to pack all the food in the food bag so it's in one place and put a few snacks in everyone's packs for the hike. If you wanted to be really organized, you could keep the rope in there too. After dinner, round up all those day snacks in everyone's packs along with toothpaste or any other strongly scented body products, and put them all in the food bag. Then comes the exciting part.
First, you have to select just the right branch. One that is high up enough and extends far enough out from the trunk of the tree is what you're looking for. The most important thing he told me to remember is "Ten feet out and ten feet up." Trees on the edges of rock outcroppings with branches hanging out over the precipice are a more daring, but secure choice. Just make sure it isn't so high up that you can't throw something over the top of it. Which leads us to the next step...
Tie the other end of the rope to your food bag and hoist it up there by pulling the end you threw over the branch. If it's raining, enclose the food bag in a plastic garbage bag before tying to keep it dry. Once the bag is about ten feet up, tie the rope around a nearby tree. This should keep your food safe from bears, raccoons, and mice, and other hungry critters, save the occasional marauding chipmunk or squirrel bold enough to climb down the rope.