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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Forest Service bear order creates new market for Tower bag maker

Seth Roeser
Posted 7/4/24

TOWER— A new requirement that campers in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness either hang their food packs or use bear-proof containers has opened a potential new market for local bag …

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Forest Service bear order creates new market for Tower bag maker


TOWER— A new requirement that campers in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness either hang their food packs or use bear-proof containers has opened a potential new market for local bag maker Terry Sunsdahl, based in Tower.
The U.S. Forest Service order, known as Forest Order 09-09-24-02, took effect in April as the federal agency seeks to reduce the number of nuisance bear incidents for overnight visitors in the boundary waters. It requires that campers hang their food packs at least 12 feet above the ground and at least six feet out from the trunk (a challenging feat for many), or store their food in any of a number of bear-proof containers that have been certified by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.
Sunsdahl heard a rumor from a friend last year that bear-proof containers may become required for BWCAW camping in the future, so he got to work designing a means to carry them comfortably.
Sunsdahl has owned Pike River Products for about four years and has operated a retail outlet on Tower’s Main Street for three years, where he currently sells 24 different styles of bags, including backpacks, purses, and his two newest designs, a horizontal and a vertical bear bag.
“I got it in my head that I should work on making those,” Sunsdahl said.
The new bags were created to carry bear canisters, specifically four sizes of BearVault Journey Bear Canisters which Sunsdahl sells in his shop, though other containers with similar dimensions will fit. The vertical bear bags are cylindrical in shape and carry canisters upright, whereas the horizontal packs carry them resting on their sides.
The National Park Service defines a bear resistant container as a securable container made from a solid, non-pliable material and that is certified to, among other qualities, withstand at least 300 foot-pounds of energy when secured. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee uses captive grizzly bears in their testing procedures and has a list of nearly 500 certified bear resistant products available on its website.
Finding a convenient way to carry a bear-proof container could easily prompt shoppers to look online. Instead, Sunsdahl has a sturdy, top-quality solution manufactured and sold locally.
“Most people are surprised we’re here, a bag manufacturing business in Tower,” Sunsdahl said.
A hobbyist seamster since around 2015, Sunsdahl started making his packs when he realized the camping bags he owned weren’t sufficient for carrying all the things he wanted to bring on his trips.
“It started out when we needed bags for camping,” Sunsdahl said. “When we were living in California, we’d pick the grandkids up to go camping, but we didn’t have bags we could put all of our junk in.”
“It was just a hobby that kind of got away from me,” he said.
Sunsdahl drew inspiration for the vertical bear bags from his six years in the Navy. The standard issue seabags are also cylindrical, though Sunsdahl decided to size his bear bags down accordingly. Using a sewing machine designed to sew boat sails, he sometimes spends up to 18 hours on a single bag. The packs are made from waxed canvas and leather, making them water resistant, and since they’re made with double layer bottoms and double stitch seams, Sunsdahl says the bags are durable enough to carry whatever is stored in them.
“You could probably fill them with rocks and carry them,” Sunsdahl said. “It’s a heavy duty 14 ounce wax canvas, it’s not going to fall apart on you. If you can put it on your back, it can carry it.”
Sunsdahl and his wife Dianna own a cabin on the Pike River Flowage, a fact they paid homage to with their business’s name. Sunsdahl is a lifelong camper, though he admits to not having as much time for camping since opening up his shop.
“I grew up using backpacks camping, and it used to be a mile and a half walk to our hunting shack,” Sunsdahl said. “So I know what I like in bags and people tend to like what I come up with.”
Each of his designs are liable to be tinkered with, adjusted to add and improve features until Sunsdahl is satisfied.
“Some people give me pointers. ‘This would be nice, that would be nice.’ And if possible, I incorporate that into things I make, too.”
Sunsdahl said people are glad to buy things they know will last them a long time, and said customers are satisfied with his products. He shared the story of a woman who bought a purse from him and couldn’t stop smiling as she left with her new purchase.
“How neat is it for people to get that excited over what you make?” Sunsdahl said.
Sunsdahl’s bear bags and other goods can be seen online at or in person at his shop at 515 Main Street in Tower. More information about Forest Order 09-09-24-02 can be found on the forest service’s website.