|Bear Safety by the USDA|
In a nutshell: Bears? How do we feel about bears? Do we take bears seriously, or not? The question is whether or not bear canisters are overkill on the AT.
The answers range from "No, a bear canister saved my cache" (including a picture of a well gnawed but not comprised canister) to "Don't be silly, bears don't exist on the AT/aren't real on the AT (compared to the Real Bears Out West)/aren't anything compared to the mice on the AT". Not a small proportion of responders claimed to sleep in their tents with their food. What? Folks, c'mon, really?
Bears do get bags down from time to time. If bears become adept at retrieving food bags they can become habituated to an area and become a nuisance--which puts them at risk for being shot. (I hear they're pretty fond of the Spring thru hike season in GA) So, in that way one could argue that hanging bear bags is actually a bad thing to do and therefore sleeping with a bag of food between your legs, or near your head in your tent at night is good.
But, bears are smart and have an amazing sense of smell. How long before they decide that it's easier to pluck the bag from the tent you're in? A layer or two of nylon certainly isn't as difficult to get through as a minivan door.
Besides the risk of losing your food, there's the risk of loosing limbs or worse. People do get grabbed from tents--it's not common--but it happens.
It seems to me that a bear can is the safest bet, but if the choice is between hanging a bag or keeping a sack of bear bait next to my head, I'm going to hang a bag. After all, hanging a bear bag seems like common sense, and it's free.