Bear canisters

Many campsites are home to critters that would love nothing more than to guzzle your food (or toiletries, yum).  These animals can range from lizards to chipmunks to raccoons to bears. Bears are the most serious issue, since bears that become accustomed to eating human food can become aggressive, and aggressive bears may be killed by wildlife officials.

Bear canisters and bear bags are an alternative to bear poles and storage lockers, which aren’t available everywhere, and to hanging food in trees, which is not an optimal solution. It’s tough to get the hang of hanging a bag, it’s impossible at campsites without the right kind of trees, and bears sometimes manage to get into hanging food bags. Bear canisters are thus a wise choice, and in fact are required in many popular camping destinations.

Here are some of the most popular medium-sized models of bear canisters, with relevant specs and features:

  • Garcia Backpacker’s Cache – medium-weight (44 oz), durable, holds ~10 liters, opaque, inexpensive (~$75)
  • BearVault BV500 – relatively lightweight (41 oz), holds ~11.5 liters, wide opening, potentially tricky locking system, translucent, relatively inexpensive (~$80)
  • Frontiersman Insider – medium-weight (48 oz), holds ~11.9 liters, tapered shape that may be good for packing, can’t be used as stool, inexpensive (~$70)
  • Bearikade Weekender – lightweight (31 oz), durable, holds ~10.6 liters, made of carbon fiber, excellent storage volume per weight, opaque, expensive (~$309)
  • Counter Assault Bear Keg – relatively heavy (~58 oz), holds ~11.7 liters, easy-to-spot yellow color, rounded top not amenable to use as stool, relatively inexpensive (~$80)

The models listed above fit roughly enough food and toiletries to last 1 person about 5 – 7 days, but that of course depends on what kind of food you pack and how much you eat.

Bear bags made of super-durable material are a lighter-weight option for safeguarding your food and toiletries. They’re somewhat less effective than canisters—problems include that bears can smoosh your food or carry away your bag. As such, they shouldn’t be used in areas with heavy bear activity—and they’re not permitted in all national parks. Ursack makes great options, including the Ursack Major (bear-proof) (~$90) and the Ursack AllMitey (bear-proof and critter-proof) (~$140).

Your canister should be stashed at least 100 yards downwind from your campsite, away from cliffs. Wedge it among rocks or place it in brush where a crafty bear can’t roll it away. And make sure you lock it properly! A bear bag can be stored on the ground or hanging from a tree limb or bear pole.

Consider checking the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s website for approved canisters and bags. As of fall 2020, the IGBC approved all of the canisters and bags listed above save the Bearikade. Remember that you may not need to purchase a bear canister or bag outright, as bear canisters are often available for renting in popular destinations.

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