Bear Canister Basics: How to Use & How to Choose - AdventureTripr

Bear Canister Basics: How to Use & How to Choose

Kirsten Forrester · November 3, 2021

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In this blog, we cover how to properly use a bear canister, where you need to carry one, and explore the best bear canisters on the market. Photo via lighter 1.
In this blog, we cover how to properly use a bear canister, where you need to carry one, and explore the best bear canisters on the market. Photo via lighter 1.

If you’re looking to backpack in bear country, a bear canister is essential - and often required - for the trip. In this blog, we cover how to properly use a bear canister, where you need to carry one, and explore the best bear canisters on the market. 

What is a bear canister? 

A bear canister is a portable food locker. They are designed to prevent bears from accessing your food—at most, a bear will interact with the canister and then get bored when it realizes that it can’t open it. When used properly to store food and scented items, bear canisters are extremely effective. 

What about hanging my food?

Hanging food in trees is the traditional method of storing food while camping in the backcountry, and still an option in some places. However, while carrying a sack of food weighs less than a bear canister, it can be difficult to do and doesn’t guarantee the safety of your food the same way a canister does. For example, bears have been known to climb trees and to send cubs up onto smaller limbs to pull down food hangs. 

A black bear in Yosemite National Park.
A black bear in Yosemite National Park.

Where is a bear canister required? 

Use of an approved canister is mandatory in some national parks and wilderness areas. You’ll want to contact individual park and wilderness area administrators for up-to-date information. Some parks offer a canister loaner program from their backcountry offices. A few places that require a bear canister are: 

What size bear canister do I need? 

When planning a trip, think about how many days you’ll be gone. Generally, you’ll need 100 cubic inches (1.6L) per day for food in your canister—plus your toiletries and other smellables. So, a 400 Cubic inch bear canister is going to hold 4 days worth of food and so on.

You’ll want a canister certified by either the International Grizzly Bear Committee. We recommend BearVault. Photo via Bear Vault.
You’ll want a canister certified by either the International Grizzly Bear Committee. We recommend BearVault. Photo via Bear Vault.

The best bear canisters 

You’ll want a canister certified by either the International Grizzly Bear Committee. We recommend BearVault. BearVault has two canisters available: BV500 (700 cubic inches, 7 days) and BV450 (440 cubic inches, 4 days). BearVault has a twist lid. Open the lid by swiveling it counter-clockwise until the black nubs on the lid lock against the blue plastic stopper. With your finger or thumb, push in on the black nub, or just above the nub on the textured area, and then guide the nub past the stopper. Repeat for the second nub. When you close the lid, close it fully (two clicks past the stopper).

How to use a bear canister 

Just having a bear canister isn’t enough. Make sure you’re using it properly, as well! This means your should: 

  • Store your beat canister at least 100 ft / 30 m away from your campsite. Choose a spot away from cliffs and water sources. If a bear does bat your canister around, you don’t want it rolling off a ledge or into a river.

  • Place all scented items in your bear canister, not just food. This includes toothpaste, sunscreen, etc. A good general rule of them is: if you put it in your mouth or on your skin, it should be stored in a bear-resistant container.

  • When you cook or have a snack, take the needed food out from the canister, then immediately close the lid. 

  • Don’t tie anything to your canister that a bear would be able to bite and carry your canister off with. 

  • Keep scents out of your tent, always. Do not eat in your tent, brush your teeth, or apply sunblock. 

A grizzly bear cub in Yellowstone National Park.
A grizzly bear cub in Yellowstone National Park.

Other bear canister tips 

When it comes to packing your bear canister, here are some helpful tips:

  • When you’re packing your backpack, you want to keep your heaviest items in the middle of your pack close to your body - your bear canister is likely to be the heaviest. If you’re able to, place it horizontally in the pack. This is the most strategic placement for comfort while walking. 

  • Store-bought items tend to come bundled in packaging that takes up unnecessary space. Unpack any boxes or bags that can be re-packed more efficiently, making sure to squeeze out excess air. 

  • Layer your days. Your final dinner, lunch, and breakfast should go in the bottom of the canister. This removes the need to empty the entire canister to try and find what you want to eat. 

  • Your day one meal and snacks don’t need to be stored in the canister. 

If you’re new to backpacking, or are just visiting bear country, you can rent bear canisters instead of buying one! Most gear shops and some parks in bear country will offer this. Also, make sure you’re always carrying bear spray, and know how to use it. Happy adventuring, and stay safe out there!

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