by Diane Spicer
Which bear canister you choose to carry on a backpacking trip for food storage is an important decision.
But there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question "Which bear canister is best?"
And if you think you can hang your food and not have a problem with bears (as well as raccoons and other critters), be aware of the fact that some bears don't seem to understand that they shouldn't be able to outwit your system.
As a veteran of the tree-hanging stuff sacks method (that's all we had in the 1970s through 2000), I can say that a canister is much, much easier to handle at the end of a long day on the trail.
And having your food stolen or rendered unpalatable by bear saliva, well, that could put a big dent in your backpacking plans in a hurry!
Add to these facts another unavoidable one:
Some premier backpacking destinations such as in national parks require the use of an approved canister.
Enter the (mostly) fool proof world of bear resistant food containers, including canisters for storing food.
All food canisters share two common goals:
Facts of the backpacking life:
Keeping these facts in mind, bear canister designs offer you options for doing the outsmarting, as well as fitting into your backpack and camp routine.
Hence, the round, thick plastic design for a bear canister.
The material used to build the canister needs to be extremely strong, which is why polycarbonate is used.
I've personally sat on these canisters for days on end eating meals, and they held my weight easily.
I've seen these bear canisters tossed and rolled around at camp, without denting or cracking.
And while I've never had the scary experience of watching a big bear kick around a canister in camp, I can imagine that it would be frustrating for them.
Here's the kind of canister I've used in grizzly country:
Use it to store your food and scented items, including clothing you've worn to cook in if you're using a stove (lots of odors get trapped).
More bear deterrent tips and information on using BearVaults to protect your food can be found here.
How are you going to get all your food inside that canister?
It's an artform, but well worth mastering.
Here are some tips from Outdoor Research.
1. Practice (at home) makes perfect.
2. Mini-me is the way to go when selecting portion sizes.
3. Don't get locked into packaging configurations, do your own re-packaging.
4. Poke & tape: let the air out of pre-packaged stuff with a pin, and seal it with a bit of tape.
If a large round canister seems too bulky, or too heavy, for your backpacking plans, you might have other options if your travel plans don't take you into regulated territory.
The Ursack (ursus = bear, right?) is made of puncture-resistant fabric, designed to deter a bear's teeth and claws from getting at your food.
But odors are still able to waft their way to a bear's highly efficient nose, so some sort of liner (aluminum or plastic) is recommended.
In my opinion, it's the odors that should be defeated.
If a bear isn't attracted to your campsite, you won't have to worry about your food.
Which is why you absolutely must keep attractive odors out of your tent!
So if you use an Ursack, don't skimp on the liner. Make sure it can stand up to rough usage and water.
A leaky liner will spill odors, defeating the goal of remaining bear-less in the backcountry.
Some parks and destinations provide heavy bear-proof storage lockers, making the need to carry your own bear vault unnecessary.
Others have metal cables (think flag poles) for hanging food bags well out of the reach of bears.
As long as your backpacking trip is entirely within their jurisdiction, your food should be safe using these storage options.
But if you're reluctant to camp where lockers or cables are provided (for privacy and solitude), you'll need to safeguard your food, and yourself, by making your food and garbage inaccessible to the wildlife.
Make it Job #1 to keep a clean camp, segregating all odiferous foods and supplies well away from your tent.
Bear canisters are great for this purpose!
Just be sure they are far away from your tent.
Most folks recommend 100 yards.
Others recommend 100 feet.
Your choice, but personally, I'd rather have a bear feasting party far, far away from me in the middle of the night.
Make sure you know what that distance looks like before you get out there, and stick to it no matter how inconvenient it might be.
And cook, eat and clean up around the canisters, not your pristine tent area.
The black bears living in the lower 48 States are not seen as aggressive enough to require hikers to carry bear spray.
The main goal of land management agencies is to keep food out of their awareness, so they don't habituate and become nuisance bears.
Hikers in iconic hiking territory like Yosemite National Park? Black bears might be a problem.
Bear spray is designed for deterring a charge or attack by Ursus horribilus, the species of brown (grizzly) bear not found in large numbers in the lower 48 United States or Hawaii.
Alaskan and Canadian hikers need to be familiar with when and how to use bear spray.
Where there are bears, there are hunters.
Every year, bears become prey during hunting season.
Best Bear Canister Options
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She's been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for 5+ decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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