You might be asking yourself, what are bear canisters and why are we at OutdoorFoodLab concerned with them? Our sole purpose on this website is to educate and review food for our readers. Our readers are primarily outdoor enthusiasts, and most of them are hikers and backpackers as well. Few things can be as demoralizing or dangerous as losing all your food to a bear or another wild animal while four days into a week like camping trip that is 70 miles from the nearest store.
What is a bear canister?
There are several conditions a container must meet before it can be considered a bear canister:
- A bear must not be able to open it.
- A bear must be able to destroy it.
- A bear must not be able to carry it away.
Typically, bear canisters are hard sided cylinders that open at one end. They usually weigh between 1-3 pounds, and can be found in a variety of sizes and costs. The average bear canister usually holds 3-5 days of food and hygiene products.
Conveniently, once a canister can withstand the inquiry of a curious and hungry bear, you can reasonably expect it to hold up to any animal, with the exception of a very intelligent Sasquatch.
Why use bears cans?
In the good old days, we used to tie a rope to a bag and sling it over a tree branch. Apparently bears have been furthering their education and this is no longer the best method to keep your human food safe.
On the other hand, bear canisters are a simple, effective, and portable food locker. Bear canisters are not only a wise choice when hiking and camping through known bear habitat, there are many places that legally require you to use bear canisters. These include national parks such as Yosemite, Grand Teton, Olympic Nation Park, Denali, Inyo National Forest, and the Adirondack Mountains.
How to get the most out of, and in to, your bear can
Typically, after emotionally accepting the additional weight of a bear can, the next biggest problem is actually fitting all the necessary items into said can. First off avoid “puffy” foods like bread and ramen that take up a lot of space. You want to focus on foods that are not only compact and compressible, but also calorically dense. Consider only taking foods that have our ultralight weight rating ___________, or adopting a ketogenic camping diet _______ that is primarily comprised of high calorie food. Another thing to consider is repackaging item from bags that contain a lot of air, which can expand at elevation.
Keep in mind that there are other items that must also be stowed in your bear canister. These items include all your trash and wrappers for the hike, and all your toiletries such as toothpaste, brush, soap and sunscreen. The rule of thumb is that if it goes on your skin or in your mouth, it goes in the bear can.
Purchase a bear canister that is big enough to fit your needs for the trip. When you have items that don’t end up fitting into your can, you are essentially negating the safety aspects of using a bear canister. You are risking the chance that animals, bears in particular, will tear through your pack, your tent, and potentially YOU, to get at these interesting and enticing smells.
For for information about specific areas and requirements regarding bear cans, check out the links to several national forests below as well as the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee website.