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Bear canisters are bear-proof containers where you can store food to keep it be safe and help it not to smell quite so tasty.
If you’re exploring a national park or backpacking in an area with a high concentration of bears, a bear canister is a must-have. They’re even a requirement in some places! You can find more information at the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.
If you’re in a forest or park where there are no restrictions, feel free to use whichever bear canister you prefer. Be aware though: many national parks have their own guidelines governing what type of canister you can and can’t carry.
For instance, Yosemite National Park lists the canisters and panniers you can use in the park, and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks also offers a detailed list. Before setting out on a backpacking trip, do your research to see if the place you’re headed has any restrictions or guidelines. Also note that you should use your canister to store soap, toothpaste, sunscreen, and insect repellent (which all attract bears) in addition to food.
Bear canisters themselves vary in design: some are bags, while others are made of hard plastic. Many bear canisters are bulky and heavy, so for backpacking purposes it’s key to find one that packs well and doesn’t weigh more than a pound or two.
We’ve narrowed down eight of the best (and most lightweight) bear canisters so you can keep your food safe as you enjoy your hike. First, we’ll cover the basics staying safe in bear country.
Safety Doesn’t Have to Be a Bear
As you hike, make sure to take precautions to keep yourself safe from bears. According to the Grizzly Wolf Discovery Center, bears tend to avoid people. Your risk of being hurt by a bear is actually lower than the risk of you being hit by lightning. But still, it never hurts to be careful.
Don’t let bears get your food or garbage; bears that learn they can find food in campgrounds will begin aggressively trying to get more food. The Grizzly Wolf Discovery Center gives the following list of items that attract bears:
- Human food
- Pet food and livestock feed
- Cooking pots and utensils
- Cooking oils
- Fuel for stoves and lanterns
- Unopened canned beverages
- Cosmetics, insect repellents, lotions, and toothpaste
- Bird seed and hummingbird feeders
Keep these items where they have a low chance of being smelled or seen — for instance, in a bear canister. Remember to keep bear canisters downwind of your campsite and never to keep them in your tent.
As you hike, be aware of your surroundings and keep an eye out for any signs of bears (like tracks, hair, or scat). It’s safer to hike with other people rather than going out alone and to go during dusk or dawn, as that’s when bears are not as active. Make noise as you walk to alert any bears to your presence. Often, bears will avoid humans, solving the problem before it begins.
You can try carrying bear spray in case a bear should approach or charge at you. This spray temporarily irritates a bear’s face, allowing you the time to get away. Bear spray is effective: biologist Tom Smith cites a study that lists 133 encounters involving bear spray where only three people were injured.
In contrast, 269 stories of gun defense resulted in 17 people dying plus hundreds of dead bears. Don’t shoot bears — spray them. But check before you hike: some parks, such as Yosemite, don’t allow bear spray.
If you do see a bear, don’t approach it — especially if it’s a cub (protective mothers mean danger to humans). Try to leave quietly. If the bear spots you, talk to it calmly, move your arms around, and slowly back away.
Should the bear come toward you, REI explains that your response should vary based on what kind of bear it is. If a black bear is approaching you, yell and raise your arms to scare it off. If a black bear attacks you, fight back by punching its eyes and nose.
If a grizzly bear stands up and looks at you, back up slowly. If it charges at you, don’t run — stay in place with your bear spray in hand. Should the grizzly’s charge turn into a full-blown attack, spray the grizzly when it gets close to you (about 30 feet away); if the grizzly continues to attack you, play dead.
With these precautions, you’ll be all set to have a safe, fun, and hopefully bear-free hike. Now here’s the lightweight bear canisters we recommend for backpacking and otherwise.
BearVault BV500 Food Container
The BV500 Food Container is simple, lightweight, and sturdy — you don’t have to worry about it getting banged around in your backpack. It’s approved by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee for your food storage needs.
At just under three pounds, measuring 8 by 12 inches, and with a gear capacity of 11.5 liters, it’s bigger than it looks. Featuring a rainproof lid that screws on and off, the container is also see-through so you can find what you’re looking for.
To clean, hand wash the canister in warm water. You can also use it as a camp seat. If you’re looking for something a little smaller than the BV500, try the BV450, this model weighs two pounds and can hold four days of food if you’re backpacking alone.
Ursack AllMitey Bear Bag
The Ursack AllMitey Bear Bag is on the expensive side, but reviews say it’s high-quality, easy to use, carry. With a 650 cubic inch gear capacity (five days of food for two people if you pack freeze-dried food) and a 13 ounce weight, the bag is made of a sturdy fabric that incorporates Kevlar.
Not only is the bag bear-proof, but it will also keep your food out of the paws of mice, squirrels, and raccoons. The bag comes with a six-foot cord so you can hang it in a tree. Ursack also sells a Major Bear Bag that’s made of bulletproof fabric, weighs 7.6 ounces, and holds 650 cubic inches of food.
Garcia Bear-Resistant Container
This bear-resistant container weighs two pounds, 12 ounces and holds 614 cubic inches of food — it’s a little smaller than some similar options, but still costs about the same price. The container comes with a plastic bag in which you can wrap food.
The container opens with stainless-steel locks — use a screwdriver or a coin to open them. Bears won’t be able to open the fastening unless they’re trained in carpentry, and more than that, they won’t even be able to hold the container — it has rounded edges and smooth sides so they’ll have nothing to grip onto.
FRONTIERSMAN Insider Bear Safe
The Frontiersman Insider Bear Safe is tall, skinny, and bright orange. It can hold 735 cubic inches of food or gear and weighs in at exactly three pounds. The canister’s tapered design makes it easy to slip it into a corner of your backpack, and it supports your center of gravity so you’ll have good posture as you hike.
The design also makes the use of space more efficient. The bear safe is both scent-proof and waterproof, and the no-break material means no grizzly can break or crush the canister — the canister was tested by real grizzly bears at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in Montana.
COUNTER ASSAULT Bear Keg
The Counter Assault Bear Keg Food Container measures 14 by 9 inches and can hold 716 cubic inches of food or other supplies. It’s tough and durable and can be easily stuffed into your backpack. The stainless steel locks are easy for humans to open, but completely impossible for bears.
The keg meets all of the requirements of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. You can also purchase a carry sack, which will allow you to hang the container in a tree. Plus, the keg is bright yellow — easy to find if misplaced.
Made in the USA, Bearikades are used by park rangers, scouts, wildfire fighters, and more. The Weekender lives up to its name: it’s perfect for two people taking a weekend trip (or if you’re going solo, the Weekender will last you for about six days).
The Weekender weighs 31 ounces and can hold 650 cubic inches of food. It’s pretty expensive, so keep that in mind as you consider your options.
Bare Boxer Contender Model 101
The Bare Boxer Contender Model is a little lighter and smaller than other canister choices, and a little cheaper, too. It has been approved to use in both grizzly and black bear country, and it can hold 275 cubic inches of food (in other words, about a three day supply for one person).
Its small size means it can easily be stuffed into your backpack. The website offers a PayPal payment option, but be aware that shipping is expensive and will kick the price up a few notches.
Lighter1 Big Daddy Bear Canister
Lighter1 is a company that makes only bear canisters. The canisters have been given a blanket approval by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee for U.S. national parks, and separately the canisters have been approved by Yosemite, Denali, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Glacier, and Rocky Mountain National Parks.
All of the canisters come with free shipping, including the two pound, 11 ounce Big Daddy canister that offers 650 cubic inches of storage. This versatile canister doubles as a cooking pot — the canister’s aluminum lid can be used for a cooking pan.