Best Bear Canisters for Backpackers

Best Bear Canisters for Backpackers

If you are an avid backpacker, there is no doubt you will run into areas where a bear canister is required.  We all hate to carry the extra weight and bulk, but let’s be logical, they really are necessary to keep your food and our animals safe.  Many people like to feed wild animals because it helps them view the animals in closer proximity or because they think they are helping the animal survive.  This is not good for the animals and almost always leads to problems for both.  When animals are fed or get into easily accessible human food, they can begin to depend on a human food source and lose or not fully develop their foraging skills.  Animals will also become less fearful of people and may approach them for food.  If the animal shows aggression or hurts a human it can be put down for that behavior.  Bears are very intelligent with an excellent sense of smell and once they taste human food, they’re hooked.  Bear canisters for backpackers not only protect your food from bears, but also rodents such as mice, squirrels, and chipmunks that can carry diseases.

You have lots of choices when selecting a bear canister.  The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) performs product testing and has a list of approved bear resistant containers that can be used where required on public lands.  You can view this list here.

Bearikade – Ultralight but expensive

I personally like Bearikade because it gets the job done for the least amount of weight and seems have the most efficient use of space.  The Bearikade is a carbon fiber canister with an aluminum top and bottom.  These come in three main sizes:  the Scout (500 cubic inch volume), the Weekender (650 cubic inch volume), and the Expedition (900 cubic inch volume). You can also have a Bearikade custom made any size you would like.  The only drawbacks to the Bearikade are that you need a coin to open the three retained screw heads on the lid and it is not a transparent container. These are one of the most expensive canisters too so if you would like to try it out before you buy, Wild Ideas rents these out for $5-6/day depending on size.  They will ship it right to you and then when you’re done you simply ship it back.  The Bearikade is approved for use everywhere.


Lighter1 – Lightweight and reasonably priced

The Lighter1 canisters are another lightweight option.  These are polycarbonate canisters that have a lid which doubles as a cooking pan.  They come in two sizes: Lil Sammy (300 cubic inch volume) and Big Daddy (650 cubic inch volume).  The clear canister is a nice feature because it makes it easier to find what you’re looking for.  The lid seals with little finger screws that are attached to the can with little plastic cords.  These canisters are approved for use everywhere.  Here is a comparison chart between the two models.

FeatureLighter1 Lil SammyLighter1 Big Daddy
Weight of Polycarbonate Canister1lb 5oz2lb 4oz
Interior Volume/Food Capacity300 cu in (5L)
3 Days
650 cu in (10.5L)
7 Days
Dimensions7in dia x 9in height8.7in dia at base x 6.7in at neck x 13in height
Anondized aluminum cooking pan that doubles as lid6oz holds 850ml 6.9in dia x 2in height6oz holds 850ml 6.9in dia x 2in height
Handle that doubles as internal support1oz 6.7in lenght1oz 6.7in length
Lid for cooking pan, not necessary to function as bear canister 2oz 7in dia2oz 7in dia

==> Purchase a Lighter 1 bear canister on Amazon <==

Bear Vault – Rather heavy but affordable

Vault 500 is a really popular choice among backpackers.  This is not the lightest option but it is very affordable.  It is probably the canister I have seen the most people with out on the trail.  Like the Lighter1 it is made of clear polycarbonate so you can see your food inside and easily find what you’re looking for.  It comes in two sizes:  the BV 450 (440 cubic inch volume) and BV 500 (700 cubic inch volume).  The lid does not require any special tool to open but can be a bit tricky/painful on the fingers when its cold because you have to press the lid in and over a small bump.  The Bear Vault is approved for use everywhere.  Below is a comparison chart between the two models.  I have the smaller BV450 and I was able to fit about 5 days worth of food for just myself in it on my last trip.

FeatureBear Vault BV450Bear Vault BV500
Weight2lbs 1oz2lbs 9oz
Interior Volume/Food capacity440 cu in (7.2L)
4 Days
700 cu in (11.5L)
7 Days
Dimensions8.7in dia x 8.3in8.7in dia x 12.7in

==> Purchase a Bear Vault bear canister on Amazon <==

The following areas require the use of approved bear canisters:

Some parks offer a canister loan option.  For up to date information, check with park or wilderness area administrators.

Leave a comment if you have any questions or want to tell us about your favorite canisters!


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4 thoughts on “Best Bear Canisters for Backpackers”

  • LOVE your website! This post is so wonderful and informative, so thank you. I’ve never looked into bear canisters, however, I feel like they’d be a great thing to have.

    I love hiking, and I want to do more of it in the future. I will definitely be coming back to your website!

    • Thanks, Melissa!  Let me know if you ever have any questions, I know starting out can be a bit overwhelming with gear choices and such.  Happy hiking 🙂

  • I’ve never seen or heard of bear cannisters before but as you’ve mentioned they have an important purposeof use. Where I live it kind of sucks because we don’t get to see any bears, I guess it means less danger but also less fun. Would you say these are honestly worth the money? Happy travels 😉

    • Hi Josh, yes I would say they are worth the money if you are hiking in bear country.  Some areas require canisters and rangers check to see that you have one.  Nothing would put a damper on a backpacking trip worse than having to hike out early because you lost all your food to a bear.  You can also hang your food in a bag, but bears have gotten pretty smart and that’s not a sure way to keep it protected.  For more info on bear bags, check out my article on backpacking with a bear food bag.    

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