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.
|Feature||Lighter1 Lil Sammy||Lighter1 Big Daddy|
|Weight of Polycarbonate Canister||1lb 5oz||2lb 4oz|
|Interior Volume/Food Capacity||300 cu in (5L)|
|650 cu in (10.5L)
|Dimensions||7in dia x 9in height||8.7in dia at base x 6.7in at neck x 13in height|
|Anondized aluminum cooking pan that doubles as lid||6oz holds 850ml 6.9in dia x 2in height||6oz holds 850ml 6.9in dia x 2in height|
|Handle that doubles as internal support||1oz 6.7in lenght||1oz 6.7in length|
|Lid for cooking pan, not necessary to function as bear canister||2oz 7in dia||2oz 7in dia|
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.
|Feature||Bear Vault BV450||Bear Vault BV500|
|Weight||2lbs 1oz||2lbs 9oz|
|Interior Volume/Food capacity||440 cu in (7.2L)|
|700 cu in (11.5L)
|Dimensions||8.7in dia x 8.3in||8.7in dia x 12.7in|
The following areas require the use of approved bear canisters:
- Yosemite National Park (entire backcountry except a few sites where food lockers are in place)
- Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks (selected areas; food boxes in place in numerous locations)
- Grand Teton National Park (entire backcountry except where food lockers are in place)
- Rocky Mountain National Park (all backcountry campsites below treeline)
- North Cascades National Park (selected areas)
- Olympic National Park (selected areas)
- Denali National Park (selected units)
- Glacier Bay National Park (all treeless areas)
- Gates of the Arctic National Park (most areas)
- Inyo National Forest, eastern and central Sierra Nevada, California (selected areas)
- Eastern High Peaks Wilderness Area, Adirondack Mountains, New York (between April 1 and Nov. 30, all areas)
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!