How to Pack a Bear Canister – Tips and Tricks

How to Pack a Bear Canister – Tips and Tricks

How to Get the Most into Your Bear Canister

Bear Vault 500
  •  Choose calorie dense foodsCalorie dense foods are foods that have a lot of calories per ounce.  These will be foods high in fat such as oils, nuts, nut butters, and hard cheese.  The more calorie dense your foods are, the less food you will need to carry with you.

==>  Click Here to learn which foods are the most calorie dense

  • Plan Your Meals – Make sure you plan out your meals and know how many breakfasts, lunches, and dinners you will need.  Also, make sure your meals have the proper amount of calories for your level of exertion.  You don’t want to have to pack and carry a bunch of extra food weight, or worse, not have enough food for your caloric needs.
  • Repackage Food – You are going to want to remove any bulky packaging from your food items.  I usually just repackage my food into Ziploc baggies.  Its amazing how much space you can save by doing this.  Even most ready-made freeze dried backpacking foods can be repackaged to save space.
  • Vacuum Seal or Minimize Air – If you have a vacuum sealer, definitely take advantage of it.  If not, just be sure to squeeze out all the air from your Ziplocs.  Obviously, the less air you have in your bear canister, the more space you will have for food.
  • Carry First Day’s Food Outside Canister – I always do this and it saves a lot of space.  Just be sure not to leave your pack unattended because chipmunks will chew right through it!
  • Minimize Toiletries – Don’t forget you need to store your scented toiletries inside you bear canister too.  This is a pain so try to take only the necessities in the smallest sized bottles you can find.  Get creative with this.  Ultralight backpackers do all sorts of crazy things to save weight.  You can use a small amount of baking soda for deodorant, store lotion in a straw, or cut your toothbrush in half.

Its Like a Jigsaw Puzzle

After lots of trial and error and forcing a week’s worth of food into a tiny Bear Vault 450, I’ve got a pretty good system for packing my canister figured out.  You are going to want to place your meals vertically, not horizontally.  First, lay your bear canister on its side (or just tilt and hold). Start by placing the most malleable foods, such as oatmeal or couscous, along the curve of the canister.  When you get to around the middle of the canister, put in foods that are a little more rigid, such as protein bars, crackers, or cheese.  Then go back to placing malleable foods along the top curve of the canister.  Use small items to fill in the leftover space on top.  I like to put my tortillas on the top because I use them daily for lunch but you could just as easily put them on the bottom.  Don’t forget to leave a little space for toiletries.

Extra Tips

  • Check to see that all your food fits in your canister before your trip.  Getting to the trailhead only to find you can’t cram it all in there is not fun.
  • You can rent a bear canister from most Visitor’s Centers or online.  I once rented a Bearikade from Wild Ideas online and it was super easy and convenient.
  • Choose your canister wisely. You will need one that fits in your backpack and is the appropriate size for your length trip.
  • Each morning take out your snacks and lunch for the day and put them in an easily accessible pocket.
  • Overnight you will want to put your canister at least 100 feet from your campsite, away from cliffs and fast moving water, and visible enough you can locate it in the morning.
  • Put your cooking kit on top of your canister overnight so if an animal is messing with it you will be alerted by the sound.
  • If a bear canister is not required, I recommend using and Ursack or hanging a food bag.  Canisters are really heavy and while they can give you piece of mind, the extra weight might put a damper on your spirits.

==> Go Here to find out which bear canisters I recommend <==

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6 thoughts on “How to Pack a Bear Canister – Tips and Tricks”

  • I am lucky that where I run / hike I don’t have to worry about bears. It makes things a lot more complicated when you have to worry about large aggressive Mammals potentially stealing all your food!

    When I hike in Yosemite we needed to be very carful about bears but we were only day hiking so had bear boxes back at the camp. It must be a fine art packing enough food to last into a sealed bear container. Thanks for the great tips

    • The bears in Yosemite are crazy…they are really comfortable around humans and super brave.  But yeah, not much of a problem for day hikers.  I had more of a problem with rodents on my day hikes there.  One chewed a hole in my hydration pack and chewed up the drinking nozzle when I left it unattended for a bit and there wasn’t even food in it. I can see why they have such strict bear canister regulations there, and I would definitely not want to go overnight without protecting my food.

  • Thanks for the timely advice. I’ve seen a couple of news stories recently where hikers have encountered bears on a trail and I wonder if food in their backpacks had anything to do with attracting a bear…maybe.

    I like to go on the periodic hike and get out in nature and I’m definitely following your advice. I’d actually like to start camping which makes a bear canister even more important.

    I suppose a bear canister would prevent attention from other animals as well, right?

    Thanks and I look forward to future posts.

    • I would definitely use the canister for camping if bears are common where you will be.  Yes, they are also good to keep rodents out, which are more of a problem in campgrounds and heavily used wilderness areas (think Yosemite Valley).  If a canister is not required where you will be camping, look into an Ursack which is a food storage bag and is much lighter than a canister.

  • Great article! I run my own website about hiking/backpacking. This is such important information as so many people don’t seem to understand that bears have much better noses than eyes. Often I think people don’t know how to take preventative measures so as to never have a run in with a bear. Thanks for this!

    • I think I read somewhere that a bear’s sense of smell is 7 times better than a blood hound’s!  People should definitely educate themselves on how to prevent problems with bears.  For their safety, but also for the animal.  I get really angry hearing news stories about bears that have to be put down because they got accustomed to human food and then became overly aggressive or a nuisance.  Preventative measures sure are important!

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