Best Alternatives To Bear Cannisters

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What To Know About Bear Canisters For Backpacking

Food is already an essential commodity, and even more so when you decide to go camping. Given how you’ll be in the great outdoors and away from the leisures of urban living, you need to have a strategy of how you’ll be storing your food.

In the past, people would hang food in trees in order to store them whenever they went camping in the backcountry. But by using this traditional method, you can’t guarantee that your food will be safe.

The best option is having a bear canister – an easy to carry, hard-sided food storage container.

If you are going camping in a place known to have bears, you should certainly consider acquiring a bear canister for food storage purposes. Having a bear canister is the easiest and most effective method of preventing bears from gaining access to your food. By doing this, you will not only be keeping your food secure, but you will also be assisting in keeping the bears safe also.

What Is A Bear Canister And How They Work

This is a bear-proof vessel intended to safely store trash, scented consumables, and food when camping at night in the great outdoors.

A bear canister is meant to keep bears from gaining access to your backpacking food. If at all, the bear will attempt to engage with the canister and when it finds out it cannot open, it will get bored and give up. The idea here is that the said bear will come to learn that the food canister is not an easy source to get a free meal and won’t trouble itself, to begin with.

When bear canisters are used in the right manner, they can prove to be an effective method of inhibiting bears from gaining access to your food supply, significantly decrease the (already low) chances of a hostile bear/human interaction occurring, and puts off bears from associating humans with a source of food.

Why Bear Canisters Are Useful

Bears are exceptionally opportunistic and adaptable creatures. When it comes to human food, they can be very resourceful, relentless and intelligent as to how they will acquire it. It’s believed that bears have the greatest sense of smell among all the animals. It is incredible just how bears are able to sniff out food with such remarkable efficiency.

This makes it almost impossible to contain the scent emanating from the food entirely, and yet there are bear canisters purported to be ‘smell resistant’. That’s why it’s crucial that you cook food and keep the bear canister facing downwind of your camp tent – not to give bears grounds to come around looking for the food scent.

So if your campsite is situated in a location where bears inhabit, it may be prudent to include a bear canister on your checklist. It only takes one time for a bear to access human food for it to begin seeking out humans as food sources themselves. Once bears have a taste of human blood, they become hooked with insatiable blood lust and will stop at nothing to find more.

Bear Canister Pros and Cons

Upside: These vessels provide campers with peace of mind by offering an effective method to store food and keep them safe from bears and other creatures.

Downside: Weighs around 2-3 lbs and has an insufficient and bulky fit when it comes to storing all the scented items and food for lengthy trips. Canisters can carry up to 3-5 days’ worth of toiletries and foodstuff for 1 individual.

Bear Canister Requirements And Protecting Your Food

Generally speaking, animals cannot fight back the allure of camp food. Between eating your backpack food or grass and many other disgusting options found in the wild, you can rest assured that these creatures will choose your food instead. Think of it this, you’re not safeguarding your food from the animals; you will be safeguarding the animals from your food. Once a bear acquires a taste for human food, there’s no turning back.

For the majority part of the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT), there are Bear canister caveats in place to protect your food. While on the PCT, it can play to your advantage to understand and adhere to the food storage guidelines for the locations you will be visiting. To put it simply, these guidelines are put in place to safeguard the wildlife, as well as preserve the trail experience for other would-be backpackers.

The PCT passes through the habitat of bears. In such areas, bears have become proficient at accessing food that has been stored improperly. Easily accessing backpacking food due to improper storage, at times ends up with the rangers and administrators having to put down the bears that have gotten too used to eating human food. For your camping trip to be a successful and safe one, adequate food storage is key. It not only guarantees your safety but also safeguards the lives of the bears.

In some parts of the PCT trail, bears are pretty crafty when it comes to obtaining human food, necessitating all scented foodstuffs be kept inside a bear canister. Considering that not all bear habitats have restrictions, this topic can be confusing to navigate. So if you are thinking about going on a camping trip, it’s crucial that you check with local regulations about bear canister requirements for the area if backpacking.

Note the same is true for bears in Rocky National Park. I have a friend who backpacks there frequently. He says you must use a bear cannister. And you are likely to hear a bear come by your tent at night. So please make sure to take proper precautions.

This includes not wearing your clothes that you wore while you ate in your tent as you sleep. And to keep the food and cooking and even where you brush your teeth, at least 100 feet away from your tent.

Who Certifies Bear Canisters?

When you are researching the various requirements and regulations relating to bear canisters, you’ll likely come across two abbreviations: SIBBG and IGBC. Meaning Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group and International Grizzly Bear Committee. Although the SIBBG has broken up, you’ll likely still come across them because that what’s Yosemite recognizes as accepted canister requirements. However, IGBC still certifies new canisters.

Bear Canister Alternatives

Ursack Major & AllMitey

Ursack manufactures two designs of lightweight bags that are bear-resistant: the AllMitey(critter and bear-resistant) and the Major(bear-resistant alone).

The distinction comes in the material used: The Major is designed from Spectra/UHMWPE fabric, which assists in blocking large claws and teeth but allows smaller teeth to pierce. On the other hand, AllMitey is designed from Spectra/UHMWPE and Hevlar fabric, thereby protecting your food from small and large creatures,

In reality, when you are in the backcountry, all types of creatures will be looking out to get your food. So for your wellbeing and theirs, it’s crucial that you safeguard your food properly. Depending on the frequency you use your bear canister, it may be financially wise to consider renting than buying one.

Hanging A Bear Bag—The PCT Method

There are various ways of hanging a bear bag, but the Pacific Crest Trail method is the best practice. This method of hanging a bear bag is pretty straightforward to set up, and extremely effective when it comes to deterring creatures looking to steal your food. The PCT technique utilizes a rope that is thrown over a relatively high, strong tree branch and is then attached to the bag using a mini carabiner. The other rope end is clipped back via the carabiner, from where the bear bag is lifted to the top. Toggle using a spare stake. Make a clove hitch knot around the toggle as high as you’re able to reach fully stretched.


-This method uses fewer ropes, which assists in reducing bulk and weight in your pack.

-It is difficult for a bear to damage, compared with the old-fashioned way of connecting two trees with a line. Given how resourceful bears are, they slash the line in order for the bear bag to drop. With the PCT method, the line is hanging down so it isn’t within the bear’s scope to slash it.

-It allows for quick access when it comes to retrieving things like your toiletries, which can be stored in a small bag ad attached around the toggle. This way, when the rope is pulled down, the bear bag rises while the ditty bag goes down when required hastily.

-Functions well when used with pine tree varieties or deciduous forest with overhanging branches


-Bulky bear bags make it difficult to make a clove hitch knot around the toggle. And separating smellable things into various bags can be a disadvantage.

-Will not work in places where there are no overhanging branches.

If you are in the great outdoors, keeping your foodstuffs in a bear canister is among the most effective methods of protecting your food when camping. Its sole purpose to users is to safeguard food and other scented materials you may use for your trip from bears. Additionally, you can also protect them from rodents, raccoons and other critters in the wild that may be lured to the scent of your food.

What Is A Bear Bag Used For

A bear bag is used to keep food, clothing, toiletries stored away from your tent and campsite. They are designed to be hung and hard for bears or other wildlife to open to keep you and your supplies safe. They are typically made from kevlar or specialized fabrics that are hard to tear open.

Research has shown that bears can smell as far as away as 20 miles which is why you should never keep food in your tent.

Bear bags are designed to be hung but you can store them on the ground where you can attach them to rock or fence posts.

Is A Bear Bag Necessary

Yes if you are backpacking and the park rules don’t require a bear canister.

If you are in bear country but car camping, then you might need a bear bag. Instead, the campsite will most likely have a bear locker. A bear locker is a steel storage box that is designed to be difficult for a bear to open.

You can also purchase coolers that are bear-resistant. These types of coolers even have holes where you can attach padlocks or steel bolts to make it even harder for a bear to get access to the food or drinks.

Finally, you can even put your food in a locked car but bears have been known to destroy cars to get access to the food stored in the trunk or backseat.

This guide has focused on bear canisters, how they work and some of the requirements you need to follow. If you are thinking about going on a camping trip, it can prove to play in your best interest to know everything about bear canisters and the area you will be camping in. Following guidelines will help make the entire experience fun and unforgettable.

Read our article about camping in bear country.