How to store and care for your bear canister

When embarking on an overnight backpacking adventure in bear country, safeguarding your food using a bear canister isn’t just a clever idea, it’s essential. A bear canister is not just an effective means of securing your provisions, but also a critical tool in conserving bear populations.

Bears, ingenious and opportunistic by nature, can easily become habituated to human food. Just a single successful raid on a camper’s food stash can make them recurrently view humans as a food source. “A fed bear is a dead bear” is an adage often quoted by park rangers, highlighting the grim reality that bears who grow too accustomed to human food often pose a threat, resulting in their unfortunate euthanization. In 2017 alone, Colorado had to bid farewell to 178 such bears. That’s why using a multi-tool like a bear canister is essential. It not only safeguards your provisions but also plays a critical role in conserving bear populations.

But here’s the good news: we can help prevent this. With the correct use of a bear canister, you can protect your food, yourself, fellow hikers, and our bear friends. Bear canisters might be a bit bulky and add some weight to your pack, but they’re crucial and, in many areas, a legal requirement for backpacking. Plus, think of it as gaining an impromptu camping chair!

So, let’s invest in our safety and bear conservation by learning to use a bear canister effectively. Let’s explore the must-haves in bear canister technology and identify the regions where you should not venture without one.

What Is  A Bear Canister And How They Work 

A bear canister is a fortress of security for your provisions when venturing into the backwoods for an overnight stay. It’s a container engineered specifically to keep bears out and your food and fragrant items safely tucked away. These bear-proof vaults may initially pique a bear’s curiosity, but their inability to penetrate them will soon deter their interest. In time, bears will learn these canisters are not gateways to a free meal and will ignore them altogether. This learning process not only protects your supplies but also minimizes any potential negative human-bear encounters and disassociates humans as a source of food for bears.

Can Bears Smell Food In A Bear Canister?

While bear canisters provide a tangible barricade between your food and a curious bear, they cannot completely obscure the tantalizing aroma of your provisions. Camping coolers, on the other hand, offer an additional layer of protection and can help mitigate scent dispersion. Possessing perhaps the keenest sense of smell in the entire animal kingdom, bears can detect the scents trapped within your bear canister, even if it’s labeled as “smell-resistant.” Therefore, it’s essential to prepare your meals and strategically store your camping cooler and bear canister—downwind and at a safe distance from your tent. This ensures that the scent doesn’t inadvertently become a dinner bell for the bears. If your camping itinerary includes areas with notable bear activity, consider complementing your bear canister with an Opsak or using it within your camping cooler. Opsak is a near-odor-proof solution that can further mask the smell of your food and enhance the effectiveness of your bear-resistant storage system.

Where Bear Canisters Are Required

In the realm of wilderness exploration, safeguarding your sustenance from bears isn’t merely a suggestion—it’s a necessity, particularly in regions known for their bear populations. Many state and national parks, national forests, wilderness areas, and numerous other public lands have made the use of bear canisters not just advisable, but obligatory.

Despite the straightforwardness of this advice, it can be a somewhat complex matter to unpack. Not all bear-inhabited areas have specific mandates in place, and among those that do, the stipulations can vary, leading to diverse, sometimes puzzling storage methods that are deemed acceptable or unacceptable. Navigating these nuances is part of becoming an informed and responsible outdoors enthusiast.

Which Size of Bear Canister Is Best?

When embarking on your outdoor adventure, a good rule of thumb to keep in mind for packing your bear canister is to allow roughly 100 cubic inches (1.6L) per day for your food, toiletries, and other items that might pique a bear’s curiosity with its scent.

This benchmark has proven to be reasonably accurate, provided that you’ve mastered the art of efficiently packing your canister. It assumes that your food is calorie-dense, maximizing nutrition without overburdening your space and that you’re not overly generous with packing toiletries—opting for travel sizes rather than full-sized products can save precious room. It’s also worth noting that your food for the first day need not be stored in the canister, as long as it remains within your reach at all times, adding a bit of flexibility to your packing strategy.

Packing Tips

The guidelines are pretty clear: Anything edible, scented items, and all waste must be stowed in your bear canister. This instruction, according to Yosemite’s official website, includes a wide range of items, not limited to food items (even if they’re sealed), toiletries like sunscreen, soap, and lip balm, insect repellent, deodorant, medicines, and feminine products. Essentially, if it goes on your skin or in your mouth, it should be in a bear-resistant container.

However, these items can occupy a lot of room, particularly on extended hikes. Here are some professional tips to maximize space in your bear canister:

• Discard unnecessary packing material.

Eliminate as much air from food packages as possible. You could, for example, pierce a hole in the top of freeze-dried food bags to squeeze out air or crush foods like pasta or dehydrated goods to minimize airspace.

• Sort your food by day, ensuring you don’t need to unpack the whole canister to get to your meals. Start with the last day’s food at the bottom, and layer the food for each subsequent day upwards. Toiletries can be placed at the top for easy daily access.

 • Bendable bars like Clif and Larabars can be shaped to fit the canister’s rounded sides or squeezed into gaps between larger items.

• Verify if all your items will fit into the canister before leaving. It’s recommended to pack your bear canister at home, rather than at the trailhead or in camp. If you’re sending ahead food for a long hike, try doing a test fit before dispatching your resupply box.

• Keep in mind that your first day’s food can be kept outside the canister, provided it’s not left unattended in your pack.

How To Carry A Bear Canister When Backpacking?

When gearing up for a hike, proper backpack packing is crucial. Often, your bear canister – once loaded with food and other essentials – will be the heaviest item in your pack. Therefore, the strategic placement of this heavyweight is crucial.

Try to position your bear canister close to your body, right at the core of your backpack. Whether you choose to set your canister horizontally or vertically largely depends on your backpack’s design. The goal is to ensure that it stays central to your back, promoting balanced weight distribution. Surrounding a vertically-oriented canister with soft items like additional clothing can be a handy trick to keep it centrally positioned.

If you have a smaller backpack, carrying the bear canister externally might be a more viable solution. Here, you’ve got three feasible options:

  1. Beneath your pack’s “brain” or lid.
  2. Atop your backpack, secured using an adjustable V-strap.
  3. Strapped to the bottom of your backpack, using the sleeping pad or tent straps.

Bear in mind that efficient packing and weight distribution can be a game-changer for your hiking experience. So, plan wisely and hit the trail with confidence!

Some Tips For Using Your Bear Canister In Camp

• Ensure your bear canister is locked and secured at all times, except when accessing its contents. Most bear-related incidents happen due to improperly secured canisters, or when people abandon their open canisters upon seeing a bear.

• Set your canister a safe distance from your tent – 100 feet in regular circumstances and up to 300 feet when in grizzly territory.

• Position your canister away from cliffs and water sources to avoid losing it if a bear decides to swat it around.

• Use a makeshift “bear alarm” by placing objects like your cookpot, utensils, or rocks on top of your canister. If a bear meddles with it, the noise will alert you, allowing you to dissuade the bear, thereby reinforcing that those bear canisters are not to be tampered with.

• Avoid attaching anything to your canister that a bear could use to carry it off, with the exception being an Ursack, which should be tied to something to prevent a bear from walking away with it.

Final Thoughts:

Stay safe and protect bear populations with a bear canister! These essential backpacking tools keep your food secure and discourage bears from seeing humans as food source. While bears can still smell the contents, strategic storage, and odor-proof solutions help minimize attraction. Bear canisters are required in many areas to prevent dangerous encounters. Choose the right size, pack efficiently, and position the canister properly in your backpack. In camp, lock it up, keep it away from your tent, and use a “bear alarm.” Let’s ensure our safety and bear conservation by using bear canisters effectively!

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