Bear Canisters

Proper food storage is a very important concept on the Appalachian Trail and any other trails or camping areas. There are several methods for proper food storage such as hanging food, bear boxes, and bear canisters. The most common method has been hanging food in a waterproof sack from a tree branch. It is recommended to hang your bag at least 6 feet from the tree trunk, and 12 feet above the ground. While this method is good for deterring bears from your food, it does not always work. Bears have gotten smart when it comes to food and have been known to get in bags that are hanging. Throwing the line to hang your food can also be tricky, especially in treeless areas. Bears aren’t the only issue, rodents and small animals are known to tear through your bag. I swear some of those animals are acrobats because I have no idea how they got in to my food when it was hanging so high on a small bear line!

Bear canisters are becoming a more popular food storage container so we wanted to tell you a little bit about them and our experience with them.

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Grizzly Bear can’t get into a bear can (note: no Grizzly Bears are on the AT)

Bear Canister Basics
Canisters are hard plastic containers that are portable. They are not scent proof, but since they are durable, no animals can get inside of the canisters. Anything you carry that has a scent, should ideally be stored in your bear can at night. Items such as food, toothpaste, and hand sanitizer should to go into the bear can. The canister is supposed to be set down at least 100 feet from your campsite. You want to try to wedge it in between some rocks or trees because while the bear won’t be able to get into it, they can roll it away.

Bear cans can weigh a few pounds and they are bulky. Since they remain the same shape all the time, it can be difficult to finagle it into your pack. But once you start to eat more food, you can always stuff other items in your bear can such as stove, or first aid kit. The plus side of carrying a bear can is the convenience. You don’t need to worry about hanging your food, and you can even sit on the bear can as a seat!

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BearVault 500 on left, 450 on right

Bear Canister Requirements
The only place on the entire Appalachian Trail that has a bear canister requirement is the five mile section South of us here at Neel Gap, to Jarrard Gap. There have been issues with bears in the past, so this regulation is to protect the bears and the hikers. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy recommends hikers to use a bear can from Springer Mountain, to Damascus. The trail is just very crowded and bears are likely to hang around camping areas. Storing food in bear cans protects the bears from tasting human food, and it protects people to keep the bears away from them. There are many more bear canister requirements throughout the United States, so it is important to do your research for your hike beforehand to know if you need one or not. Here is a brief list of the bear canister requirements.

  • Yosemite National Park
  • Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks
  • Grand Teton National Park
  • Rocky Mountain National Park
  • North Cascades National Park
  • Olympic National Park
  • Denali National Park
  • Glacier Bay National Park
  • Gates of the Arctic National Park
  • Inyo National Forest, eastern and central Sierra Nevada, California
  • Eastern High Peaks Wilderness Area, Adirondack Mountains, New York

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My experience
I was a Ridge Runner for the ATC a few years ago and was required to carry a bear canister to show hikers and lead by example. I really didn’t mind carrying it! I had one of the smaller ones, the BearVault 450, and it carried about 4 days of food for me. I did run into an issue with a bear rolling my bear can off the side of Tray Mountain. It took me and several other hikers to find it about a quarter of a mile down and it was severely scratched up! The bear never got into it and I was still able to eat all my food! Crisis averted.

I also carried a bear canister in the Sierra Nevadas on the Pacific Crest Trail. I carried the BearVault 500 which is the larger one. The food carries in the Sierras were a bit longer, and I had been hiking for over a month, so my appetite was pretty strong. I will admit that I couldn’t even fit all my food in my bear canister because I ate so much! The bear canister was fairly heavy when it was fully loaded, but it fit fine in my pack and wasn’t  uncomfortable. Yes my pack was bigger, but it really wasn’t too bad. I was following the rules of the National Park, and I felt safe from bears getting into my food.

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My bear canister all scratched up!

All in all, the bear canister is bigger and heavier, but it helps keep your food safe from bears and other animals. It is important to not let bears taste human food because once they do, they will become habituated and constantly search for that food. We want to protect the bears and keep them safe and wild for years to come!

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Norovirus

Norovirus is a very unpleasant sickness, and can be common at the beginning of the Appalachian Trail. There have been people that have gotten sick at Mountain Crossings in the past because it can spread easily from infected people in closed environments. There are a lot of misunderstandings about Norovirus, so we just want to share the facts with you so you know how the virus occurs and spreads.

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Norovirus Basics
Norovirus infection can cause the sudden onset of severe vomiting and diarrhea. The virus is highly contagious and commonly spread through food or water that is contaminated during preparation or contaminated surfaces. You can also be infected through close contact with an infected person. Diarrhea, abdominal pain, and vomiting typically begin 12 to 48 hours after exposure. Norovirus symptoms last one to three days, and most people recover completely without treatment. However, for some people — especially infants, older adults and people with underlying disease — vomiting and diarrhea can be severely dehydrating and require medical attention.

Causes
Noroviruses are highly contagious and are shed in the feces of infected humans and animals. Methods of transmission include:

  • Eating contaminated food
  • Drinking contaminated water
  • Touching your hand to your mouth after your hand has been in contact with a contaminated surface or object
  • Being in close contact with a person who has a norovirus infection

Noroviruses are difficult to wipe out because they can withstand hot and cold temperatures as well as most disinfectants.

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Noro on the Appalachian Trail
The most common cause of Norovirus on the trail is water contamination. There are people who start the trail without any water treatment, and they get the sickness from a contaminated water source. I would not trust any water source to be clean unless I could see it coming straight out of the ground at a higher elevation. Even then, I still treat my water. Many of these sources have been contaminated by animals, and people. There are people on the trail who don’t know how to properly dispose of their waste, and they wind up going to the bathroom too close to the water source. Most common water filters on the trail, may not filter out Norovirus. To be safe, you should pair your filter with a chemical treatment, or use a filter that can catch viruses.

It’s hard to say where individuals got infected before coming into Mountain Crossings. One theory is hikers get infected by the water source at Lance Creek. This camping area has no privy, and is limited in areas to use the restroom because it is steep around the campsite. I have visually seen human feces too near the creek there, and hikers have said they have seen toilet paper in the creek. But, we don’t know for sure. It could be anywhere from anyone!

Once an individual becomes infected, it can spread easily in a shelter, other privies, hostels, even just shaking hands or passing an item to someone.

At Mountain Crossings, we do not get the chance to screen every single hiker that comes into the shop for Norovirus. If a person is contracting symptoms but decides to stay in the hostel, we may have no way of knowing until they are throwing up in the bathroom and infecting other hikers. We thoroughly clean the hostel every day with bleach, and we clean commonly used surface in the shop regularly throughout the day. Norovirus can spread here but it is not anything we at Mountain Crossings have or haven’t done. Last Spring, I never contracted Norovirus and I was in the store 5 days a week, and in the hostel at least 3 days a week if not more. In fact, only one staff member got sick once last Spring! Don’t worry, we made him stay home for a few days 🙂

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Prevention
Now that we have established what Norovirus is, and how it spreads, let’s talk about the ways you can prevent contracting the sickness. Norovirus infection is highly contagious, and anyone can become infected more than once. To help prevent its spread:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly, especially after using the toilet or changing a diaper.
  • Avoid contaminated food and water, including food that may have been prepared by someone who was sick.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating.
  • Dispose of vomit and fecal matter carefully, to avoid spreading norovirus by air. Soak up material with disposable towels, using minimal agitation, and place them in plastic disposal bags.
  • Disinfect virus-contaminated areas with a chlorine bleach solution. Wear gloves.
  • Stay home from work, especially if your job involves handling food. You may be contagious as long as three days after your symptoms end.
  • Avoid traveling until signs and symptoms have ended.

Definitely get off trail and stay in a hotel room by yourself until symptoms have cleared. Inform anyone you come in contact with that you are sick and be careful to avoid touching any common areas or items other might use. If you come into Mountain Crossings and you are sick, we definitely would like to know so we can prevent it spreading. We can help you pick out items you  may need in the store and we can put you in contact with someone to take you to a hotel in town.

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We hope this post has cleared up any questions you have about Norovirus! Do not hesitate to contact us if you have any other questions!