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.

Image result for black bear bear canister

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

Image result for bear canister regulation sign

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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